‘Mercy’ is not a word used much anymore. However, in the Scriptures, ‘mercy’ is a precious and much-used word. Psalm 136 uses the refrain ‘His mercy endures forever’ 26 times. The word here in Hebrew is ‘Chesed’ and is used around 250 times in the Old Testament and is also translated as ‘kindness’, ‘lovingkindness’, ‘tenderness’, and ‘faithfulness’. The Lord is more merciful and kinder than we can imagine and the more we understand in our hearts how merciful he is, the better we will know and love him.
Enoch was Noah’s great grandfather – the one who walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:24). This righteous prophet named his son ‘Methuselah’ which means ‘His death shall bring’. This name was also a prophecy, as it was in the very year that Methuselah died that the flood came. How typical of God to give as much opportunity for repentance as possible to the wicked generations before the flood, as we know Methuselah lived longer than anyone in history, dying at the age of 969 years. No wonder Peter wrote that the Lord is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Though the people of Israel received God’s covenants, there was also always an opportunity for any Gentiles, who cried out to God, to receive his mercy. In Jericho, Rahab, the Canaanite harlot, having heard of the mighty works of God on behalf of Israel, feared and believed the Lord God – risking her life to hide Joshua’s spies. Her request was that she and her family would be shown ‘kindness’ (‘chesed’) – the mercy of God- (Joshua 2:12). She and her family were delivered, and she is now forever named in the genealogy of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).
Ruth, the Moabitess, who was widowed like her mother-in-law Naomi, refused to be separated from Naomi. When Naomi decided to return to Israel from Edom, she urged both her daughters-in-law to leave her and said: “The Lord deal kindly with you,” (literally: “show you mercy”). But Ruth chose to pursue the God of mercy, declaring “your people shall be my people, and your God, my God (Ruth 1:8,16). Ruth became the great grandmother of King David.
Even an intensely wicked Gentile city could find mercy if it humbled itself in repentance. This is what happened to Nineveh, the capital of the brutal Assyrian Empire, in the 8th century BC. As Jonah prophesied its impending doom, the king of Nineveh called on the entire city to repent in sackcloth with fasting and the city was saved from judgment at that time. Jonah was furious at the outrageous mercy of God, as he did not want to see the Assyrians spared and complained to the Lord: “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” (Jonah 4:2).
Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and fully embodied the immense mercy and kindness of God the Father, showing compassion to all those who cried out to him. He clashed with those, such as the Pharisees, who in their pride rejected the mercy of God. Through his perfect sacrifice on the cross, Jesus in his mercy has opened the way for us to experience the love of God for eternity. We will need eternity to begin to fully understand the depths of His kindness. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life (Jude 20-21).