He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:7-8 (ESV)
And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness … “ Exodus 34:6
The psalmist says that God made his ways and acts known to Moses. God always wants to be known. I am thinking that I should pay attention when God defines himself. God describes himself this way: compassionate and gracious (or merciful), slow to anger and abounding in love. I looked at the first two attributes and was overwhelmed. I would like to save the second two for a future blog.
The first two words are the Hebrew rachum and channun. These two words are each used thirteen times in the Old Testament. Linked together, to describe God, they are used twelve times. Alone or together, they are always only used as attributes of God. Rachum means full of compassion, merciful; channun means gracious, “as hearing the cry of the vexed debtor.”i
John J. Parsons has this to say about these concepts:
“Notice first that the LORD calls himself rachum v’chanun, often translated ‘merciful and gracious.’ The noun rechem means ‘womb’ in Hebrew, indicating that God’s compassion is like a mother’s deep love for her child. The word chanun (from chen, grace or favor) indicates that God is a graceful giver who is favorably disposed to help those in need. God is compassionate and favorable to those who call upon Him.” — John J. Parsons, Hebrew for Christiansii
The adjective rachum comes from the verb racham, to love, to have compassion, or to compassionate. A.W. Tozer explains it this way:
“According to the Old Testament, mercy has certain meanings: to stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon and to be actively compassionate. It used to be a verb form of the word compassion, but we don’t use it anymore — maybe it’s because we don’t have the concept anymore. God actively ‘compassionates’ suffering men — I like that wonderfully well. For God to feel compassion at a distance is one thing, but for God actively to compassionate with people is something else.”– A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9
The second word, channun or gracious – hearing the cry of the debtor and being favorably disposed to help – reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 of the man who came before the master with overwhelming, impossible debt. But when he cried out for mercy “the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.”
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15
The compassion and grace of God are tightly woven together. God’s rachum, the deep love of a parent for a child, moves him to be gracious. Tozer notes in his book, The Attributes of God, that grace and mercy are not things that God does, but who God is. God is forever the compassionate Father favorably disposed toward those who cry out to him, always welcoming home the prodigal.
“And Jesus was saying to us, ‘You went away in Adam, but you’re coming back in Christ. And when you come back, you’ll find the Father hasn’t changed. He’s the same Father that He was when you all went out, every man to his own way. But when you come back in Jesus Christ you’ll find Him exactly the same as you left Him–unchanged. And the Father ran and threw his arms around him and welcomed him and put a robe and a ring on him and said, ‘This my son was dead, and he’s alive again’ ([Luke] 15:24). This is the grace of God.” — A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God (emphasis mine)
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to confidently draw near to God because of these two attributes.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy (pity, compassion) and find grace (kindness, “the Lord’s favor – freely extended to give Himself away to people because He is ‘always leaning toward them’”)iii to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Isn’t that amazing and wonderful? The word for “grace” in the Greek includes the picture of God “freely giving himself away to people” and “always leaning toward them.” Like a lover, totally focused on the beloved, leaning forward wanting to hear every word, every sigh. Like a parent leaning forward to catch the newly walking toddler. Like the father leaning forward, straining to see the very first glimpse of his returning child.
For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him. 2 Chronicles 30:9 (ESV)
… as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:12-14
Come back. If you have wandered far away, come back. If you are near, but have hardened your heart, come back. Come. Jesus has freely given himself for you on the cross. He is leaning toward you. He is the same unchanging God that introduced himself to Moses, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
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