Psalms - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 1 Lesson 07 - Your Mercy Reaches Unto the Heavens

Teachers Comments
Feb 10 - Feb 16

Key Texts: Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Psalm 113, Psalm 123, Psalm 130, Psalm 136

The definition of the word mercy, as given by the Oxford Language Dic­tionary, is as follows: “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” The scriptural examples provided above reflect this definition.

Mercy is an astounding word that inspires the human spirit with hope and motivation. Anyone suffering the consequences of poor decisions feels the crushing weight of guilt dissipate when shown mercy and grace. When a deadline is extended or a debt forgiven, we experience overwhelming relief and gratitude at the proffered mercy.

This week, we will learn about the mercy of the Creator, as revealed in six different psalms. Mercy in the Psalms is depicted in its highest manifestation: the mercy of the Holy One to the sinner—the mercy of a God ready to forgive and redeem because of His grace.

When we read these six psalms in the original Hebrew, we discover that the psalmists used four different Hebrew words to refer to what we call “mercy.” Understanding these four words and their implications will give us a deeper understanding of the love of God. As we examine these Hebrew terms, let us ponder how the insights they afford us enhance our personal concept of “mercy.”

Part II: Commentary


Hesed is the most common Hebrew word used for “mercy” in the Old Testament. It is better understood as “loving kindness.” Psalm 109:12, 16 connects hesed with compassion to the poor, the fatherless, and the needy. Because God saves His people from disasters and oppressors, the psalmist praises His name for His merciful actions (Ps. 31:7, 21; Ps. 32:10; Ps. 57:3; Ps. 59:10; Ps. 94:18; Ps. 143:12).

With this context in mind, let’s begin our study of hesed, or mercy, by looking at how it relates to deliverance. The psalmist asks for mercy during calamity, persecution, wandering in the desert, illness, storm, or bondage (Ps. 57:1–4, Ps. 23:6, Ps. 40:11). The narrator of the Psalms also considers hesed a delivering power, or as the ability to deliver (Ps. 31:17; Ps. 94:18; Ps. 109:26; Ps. 62:12, 13; Ps. 59:11, 17, 18). Thus, hesed is, in essence, the redemptive act of God on behalf of His people. In Psalm 119, the writer asks God to spare, or deliver, him according to His hesed (Ps. 119:88, 149, 159).

We also see hesed used in relation to protection. In Psalm 36:10, 11 and Psalm 32:10, the writer makes a plea for hesed, or God’s protection, from the wicked and the arrogant. Hesed also is identified with the faithfulness of God (see Psalm 85 and Psalm 90).

Additionally, in Psalm 6:4, hesed safeguards existence. Elsewhere, the psalmist appeals to the Lord to preserve him (Ps. 119:88, 149), recognizing His loving precepts as an important factor in the preservation and restoration of life (Ps. 119:159).

Finally, hesed is eternal (Ps. 89:2, 28, 33; Ps. 103:17; Ps. 117:2; Ps. 138:8) because it’s part of the character of the Almighty. This assurance is good news to the believer. “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Ps. 100:5, NKJV; see Ps. 106:1, Ps. 107:1).

Psalms also tells us that the one who requests God’s hesed is in a good relationship with Him. Believers should express trust in God (Ps. 31:14, 17; Ps. 119:41, 42; Ps. 143:8) and hope (Ps. 33:18, 22; Ps. 147:11) in order to become the recipients of His mercy. The gracious mercy of God is given to those who wait on the Lord. Moreover, faith is a condition of receiving God’s hesed.


Psalm 51:1 uses three words for mercy:

“Have mercy [hanan] upon me, O God,

according to Your lovingkindness [_hesed_];

according to the multitude of Your tender mercies [raham],

blot out my transgressions” (NKJV).

Raham comes from a Hebrew noun that means “womb, belly” (Gen. 29:31, Ps. 22:9), a word that contains within it the idea of a mother’s tender care for her baby (see Job 24:20). Raham also represents an emotion that stands in contrast to anger (Amos 1:11, Zech. 1:12–17). This emotion is a kindness that far exceeds what someone deserves (Gen. 43:14, 1 Kings 8:50). In this context, raham means to “show compassion, favor” (Neh. 1:11, Ps. 106:46), as in someone with power in a superior position who decides to show favor to a subordinate. This explanation is the quintessence of God’s mercy to us.

God’s mercy “signifies a warm compassion, a compassion which goes the second mile, which is ready to forgive sin, to replace judgment with grace.”—New International Dictionary of Old Testament Exegesis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), vol. 3, p. 1091. What is more, the Lord shows His compassion to those who are sin-damaged and who have failed Him. Though we are undeserving of His mercy, He uplifts us by His grace and restores us to His favor.


Hanan is a verb that means “favor, to be gracious to, generous toward, to take pity on.” Usually, hanan is used in the idiom “to find favor in the eyes of someone else” (Gen. 30:24, Gen. 39:7, Ruth 2:13, 1 Sam. 20:3). This meaning is applied to the relationship between God and His people. Hanan is used primarily with God as its subject. It reveals God’s disposition and actions toward His creatures. God freely bestows His favor on willing recipients (Gen. 6:8, 9; Prov. 3:3, 4; Isa. 30:19); but He can withhold His grace when the response to His offer is spurned (Jer. 16:13) or when there’s no indication of repentance on the part of His people (Neh. 9:17, 31).

It’s common in Psalms to find the plea “be gracious to me” (Ps. 4:1, ESV). The psalmist makes this plea because he knows that the Lord is gracious (Ps. 86:15–17) and hears the believer’s entreaty (Ps. 6:9; Ps. 28:2, 6). The Creator graciously provides food (Ps. 111:4, 5), a good harvest (Ps. 67:1), vindication (Ps. 103:6–8), and especially, as we have studied this week, forgiveness (Ps. 51:1; Ps. 123:3).

Let’s look at Psalm 103 to consider what the psalmist has to say further about the nature of the Lord’s mercy:

“The Lord is merciful [raham] and gracious [_hanan_],

slow to anger, and abounding in mercy [_hesed_].

He will not always strive with us,

nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor punished us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:8–10, NKJV).

As we can see, the Psalter teaches us that God’s love is compassionate, tender, boundless, and infinite.

How do God’s followers manifest and demonstrate His mercy to others? The Psalter uses hanan to reflect a person’s kindness to a neighbor, specifically in aiding the poor (Prov. 28:8), showing compassion for those who suffer (Job 29:21), and taking care of the elderly (Deut. 28:50). Such actions are not isolated but a way of life for the consecrated believer (Prov. 14:21). Psalms clearly delineates the divine expectation that God’s followers will be merciful, for “the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Ps. 37:21, NKJV) and “is ever merciful, and lends” (Ps. 37:26, NKJV). Such a spirit of generosity typically characterizes the righteous (Ps. 112:4, 5). The lesson is clear: we should be kind to others if we want God to be merciful to us. As Psalm 123:2 states:

“Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,

as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the Lord our God,

until He has mercy [_hanan_] on us” (NKJV).


“There is forgiveness [selihah_] with You” (Ps. 130:4, NKJV). This expression comes from the Hebrew verb _salah (“pardon, forgive”). The Lord is the only subject of this verb in the entire Old Testament. Selihah means that forgiveness is an act made by God alone. The foundation of this forgiveness is the mercy of the Lord (Ps. 86:5).

Psalm 25:11–18 states that forgiveness is the removal of sins. Daniel would add that forgiveness also includes averting the punishment for sin (Dan. 9:16). Exodus 34:6–9 reminds us that God is “ ‘merciful [_raham_] and gracious [_hanan_], longsuffering, and abounding in goodness [_hesed_] and truth, keeping mercy [_hesed_] for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, [and] by no means clearing the guilty’ ” (NKJV). Thus, David says that forgiveness requires a confession of guilt (Ps. 32:2–5). The Psalter also connects “forgiveness” with other words, such as “purify” (Ps. 51:2), “conceal from” (Ps. 51:9), and “restore” (Ps. 103:3).

Imbued with a spirit of contrition and humility, the psalmist implores God for His pardon in full assurance that his sin will be removed (Ps. 25:11–18). The psalmist praises God because He has been absolved (Ps. 103:3, 4). Thus, we may conclude that forgiveness comes to humanity only because of the hesed of God toward His creatures.

Part III: Life Application

There are clear lessons for our spiritual lives in the study of the Hebrew expressions for mercy that we have considered in our study this week:

1. The obvious lesson is that the Lord gives His amazing mercy to us, despite the fact that we don’t deserve it. The assurance of this gift should free us from anxiety, a guilty conscience, and the shadows of our past.

2. Hesed (mercy) is more than a tender feeling in God’s heart. It is deliverance and protection. It is real action on the part of God to His people.

3. The Lord’s compassion is eternal; that is, it’s always available to us. If we don’t avail ourselves of it, it’s because we are still in sin and not because we’ve exhausted the limits of God’s love.

4. Mercy (raham) embodies the concept that the Greatest of All Beings is willing to bow down to lift us up and carry us in His arms. From His superior position, He condescends to show His compassion to us.

5. “To find favor before the eyes of Yahweh” implies that we are willing and open to receive God’s grace.

6. Finally, selihah provides us new insights into the depths and breadth of the loving-kindness of our Creator. But the most important idea it emphasizes is that we should be as merciful and kind to our neighbors as God is to us.

All these lessons are masterfully assembled together by Jesus in the parable of “the unforgiving servant” (Matt. 18:23–35). It illustrates the Old Testament hesed of God toward our desperate condition. The narrative suggests that we, the believers, are the cruel and unmerciful man of the parable. This sober realization should cause us to reflect with gratitude and humility upon the grace and mercy we have received freely from our heavenly Father.