During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25)
Egypt captivates the imaginative modern mind with the great pyramids at Giza and the Egyptian dynasties as one wonders about its mysteries and what life was like for those ancient people. The Bible also describes life there in Egypt. There are at least two clear cultural/theological realities in the Pentateuch concerning Egypt. First, the greatness and glory of Egypt was built on the back of its slaves and these slaves were found among their own people, enemies conquered, and through the practice of slave trade. Historical evidence can be found outside of the Bible, but God uses this historical truth to bring about his will. Joseph’s brothers intended to kill their brother but instead decided to sell him into slavery. It was an easy choice for them because slavery was so prevalent in the Ancient Near East. Second, God delivering his people from their distress is also another them surrounding Egypt. God’s mercy is evident in both the beginning and the end of his people’s captivity in Egypt. It was by God’s mercy they were saved from the great famine and later from slavery as they cried out to God.
The temptation for the Christian is to minimize the depth of God’s mercy by elevating our perceived holiness. I think it is a sign of Christian maturity to understand our lack of holiness before the Lord of all creation. Paul compares his own righteousness to dirty rags which emphasizes the worthlessness of human merit as he falls before the Lord in his need for mercy. I will discuss three important aspects of divine mercy in this brief article.
God’s Mercy and Distress
An important theological point is that God grants mercy to those who are in distress when they call out to him. God’s people were under great distress in chapter 2 because of the affliction of their difficult slavery under Egyptian rule by the monarch who did not know Joseph. Their affliction is described, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” In other words, God delivered his people not because of their distress, but because they cried out to God in their distress. This is an important element of God’s mercy we should not miss. Sometimes people are too proud to cry out to God for help. Often we have a tendency to bear our own burden and in great pride not ask anyone for help, and God’s people did that for years, but there was a time when slavery was too much for them to handle and they cried out to God. It was not until that moment did God do anything. He was patiently waiting for them to cry out to him, and they endured their persecution for a long time, but notice as soon as they cried out to the Lord, he began to work. The very first verse in the next chapter begins the Moses narrative, “Now Moses. . .” God was working out their deliverance before they could even see it, and it would be a glorious salvation.
Bartimaeus was a blind man and he was employed as a professional beggar. Every day he would sit on the road begging people to be merciful to him. Certainly, he had no pride as it was crushed every day when his next meal depended on other’s compassion and pity. He was reminded of his situation every morning as he opened his eyes to a dark world. His need for deliverance was no less than the Israelites need to be freed from slavery, except the beggar’s slavery was his own eyes. It is certain he knew about Jesus and the miracles he performed and when he heard the crowds going by, he cried out to the Lord and said, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The people told him to remain quiet probably thinking of him as a burden of society and unworthy to speak to the Master, but Jesus heard even him and responded, “What do you want me to do for you?” I cannot even imagine what he was thinking and feeling when the darkness of his eyes was replaced with light as he looked around and could see but his response is recorded in Luke 18:43 which was appropriate, “Immediately he regained his sight and began following him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.” Those people who earlier told him to be quiet were no longer quiet, but they praised God with the formally blind man named Bartimaeus. Why was he healed and shown mercy? Because he cried out to the Lord for mercy. This is an important element of God’s mercy and if we want to receive God’s mercy then we must cry out to him in our time of need like one who is helpless.
God’s Mercy and Love
Love is God’s motivation for mercy. God will show mercy because he is compassionate toward us in his love. God’s love for his people which the Old Testament calls lovingkindness or steadfast love is the basis of God’s mercy for his people. Psalm 25:6 connects God’s love with his mercy in this way, “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” The Psalmist wants the Lord to remember two of his attributes he had from the beginning toward his people and they are his love and mercy. God’s mercy is demonstrated in the very beginning when he judged Adam and Eve for their sins. He could have destroyed them but instead he showed them mercy by making clothes for them, letting them live outside of the Garden, and then providing salvation demonstrated in Genesis 3:15 when he declared, “And I will enmity between you and the woman, and between your see and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” This is the promise of future Messiah Jesus Christ who will be the seed of the woman as he destroys Satan.
God is merciful in the midst of our sin as well just like he was with Adam and Eve. God is slow to anger and quick to forgive. God will even forgive one who commits the most heinous and unspeakable evils if he will approach God with a humble heart and contrite spirit. For this fact, we should be eternally thankful. One example of God’s forgiveness is found surrounding Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 describes God’s speech to Moses about what it would mean to be a people for God’s own possession, and the people whole-heartedly agree to follow the Lord. Moses ascends the mountain to receive the Law and the people have already broken the commandments by constructing a golden calf and most likely worshiping it instead of the Lord. Moses sees what they are doing and he breaks the commandments of God. They make restitution and then Moses ascends the mountain again and God makes another copy of the 10 Commandments on stone tablets as he says beginning in Exodus 34:6, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands who forgives iniquity. . .”
God’s Mercy and the Kingdom of God
God’s mercy is not only for those in the Old Testament but for the 21st century church as well. Our salvation is evidence of God’s mercy in our lives. None of us would be saved had it not been the mercy of God being lavished upon us by our God who loves us. 1 Peter 1:3 teaches about God’s salvation given to believers as being a demonstration of his mercy when it says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Notice the connection between God’s mercy and our salvation. The reason why we are saved according to this passage is because the Lord is merciful to us. I also find it interesting to note that a person is saved calling out to God for mercy. Once again, the idea of God’s mercy being demonstrated when one is oppressed and calls out to the Lord. Romans 10:9-10 states it perfectly, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
The kingdom of God also is a demonstration of God’s mercy. The Sermon on the Mount including the Beatitudes emphasize the importance of mercy in God’s kingdom. Jesus in his great sermon illustrated those priorities about God’s kingdom that are often not seen on earth. Jesus, in Matthew 5:7 emphasizes the importance of God’s mercy being reflected in his people when he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” We do not only receive God’s mercy, but God’s mercy is reflected in those who have received it and is clearly seen by those who observe biblical Christianity. Mercy is so important Jesus connects it with an Old Testament passage about the expectation of God’s priority of worship when he quotes, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” In other words, a true worshiper is not the person who goes to the temple and brings a sacrifice only, but is a person who brings a sacrifice with joy because his life reflects one who has been in the presence of God.
In conclusion, we have received great mercy from our awesome God and hopefully our lives reflect this truth. We were like the Israelites at one point in our lives when we saw our affliction and cried out to God for relief. The result was God’s salvation and it was not based on our goodness but God’s mercy, and now our lives should reflect God’s mercy. I think we should think about God’s mercy with deep seriousness and thank him for his great mercy and ask him if his mercy is evident in our lives. Our God is so good and he has provided us with a merciful salvation.
Pastor Steven Lookabaugh has been our pastor since 2016 and is passionate about proclaiming the gospel of God through the weekly exposition of God’s Word; believing application is possible when one understands the historical/cultural meaning of the text. He leads our church in fulfilling our purpose toward the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, and to the Great Commandment as we seek to love one another. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in Expository Preaching from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on parabolic exposition. He is married to Jennifer and they have three children, Andrew, Kate and Olivia.