The following is excerpted from the Way of Life Bible Commentary Series, Psalms (scheduled Dec. 2023) -
The Psalms celebrate God’s mercy, compassion, kindness, and longsuffering. These lovely characteristics are often mentioned together to emphasize this aspect of God’s character. It is in these terms that God’s love is expressed in the Psalms. These are the characteristics of God as Saviour, Father, Shepherd.
“But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15).
“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps. 103:8).
“The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:8-9).
Consider some lessons from Psalms about God’s mercy:
- God’s mercy is mentioned 135 times in Psalms, beginning in Psalm 4:1. Mercy is one of God’s names and titles (“the God of my mercy,” Ps. 59:10). Mercy is a fundamental essence of God’s character. This theme rises to a great crescendo in Psalm 136, which repeats the expression “for his mercy endureth for ever” in all 26 verses. The psalmist recounts some major aspects of God’s deeds and character: goodness Ps. 136:1, God of gods and Lord of lords Ps. 136:2-3, doer of great wonders Ps. 136:4, creator of the heavens Ps. 136:5-9, judge of Egypt Ps. 136:10-12, divider of the Red Sea Ps. 136:13-15, leader of Israel through the wilderness Ps. 136:16, conquerer of the Canaanite kings Ps. 136:17-20, giver of the land to Israel Ps. 136:21-22, protector of Israel Ps. 136:23-24, and provider of sustenance to all creatures Ps. 136:25. But in the midst of all this, and as the basis for all of this, is God’s eternal mercy, for which men should continually give thanks.
- There are three major Hebrew words for mercy. David uses all three in Psalm 51, his psalm of penitence. He uses five Hebrew words for sin, indicating the thoroughness of his confession, and he uses three Hebrew words for mercy, indicating his confidence in God’s compassionate help. “Have MERCY upon me, O God, according to thy LOVINGKINDNESS: according unto the multitude of thy TENDER MERCIES blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1). David wants nothing but mercy, and by prophetic revelation he knows how great God’s mercy is. He describes it in terms of love, kindness, tenderness, and a multitude of mercies. In Psalm 51:1, “mercy” is HANAN, (h2603), “a primitive root; properly, to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow” (Strong). The great, all-righteous God, in His amazing mercy, has bent down to purchase salvation and to bestow it upon lowly, unclean, meritless, helpless sinners. At Bethlehem and Calvary, God’s hanan was on display for the entire amazed universe. In Psalm 51:1, “tender mercies” is RABAM, which means womb and is translated “womb” (Pr. 30:16; Eze. 20:26). Raham refers to a mother’s love and mercy toward her infant child. It is translated “her bowels yearned upon her son” (1 Ki. 3:26). Raham is translated “manifold mercies” (Ne. 9:19), “great mercies” (Ne. 9:31), “tender mercies” (Ps. 25:6), “pitied” (Ps. 106:46), “compassions” (La. 3:22). In Psalm 51:1, “lovingkindness” is HESED, which is a broad word that encompasses every aspect of God’s love: kindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness. It is translated “mercy” and “merciful” 154 times (Ps. 5:7), “kindness” and “kindly” 45 times (Ps. 117:2; 119:76), “lovingkindness” 30 times (Ps. 17:7), “goodness” 12 times (Ps. 33:5), and “pity” 1 time (Job 6:14). God’s hesed is “plenteous” (Ps. 86:15) and “great” (Ps. 145:8). It is a “multitude” Ps. 5:7; 69:13, 16. God’s mercy is spoken of in the plural 17 times (Ps. 6:4; 25:6). God’s hesed is great above the heavens (Ps. 108:4). God’s hesed is great above the heavens (Ps. 108:4). The heavens are measured in light years and are great beyond man’s measuring and comprehension, and God’s mercy is greater! There is no known end to the heavens. Modern science estimates that the currently observable universe is at least 93 billion light years across. One light year is about 6 trillion miles. There are from 100 to 400 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone. The distance to the nearest star beyond our sun is 4.2 light years, which would take about 70,000 years to travel by man’s fastest spacecraft. In 1995, the number of galaxies was estimated to be about 10 to the 24th power (100 sextillion), whereas researchers at the University of Hawaii calculated that the number of grains of sand in the world to be 10 to the 18th power. Thus, for every grain of sand there are about 10,000 stars (“4 Mind-Blowing Things about Stars,” Nov. 12, 2013, WaitButWhy.com)! That God’s mercy is great above the heavens means the blood of Christ is infinite in atoning power. The mercy of God in Christ is great enough to save every sinner who ever lived, and to save them to the uttermost.
- The earth is filled with God’s mercy (“The earth, O LORD, is full of thy mercy,” Ps. 119:64). Even in its fallen condition, the earth is filled with evidences of God’s mercy: the laws of physics such as gravity, the resources that fill the earth for man’s benefit and pleasure (e.g., minerals, trees, plants, animals, fish), the oxygen cycle, the hydrological cycle, plant-animal ecosystems, pollination, good bacteria, worms and micro-organisms that aerate the earth, scavengers that remove dead bodies, beautiful sights such as flowers, trees, sunrises and sunsets, beautiful smells, tasty food, etc.
- God’s mercy is founded on His Word (“be merciful unto me according to thy word,” Ps. 119:58). The one who wants to obtain God’s mercy must understand and believe God’s Word pertaining to Christ. Faith in God’s mercy comes by hearing God’s Word (Ro. 10:17). The better the believer knows God’s Word, the better he can understand God’s mercy and the more stable he will be in his Christian life.
- God’s mercy endureth for ever. This is repeated 34 times in the Psalms, 26 times in Psalm 136 alone. It was a major theme at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Ch. 5:13). It will be the theme in Christ’s kingdom. “Thus saith the LORD; Again there shall be heard in this place ... the voice of them that shall say, Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever” (Jer. 33:11). That God’s mercy endureth for ever is to be declared. See Ps. 118:2-4. This is not an empty ritual (“vain repetitions,” Mt. 6:7). It is not a positive confession as in yoga or contemplative prayer. To say that God’s mercy endureth forever is to declare it with understanding. It is to know who God is, and it is to know what mercy is. It is to know that God’s mercy is in Jesus Christ. It is to know that God’s mercy in Christ is sufficient for salvation, that it cannot fail, and that it is eternal. It is a declaration of eternal security in Christ. To say that God’s mercy endureth forever is to declare it with faith and confidence. To say that his mercy endureth forever is a declaration of faith in God’s eternal mercy. It is to believe it. It is to be sure of it. It is to boast of it. It is to take a stand for it in the face of every difficulty. It is to use it to quench the fiery darts of the enemy (Eph. 6:16). To understand and believe that God’s mercy endureth for ever is the way of salvation, and it is the way of spiritual growth and victory.
- God’s mercy produced God’s plan of salvation. See Lu. 1:78; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pe. 1:3. By God’s mercy, God’s holy justice was propitiated or satisfied.. This is described briefly in Psalm 85:10 and is explained in other places in Scripture. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” How can mercy and truth meet? Truth is God’s Word, God’s law, which demands punishment for man’s sin. How can God be merciful without destroying His truth? Again, how can righteousness and peace kiss? Righteousness demands punishment for man’s sin. How can sinful man have peace with a righteous God? The answer is that the demand of God’s righteous law was satisfied by the blood and death of Christ (Ro. 3:24-26), thus making it possible for the sinner to have peace with God. God Himself paid the price that His own law demands. Mercy and truth met together at Calvary.
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