The Quality of Mercy: Abraham, Jonah and the End Time

The quality of mercy is not strained. Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.

In other words, mercy blesses those who extend it and those to whom it is extended even when – most especially when – it is undeserved.  The above quote from one of the more famous Shakespeare plays suggests the full concept of mercy and where the road leads when it’s lacking.  Words reflecting Matthew’s Beatitudes, but concerningly losing ground in many Churches of God – once again. Too many Christian churches have not shown mercy historically either.

And yes, it’s a quality many times attributed to God Himself in scripture.  An integral part of His character, but for which, we would not be standing here today as sinful as this earth is, as we are. Surely there would have been no Noah’s ark without it.  No promised plan of redemption without it.  But for the Lord’s mercy, we are not consumed. (Lamentations 3:22). Nor are we forsaken.  God is both gracious and merciful. (Nehemiah 9:31).

Do we possess mercy?

As the world enters dark times once again – perhaps the beginning of the darkest times the world has ever known, is it a quality we have?  Do we possess mercy? Or in our desperation to see Jesus Christ’s return and the kingdom of God, do we cheer on the onset of the worst of times?  Wars and famines. Diseases that cannot be contained.  The prospect of four horseman riding through blood, carnage and death, through intense violence, fear, tears, horrors and hatreds.  Plagues and trumpet blasts and absolute destruction.  Or another step closer to it.

But we’ll make it of course.  Too bad for everyone else.  Yes, we can be rather calloused if we aren’t careful.  We can indulge ourselves in rejoicing in destruction, joyful in hoping for disaster.  Perhaps well meant as we look to the return of Jesus Christ and see how much this world needs His return. But still, completely lacking any empathy or sense of mercy towards those who will definitely be caught up in what will come at some point whether it is soon or in the future. Whether we know a few of those thousands and millions or not.  We are so sure we could not be among them.  So sure we’ll be saved from seeing it. So…well…arrogant actually.

Desiring an end to an evil world doesn’t mean we throw out mercy

True, there needs to be an end to this present evil world and an accounting for the deeds of those who wish and plan and institute evil. We should pray daily, “Thy kingdom come,” for sure.  Humanity isn’t going to get out of this mess by itself.  But should we not also be asking for mercy to be shown where it can be?”  Should we not have compassion for the masses of humanity who really are clueless and will suffer greatly? Should we not grieve for humanity’s current sorrows – every aborted child, suicide, drug addict, survivor of war and trauma, the trafficked, the abused, the oppressed, broken individuals?  Those who are not actively embracing evil. Who may not even know the difference between right and wrong.  And even those who are and do, if there is a chance they may repent.  God, Himself, declares: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezek 33:1-20).  Should we not also care?

Jesus did. John 11:35 is the most concise verse in the entire Bible: “Jesus wept.” He saw the sorrow of those around him at the death of Lazarus and realized they didn’t get it. They couldn’t see the resurrection. He felt compassion or “mercy.”  It wasn’t the only time.  In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  He knew it wasn’t their time to understand His first coming or His sacrifice.  He knew they weren’t going to get it.   He also knew what was going to happen to Jerusalem – that it would be destroyed. And even though He knew there would be a resurrection and a time for judgement and repentance later, He still felt sorrow and compassion at that moment in time.   He felt what could be called “mercy.”  Of course, there would be active mercy with His soon to be sacrifice.  We have received such mercy if we have accepted that sacrifice. (I Peter 2:10).  Do we realize what we have obtained?

Stephen clearly grasped what mercy means in the book of Acts when he asked God not to attribute the sin of his murder to those who were in the process of martyring him. Do we comprehend it for the rest of the world including those who do not now know Christ?

The stories of Abraham and Jonah

There are two more stories, this time from the Old Testament, which directly illustrate where we should be.  First is the story of Abraham asking God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of the righteous that might live there (Genesis 18).  It is not that Abraham condoned their wickedness. Indeed, he would not have, but he understood mercy.  He negotiated respectfully with God down to asking Him to spare the cities even if there were only ten righteous men.  And God agreed.

We know the story. Not even ten righteous people could be found.  God would have known this. Abraham probably guessed it and accepted what God would need to do if they weren’t there. But what may have been most important to God was Abraham’s act of asking for mercy anyway.  It revealed a rather necessary aspect of his character: he did not rejoice in the destruction or punishment of others.

It’s a journey that God later took Jonah through from the call to preach to Nineveh to his time in the belly of the fish and his stint under a miraculous shade plant as he waited for God to strike Nineveh down.  Jonah didn’t get it at the time  In fact, he eagerly awaited the destruction of Nineveh, down to taking a front row seat in a shelter outside the city. But Nineveh repented. God relented. And Jonah got angry.  He had greater pity for a plant than for people.  What did God tell him?  “…Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:10-11).  It’s not certain whether or not Jonah ever grasped what God was trying to teach him, but the story has been recorded for us.  Another example for us to consider, perhaps moreso because the ends of the ages may really come down on our shoulders, in our lifetime (I Cor 10:11).

In conclusion

So shouldn’t we be asking God to show mercy where He will?  To have compassion for those who may repent and those who have no clue they need to.  In whatever future God has planned for us, as kings and priests, we will need to have the quality of mercy. Indeed, “Mercy and truth preserve the king, And by lovingkindness he upholds his throne” confirms Prov 20:28.

It’s right to wish for an end to evil.  We should wish for that. It’s not right to do so without regard for mercy, compassion or empathy for suffering. Neither is it okay to be cold, hard and self-righteous about it.


Proverbs: 21:21: “He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor.” 

Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”

James 2:13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.



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