Does Mercy Have Limits?

“Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”
—Jeremiah 33:11

THE RED CROSS, WHICH for many years has been an organization associated with mercy, especially as manifested in times of disaster, was the subject of a recent news release. “The New York Times” International Section published on April 15, 2000, the following from Geneva under the caption, “World Red Cross Movement Takes Step toward Admitting Israel.”

“The Red Cross is moving to adopt a new emblem in addition to its red cross and red crescent, partly to clear the way for Israel to join after fifty years of exclusion.

“A two-day meeting of governments and Red Cross representatives, which ended today, began a process that is expected to lead to the emblem’s approval by year’s end.

“The action followed pressure from the American Red Cross to admit Israel’s equivalent relief services organization, the Magen David Adom, or Red Shield of David, whose symbol is a red six-pointed star.

“In 1949, the International Committee of the Red Cross adopted three symbols: the red cross, the red crescent and the Iranian red lion and sun, which was dropped in 1980. The Red Cross has resisted adding new national or religious symbols, insisting that each new member adopt the red cross or crescent. But even aside from the issue of admitting Israel, which some members have resisted, the Red Cross in recent years has considered adopting a symbol not linked to religion or nationality.

“The new emblem under consideration is a red diamond. Although details have yet to be worked out, it is envisioned that Israel’s emblem, like that of any other national society that wanted to change its symbol, would be an inset in a corner of the diamond. Organizations could also use a combination of symbols, which is now forbidden.

“Although it did not block the plan, the American Red Cross argued that it was unnecessary because the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is responsible for civilians in war zones, already had the authority to admit Israel’s group without the drawn-out process of approving a new emblem.

“Speaking on behalf of the American Red Cross, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, a former American Secretary of State, said it was morally wrong to exclude Israel’s society. ‘We’ve fought this for years,’ he said. ‘It’s gone on long enough.’ To make the point, the American Red Cross last month withheld $5 million in membership dues from the Swiss-run international committee and $350,000 more from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which cares for disaster victims.

“‘The American Red Cross,’ Mr. Eagleburger said, ‘will work, if necessary, directly with countries’ aid groups’—raising the possibility of a split in the Red Cross movement. Privately, some Red Cross officials here were defiant. ‘We’re prepared for a little poverty rather than just doing what they want,’ said one. These officials insisted that they must move deliberately to bring all countries on board to change the emblem and admit Israel, but others argued that delay would just be used to keep Israel out.

“Yitzhak Lior, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official attending the meeting, said it would be up to his country’s relief society to decide whether to accept a new symbol. ‘It’s not an easy decision,’ he said.

“Behind the emblem controversy is concern that if the Palestinian territories attain statehood, their relief group, which uses the red crescent, will quickly become an official Red Cross member while Israel remains on the sidelines.

“The American Red Cross said it would hold the international committee’s president, Jakob Kellenberger, ‘to the promise he made to the American Red Cross and members of the United States Congress to invoke a safety net if this diplomatic approach fails to grant immediate membership to the Red Shield of David by the end of the year.’”

Two months later, another news release said that Israel was rejecting the proposal. On June 3, the “New York Times” reported, “Israel said it was rejecting a proposal by the International Committee of the Red Cross to allow it membership if it agreed to replace its red Star of David with a neutral symbol, like a diamond, in certain zones. The director of the Magen David Adom, or Red Star of David organization, said that since the symbol would be for Israel only, it would be ‘like a yellow star,’ the Nazi insignia for the Jews.”

It may be surprising to many people in the United States to learn of the prejudice that has existed towards Israel by an organization such as the Red Cross, which has been a symbol of mercy. This is not an attitude possessed by the American Red Cross, which has been working hard to admit Israel into the organization. Many of the International Red Cross members are Moslems, which explains, in part, the situation. It appeared hopeful that this prejudice would be lessened because of the effort put forth by the American Red Cross, but now the latest news release of Israel’s rejection of the terms for being approved indicates otherwise.

Mercy is not a quality that can be demanded by anyone. This is made clear in Romans 9, where the Apostle Paul laments that his own kinsmen—the nation of Israel—had failed to seize the opportunity of access to Christ. They had every advantage over Gentiles. God had only known them out of all the families of the earth. (Amos 3:2) Also, Paul says they had “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises.”—Rom. 9:4

In spite of these advantages, Israel was not faithful, or, as he said, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (vs. 6) In a similar manner he points to Abraham and the promises made to him and his progeny, and says, “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (vs. 7), alluding to Ishmael as the child of flesh, and Isaac as the seed of promise (or natural Israel being pictured by Ishmael and spiritual Israel by Isaac).

Using Rebecca’s experience in becoming the mother of twin boys, he reminds us that God had said to her before the twins were born, “the elder shall serve the younger” (vs. 12), concluding finally, with the words spoken by God to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”—vs. 15; Exod. 33:19

Mercy has many definitions, such as ‘relief of suffering,’ which is the type associated with the work of the Red Cross. It also means ‘compassionate treatment,’ and ‘refraining from harming or punishing others such as enemies, offenders, persons in one’s power.’ Also, it means ‘a disposition to be kind, forgiving, or having pity,’ and also ‘the power to forgive or be kind.’ It is especially in this sense that God, our Father, has ‘mercy.’

The way ‘mercy’ is used in Romans 9 is along the lines of favor. Exclusive favor was given to Israel in many ways. They were guided and directed by God, and specially blessed as a people. But this favor ended when they rejected their Messiah, our Lord Jesus, and then he rejected them as a nation. It was for this reason that they lost the opportunity of realizing the chief blessings promised to Abraham’s seed.

The Apostle Paul uses a domestic olive tree to illustrate this, and how the branches of that tree were removed and the branches of a wild olive tree were grafted in. This pictures the Gentiles, who received this opportunity instead. (Rom. 11:17-21) Some might interpret this as lost favor forever. This is not so. The apostle makes plain that as Israel’s rejection resulted in favor for the Gentiles, that the return of favor to them would be great blessings for all mankind. As he says, “Now if the fall of them [natural Israel] be the riches of the world [the enlightenment of the world], and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles [only a few received the chief blessing]; how much more their fulness?”—Rom. 11:12

Many people are not able to grasp and understand the teaching of the Bible that God has not cast away this people because of their stiff neckedness and unbelief. This has given rise to much prejudice against them. Anti-Semitism has been severe and unwarranted. God has permitted this to happen so that eventually all people will recognize God as the great, merciful God that he is, as they see his power manifested on behalf of his people. The Bible explains how this will occur, and how there will be even more prejudice arise against Israel. They have been blamed for the economic ills of many countries, and finding fault is likely to increase as we approach the time for God’s kingdom to begin.

From Biblical prophecies such as Ezekiel 38,39, we are given a preview of events that will lead to “Jacob’s trouble,” an expression found in Jeremiah 30:7. In Jeremiah’s prophecy, it is clear that this great trouble of Jacob (another name for the nation of Israel) occurs after the Lord will “restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land which I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” (Jer. 30:3, Revised Standard Version) The setting, therefore, for the events described in Jeremiah 30 is the present time of Israel’s regathering.

Prior to ‘Jacob’s trouble,’ the Lord tells Israel that they will not be unpunished. He says, “I will chasten you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous. There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you.”—Jer. 30:11-15, RSV

The Lord’s permission of evil toward Israel by other nations will appear to be incurable, unstoppable. But this will not be so. In that prophecy God makes it plain that the intense trouble that arises will bring destruction to the other nations, and not to Israel. As it is written: “Thus says the Lord: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! that day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord of hosts, that I will break the yoke from off their neck, and I will burst their bonds, and strangers shall no more make servants of them. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, says the Lord, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for lo, I will save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you to save you, says the Lord; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end.”—Jer. 30:5-11, RSV

This prophetic destruction of the nations that have harassed Israel is continued in this prophecy after telling about the punishment that had to come to Israel. “Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who despoil you shall become a spoil, and all who prey on you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord, because they have called you an outcast: It is Zion for whom no one cares!”—Jer. 30:16,17

The remainder of this beautiful prophecy tells of God’s mercy being used on behalf of Israel (vs. 18) and describes in much detail the blessings they are to receive. It is at that time that the Lord says, “Ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (vs. 22) The prophecy concludes by saying, “In the latter days you will understand this.”—vs. 24, RSV

How glad we are that God’s mercy endureth forever, and that all nations will be beneficiaries of that wonderful mercy, love, and goodness of our glorious Heavenly Father. To him be praise forevermore. Amen.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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