“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8 NKJV
What is mercy? I had a difficult time putting into words what I thought I knew about mercy. I’ve settled on something like “unmerited favor,” which is probably a closer definition of grace. But are grace and mercy the same thing?
“Grace, mercy, and peace” or a variation of that is a common greeting found in the epistles. We know that the early church used that greeting, and it is still in use today. It’s safe to assume that the early church leaders were not simply stringing synonyms together to sound good.
Grace has to do with finding favor or with gaining value in someone’s eyes. Grace is the attribute of God that values mankind enough not to leave us to die from the curse.
Mercy has to do with receiving compassion and/or forgiveness. Mercy is the attribute of God that sympathizes with us and forgives us.
Peace has to do with rest and prosperity. Peace is the attribute of God that frees us from guilt and leads us to a prosperous life. So, that tells a little about God.
And it tells us a little about what mercy is and isn’t. This same Hebrew word for “mercy” is used 249 times in the Old Testament and is translated with various words, such as mercy, compassion, kindness, lovingkindness, goodness, favor, and pity.
The Greek word for mercy is used at least 156 times in the New Testament. And there are many, many times where mercy is evident, though not explicitly stated. Essentially, mercy is kind, compassionate, good deeds. And mercy is beautiful.
Why did God drop this idea into the Book of Micah where or how He chose to? Reading the entire Book, you find there are not a lot of happy parts. The Book of Micah is a series of chapters detailing Israel’s, Judah’s, and Samaria’s sins, and warning of impending judgment and destruction—not really where you’d first think to look for direction on how God wants us to live mercifully.
We can easily see from reading Micah what God considered wrong, what He did not want. And noticing His warnings and the time He gave the people to repent shows His long-suffering kindness.
The context of verse 8 is answering the questions in verses 6 & 7 of whether or not God could be appeased by special sacrifices or by a huge number of sacrifices. Micah says no.
What God really wants is someone who does justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with Him. Sacrifices and rites mean nothing to Him outside of such a life; otherwise, He might have stopped simply with “do justly.” But we can never do enough sacrifice to meet the justice of God.
Also, holding our fellow man to strictly justice would end in disaster because people aren’t perfect. Justice without mercy would demand retribution that no one could stand up to, but justice tempered with mercy is a different story.
Following are a few observations I made after reading all the verses containing the word “mercy” in the Old Testament. This is simply a list of some academic knowledge we can have about mercy.
• Mercy is an action. For example, God showed Lot mercy by saving his life, delivering him from the city, and allowing him to settle in the mountains where he could start over. Those actions were mercy. The butler showed Joseph mercy by remembering him to Pharaoh.
• Mercy is often accompanied by forgiveness. A number of passages, such as Num 14:18 talk about God’s mercy forgiving those who trust in Him. There Moses is interceding for the Children of Israel whom God had decided to completely destroy in favor of raising a new people through Moses. But Moses sought their forgiveness based on God’s endless mercy, which God chose to extend.
• Mercy is extended to those who trust in God. This seems to be another way grace and mercy may differ. Grace is for unbelievers, mercy is given to believers. A fine line that may have little value in consideration. Nevertheless, mercy is often found with the thought of “those who trust in God.”
• Mercy will never leave David’s line. There are numerous prophecies to this effect, culminating in the person of Jesus and His mercy to all those who call on Him. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection embody mercy to man.
• Mercy precipitates and accompanies salvation. In many cases, God showed mercy on someone, leading to their salvation, either spiritual or physical.
• Mercy is extending kindness; whereas, grace is withholding judgment. Both thoughts often fall into the same verse.
• Mercy is infinite from God: It endures forever and is boundless.
• Mercy is a sister to compassion. Many times in Psalms, both words are used to bring out a point.
• Mercy and truth are a pair. An example of that is in Ps 85:10, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
• Mercy, not sacrifice, is what God desires. We find this in Micah, but also quite a few other places in the Old and New Testaments. One example of that is in Hosea 6:6, “For I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” In Matthew 9:13 Jesus quotes another similar passage from 1 Samuel.
So what does a life that loves mercy look like? Such a person is one who is “kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32 is one of the best descriptions of mercy in the New Testament.
It’s that simple. Be kind to one another. We’re taught this from little up, but somehow, we’re really bad at it at times. Just be kind.
What are some ways you can show kindness? Open the door for someone. Use “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” often and sincerely. Ask “How can I help you?” and mean it.
Let others go first. Let others have the better portion. Smile at people. Talk to strangers; make them feel welcome. Comfort the sorrowful. Lift up the weak. Help someone carry their burdens. Ask “How are you?” and listen. Don’t pinch your pennies; give to him that asks of you.
How else can you be tenderhearted? Sympathize with others’ struggles. Don’t jump to conclusions. Think the best of others. Cast down imaginations and gossip.
Don’t be too smart to love someone who has repeatedly wronged you. Practice the Golden Rule: Do good things to others; give them the good things you’d enjoy. Go the second mile. Overcome evil with good.
And forgive. And forgive. And forgive. Seventy times seven times over forgive. Be like Jesus. Love mercy.
The whole Bible is full of examples of and calls to mercy. Read the Sermon on the Mount. Read Matthew 18. Read 1 Corinthians 13. Read the life of Jesus. Read the epistles. Read the Old Testament and see how merciful God was to His wayward people; you should gain a picture of mercy from that. Where do we start and stop?
Go be kind today.
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”
I Peter 3:8-12 NKJV