The attributes of mercy and forgiveness expressed in this portion of the declaration of Yahweh’s name, are vital to all who would serve Him. Without them we would in the end all perish.

A Guardian of Mercy

We note first of all that He “keeps” mercy. The Hebrew word natsar used here means to guard or protect. Yahweh is the guardian of mercy because man is not a fit guardian. We often administer it either in overdose or underdose. In fact the word for “mercy” used in Exodus 34:7 is chesed and is used many times in the Old Testament to describe Yahweh’s loving kindness and pity for His children. It is used so frequently in the Psalms as to become almost thematic. We find it difficult to practise this quality because we consider it to be almost the op­posite of truth, righteousness and judgment.

But both must come together in perfect har­mony, as Psalm 85:10 so beautifully illustrates it: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”. If we are to err, however, we have a regulating principle to consider. James reminds us that, “he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (2:13). This is in harmony with the truth expressed in Psalm 86 verses 5 and 15, Yahweh is “plenteous in mercy”.

So we can see already, perhaps, why Yahweh declares Himself the guardian or keeper of mercy, and we must take our lead from the Word and from the abundant illustrations of Yahweh’s demon­strated mercy, and exhibit this quality in our lives. Take, for example, Paul’s exhortation, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted [Gk—pitiful, compassionate], forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hast forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).

We will all depend upon the mercy of Almighty God in the day of judgment. The apostle Paul prayed concerning his faithful colabourer Onesiphorus, that “the Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day” (2 Tim 1:18). We will all need to be included in such a prayer.

The Name in Psalm 103

In Psalm 103 David undoubtedly has the words of Exodus 34:6,7 in mind as he expresses his thoughts upon the mercy and forgiveness of Yahweh. He also demonstrates who the “thousands” are that Exodus 34:7 speaks of. The word aleph is used here in the sense of an aggregate number as in Psalm 68:17, where it is used of the cherubic saints and accom­panying angels in the day of Christ’s coming. In Numbers 10:36 it is used of the people of Israel in the context of the ark resting among them during the wilderness wanderings. The word is used of families as well, which is so fitting, because we as the children of God are yoked together in families. Thus we are among the “thousands” who have received the mercy of God.

So returning to Psalm 103, David reminds us in verse 13 of the Father’s pity for His children. Here the word racham is used, which speaks of the tender caressing of a child by its parent. In verses 8 to 14 we pick up the references to iniquities, transgres­sions and sins which are in turn a reference to the Exodus 34:7 declaration.

“Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

  •  He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
  •  He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor re­warded us according to our iniquities.
  •  For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him
  •  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
  •  Like as a father pitieth his children, so Yahweh pitieth them that fear him.
  •  For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”

David says in verse 11 that the Father’s mercy is for those that fear or revere Him. Nehemiah in his great prayer adds to this thought by describing God as “the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe his commandments” (1:5).

So the “thousands” are those who fear and yet love Him and so do His commandments. This is the point Jesus made in John 14:15 (reading from the original sense of the Greek): “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments”.

We do well to note however that Yahweh ex­ercises mercy in quite a breathtaking way at times and we dare not question that, since He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hence the apos­tle Paul cuts short all objections to the way God exercises mercy when he quotes God’s words in Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (cp Exod 33:19).

No one knew this better than David and we can­not begin to imagine the inner feelings and thoughts of David when he heard Nathan’s words: “The Lord also hath put away thy sin” (2 Sam 12:13). Can we capture the gratitude and relief he felt when he penned these words in Psalm 32:2: “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity”? These words are in turn quoted by Paul in Romans 4:8, 24, informing us that God will not impute (or as the Greek word means—count) sin to the faith­ful, but will in fact impute righteousness to them if they believe in the resurrected Christ with all its associated doctrinal and moral implications.

How true then are the words of Psalm 103:10, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities”. The es­sential ingredient in that statement is mercy! This is abundantly demonstrated in Yahweh’s work in Christ Jesus and Paul exclaims in Romans 5:20, “but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”!

Twice in four verses the same apostle expresses to Timothy in sheer wonder the fact that “I obtained mercy” (1 Tim 1:13,16). He quotes the prophet Hosea in this section, no doubt because it is a paramount example of God’s mercy to His people. Again in Titus 3:4–6 he says :

“But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward men appeared,

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 Spirit;

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour”.

Iniquity, Transgression and Sin

When we return to Exodus 34:7 we are told that Yahweh forgives “iniquity, transgression and sin”. These three words in the Hebrew accurately describe man’s natural character and the way sin expresses itself in all of us. The word “iniquity” is avown and basically means “perversity”, coming from a Hebrew root word meaning “to be crooked”. We know this to be true for we share Paul’s experi­ence of the perverse way that we bend toward sin.

“Transgression” is the word pesha and means rebellion. All sin is rebellion against Yahweh and His commandments, as it is an expression of an op­posing will. We may not feel that we are deliberately rebelling, but rebellion it is nevertheless. At times, alas, it can be more overt and usually it is found in tandem with self justification.

The word “sin” is chattah meaning an offence, but it is often found in cognate forms, all of which have the root meaning “to miss”, that is, to miss a mark or target, in the sense of “coming short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Thus in our perversity, or in our rebellion or by simply missing the mark of the great example displayed in the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, the manifestation of God’s glory, we are convicted sinners.

These three words appear in the psalm we have looked at previously, Psalm 103. We read in verse 10, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities”, and again in verse 12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us”.

He will be faithful to carry this out to “ the many thousands of Israel” in the future, as we read in Jeremiah 31:34, 33:8 and in Micah 7:18. Men like Nehemiah and Daniel alluded to these words in their prayers because they rested heavily upon the wonderful reality of forgiveness.

It is also no surprise to find David using the three words, “iniquity, transgression and sin” in the heart-rending experience of his great sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah. “Have mercy upon me, O God”, he wrote in Psalm 51:1,2: “according to thy loving kindness [chesed, mercy], according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my trans­gressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin”. David certainly knew the power of Exodus 34:7!

Nor is it surprising to see these same three words in Isaiah 53, where the great work of God’s serv­ant is detailed. His work was to make possible the taking away of our sins. In conquering sin itself, he laid the basis for the operation of God’s forgiveness for us. It could now operate upon righteous princi­ples, where God’s righteousness and mercy could be applied to all who give up their lives to Him in obedient service.

We hear the voice of the prophet declaring how the wonder of Exodus 34:7 is to be worked out in His Son :

“and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity [avown] of us all” (v6)

“for the transgression [pesha] of my people was he stricken” (v8)

“and he bare the sin [chat] of many” (v12).

When Peter quotes Isaiah 53:6 in his first epistle, he makes us aware of our responsibility to respond to God’s mercy saying, “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed” (2:24). Our response to God’s love and mercy should be one of willing service, based on thankfulness and gratitude for what He has done in Christ.

Men like David and Hezekiah had marvellous insight born of their own experience of God’s forgive­ness and mercy, as we read in one of the Songs of degrees, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psalm 130:3,4).

This demonstrates a wonderful thing about forgiveness. It gives us hope; it relieves despair due to our failings; it cultivates a reverential fear of Yahweh and it generates love towards Him. Thus “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom 2:4). We can, through prayer, pour out our confessions to the Father, acknowledge our sin, and trusting in His mercy and forgiveness, regather our wits, as it were, and move on in our lives; endeav­ouring to serve Him with a revived and restored will to please Him. If it were not for Yahweh’s power to forgive we would lose our love for Him, give up the struggle and despair of life itself.

The great declaration to Moses on the mount finds a living manifestation in Christ, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgive­ness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). When the Lord prayed in John 17:6, “I have manifested thy name”, and again in verse 11, “keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me”, he was expressing the desire that those wonderful characteristics of the name might been seen in us, his disciples.

Just look for a moment at his example. Look at his forbearance towards all men. Marvel at his mercy and graciousness toward his oft times recal­citrant disciples. Look at his offer of forgiveness to the woman taken in adultery and many others dur­ing his ministry. Listen to his plea for forgiveness for his tormentors. This was indeed a manifestation of the Father’s character.

May we in our days of probation show forth the qualities of mercy and forgiveness, as much as we are able to in our oft  flawed imitation of the Lord. We have a Heavenly Father who “is very pitiful and of tender mercy” (Jas 5:11). Can we, brethren and sisters, find it within our hearts to be like this with our fellow sojourners in Christ. If so we will receive the approbation of the Lord Jesus in that great day when we pray we will be told in joyous finality, “Yahweh hath put away thy sin”.