Razor sharp mercy

by Nythrius, Hebrew Wizard

When is mercy not mercy? Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.”  The word translated as reproach here, is the Hebrew word חסד, meaning mercy or steadfast love. This translation as reproach only occurs twice in the Old Testament, here and in Leviticus 20:17. חסד is a unique word as when translated into the Septuagint, it almost always is rendered with the same word: ελεέω, meaning to have mercy. Here is one of the rare places where it’s not, instead it’s translated ἐλασσονέω; meaning to be deficient. It’s amazing that even though it’s a different Greek word, the sound is very close, as if they wanted to keep mercy in the mind of the hearer.

So how does mercy become reproach? It comes down to the context of Leviticus 20. In verses 1 – 16, each offense carries the death sentence: “Their blood shall be upon their heads.” And then comes Leviticus 20:17, and you would be expecting yet another sentence of death and the blood to be upon their heads. Instead they are cut off from their people, and the guilt is upon his head. In comparison to what has come before, there is mercy. God spares their lives.

So now we jump to Proverbs 14:34. God doesn’t destroy the nations, even though they deserve it. Instead He separated from them a people, to bring forth His Son, so that He could save all the nations, and so that He could have mercy on all nations. This is a rough mercy, a mercy which spares life while cutting off. One that finds ultimate fulfillment on the cross where Jesus is cut off from the Father so that we can be saved. And that is true mercy. That is steadfast love.

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