“Lord, show me kindness when I don’t deserve it.”
“Lord, forgive my sins even though you and I both know I did every one of them.”
Most of the time, we simply say, “Lord, have mercy!”
This is mercy: the demonstration of undeserved kindness or forgiveness. God is supremely merciful. The Psalmists talked about that fact quite often. For example,
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. –Psalm 28:2
Jesus highlighted mercy near the beginning of that most famous of teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the only one of the Beatitudes in which you get what you give.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. –Matthew 5:7
This month in our on-going series, Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament, we look to Abraham as an Old Testament example of mercy, both given and received.
Abraham Was Merciful
Abram’s nephew, Lot, took the choice land when he and Abram parted ways (Genesis 13:5-12), leaving Abram with the rocky, more difficult terrain on which to herd his animals. Lot then lived in Sodom. A few years later, when Lot got tangled up in a war between competing city-states, Abram stepped in and rescued Lot along with all Lot’s family (Genesis 14:8-16).
Side note: Abram was 99 years old when he and all the males in his household were circumcised. At the same time, God changed his name to Abraham, which means father of many, and Sarai’s name to Sarah.
Later in the same 99th year, three visitors walked up to Abraham’s tent. They visited for awhile, one prophesied that Sarah would have a baby within a year, and they all ate together. As they left, Abraham accompanied them a little way along the road. If he hadn’t known before, their conversation made it clear that they were…not of this earth. They represented the Lord, and they were headed down to Sodom to find out how wicked it was and destroy it (Genesis 18:1-21).
Despite everything Lot had done,
Abraham was merciful to him.
Abraham surely knew the wickedness of Sodom, but he also knew his nephew, Lot, was there. Despite Lot’s selfishness in taking the choice land, despite Abraham’s effort in rescuing him from captivity, and despite Lot’s willingness to live among the depraved people of Sodom (just read Genesis 19:3-5!), Abraham showed mercy. He didn’t want the Lord to destroy Sodom, especially while Lot was still there.
Abraham pleaded with the lead man/angel/envoy/Lord among the three visitors.
Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” –Genesis 18:23-25
For 50 people?
The Lord relented, and thus began the compromise. Abraham diligently whittled away the number until the Lord finally said,
“For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” –Genesis 18:33
Sodom still got destroyed the next day. It was that bad. But the Lord’s envoys helped Lot and his family escape before burning sulfur began raining down on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24).
Abraham demonstrated mercy when he pleaded for Sodom, and especially for Lot, despite their uneasy history.
Abraham Received Mercy
Abram was no Boy Scout. Years earlier, when he and Sarai were in Egypt, Abram told Sarai to lie to the people and say they were brother and sister (Genesis 12:10-20). On another occasion, just after God sealed His covenant with Abram through blood sacrifices (Genesis 15), Abram let Sarai talk him into impregnating Hagar, Sarai’s maid (Genesis 16:1-4), instead of waiting for the offspring God had promised.
Despite all Abraham’s failures,
God was merciful to him.
Despite these and other failures, God showed mercy to Abraham. He followed through with His covenant, and Abraham became the father of many nations (Genesis 15:5), a patriarch, and chief among the examples of faith cited in Hebrews 11.
God’s mercy has no time limits or quotas. He is always merciful toward us and, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, He calls us to show mercy to others, even when the consequences aren’t literal “hell fire and brimstone.” Isn’t that what it means to be “little Christs”?
What do you think? Is Abraham a good example of mercy? Can you think of someone else who “fits the bill?” I would love to hear from you in the comments below. (And if you know a good example for one of the upcoming posts, just message me.)