An image of the words, hashtag love one another, written on a sidewalk with chalk.

The word “mercy” characterizes God’s response to human misery and suffering. It’s what moves him to treat us with compassion and kindness even when our suffering is caused by our own sins.

The Hebrew word hesed is the word commonly translated “mercy” in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Hesed can also be translated as “love,” “loving kindness,” “loyalty,” “steadfast love,” “unfailing love,” and “covenant faithfulness.” Though human beings can show hesed to each other, hesed often refers to God’s covenant relationship with his people.

When Moses asked God to reveal himself, God replied by saying, “I am slow to anger and filled with hesed and faithfulness. I lavish hesed to a thousand generations.” By contrast, God’s anger or wrath lasts only a short time, while his unfailing love and mercy lasts forever.

The Greek words most often used for mercy in the New Testament are the verb eleeō and the noun eleos. Though the word “mercy” is peppered throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament brings it into perfect focus in the life and ministry of Jesus. Wherever he went, he encountered suffering people who cried out for mercy. Mark’s Gospel tells the story of one of these.

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

“Be quiet!" many of the people yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47-48)

Jesus rewarded Bartimaeus by healing his blindness. Because he is merciful, he expects us to show mercy. In one of his most famous parables, he instructs his listeners about the meaning of mercy by telling the story of the good Samaritan who helped a man who had been beaten and robbed when others had passed him by.

Lives that are built on God’s mercy will inevitably reflect that mercy to others.





Originally published November 22, 2018.