By Lance Mosher
Would it please you to know exactly what God wants from you? Sometimes, people look at the Scriptures, and they are frustrated that the expectations of the Lord are not as "clear" as they think they should be. Instead, God's commandments are separated with stories of people's lives, reasons why certain commandments are given, and warnings to those who don't heed the word of God.
There have been times in my life when I looked at the Bible and thought that things would be a lot easier if God just gave us a succinct list of dos and don'ts. Apparently I am not the only one. There are those who have looked at the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, and they wanted to "boil it down” to the essentials. In other words, get rid of the narrative, get rid of the reasons, get rid of the warnings, and just give me the commandments. By most counts, it comes down to a list of 613 dos and don'ts.
It can be even simpler than that. There are a few times in Scripture that God’s desire for His people is “boiled down” to just one or two commandments. The most famous may be Jesus’ response to the lawyer who was trying to trap Him. After Jesus explains that the two greatest commandments are to love God with everything and love your neighbour as yourself, He says, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). Even simpler, He says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). These revelations should not have been a surprise to Jesus’ first century, Jewish audience, as Micah told the nation of Judah eight centuries prior, “He has shown you, o man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). “Boiled down,” this is what God requires.
Micah sums up God’s commandments pretty well, but even the statement in this famous verse demands an understanding of context. God had shown these people what is good. He did not simply tell them. This is why the rest of Scripture is important. This is why the narratives, reasons, and warnings are given alongside the commandments. To do what God requires is better shown, rather than told.
For the purpose of this study, we will focus on love mercy. How is it that God had shown to the nation of Judah to love mercy? The same way He has shown us to love mercy. From the Garden, before sin was even a reality, God had expressed to mankind that sin would result in punishment, namely, death (Gen. 2:15-17). Both experience and Scripture deem us worthy of that punishment (Rom. 3:23). Did you notice, however, that you did not fall down dead at the first commitment of sin in your life? You have experienced mercy. Take a deep breath. What is that? Peter calls it God’s patience, His offer of salvation (2 Pet. 3:9, 15).
Additionally, God’s chosen nation under the Law of Moses was warned that if they forgot His laws and began following other gods, they would receive destruction (see Deut. 11:13-28). Unfortunately, they set themselves up to receive God’s full wrath. The fact that God sent prophets to the nation prior to their destruction was God’s way of showing mercy. Unfortunately, they did not recognize the goodness of such mercy. They did not repent, and they received their punishment.
Do we recognize the goodness of God’s mercy with every breath we take? He is under no obligation to sustain our lives. Nothing is holding His hand of wrath back, except for His love for mercy. On top of that, though we deserve destruction for violating His holy will, He blesses us with His grace! You were not smitten down today; instead, you likely enjoyed a meal or two. You were not utterly destroyed; instead, you were offered the blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice to atone for your sins.
Assuming that you now have God’s mercy in mind, and you’re inclined to love mercy, this first question should be asked: How will you respond to God’s mercy? “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Do you appreciate that God has given you this very moment to study His Scriptures and characteristics? Will you not respond to the mercy He offers? While responding, on whose terms will you do so? “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…?” (Heb. 2:2-3).
The second question to ask is, How will you begin to show others mercy? Read through Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Notice how every characteristic and commandment He presents is one that goes against natural tendencies. If someone hits you, we naturally want to hit them back and harder, but Jesus teaches to show mercy by not resisting an evil person. If someone mistreats us, we naturally want to make them pay for their insult, but Jesus teaches to show mercy by blessing and praying for our persecutors.
The English word mercy appears nearly 300 times in the Bible. If we are going to be people of the Book, we must be consistent with the Book. As far as our interaction with others goes, it is “boiled down” to the “Golden Rule,” where Jesus tells us to treat others in the same way we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12). If we were in a position where justice demanded our punishment, how would we like to be treated? Would you prefer wrath or mercy? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
Micah prophesied to the nation of Judah 700 years before Christ. He was sent to a society that had turned to idol worship (Mic. 1:6-7), where the rich oppressed the poor (Mic. 2:1-2), and instead of vindicating the poor, the religious and civil leaders accepted bribes and participated in the same evil acts (Mic. 3:1-4). Sure, there were important things about the Law to set back in order (tithing and proper temple worship, for example), but first, they needed to address the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23). Had the nation not been paying attention? God had shown them! “He has shown you, o man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).
So, where is our excuse? We have the “best of both worlds.” With the work of others and the use of technology, we could easily “boil down” what God expects of us. We could create a list of every commandment in the new covenant of Jesus Christ. But what is better than such a list is that God has shown us what is good and what He requires. Do justly with others. Love mercy when someone has wronged you. Walk humbly with the One who sustains your physical and eternal life through His mercy.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.