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Many have tried to answer this question and have relied on the words of men and their religions to find the answer. Many have turned to the idea that God is whatever we want him to be, or the sum of all good. Some also argue that God is a figment of our imagination, created only for the purpose of blaming someone or something for the good, the bad, and the unexplainable.
But for those of us who have come to a life-changing and life-saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we know that God is more than just a myth or legend. We know that God is not revealed through the teachings of Buddha, Allah, Confucius, the Pope, Aristotle, or New Age incantations or affirmations. Rather, we believe that God is revealed through the infallible and divinely inspired teachings of the Bible.
However, even as Christians who know the Bible and claim to live our life centered around its teachings, we complacently rely on our imaginations or the teachings of our Christian parents or leaders to help us from our opinion of who God is. I’m not saying that what you’ve learned from your parents or pastors is incorrect. What I am saying is the most intimate relationships are developed from firsthand accounts and so when we encounter Jesus firsthand by learning about Him directly from His Word, we begin to develop an intimacy with Him that nothing or no one else can produce.
Admittedly, I’ve also struggled with complacently accepting a sermon for my knowledge of Jesus. But after encountering Jesus firsthand through the intimate moments spent meditating on His Word, I’ve learned that intimacy with Jesus cannot be taught, but rather experienced. And it is through our time studying the Word of God, meditating on His Word, and through prayer that we find ourselves arriving at the answer to the infamous question Who is God?
To help facilitate this intimacy and shed light on truths I’ve encountered during my own time spent in God’s Word and in the solitude of prayer and meditation, I’ve decided to dedicate a devotional series to the character of God, both those which are communicable and incommunicable.
I pray that as you listen and / or read each devotional in this series you find yourself closer to God and more intimately familiar with who He is.
Link to Last Week's Devo - Who is God? - Part 2 - God is Good – SimplyHealthyHome (shopsimplyhealthyhome.com)
God is Merciful and Compassionate
A huge misconception about Christianity is that we worship a God who is nothing but fire and brimstone, a God who is only concerned with sending people to hell. But nothing could be further from the truth. If the last few devotionals in this series haven't been enough to convince you, here is another dose of just how much our God is for us.
This week's devotional is all about revealing the merciful and compassionate attributes of God.
We'll define each of these attributes and then look at 10 different accounts of how God displays these attributes towards His people.
Defining Mercy and Compassion
We often read about mercy and compassion in the same passage throughout Scripture.
“The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” Psalm 145:8-20
“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
But why? What is the tie between the mercy and compassion of God?
Before answering this question, we must first define mercy and compassion.
According to the Oxford dictionary, mercy is defined as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”
The same source describes compassion as the following “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”
Mercy is the result of God’s compassion toward us. Because of God’s compassion toward us, He bestows mercy, and withholds the penalty of our sin from us.
God’s compassion towards us flows from His intimate knowledge of us and our weaknesses. Jesus, who was both fully God and fully human, took on the burden of our sins, and was tempted just as we are, so that He might pay the ultimate sacrifice in our stead. He didn’t come to die in our place as one who was completely removed from our plight. No, Jesus died having fully experienced the human condition.
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:17
And it’s because of this that we now have a High Priest who can sympathize with us on a personal level. This same sympathy for us and our weak human condition moves Him towards compassion, and in His compassion, He grants us mercy.
God's Mercy & Compassion Demonstrated
Perhaps one of the most powerful and convincing demonstrations of God’s mercy and compassion can be seen in the story of the Israelites trek in the wilderness after being delivered by God from the hands of their Egyptian captors. During a period of 40 years, God was tried and tested by the people of Israel who repeatedly forgot the power of God that they firsthand witnessed, complained, and ultimately turned against the God who saved them.
God endured these murmurings and, in His compassion, and mercy, granted supernatural aid to satisfy their longings. But no matter what He did for them, it still wasn’t enough.
Below are 10 accounts of how the children of Israel complained and turned against God yet were granted mercy and compassion.
1. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at the Red Sea
The children of Israel have a “boldness” as they finally taste freedom after 400 years of captivity in Egypt. This boldness is not rooted in the strength of the God who saved them, but rather in themselves. However, we see this pride and confidence quickly fade when their situation turns south as they realize their Egyptian captors have followed them to the Red Sea with hopes of bringing them back in captivity.
Afraid for their lives and freedom, the Israelites call out to God with groanings and ask why they were delivered in the first place only to be slain by their former captors.
Unfazed by the impossibility of the situation, God responds with a resounding “Why do you cry out to me?” Tell the children of Israel to go forward.”
“And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.” Exodus 14:15
God is not scared by the Egyptians. He is not worried about the Red Sea preventing the Israelites from crossing over to safety.
And so, despite Israel’s lack of faith and murmurings against Him, we see that God is moved by compassion and mercifully acts. He saves the Israeli people by parting the Red Sea, drying the ground that was once submerged in water so that they can safely cross, and then bringing down the walls of the Red Sea on the Egyptian army that was in pursuit of His people.
2. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at Marah
After witnessing God’s infinite power at the Red Sea, the children of Israel are left singing praises to God.
However, this praise soon turns to murmuring once again after wandering in the wilderness for 3 days with no water and arriving at a place called “Marah” which means “bitter”.
“And the people complained against Moses, saying “what shall we drink?” Exodus 14:24
After 3 days of no water, one might understand the groans and complains of the Israelite nation, but consider this – If you were God and just delivered the nation of Israel from 400 years of captivity by slamming Egypt with 10 plagues, and then miraculously parting a sea to get them safely across to the other side, you might be incredulous at the fact the same people who witnessed these miracles would doubt your care for them and ability to provide.
But God demonstrates His compassion towards their suffering and mercifully grants them another blessing by supernaturally turning the bitter waters of Marah sweet so that they can quench their thirst.
“So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them,” Exodus 15:25
In addition to this miracle, God also instructs the children of Israel how to respond to future adversities, knowing that this wouldn’t be the last time they lose faith –
“and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statues, I will put none of the diseases on your which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:26
Unfortunately, we see that this admonition is repeatedly disobeyed in the accounts below.
3., 4., & 5., God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated in the Wilderness of Sin
Exactly one month after being delivered from Egypt, the Israelites arrive to the wilderness known as Sin, which seems fitting since they will be committing 3 offenses (sins) against God in this place.
Firstly, we see that when struck by their hunger, the Israelites begin to doubt God and His ability to provide, and complain.
“And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:3
This accusation against God is founded on a skewed perception of the past, because in reality, the slaves of Egypt were dealt with harsh and bitter bondage.
"Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor." Exodus 1:11-14
Not only are they wrong in their account of the past, but also ungrateful for God’s mercy and compassion in delivering them and providing for them up until this point.
Secondly, the children of Israel break God’s commandment to not gather more than one days’ worth of manna at a time.
In response to Israel's cry of hunger, God sends literal angel food, known as Manna, to satisfy their hunger, along with a miraculous supply of quail that would appear in the evening.
"Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full." Psalm 78:25
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’" Exodus 16:11-12
God told Moses to instruct the people of Israel to not gather more than one days worth of Manna at a time and even gave the supernaturally provided manna an expiration date to ensure that any excess of manna would spoil by the next morning.
"This is the thing which the Lord has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’" Exodus 16:16
I believe God put this rule in place to guide the people of Israel towards putting their faith in Him rather than in their own ability. But driven by their fear and lack of faith, the Israel people broke God’s rule and gathered more than a days’ worth of manna.
“Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.” Exodus 16:20
Thirdly, the people of Israel break God’s commandment to uphold the Sabbath and not gather any food on the 7th day of the week.
God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Not because He was tired and needed a break, but rather to set a standard. This standard would be known as the Sabbath and would instruct the Jews to work for 6 days and rest on the 7th to symbolize the rest provided by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In order to uphold this tradition, God commanded that no manna be gathered on the 7th day. He even ensured that no manna would appear to prevent the people from going out to gather, but this didn’t seem to stop them from acting on their fears and lack of faith.
“Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none.” Exodus 16:27
In the end, despite His peoples’ repeated lack of faith and disobedience on these 3 accounts, God demonstrates compassion and mercy towards them by supernaturally providing for their needs and withholding judgement for their offenses against Him.
6. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at Rephidim
As they continue on their journey through the wilderness, we see the children of Israel once again murmur from lack of water at a place known as “Rephidim”.
“And the people thirsted for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, “why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Exodus 17:3
Although the people complain directly against Moses, they are in essence complaining against God, because Moses is appointed by God and is responsible for carrying out the acts of God. When they doubt Moses, they are really doubting God.
In response to their complains, Moses calls out to God for help, and God compassionately and mercifully provides for them by causing water to flow from a rock.
“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” Exodus 17:6
God provides for the people of Israel and even instructs Moses to take up the elders of Israel with him as witnesses to God’s supernatural power and provision! Moses then names the place Massah as a reminder of the peoples' test to God.
"So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”" Exodus 17:7
7. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at Hereb
Perhaps one of the most evident cases of Israel’s lack of faith in God is seen when Moses ascends Mt. Sinai to talk with God and receive the 10 commandments that were written with God’s own finger. After ascending the mountain for 40 days and nights, the people grew restless.
They reasoned amongst themselves that Moses would never return and in his stead, they would make a golden calf from the spoils they brought out of Egypt and worship that calf as their god.
"Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:1-4
Knowing what His people have done, God tells Moses to descend the mountain and return to bring order back to the camp.
Upon descending, Moses can hear the sound of revelry and godlessness from the people whom God saved. Moses, understanding the seriousness of the crime Israel has committed against God, pleas with God to spare His chosen people.
And sure enough, we see God’s compassion and mercy kick in, and He does not forsake the people that so blatantly rejected Him.
"Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people." Exodus 32:11-14
8. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at Taberah
After such a grave offense with the golden calf, you might expect the people of Israel to think twice before testing God. But once again, at a place known as Taberah, the people complain against God. Kindled with anger, God’s fire begins to burn the camp.
The people cry out to Moses to save them, and then Moses cries out to God, the only one who can truly save.
"Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the Lord, the fire was quenched. So he called the name of the place Taberah, because the fire of the Lord had burned among them." Numbers 11:1-3
In His compassion and mercy, God ceases the fire and spares His people.
9. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at Kibroth-Hattaavah
Even after witnessing all of the miracles of God up until this point and seeing the fire of God's wrath (literally), the people of Israel, along with the Egyptians that also fled Egypt, being to complain about the variety of foods available for them to eat in the wilderness! The Manna that God had provided (literally angels food), was just not going to cut it for them.
"Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” Numbers 11:4-6
Moses strolls the camp to hear countless cases of weeping and wanting. Burdened by the people’s cries, He calls out to God and asks for help, both to satisfy the people but also to carry the burden of their endless longings.
God not only sends aid to Moses, but also miraculously provides quail again.
"Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again." Numbers 11:25
"Now a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground. And the people stayed up all that day, all night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers); and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp." Numbers 11:31-32
God's mercy and compassion exist in this account, but it's also important to observe His righteous anger as well. God did send quail, but also a plague that would wipe out the people who complained against Him in this account.
"But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving." Numbers 11:33-34
God is merciful and compassionate, but He is also Just (check out next week's devo for more on this attribute of God).
10. God’s Mercy and Compassion Demonstrated at Canaan
The 10th and final account takes place as the children of Israel finally arrive at the Promised Land.
Upon arriving to the land that God promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord instructs Moses to send out 12 spies into the land and provide a report of the land and its’ inhabitants.
Upon searching the land, the 12 spies come back to report that the land truly is one “flowing with milk and honey” just as God said it would be. However, 10 of the spies begin to spur on discouragement and defeat with their report of giants that roam throughout the land. They tell the people that although the land is good it is unattainable because of the number of people and the giants that inhabit it.
After hearing this report, the people of Israel complain against God and decide to elect a captain that would lead them back to Egypt, the land that held them captives as slaves!
"And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” Numbers 14:2-4
In a last attempt to persuade the people, Joshua and Caleb, which were 2 of the 12 spies that scouted the land of Canaan, plead with the people to trust God and have faith that He would provide.
"But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.” Numbers 14:6-9
Unpersuaded by their pleas, the people of Israel attempt to kill Joshua and Caleb with stones, unknowingly sealing the fate of their own demise.
"And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel." Numbers 14:10
Angered by the people’s lack of faith and evil hearts, God threatens to destroy them, but is moved by the compassion of Moses intercession for them. God decrees that although He will not completely forsake them, only the generation (those younger than 20 years old) who didn’t turn against Him would enter the promised land.
"Then the Lord said: “I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord— because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it." Numbers 14:20-24
"The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised." Numbers 14:29-31
When we seek to answer the question "Who is God?" we are faced the truth that God is not a fire and brimstone God. God is loving, good, and as we saw from today's devo, God is merciful and compassionate.
God's compassion stems from His intimate knowledge of us and our weak human nature. He sympathizes with us and our struggles. And in His compassion, God often acts mercifully by withholding from us the punishment we deserve.
God's mercy and compassion was demonstrated on 10 different accounts during Israel's journey through the wilderness. God's chosen people, who we miraculously saved and cared for, turned against Him 10 times, and in each of those instances we see God moved with compassion and full of mercy.
Just like Israel forgot about God's presence and ability to provide, we often forget about the countless blessings He's given to us. But the good news is - God's mercy and compassion remain for us just as much as they did for the people of Israel.
This doesn't mean we get to do whatever we want. Because just as we saw in a few of the accounts above, God is just, just as much as He is merciful and compassionate. However, we can find solace in the truth that our God's character is not one that seeks to punish and destroy. Rather, His character compassionately understands us and lends itself towards the mercy for His Creation.