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COMMITTING TO CHRISTIAN COMPASSION

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Lexham Theological Wordbook Mercy and Compassion

Mercy and Compassion

Mercy and Compassion

Lexham Theological Wordbook Mercy and Compassion

Mercy and compassion denote care, concern, and empathetic feeling for another person. In the Bible, mercy and compassion are most perfectly demonstrated and characterized by God’s own merciful and loving care for his people, and in particular by the gift of mercy through Jesus Christ

Lexham Theological Wordbook Mercy and Compassion

Mercy and compassion denote care, concern, and empathetic feeling for another person. In the Bible, mercy and compassion are most perfectly demonstrated and characterized by God’s own merciful and loving care for his people, and in particular by the gift of mercy through Jesus Christ

Mercy and compassion denote care, concern, and empathetic feeling for another person. In the Bible, mercy and compassion are most perfectly demonstrated and characterized by God’s own merciful and loving care for his people, and in particular by the gift of mercy through Jesus Christ.

Concept Summary

In the OT, several Hebrew roots are central to the semantic domain of mercy and compassion: רחם (rḥm, “compassion”); חנן (ḥnn, “grace”); חמל (ḥāmal, “pity”); חסד (ḥsd, “loves”); נחם (nḥm, “have compassion”). The verb רָחַם (rāḥam, “to be merciful”) and the words רַחֲמִים (raḥămîm, “compassion”) and רַחוּם (raḥûm, “compassionate”) tend to refer to displays of compassion (e.g., ; ). The verb חָנַן (ḥānan, “to show grace”) and its related terms refer to divine or human gracious acts that help people in need (e.g., ; ). The Hebrew verb חָמַל (ḥāmal, “to have pity”) often means taking pity on someone and sparing them from something. The verb נָחַם (nāḥam, “to comfort, show compassion”) can also indicate the experience of feeling pity or compassion (). Finally, the Hebrew term חֶסֶד (ḥesed, “mercy”) frequently describes Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness and his merciful love for his people.
Isaiah 14:1 NASB95
When the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and again choose Israel, and settle them in their own land, then strangers will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob.
Exodus 33:19 NASB95
And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
Numbers 6:25 NASB95
The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;
several Hebrew roots are central to the semantic domain of mercy and compassion: רחם (rḥm, “compassion”); חנן (ḥnn, “grace”); חמל (ḥāmal, “pity”); חסד (ḥsd, “loves”); נחם (nḥm, “have compassion”). The verb רָחַם (rāḥam, “to be merciful”) and the words רַחֲמִים (raḥămîm, “compassion”) and רַחוּם (raḥûm, “compassionate”) tend to refer to displays of compassion (e.g., ; ). The verb חָנַן (ḥānan, “to show grace”) and its related terms refer to divine or human gracious acts that help people in need (e.g., ; ). The Hebrew verb חָמַל (ḥāmal, “to have pity”) often means taking pity on someone and sparing them from something. The verb נָחַם (nāḥam, “to comfort, show compassion”) can also indicate the experience of feeling pity or compassion (). Finally, the Hebrew term חֶסֶד (ḥesed, “mercy”) frequently describes Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness and his merciful love for his people.
Deuteronomy 7:2 NASB95
and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.
Judges 21:6 NASB95
And the sons of Israel were sorry for their brother Benjamin and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel today.
Regarding mercy and compassion in the NT, the verbs ἐλεέω (eleeō, “to have mercy”) and ἐλεάω (eleaō, “to have mercy”), along with the substantival form ἔλεος (eleos, “mercy”), explicitly refer to mercy. Other Greek terms related to the concepts of mercy and compassion include the verb σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai, “to have compassion”) and the related noun σπλάγχνον (splagchnon, “compassion”); and οἰκτίρω (oiktirō, “to have compassion”) and the related noun οἰκτιρμός (oiktirmos, “compassion”) and adjective οἰκτίρμων (oiktirmōn, “compassionate”).

Theological Overview

Compassion and mercy are abiding attributes of God (e.g., ; ). Because God requires his people to emulate his holiness (), he commands mercy in his law (e.g., ), and divine wisdom teaches mercy and compassion (e.g., ; ). According to Scripture, God’s mercy and compassion cannot be earned by human beings. Instead, God bestows mercy upon whomever he chooses and according to his prerogative (e.g., ; ). In the Bible, God’s people experience his mercy after they have engaged in periods of sinful activity, disobedience, or complacency (e.g., ; ; ; ; ). In many of these cases, God’s mercy prompts individuals to repent and return to God (e.g., ).
Psalm 86:17 NASB95
Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
Psalm 145:8–9 NASB95
The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.
Leviticus 20:26 NASB95
‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.
Deuteronomy 15:7–11 NASB95
“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’
Proverbs 14:21 NASB95
He who despises his neighbor sins, But happy is he who is gracious to the poor.
Proverbs 28:27 NASB95
He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.
Exodus 33:19 NASB95
And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
are abiding attributes of God (e.g., ; ). Because God requires his people to emulate his holiness (), he commands mercy in his law (e.g., ), and divine wisdom teaches mercy and compassion (e.g., ; ). According to Scripture, God’s mercy and compassion cannot be earned by human beings. Instead, God bestows mercy upon whomever he chooses and according to his prerogative (e.g., ; ). In the Bible, God’s people experience his mercy after they have engaged in periods of sinful activity, disobedience, or complacency (e.g., ; ; ; ; ). In many of these cases, God’s mercy prompts individuals to repent and return to God (e.g., ).
Romans 9:15 NASB95
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
Hosea 2:14–20 NASB95
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Bring her into the wilderness And speak kindly to her. “Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. “It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi And will no longer call Me Baali. “For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, So that they will be mentioned by their names no more. “In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety. “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.
Joel 2:12–13 NASB95
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil.
Jonah 4:2 NASB95
He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
Matthew 15:22 NASB95
And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.”
Matthew 18:33 NASB95
‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’
2 Chronicles 30:9 NASB95
“For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.”
Many of the references to mercy and compassion in the OT are pleas to God to show mercy out of his loving kindness and covenantal faithfulness. For example, the psalmist pleads with God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” ( ESV; compare ; ; ; ; ; ). In , Moses promises the people of Israel that God will keep his covenant with them because he is a merciful God (compare ).
Psalm 51:1 NASB95
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Psalm 25:6 NASB95
Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old.
Psalm 69:16 NASB95
Answer me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good; According to the greatness of Your compassion, turn to me,
Psalm 123:3 NASB95
Be gracious to us, O Lord, be gracious to us, For we are greatly filled with contempt.
Isaiah 63:7 NASB95
I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, According to all that the Lord has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.
Jeremiah 42:9 NASB95
and said to them, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him:
Daniel 9:17 NASB95
“So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary.
Deuteronomy 4:31 NASB95
“For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.
Romans 9–11 NASB95
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ ” And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.” But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, By a nation without understanding will I anger you.” And Isaiah is very bold and says, “I was found by those who did not seek Me, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” But as for Israel He says, “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.” And David says, Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.” I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
In the NT, the Gospels present compassion and mercy as fundamental characteristics of the mission and message of Jesus (e.g., ; ; ; ). The NT also teaches that mercy is foundational to salvation in Christ (e.g., ; ; ). As a result, believers may confidently approach God “to receive mercy and find grace” in times of need (). The NT authors repeatedly affirm mercy as a common virtue that Christians should practice among the community of faith (e.g., ; ; ; ; ; ; ; , ; ).
Matthew 5:37 NASB95
“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
Matthew 9:27 NASB95
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”
Luke 10:37 NASB95
And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
Luke 18:38–39 NASB95
And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Romans 9:15–18 NASB95
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Ephesians 2:4–5 NASB95
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Titus 3:5 NASB95
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
Hebrews 4:16 NASB95
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Matthew 5:7 NASB95
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Luke 6:36 NASB95
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Romans 12:8 NASB95
or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
2 Corinthians 6:12 NASB95
You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections.
2 Corinthians 7:15 NASB95
His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.
Philippians 2:1 NASB95
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
Colossians 3:12 NASB95
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
Jude 22 NASB95
And have mercy on some, who are doubting;
Jude 23 NASB95
save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
Hebrews 10:34 NASB95
For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
Frederick, J. (2014). Mercy and Compassion. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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