God’s Mercy: Case Studies in Divine Clemency

God’s mercy can never be exhausted. Jeremiah, in a terrible time in life, said God’s mercies “are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23). Paul praised the Lord because He is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). Perhaps the most extensive thanksgiving for God’s leniency is found in Psalm 136:

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. 2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. 4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. 5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. 6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. 7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: 8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: 9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 136:1-9).

If we were to continue reading the rest of that chapter, all 26 verses in that Psalm refer to God’s unending supply of clemency. God’s mercy has been defined as “the eternal principle of God’s nature that leads him to seek the temporal good and eternal salvation of those who have opposed themselves to his will, even at the cost of infinite self-sacrifice.” (Strong’s Systematic Theology).

God’s mercy and God’s grace have been distinguished by pointing out that His grace is His giving us something that we do not deserve, while His mercy is His withholding something from us that we do in fact deserve, such as a penalty for our sins.

An effective way to study God’s mercy is to examine cases of His withholding punishment when it was due in favor of being kind and forgiving:

1. David – Psalm 51 is David’s confession of sin after he committed adultery and aided in the murder of his paramour’s husband. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions…. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:1, 16-17). The natural consequences of David’s sin took their course, but God forgave him.

2. The ancient Israelites – Though they repeatedly turned to idolatry, God continued to extend mercy to them. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide; neither will he keep his anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12). God’s mercy was ultimately expressed to them through the sacrifice of Jesus. “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:8, 12).

3. Jonah – He ran from God and resented His plan, but God was patient with him. “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah. 4:2).

4. Paul – He said of himself: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief…. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (I Tim. 1:13, 16).

The Lord offers His mercy today to you and me. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).