So in one sense, mercy is not getting what we deserve, as our penalty was paid for by another. But it is so much more. The children of Israel came to a designated place once-a-year through an intermediary. We come to a person. Our mercy seat is Jesus Christ. He has opened the way for permanent and eternal union and communion with God. And because of his continuing work in our lives, he is changing us so that we may become merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful.
I remember hearing this question in a Bible study more than once, and this was the common answer: “Mercy is not getting what we deserve.” While it’s short and pithy, is mercy as simplistic as that? Is it only the commutation of a sentence or stay of execution? Or is mercy much richer and deeper? To answer that question, “What is mercy?,” we need to go back to God and what his Word says about him.
In Exodus 33-34, Moses is meeting with God on Mt. Sinai. He was called to come up and receive instructions on right worship, the plans for the Tabernacle, and the 10 commadments. After this was accomplished, Moses asks for something extraordinary. He asks to see God’s glory. This is quite bold, for as God tells Moses, no one can see him and live. Yet God condescends to grant him this request. He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock, and under the shelter of his hand, Moses can see God’s glory pass by. And this is what God proclaims about himself, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…” Ex. 34:6 (NKJV).
Mercy is first and foremost an attribute of God.