Our Understanding and Merciful God

“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” —Psalm 103:13,14

THERE is a very popular hymn, one of the phrases of which states, “My God, how great thou art!” God’s greatness to us is revealed through the various facets of his grand design for the redemption and recovery of the world of mankind from sin and death. In this design we see manifested God’s wisdom, his justice, his love, and his power. These attributes of the divine character are in perfect balance, and no one of them interferes with the operation of the other.

Another facet of the Heavenly Father’s character is set forth in James 1:17, which states that in him there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” This implies the quality of dependability on the part of our Heavenly Father. What he has promised to do for his people he will do. He has promised to give them grace and strength to help in every time of need. Joshua wrote, “Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God Spake.”—Joshua 23:14

In the revealment of his plan of redemption God has made certain statements which likewise remain steadfast and unchangeable. Outlining the penalty for sin, God said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) Thousands of years later when the Apostle Paul mentioned the same fact concerning the penalty for sin, it had not changed. Paul wrote: “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) The Apostle Peter, describing the penalty of sin as it would operate during the millennial reign of Christ, said that then the disobedient would be destroyed from among the people.—Acts 3:23

In due time, however, death will be destroyed because God, on account of his love, made a provision of redemption through our Lord Jesus Christ. This fact of his plan will never change. Through the Prophet Hosea the Lord said concerning this, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O grave, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.”—Hos. 13:14

Balaam’s Message

While the Israelites were still in the wilderness, Balak, king of one of the surrounding nations which opposed them, sent a message to Balaam asking him to place a curse upon the Israelites which, as Balak supposed, would enable him to defeat them. God’s promise to the Israelites was that he would protect them unless they were disobedient to him. So Balaam replied to Balak, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.”—Numbers 23:19-21

The same is true today in God’s dealings with his people. God is for us, Paul assures us, and this being true no one really can condemn us. (Rom. 8:32-34) “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,” shall with him also freely give us all things.”

This great God, our Heavenly Father, also dwells with us. “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isa. 57:15) How true indeed are the words of our text: “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”

A Lesson from the Potter

During the days of Jeremiah the Prophet, who had foretold that Israel would be taken into captivity, God instructed him to go to the house of the potter, for he had a lesson there which he wanted his prophet to learn. Jeremiah obeyed, and as he observed the potter he noticed that a vessel on which he was working did not turn out to his liking. The account reads, “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.”—Jer. 18:4

Then the Lord, through Jeremiah, spoke to the house of Israel, saying, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.”—Jer. 18:6-10

Here we are reminded that many of God’s promises to his people are based upon certain conditions, and that if they do not comply with those conditions he reserves the right to withhold that which they failed to earn. This is indeed a marvelous assurance of his understanding and mercy!

This has nothing to do with the wages of sin, nor with the provision of redemption through Christ. It merely has to do with God’s individual dealings with his people, and their response through faithfulness, or their failure to obey through unfaithfulness, can and does influence the course which God takes concerning them. In the case of the Israelites they did not repent of the sin which was leading them into captivity, so they were taken into captivity.


In God’s dealings with Jonah we have another illustration of the working of his character along the line of mercy and understanding. He had asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and to declare to the people that their city would be destroyed. Jonah hesitated to do this. In fact, he rebelled against doing it. Later, however, God apprehended Jonah and insisted that he go to Nineveh and declare this message of condemnation and destruction. He did so, but the Ninevites repented of their evil-doings and God did not destroy them. The account reads, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”—Jonah 3:10

Jonah should have reacted with rejoicing to this turn of events, but he did not. He resented the fact that God had repented, and said so to the Lord. He said, “O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”

This reaction by Jonah reveals a smallness of character which to some extent afflicts most of the human race. Instead of rising to the occasion and rejoicing with the Lord in what had been accomplished, he was displeased, and pouted. Noble minds are humble and condescending. God displays his greatness through his ability to act according to varying circumstances. Puny minds are often stubborn and unyielding.

We, like God, should be concerned not with what people were yesterday, but what they are today. In God’s scales the heart condition of his people outweighs their unwilling imperfections. He chastises us when we err, but is quick to forgive and to reinstate us in the sweet, reassuring embrace of his love when we turn to him in repentance, and with true heart desire to obey.

Concerning God’s dealings with Israel we read, “Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: and he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies. He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives.”—Ps. 106:43-46

God Speaks to Moses

The Israelites, under the leadership of Moses, were often stiffnecked and rebellious. “And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.”—Exod. 32:9,10

This is a remarkable statement because, not only does the Lord express his intention of destroying the nation of Israel because of their disobedience, but explains to Moses that he would, starting with him, make a new nation—a great nation. Moses was a very highly exalted servant in God’s care of his people, but now God was proposing to exalt him still further. Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation, but now God was proposing that Moses occupy that position—that he be the head of the Jewish nation after the present one had been destroyed.

But Moses did not agree with this. What concerned him was Jehovah’s great name. The enemies of Israel, while they were still in Egypt, had foretold that the God of Israel would not be able to preserve them in the wilderness. And now, if he deliberately destroyed them, he would be playing into the hands of his enemies. What explanation could be offered? So Moses used this as his reason why God should not do what he proposed to do.

Moses was willing to sacrifice his own interests if it would bring honor and glory to his God. God listened to Moses, and the account states that he “repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”—Exod. 32:14

Moses had not informed God of anything he did not know. God did not change his mind here because Moses had enlightened him concerning a situation which he had overlooked. He repented of what he proposed to do because he was pleased with the attitude of Moses. We ourselves should never be surprised at God’s understanding and mercy in his dealings with us.

Our confidence in God and in his dealings with us, is based upon knowledge. We read that “there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.” (I Kings 8:56) The same is true of spiritual Israel, and will be true with respect to God’s promises for all mankind, for we know according to promise that the “gifts and callings of God are without repentance.” But we can fail to make our calling and election sure by not living up to the conditions attached to his gifts and callings.

If unwillingly we stumble and fall, he lifts us up. If we become discouraged, he revives our spirits and gives us strength to continue on in the narrow way of sacrifice. Only if we willfully turn aside from the Lord and from his love, and continue to do so, will his mercy let go its hold, and we lose our place in his plan. But this will not mean the failure of God’s plan, for another will take our place. May we be faithful, and continue to feel the glowing warmth of his understanding love. May it be true of us that God’s goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.—Ps. 23:6

Dawn Bible Students Association
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