Attributes that Anchor Us: God is Merciful

In Exodus 33-34, we find Moses in the cleft of the rock. The God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the I AM, was about to pass before him. Moses had a unique relationship with God; he had come to know God personally and appreciated Him as his God. Others in the past cherished wondrous revelations from God, but in chapter 33, Moses longs for another personal confirmation of God’s presence with him. He requests, “Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people”[1] (Exo 33:13).

With the demonstration of God’s goodness and glory came the pronouncement of His name: “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth …. Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped” (34:6-8). This unveiled view of God drew fresh reverence and worship from this man of God, and led to an increased intimacy with Him. Among other fascinating elements of this story is hearing God describe Himself through His name. It must be significant that the LORD heads the list of personal attributes with “merciful.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, our eternal unchanging God, is merciful.

A general definition of mercy is “compassion shown in place of judgment or punishment.” Mercy contrasts with what is deserved; grace contrasts with what is undeserved. There are several Hebrew and Greek words for mercy/merciful employed throughout the Scriptures and translated with various words. Deuteronomy 4:30-31 gives insight and perhaps an outline of God’s mercy, especially towards Israel: “When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” When God’s people will turn back to Him, then He will not forsake them, He will not destroy them, and He will not forget them. Why? The text tells us because He is a merciful God. These three divine reactions to His people’s repentance are the outworking of God’s merciful nature.

Many times God watched His own forsake Him and His law. The consequences and disappointment of their sin would eventually bring them to their knees again. He could have left them to their consequences and judgment, but because He is merciful, He showed compassion towards them, responding to their cries and delivering them. 2 Chronicles 30:9 gives us the imagery: He “will not turn away his face from you.” He will not forsake. Though it is said in 2 Chronicles 34:11 that “the kings of Judah had destroyed” the temple, yet when they turned back to God, He would not destroy them. When His people forgot their covenant with God and were taken captive in distant lands, God would not forget. He remembers every promise made to the fathers. God is merciful and He will not forsake, He will not destroy, He will not forget. This is especially touching when we consider that the Perfect Servant was forsaken and crushed at Calvary – “for the transgression of my people was he stricken” (Isa 53:8).

Jeremiah tells us something more of the mercifulness of God. “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lam 3:22). His mercies (plural) are multifaceted and unlimited. God’s judgment knows more than enough reasons to consume us, yet His compassions, like a fathomless reservoir, reach us first to preserve us.

After outpouring His compassions on His people for millennia, we are grateful the reservoir of mercy remains undiminished today. The Lord is the merciful God in our day as well. Both Paul and Peter refer to this abundant supply that has been the source of our salvation in this long day of grace, using the same Greek word for God’s mercy: eleos. “The word eleos means ‘the outward manifestation of pity’; such mercy assumes dire need on the part of the one who receives it and yet adequate resources to meet that need on the part of Him who shows it.”[2] Paul wrote to the Ephesians about God who “is rich in mercy” (2:4). Peter said that God, “according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope” (1Pe 1:3). His mercy through the ages remains the inexhaustible well from which compassion is drawn again and again. It is “according to” or “after the measure of” this abundant supply that God deals with us today. Paul reminds Titus that it was “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5).

The outworking of God’s compassion provides a deliverance that our works could never achieve. What can we say about such mercy? What is our response? We too, like Moses on the mount, bow our heads and hearts before such a merciful God. But there is more we can do. In fact, there is more that we must do.

This merciful God has also been revealed by the One who knows Him most intimately – His Son. In Luke’s Gospel our Lord is found telling His followers in clear terms, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (6:36). We certainly have known mercy, so it is expected that we show mercy. This was apparently unknown among many of the Pharisees, since the Lord scolded them by observing that they paid “tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Mat 23:23). Mercy registers weight on heavenly scales and is a precious commodity to offer to the many souls around us. Perhaps this is a clue as to why God proclaimed it first among the attributes of His name. To be certain, it is why God’s merciful nature is highlighted by so many throughout Scripture, and we have just considered a few.

There is much we can do for God and others in response to all that God has done for us, but apparently there are few things as valued as showing mercy. When we do, we reflect our Father and God, for God is merciful. What an honor!


[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV

[2] D.E. West, What the Bible Teaches: Titus (Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie Ltd., 1983), 445.