1, 2. (a) How does a mother naturally respond to the crying of her baby? (b) What feeling is even stronger than a mother’s compassion?
IN THE middle of the night, a baby cries. Immediately, the mother wakes up. She does not sleep as soundly as she used to—not since her baby was born. She has learned to distinguish her infant’s different types of crying. Hence, she can often tell whether her newborn needs to be fed, cuddled, or otherwise tended to. But regardless of the reason for the baby’s crying, the mother responds. Her heart cannot let her ignore the needs of her child.
2 The compassion that a mother feels for the child of her womb is among the most tender feelings known to humans. There is, however, a feeling that is infinitely stronger—the tender compassion of our God, Jehovah. A consideration of this endearing quality can help us draw closer to Jehovah. Let us, then, discuss what compassion is and how our God manifests it.
What Is Compassion?
3. What is the meaning of the Hebrew verb rendered “show mercy” or “have pity”?
3 In the Bible, there is a close relationship between compassion and mercy. A number of Hebrew and Greek words convey the sense of tender compassion. Consider, for example, the Hebrew verb ra·chamʹ, which is often rendered “show mercy” or “have pity.” One reference work explains that the verb ra·chamʹ “expresses a deep and tender feeling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those that are dear to us or need our help.” This Hebrew term, which Jehovah applies to himself, is related to the word for “womb” and can be described as “motherly compassion.”*—Exodus 33:19; Jeremiah 33:26.
4, 5. How does the Bible use the feelings that a mother has for her baby to teach us about Jehovah’s compassion?
4 The Bible uses the feelings that a mother has for her baby to teach us about the meaning of Jehovah’s compassion. At Isaiah 49:15, we read: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion [ra·chamʹ] on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (The Amplified Bible) That touching description underscores the depth of Jehovah’s compassion for his people. How so?
5 It is difficult to imagine that a mother would forget to nourish and care for her nursing child. After all, an infant is helpless; night and day a baby needs its mother’s attention and affection. Sad to say, however, maternal neglect is not unheard of, especially in these “critical times” characterized by a lack of “natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) “Yet,” Jehovah declares, “I will not forget you.” The tender compassion that Jehovah has for his servants is unfailing. It is immeasurably stronger than the most tender natural feeling that we can imagine—the compassion that a mother normally feels for her infant child. Little wonder that one commentator said of Isaiah 49:15: “This is one of the strongest, if not the strongest expression of God’s love in the Old Testament.”
6. Many imperfect humans have viewed tender compassion in what way, but of what does Jehovah assure us?
6 Is tender compassion a sign of weakness? Many imperfect humans have held that view. For instance, the Roman philosopher Seneca, who was a contemporary of Jesus and a leading intellectual figure in Rome, taught that “pity is a weakness of the mind.” Seneca was an advocate of Stoicism, a philosophy stressing calmness that is devoid of feeling. A wise person may help those in distress, said Seneca, but he must not allow himself to feel pity, for such a feeling would deprive him of serenity. That self-centered view of life allowed no room for heartfelt compassion. But that is not at all what Jehovah is like! In his Word, Jehovah assures us that he “is very tender in affection and compassionate.” (James 5:11, footnote) As we will see, compassion is not a weakness but a strong, vital quality. Let us examine how Jehovah, like a loving parent, manifests it.
When Jehovah Showed Compassion to a Nation
7, 8. In what way did the Israelites suffer in ancient Egypt, and how did Jehovah respond to their suffering?
7 The compassion of Jehovah is clearly seen in the way he dealt with the nation of Israel. By the end of the 16th century B.C.E., millions of Israelites were enslaved in ancient Egypt, where they were severely oppressed. The Egyptians “kept making their life bitter with hard slavery at clay mortar and bricks.” (Exodus 1:11, 14) In their distress, the Israelites cried out to Jehovah for help. How did the God of tender compassion respond?
8 Jehovah’s heart was touched. He said: “Unquestionably I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their outcry as a result of those who drive them to work; because I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) Jehovah could not see the sufferings of his people or hear their outcries without feeling for them. As we saw in Chapter 24 of this book, Jehovah is a God of empathy. And empathy—the ability to identify with the pain of others—is akin to compassion. But Jehovah did not just feel for his people; he was moved to act in their behalf. Isaiah 63:9 says: “In his love and in his compassion he himself repurchased them.” With “a strong hand,” Jehovah rescued the Israelites out of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 4:34) Thereafter, he provided them with miraculous food and delivered them into a fruitful land of their own.
9, 10. (a) Why did Jehovah repeatedly deliver the Israelites after they were settled in the Promised Land? (b) In the days of Jephthah, Jehovah delivered the Israelites from what oppression, and what moved him to do so?
9 Jehovah’s compassion did not stop there. When settled in the Promised Land, Israel repeatedly lapsed into unfaithfulness and suffered as a result. But then the people would come to their senses and call out to Jehovah. Again and again he delivered them. Why? “Because he felt compassion for his people.”—2 Chronicles 36:15; Judges 2:11-16.
10 Consider what happened in the days of Jephthah. Since the Israelites had turned to serving false gods, Jehovah allowed them to be oppressed by the Ammonites for 18 years. Finally, the Israelites repented. The Bible tells us: “They began to remove the foreign gods from their midst and to serve Jehovah, so that his soul became impatient because of the trouble of Israel.”* (Judges 10:6-16) Once his people manifested genuine repentance, Jehovah could no longer bear to see them suffer. So the God of tender compassion empowered Jephthah to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of their enemies.—Judges 11:30-33.
11. From Jehovah’s dealings with the Israelites, what do we learn about compassion?
11 What do Jehovah’s dealings with the nation of Israel teach us about tender compassion? For one thing, we see that it is more than just a sympathetic awareness of the adversities that people experience. Recall the example of a mother whose compassion moves her to respond to the crying of her baby. Similarly, Jehovah is not deaf to the outcries of his people. His tender compassion moves him to relieve their suffering. In addition, the way Jehovah dealt with the Israelites teaches us that compassion is by no means a weakness, for this tender quality moved him to take strong, decisive action in behalf of his people. But does Jehovah show compassion only to his servants as a group?
Jehovah’s Compassion for Individuals
12. How did the Law reflect Jehovah’s compassion for individuals?
12 The Law that God gave to the nation of Israel showed his compassion for individuals. Take, for example, his concern for the poor. Jehovah knew that unforeseen circumstances might arise that could plunge an Israelite into poverty. How were poor ones to be treated? Jehovah strictly commanded the Israelites: “You must not harden your heart or be closefisted toward your poor brother. You should by all means give to him, and your heart should not be stingy in your giving to him, because on this account Jehovah your God will bless you in every deed of yours.” (Deuteronomy 15:7, 10) Jehovah further commanded that the Israelites not harvest the edges of their fields completely or pick up any leftovers. Such gleanings were for disadvantaged ones. (Leviticus 23:22; Ruth 2:2-7) When the nation observed this considerate legislation in behalf of the poor in their midst, needy individuals in Israel did not have to beg for food. Was that not a reflection of Jehovah’s tender compassion?
13, 14. (a) How do David’s words assure us that Jehovah is deeply concerned about us as individuals? (b) How could it be illustrated that Jehovah is near to those who are “broken at heart” or “crushed in spirit”?
13 Today, too, our loving God is deeply concerned about us as individuals. We can be sure that he is keenly aware of any suffering we may undergo. The psalmist David wrote: “The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their cry for help. Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Psalm 34:15, 18) Regarding those described by these words, one Bible commentator notes: “They are of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, that is, humbled for sin, and emptied of self; they are low in their own eyes, and have no confidence in their own merit.” Such ones may feel that Jehovah is far away and that they are too insignificant for him to care about them. But that is not the case. David’s words assure us that Jehovah does not abandon those who are “low in their own eyes.” Our compassionate God knows that at such times, we need him more than ever, and he is near.
14 Consider an experience. A mother in the United States rushed her two-year-old son to the hospital because he was suffering from a bad case of croup. After examining the boy, the doctors informed the mother that they would have to keep him in the hospital overnight. Where did the mother spend that night? In a chair in the hospital room, right next to her son’s bed! Her little boy was sick, and she just had to be near him. Surely we can expect even more from our loving heavenly Father! After all, we are made in his image. (Genesis 1:26) The touching words of Psalm 34:18 tell us that when we are “broken at heart” or “crushed in spirit,” Jehovah, like a loving parent, “is near”—ever compassionate and ready to help.
15. In what ways does Jehovah help us as individuals?
15 How, then, does Jehovah help us as individuals? He does not necessarily remove the cause of our suffering. But Jehovah has made abundant provisions for those who cry out to him for help. His Word, the Bible, offers practical counsel that can make a difference. In the congregation, Jehovah provides spiritually qualified overseers, who endeavor to reflect his compassion in helping fellow worshipers. (James 5:14, 15) As the “Hearer of prayer,” he gives “holy spirit to those asking him.” (Psalm 65:2; Luke 11:13) That spirit can infuse us with “power beyond what is normal” in order to endure until God’s Kingdom removes all stressful problems. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Are we not grateful for all these provisions? Let us not forget that they are expressions of Jehovah’s tender compassion.
16. What is the greatest example of Jehovah’s compassion, and how does it affect us as individuals?
16 Of course, the greatest example of Jehovah’s compassion is his giving the One dearest to him as a ransom for us. It was a loving sacrifice on Jehovah’s part, and it opened the way for our salvation. Remember, that ransom provision applies to us personally. With good reason, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, foretold that this provision magnified “the tender compassion of our God.”—Luke 1:78.
When Jehovah Withholds Compassion
17-19. (a) How does the Bible show that Jehovah’s compassion is not without limits? (b) What caused Jehovah’s compassion for his people to reach its limit?
17 Are we to imagine that Jehovah’s tender compassion is without limits? On the contrary, the Bible clearly shows that in the case of individuals who set themselves against his righteous ways, Jehovah rightly withholds compassion. (Hebrews 10:28) To see why he does so, recall the example of the nation of Israel.
18 Although Jehovah repeatedly delivered the Israelites from their enemies, his compassion eventually reached its limit. This stubborn people practiced idolatry, even bringing their disgusting idols right into Jehovah’s temple! (Ezekiel 5:11; 8:17, 18) Further, we are told: “They were continually making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words and mocking at his prophets, until the rage of Jehovah came up against his people, until there was no healing.” (2 Chronicles 36:16) The Israelites reached a point where there was no longer any proper basis for compassion, and they provoked Jehovah to righteous anger. With what result?
19 Jehovah could no longer feel compassion for his people. He proclaimed: “I shall show no compassion, nor feel any sorrow, and I shall not have the mercy to keep from bringing them to ruin.” (Jeremiah 13:14) Thus, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon. How tragic it is when sinful humans get so rebellious that they exhaust the limits of divine compassion!—Lamentations 2:21.
20, 21. (a) What will happen when divine compassion reaches its limit in our day? (b) What compassionate provision of Jehovah will be discussed in the next chapter?
20 What about today? Jehovah has not changed. Out of compassion, he has commissioned his Witnesses to preach the “good news of the kingdom” in all the inhabited earth. (Matthew 24:14) When righthearted people respond, Jehovah helps them to grasp the Kingdom message. (Acts 16:14) But this work will not go on forever. It would hardly be compassionate for Jehovah to allow this wicked world, with all its misery and suffering, to continue indefinitely. When divine compassion has reached its limit, Jehovah will come to execute judgment on this system of things. Even then, he will be acting out of compassion—compassion for his “holy name” and for his devoted servants. (Ezekiel 36:20-23) Jehovah will clear away wickedness and usher in a righteous new world. Regarding the wicked, Jehovah declares: “My eye will not feel sorry, neither shall I show compassion. Their way I shall certainly bring upon their own head.”—Ezekiel 9:10.
21 Until then, Jehovah feels compassion for people, even those who face destruction. Sinful humans who are sincerely repentant can benefit from one of Jehovah’s most compassionate provisions—forgiveness. In the next chapter, we will discuss some of the beautiful word pictures in the Bible that convey the completeness of Jehovah’s forgiveness.
Interestingly, though, at Psalm 103:13, the Hebrew verb ra·chamʹ connotes the mercy, or compassion, that a father shows to his children.
The expression “his soul became impatient” literally means “his soul was shortened; his patience was exhausted.” The New English Bible reads: “He could endure no longer to see the plight of Israel.” Tanakh—A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures renders it: “He could not bear the miseries of Israel.”