Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Lord [Jesus], Son of David, Have Mercy on Me [a Sinner]" Cf. Matthew 15:21-28 (The Canaanite Woman)

The Mercy Of God
The depth of God’s mercy gives us a continual place of refuge.
By Mike Treneer
“Now show me your glory.” Moses’ straightforward request drew from God one of the greatest and most helpful revelations of God in the Old Testament. As Moses waited, hidden in a cleft in the rock, covered by the hand of God and surrounded by the cloud that veiled God’s presence, he heard God proclaim Himself, revealing His character and nature in words that became a theme song of the Old Testament. “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
What an overwhelming revelation this is, that the God who created and rules the universe, the One who holds the ultimate power and authority over our lives, is compassionate, gracious, and abounding in love. This is the truth that God made known to Moses on the mountain. This is the truth that generations of Old Testament believers experienced in their lives and enriched with their testimonies. This is the truth confirmed and wonderfully amplified in the birth, life, and death of the Lord Jesus. This is the truth to which we refer when we speak of the mercy of God.
Not that we can overlook the balancing emphasis on God’s justice, for Moses was clearly told that “. . . he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . .” (Exodus 34:7). A vivid appreciation of God’s justice will sharpen our view of His mercy and enable us to appreciate its wonder, like the black jeweler’s cloth against which the sparkling beauty of the diamond is seen in its greatest splendor. But in revealing Himself to Moses, God gives the first place to His mercy. Do we want to know the glory of God as Moses did? Then God would have us focus, not on the “clouds and thick darkness” that surround Him (Psalm 97:2), not even on the blazing fire that the cloud hid (Deut. 4:11–12), but on the Word of God as He declares Himself to be a God of compassion, love, and mercy.
God used three Hebrew words for mercy when He declared Himself to Moses, words with different but closely related shades of meaning. These words have been translated in various ways in different English versions of Scripture, but they bring out the different facets of the wonderful quality of God that we call mercy. They are words specifically chosen by God to convey to us what is most important about His character.
The three Hebrew words, when transliterated into our English alphabet, are rahum, hannun, and hesed. In Exodus 34:6 the New International Version translates these words as “compassionate” (rahum), “gracious” (hannun), and “abounding in love” (hesed). The King James Version uses “merciful,” “gracious,” and “abounding in goodness.”
Different translators have chosen a variety of different words, displaying the depth of meaning in the original language. However, running through all three words is the underlying sense of God’s mercy. The better we understand these important words and all the richness of meaning with which the Bible invests them, the better we will understand God.
The word rahum and the words related to it focus on the aspect of God’s mercy that springs from His feelings of compassion for us. This family of words in Hebrew may well be derived from the Hebrew for womb, which is very similar. If so, one might almost translate with the sense of “mother feeling.” This is clearly the way in which it is used in Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion (raham) on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
I vividly remember incidents when our children were small and they would wake up in the night distressed by teething, earaches, or bad dreams. A grumpy daddy would roll out of bed and stomp down the landing to the child’s room, angered at being awakened at this unearthly hour, only to be overwhelmed with feelings of compassion, tenderness, and pity at the sight of a helpless bundle gazing hopefully with pleading, tearful eyes. Such experiences give us a tiny glimpse into God’s heart of mercy toward us for “as a father has compassion (raham) on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). So the prophet Isaiah can exhort us (Isaiah 55:6–7),
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy (raham) on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Such is the mercy of God as He declared Himself to Moses. We may cry out to Him in our darkest moments and be absolutely confident that He is more merciful, more compassionate, more full of pity toward us than any human parent is even capable of imagining.
The second word that God chose to use of Himself in His encounter with Moses is the word hannum, from hen, meaning “grace” or “favor.” God’s mercy is not only full of compassion and pity, it is full of grace. This word emphasizes the sovereign nature of God’s mercy “. . . I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy (hanan) . . .” (Exodus 33:19). It focuses on the fact that God’s mercy is not evoked by any goodness or deservedness on our part, it is of His own grace and goodness. Such mercy is the gracious favor of a superior to an undeserving inferior.
In the Roman arena, the defeated gladiator was killed by the victor. The loser’s only hope was that the emperor, as he watched from his rostrum, would give him the “thumbs up,” the sign that he was to be spared as an act of imperial favor. If we picture ourselves as a vanquished gladiator thrown to the ground, with our opponent’s sword poised over our neck, and if we imagine looking up in our despair and seeing against all hope that imperial “thumbs up,” we may begin to understand the meaning of this aspect of God’s mercy.
Those times when we feel most keenly our unworthiness to enter the presence of God are the times when we gain the most insight into this aspect of God’s mercy. “. . . O LORD, have mercy (hanan) on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you” (Psalm 41:4). So we say with the psalmist (Psalm 123:1–3),
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy (hanan).
Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us . . .
And as we look we hear God declaring Himself to be “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious (hanan) God” (Exodus 34:6).
The third word describing God’s mercy is the Hebrew word hesed, translated most often in the New International Version as the simple word “love” but often in the King James Version as “loving kindness” and in the Revised Standard Version “steadfast love.” This is the great covenant word of the Old Testament that spells out God’s commitment to be merciful to His people. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love (hesed) to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deut. 7:9). It also describes the nature of God’s mercy in its kindness as well as its constancy. “It is a word that combines the warmth of God’s fellowship with the security of God’s faithfulness.” 1 It is what Naomi prays for Ruth and Orpah: “. . . May the LORD show kindness (hesed) to you as you have shown . . . to me” (Ruth 1:8), and it is the word that comes to Boaz’ mind to describe the character of Ruth (Ruth 3:10), who committed herself to stay with Naomi no matter what befell them and whose very name is so linked with the idea of kindness that we call people “ruthless” if they lack this quality. This is the word that comes to the mind of the prophets as they reflect on God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and review the constant mercy, the steadfast love that God has shown to their descendants (Micah 7:18–20):
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy (hesed).
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
You will be true to Jacob,
and show mercy (hesed) to Abraham,
as you pledged an oath to our fathers
in days long ago.
By using this word, God is reminding us that He has “pledged an oath.” Since He has told us that He is a faithful God who “keeps his covenant of love,” let us resolve never to doubt the constancy of His mercy. Instead let us determine that we will always trust in His steadfast love knowing that “though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed . . .” (Isaiah 54:10).
So we have seen something of the richness of God’s mercy. It is filled with feeling, compassion, and pity. It is sovereign, unhindered by our unworthiness. It is steadfast, unfailing in its constancy and kindness. Studying these words gives us a good beginning in our attempt to understand God’s mercy, but we can get an even clearer picture by seeing the impact of these truths in the lives of people.
The great self-portrait of His mercy, which God painted for Moses when He declared Himself on Mount Sinai, imprinted itself deeply on the consciousness of God’s people and inspired the faith of future generations of Israelite believers. We find these words describing God’s mercy recalled often throughout the Old Testament. At crucial times in people’s lives they are anchored and motivated by these truths in a way that deeply affects their responses to difficulty, failure, and success.
When God’s people are in trouble, needy, or under attack, what do they call to mind? “But you, O LORD, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). When they are moved to celebrate, what do they sing about? “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8). When God has granted them success, as in the amazing exploit of rebuilding in Nehemiah, they are kept humble by an overwhelming sense of God’s mercy. They had been stubborn and rebellious, stiff-necked and disobedient; “But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them, or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Neh. 9:31). It is impossible to read Ezra’s great prayer in Neh. 9 without seeing how deeply the conviction of God’s mercy had touched and influenced his thinking. His response to success was rooted in the truths about God’s mercy. “. . . But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them” (Neh. 9:17). There is nothing that can keep us humble like this sense of God’s mercy. It is the great antidote to pride, for pride and a deep awareness of God’s mercy simply cannot coexist.
As the Israelites attributed their times of success to God’s mercy, so they found it their only source of hope in the depths of personal failure. David—man of God, at the height of his career, with visions of building a temple to God’s glory, perhaps the greatest devotional writer of human history—commits adultery. He then arranges the death of his lover’s husband in an attempt to cover his sin. For months he hardens his heart and lives with this sickening burden of guilty secrecy. Then the horrible truth is made known. How can a man come back from such appalling personal failure? From the depths of defeat David holds on to what God has revealed about Himself: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). David believed God meant what He told Moses, that He was “slow to anger,” “forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6–7). That deep personal conviction in the mercy of God enabled him to come back with a determination and straightforwardness that was beyond the understanding of those around him (2 Samuel 12:1–25).
None of us can know what great success, deep trouble, or abject personal failure may lie ahead of us, but we do know from the testimonies of these men of old that God is merciful. His mercy is gracious, completely independent of our worthiness. It is compassionate, touched with a deep understanding and feeling for our weakness and need. It is full of unfailing love, and of a commitment to remain faithful to us. What could provide us with a stronger “shield of faith” to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephes. 6:16) than these great truths that Moses learned on the mountain? If we believe and wholeheartedly embrace these truths they will be a strong and stable foundation for our lives that will stand the tests of success and failure, trouble and joy.

 P.S. This thought on the Hebrew notion of mercy was triggered regarding this Gospel because of Bishop Johannes Wilhelmus Maria Liesen of the Netherlands at EWTN who referred to the Hebrew prophetic origin of a new term for Love of God meaning "wombs"-rahamim (minute 09:00). This same idea is found in Pope Benedict's book Credo for Today, pp 69-70.  I always wondered what the Latin "viscera misericordiae" of God meant (which is never adequately translated into English). Finally here is the answer (especially in the link to Dives in Misericordia of Pope Saint John Paul II)!

Listen to the visiting bishops' four days of excellent preaching on EWTN!

Johannes Wilhelmus Maria Liesen

N.B. The Divine Mercy Message Scripture
Dives in Misericordia footnotes 52, 60, 61.
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