A Different Look at “Mercy”

“Mercy.” It’s a word I’ve often heard defined as “not getting what we deserve.” I think of it as illustrated by salvation, and our not having to face punishment in hell.  It’s demonstrated through forgiveness and patience.

But as I was reading through Psalms the other day, I stumbled across another meaning for “mercy.” Hebrew terminology is much more specific than our English, and some of our translations are little vague as to what is actually meant by a given word. “Love” is one of the most common examples, having at least three Biblical forms. And I discovered that “mercy” is yet another one of those vague, multi-dimensional words.

Psalm 136 is a “Thanksgiving to God for His Enduring Mercy.” Twenty-six times, once in every single verse, the psalmist repeats, “For His mercy endures forever.”

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!

For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords!

For His mercy endures forever.”

This is a different form of the word “mercy” than what we’re accustomed to, a form that my footnotes tell me can mean “loyal love.” I had to pause when I first read that; I have never heard mercy defined in such a way. And yet it is such a beautiful, mind-opening definition. Suddenly, the word has new depth. Verses have new meaning.

“To Him alone who does great wonders,

For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who by wisdom made the heavens,

For His mercy endures forever;

To Him who laid out the earth above the waters,

For His mercy endures forever….”

Curious, I used my Strong’s Concordance to find more references using “mercy” in the “loyal love” sense rather than in the “forgiveness” sense. There are numerous instances in the Old Testament. Genesis 39: 21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy….” How true. God’s devoted, unwavering love is incredibly obvious in the life of Joseph. In the Ten Commandments, it’s written, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Thousands? Wow. His love isn’t limited; He doesn’t have a certain allotment He can expend.

The Psalms are flooded with this sort of mercy. No wonder…David, one of the foremost writers of the Psalms, had certainly experienced God’s “loyal love.” From lowly shepherd to giant-slayer to King of Israel to adulterous murderer to forgiven man – David, if anybody, knew the incredible mercy of our Lord.

“To Him who made great lights,

For His mercy endures forever –

The sun to rule by day,

For His mercy endures forever;

The moon and stars to rule by night,

For His mercy endures forever.”

Skimming through the concordance, I noticed another phrase often used in conjunction with God’s mercy: “endures forever.” His loyal love endures forever. It makes sense; after all, that’s a part of being loyal. God’s love will always be loyal. He will stick with us through thick and thin. He will endure our wanderings and iniquities, our stumbles and failures. And He will do it forever; there is no end to His love; no amount of time can ever separate us from Him once we are His (Romans 8: 38-39).

“Who remembered us in our lowly state,

For His mercy endures forever;

And rescued us from our enemies,

For his mercy endures forever;

Who gives food to all flesh,

For His mercy endures forever.”

I read Psalm 136 a few days ago, and yet this definition of “mercy” still amazes me. I keep stumbling across the word in my daily devotions, and sometimes it can once again be translated as “loyal love.”

I knew God loves me. I knew He is loyal. But I never put the two together. The thought of it fills me with a peace and confidence. God’s love will never fade or ebb. He will love me for always; He will love me passionately; and He will always be my most loyal Lover. What a marvelous God He is.

“Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!

For His mercy endures forever.”

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One thought on “A Different Look at “Mercy”

  1. BigSkyKen says:

    Nice post, and definitely a different aspect of mercy than I had in mind. You may have given me some fuel for Mimi’s service next Sunday!

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