Mercy Is Strength

Psalm 18:1.  I will love You, O Lord, my strength.

Such a beautiful sentiment expressed here in the translation of this verse.

Examining the Hebrew, we find these words:   Racham YHVH Khayzek

Racham is used 47 times in the OT, and means mercy and compassion. Yet in one single verse, it is translated Love. Welcome to that verse. Translators are very effective in presenting the Psalms of David in beautiful, poetic language. However, what this actually says is “(In) The mercy of the Lord is (my) strength.”

So why the outlier translation of racham? The problem for the translation is the word khayzek, and relating mercy to strength. The dictionary definition of mercy is clemency, forbearance, forgiveness. This is only the correct understanding from the perspective of a man of the earth, who understands earthly things. From the perspective of the one granting the mercy, in this case the heavenly Father, it is an impartation of strength.

Consider this verse:

Zechariah 10:6. I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back, because I have mercy on them. 

We can now condense this verse to ‘strength and salvation are found in the mercy of the Lord’. A statement that is not the least bit controversial.

Now we can apply this knowledge to a parable of Jesus in Matthew.

Matthew 18:23-27.  Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.  The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’  Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

First consider how this falls on the ears of His listeners. How unlikely a scenario! Can a ruler dare sully his reputation by allowing someone to walk away with this great debt forgiven outright? Rulers tend toward ruthless in their reputation out of necessity. If he becomes known as someone who just wipes away someone’s debt, he will surely be taken advantage of by others.  For the sake of His parable, this serves Jesus well, because in this scenario, the One granting the mercy is His heavenly Father.

When Moses asked the Lord to reveal His name unto him, he received this description of God’s desired reputation:

Exodus 34:6, 7.  And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,  keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.

Our Heavenly Father, unlike a king of the earth, can afford to be merciful and gracious, and desires to be known as such. However, He makes it clear that He by no means clears the guilty. This is why people were instructed in the Gospels:

Matthew 3:8.  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.

Returning to the parable, we now find the servant who received forgiveness engaging in unacceptable behavior.

Matthew 18:28-34. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you  all.’  And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.  Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’  And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

Notice that we cannot question the king’s authority here. He can forgive a debt today, and cast into torment the following day for the same debt, made worse by unrepentant behavior. Now comes the stern warning to all who call themselves believers:

Matthew 18:35.  So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

And yet we hear taught “the unconditional love” of God. This defies the very nature of a covenant relationship. Even the most lackadaisical Christian knows the Lord’s prayer, but the words of Jesus given in commentary after this prayer, makes the same demand.

Matthew 6:14, 15.  For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

And so this:

Matthew 5:7.   Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

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