“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 136:1)
God’s mercy is a monumental theme in Scripture. The English word appears some 341 times in the Bible. The four Hebrew and three Greek words appear a total of 454 times and are also translated by “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,” “favor,” “compassion,” and “pity.” Of the 66 books of the Bible, only 16 do not use one of the words for mercy. Even though “mercy” is an important concept, it is somewhat difficult to prescribe a definition for it, especially since “grace” is occasionally coupled with it.
In the first reference where “mercy” is used, Lot has just been expelled from Sodom by the angels of judgment. In spite of the command by the angels that Lot and his daughters “escape to the mountain,” Lot begs: “Oh, not so, my LORD: Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life, . . . this city is near . . . Oh, let me escape thither” (Genesis 19:17-20). And later, the New Testament saints are told to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). In these and other such passages, the two terms appear to address similar subjects.
However similar they may appear to be, these words are not synonyms. “Grace” is most often associated with the sovereign dispensation of totally undeserved favor, and it is specifically connected to salvation. “Mercy” is more often connected to the withholding of judgment: “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:13).
Set aside some time today to read and meditate on this Psalm. You will find the day less wearisome if you do. HMM II