And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed [are] they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed [are] the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed [are] they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed [are] the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed [are] the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed [are] they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when [men] shall revile you, and persecute [you,] and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.Matt. 5:1-12
The words merciful and mercy are not used that often today. More common and contemporary words like compassion and kindness are now used in place of them. Acts of compassion and kindness are therefore considered acts of mercy. But we will soon learn the mercy of God is something quite unfathomable for the human mind to fully understand or comprehend.
There are several examples in scripture for the phrase blessed are the merciful. For example, there is a relatable parable of God’s mercy given by Jesus who described an event where two people went up into the synagogue to pray. One was a Pharisee, a religious ruler and the other was a publican, a tax collector for the Roman Empire. The story unfolds providing a very good illustration of blessed are the merciful as portrayed from God’s perspective.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are,] extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” [Luke 18:10-14]
What a remarkable contrast between the self-righteousness of one person with the contrite humility of another and with the consequential outcome for both individuals. All too often we fall into this trap of thinking we are good with God by comparing ourselves with others, judging them, condemning them and yet ignoring our own sins and shortcomings before God.
As with the publican noted above, there is a strong correlation of conviction over sin with the pleading for God’s mercy, “I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.” [Ps. 41:4] To those whose conviction of sin is prevalent, perhaps at times even overwhelming, the Lord God is indeed full of mercy, “The LORD [is] merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” [Ps. 103.:8] As in previous Bible studies, it is also important to distinguish the opposite of mercy for better contrast is making this point, “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but [he that is] cruel troubleth his own flesh.” [Prov. 11:17]
God of Mercy
Characteristics of mercy are also synonymous with the nature of the Lord God throughout scripture. For example, as Moses conversed with the Lord on Mount Sinai a proclamation of God took place, “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” [Ex. 34:6] This is truly where mercy begins and ends, with the Lord God in his merciful nature towards us through his Son.
For the remainder of this study, let us digress a bit more into some Israelite history to gain insight into blessed are the merciful. Once it all unfolds, readers will gain a far better understanding and appreciation of God’s mercy for it is here in the early display of God’s mercy and justice that ultimately leads us to the cross of Christ, occurring several centuries later. We are therefore about to go back in time and some ancient terms will be explained along the way!
The Mercy Seat
In the Old Testament, the merciful nature of the Lord God was reflected during Israel’s tyranny under Pharaoh followed by their subsequent exodus out of Egypt. From there, Moses was given guidance from the Lord to build a formal and elaborate tabernacle for the earthly presence of God. This tabernacle was intricately prepared as instructed by the Lord and the ark of the covenant within the tabernacle had a solid gold covering called a mercy seat, “And thou shalt make a mercy seat [of] pure gold: two cubits and a half [shall be] the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.” [Ex. 25:17] Now let’s take careful note of why this mercy seat came to be given its importance for the subject at hand.
As this ark of the covenant was prepared, further instruction was provided by the Lord God, “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which [are] upon the ark of the testimony, of all [things] which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.” [Ex. 25:21-22]
It was here where Moses conversed directly with the Lord God, “And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him from off the mercy seat that [was] upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims: and he spake unto him.” [Num. 7:89] Today, this would indeed be a very surreal experience to speak with God directly for one and in such an elaborate manner.
It was also here that Moses was instructed on the detailed preparation for the high priest on sacrificial blood offerings upon the mercy seat as a propitiation for the sins of the Israelites. Propitiation is more commonly known and referred to today as atonement or atoning sacrifice. The mercy seat was the focal point for atoning sacrifices for the people of Israel, “And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle [it] with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.” [Lev. 16:14]
Christ our Mercy
The importance of this correlation between a merciful God and the mercy seat needs to be underscored to appreciate blessed are the merciful. The mercy seat and propitiatory sacrifices performed in the Old Testament served as a precursor to what would become the ultimate and final atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross at Calvary. With this sacrificial act by Jesus, there was no further need for any more blood offering sacrifices, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, [I say,] at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” [Rom. 3:24-26]
This is the good news, or gospel of the Christian faith, for Christ died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead as recorded in 1 John 2:2, “…he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.” [1 John 2:2] This demonstrates God’s unfathomable love and mercy for all people as John comments, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]
For some readers, the notion of a blood offering and sacrifice is perhaps quite foreign sounding, possibly unsettling, if not offensive, but this is authentic Christian faith. While God is merciful, he is also a God of justice and it is important to view the two of them, mercy and justice in proper context to give a fuller understanding of his mercy. The apostle Peter helps to encapsulate the mercy of God with the sacrifice he made to redeem us, “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” [1 Pet. 1:3] God is truly the one who personifies the phrase blessed are the merciful with his abundant mercy.
Acts of Mercy
As readers step away from this week’s Bible Study on blessed are the merciful, they are encouraged to seek out opportunities where mutual blessings may happen from becoming more merciful with others. The world is full of hurt everywhere as one looks around, and it is often masked by superficial interactions among people, distractions from many sources and countless abilities to alter real emotions from true life. Merciful people show others how faith, hope and love can bring fulfilment in life.
It is always important to remember though that through God’s mercy comes saving faith, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” [Tit. 3:5-6] This verses describes the mercy of God by saving us from the eternal consequences of our sin. As he saves us, our spirit is regenerated by the washing or cleansing of our sins through the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Our spirit is then renewed by the Holy Ghost, born again or born from above.
What better mercy is available to us in this world than to receive God’s eternal mercy through Jesus Christ the saviour of the world. Considering this, perhaps a noteworthy moment of praise is shared for all seekers of faith, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for [he is] good; for his mercy [endureth] for ever.” [1 Chron. 16:34] Our decision for Christ is indeed one that will last forever.
Bible Study Questions
- In the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, why do you think the Pharisee’s acts were not considered by God?
- Can you think of a time when you may have exalted yourself over others who were less fortunate?
- In Proverbs above from Blessed are the Merciful, what act or character is noted as the opposite of merciful?
- In the section, God of Mercy, what are three things from God that are likened to being merciful?
- How would you explain the Mercy Seat to someone who had never heard of it before?
- What is the significance of the Mercy Seat in relation to Christ as our atoning sacrifice?
- Is there someone to whom you could show a little extra mercy to who is in need of kindness and compassion?
WORD GUIDE – * (smote – to strike with a hand) * (abase – to lower or put down) * (ark of the covenant – gold covered wooden chest) * (tabernacle – place of worship) * (cubit – ancient form of measurement about 17 to 21 inches) * (Cherubims – one of the group of angels) * (bullock – a young bull) * (propitiation – appeasement or conciliation)
For reference, here are some frequently asked questions that are answered in this Bible Study. It is with sincere prayer that they have been answered through carefully researched and written commentary for seekers of faith. The absence of answers in the study is perhaps indicative that the events and circumstances were deemed less worthy of documentation in the overall importance of biblical scripture. What does merciful mean in the beatitudes? What is the meaning of blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy? Who said blessed are the merciful? What does being merciful mean? Blessed are the merciful examples. Blessed are the merciful KJV. Blessed are the merciful sermon outline. Blessed are the merciful devotional.