The mercy of God is His prime attribute. Just as love is not an aspect of His character but the essence of His being. Mercy is the prime expression of the true nature of God as Love. Our God is not occasionally merciful; He is wholeheartedly merciful. Theologically, mercy is described as the “diakonic” love of God – love that actively descends to rescue.
Diakones means “through the dust”; it primarily describes the office of a deacon which is fundamentally divine service, carrying out whatever is necessary to help the one in need. The trinitarian love of God in their diakonic action is what is known as mercy. It is God acting on behalf of His creation in need.
The term “mercy” in the English language is rather weak in rendering this multifaceted prime attribute of God. In both the Old and New Testaments, there is a rich range of words used to express the prime attribute of the true nature of God. Due to the Western preoccupation on a forensic lens of justice, when we think of “mercy”, we think of the aversion of punishment. This has no connection with the true rendering of the word.
Throughout the Old Testament, a particular quality of the Godhead is revealed. This is His covenantal faithfulness. Love that is dependable and reliable. He is the Initiator and Consummator of this bond. God reveals Himself in the Old Testament to Israel with a consistent faithfulness. In the midst of their apostacy and waywardness to Him, He reveals Himself as the God of devotional commitment. This is aspect of God is known as “Chesed”. “Chesed” is translated as steadfast love, unfailing love, compassion. It shows an observable evidence of God’s faithfulness. “Chesed” leaves traceable hallmarks of God’s mercy. Whether it be in the calling of Abraham, at the blessing of Sarah’s womb, whereby the lineage through whom Messiah would be born was evidenced in Isaac, who was born as a result of God’s miraculous involvement in a situation that was medically impossible, the entire salvation history of Israel is marked by the “chesed” of God.
Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them. – Psalm 17:7
David describes the “chesed” of God, God’s loving kindness, throughout his Psalms. God’s Divine Mercy is observable, it can be seen, it’s awe-inspiring and beyond anything you can logically grasp. God’s chesed is steadfast, unfailing, does not sway. It is God’s devotion to us.
Another term translated as “mercy” in the Old Testament is “rachamim”. It comes from the word “rechem”, which speaks of the womb. “Rachamim” speaks of the womb-love, the prenatal bond between mother and child. The unborn fetus that the mother feels and loves, and of whom she is conscious. Although she has not yet seen her unborn child, she loves the child and is aware of his fragility, and adopts care for the fragility of her unborn child. This pre-natal bond between mother and child is described as womb-love, “rachamim”.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. – Isaiah 49:15-16
To vividly portray mercy, God Almighty compares Himself in relation to us as a mother’s relation with a child. In the Old Testament, God showed this in types and shadows. But He would later reveal to the Apostle Paul that His relation with humanity is not subject to time and space. It preexisted creation itself. We were eternally loved in the Son of God. It is rare for anything to sever that womb-love between a mother and child. But God says, even though it may happen in the case of a human mother, He will not forget you. Isaiah 49:16 is a prediction of the nail prints in the hands of Christ, which He still bears in His glorified body.
Another word translated as “mercy” in the Old Testament is “hen”. It means to look favourably upon. You are not trying to get God’s attention today. You have His full attention.
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: – Numbers 6:24-25
This is the blessing God commanded the sons of Aaron to bestow in their Priesthood. The term “gracious” is the word “hen”. David said the faces of those who trust in the Lord shall be radiant. He was making reference to the gracious disposition of God to favourably look upon you – “hen”.
Interestingly, there is a pinnacle of revelation in the Old Testament, which was the essential truth of God they knew at the time. This was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, which he delivered unto them, recorded in Exodus 34.
And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… – Exodus 34:6-7
- The Lord, The Lord God, merciful: This is the term “rachûm”, from “rachamim”.
- Gracious: This is translated from the term “hanan” from the term “hen”
- Keeping mercy for thousands: This is the term “chesed”
This one verse contains all the three terms used throughout the Old Testament translated as “mercy”.
In the New Testament, the Logos is made flesh and in that epiphany of the Word, that which is true of God shines forth without any shadows. All the traces of obscurity regarding the true nature of God now dissipates. The first term used on many occasions in the New Testament to reveal the mercy of God is “eleos”, which speaks of practical help. It was used to describe in particular, healing ointment poured forth to soothe the pain of a wound. The mercy of Christ is seen throughout His life and ministry is expressed as healing. His compassion was manifested in the form of healing.
This article is derived from Dr. Shawn Smith’s message “The Marvels of Divine Mercy”. Get the complete message and learn of other New Testament terms translated as “mercy”. Visit www.gcmonlinestore.com