Jehovah—Our Tenderly Compassionate Father
“Jehovah is very tender in affection and compassionate.”—JAMES 5:11, footnote.
1. Why are lowly ones drawn to Jehovah God?
THE universe is so large that astronomers cannot even begin to number all its galaxies. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is so vast that man could not even begin to count all its stars. Some stars, like Antares, are thousands of times bigger and brighter than our sun. How powerful the Grand Creator of all the stars in the universe must be! Indeed, he is “the One who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls even by name.” (Isaiah 40:26) Yet, this same awe-inspiring God is also “very tender in affection and compassionate.” How refreshing such knowledge is to humble servants of Jehovah, especially to those who suffer from persecution, sickness, depression, or other hardships!
2. How are tender emotions often viewed by people of this world?
2 Many view the softer emotions, such as the “tender affections and compassions” of Christ, as weaknesses. (Philippians 2:1) Influenced by evolutionary philosophy, they encourage people to put themselves first even if it means trampling on the feelings of others. A number of role models in entertainment and sports are machos who do not shed tears or show tender affection. Some political rulers act in like manner. The Stoic philosopher Seneca, who educated cruel emperor Nero, emphasized that “pity is a weakness.” M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia states: “The influences of Stoicism . . . continue to operate on the minds of men even in the present times.”
3. How did Jehovah describe himself to Moses?
3 In contrast, the personality of mankind’s Creator is heartwarming. He described himself to Moses in these words: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, . . . pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) True, Jehovah ended this description of himself by highlighting his justice. He will not exempt willful sinners from deserved punishment. Still, he describes himself first of all as a God who is merciful, literally “full of mercy.”
4. What is the heartwarming meaning of the Hebrew word often translated “mercy”?
4 Sometimes the word “mercy” is thought of only in the cold, judicial sense of withholding punishment. However, a comparison of Bible translations brings out the rich meaning of the Hebrew adjective derived from the verb ra·chamʹ. According to some scholars, its root meaning is “to be soft.” “Racham,” explains the book Synonyms of the Old Testament, “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.” Other heartwarming definitions of this desirable quality can be found in Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, pages 375-9.
5. How was mercy evident in the Mosaic Law?
5 God’s tender compassion is clearly evident in the Law he gave to the nation of Israel. Disadvantaged ones, such as widows, orphans, and the poor, were to be treated compassionately. (Exodus 22:22-27; Leviticus 19:9, 10; Deuteronomy 15:7-11) All, including slaves and animals, were to benefit from the weekly Sabbath of rest. (Exodus 20:10) Furthermore, God took note of individuals who treated lowly ones tenderly. Proverbs 19:17 states: “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.”
Limits to Divine Compassion
6. Why did Jehovah send prophets and messengers to his people?
6 The Israelites bore God’s name and worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem, which was “a house to the name of Jehovah.” (2 Chronicles 2:4; 6:33) In time, however, they came to tolerate immorality, idolatry, and murder, bringing great reproach on Jehovah’s name. In harmony with his compassionate personality, God patiently tried to rectify this bad situation without bringing calamity upon the entire nation. He “kept sending against them by means of his messengers, sending again and again, because he felt compassion for his people and for his dwelling. But 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 36:15, 16.
7. When Jehovah’s compassion reached its limit, what happened to the kingdom of Judah?
7 Although Jehovah is compassionate and slow to anger, when necessary he does manifest righteous anger. Back then, divine compassion had reached its limit. We read about the consequences: “So [Jehovah] brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who proceeded to kill their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, neither did he feel compassion for young man or virgin, old or decrepit. Everything He gave into his hand.” (2 Chronicles 36:17) Thus Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and the nation was taken captive to Babylon.
Compassion for His Name
8, 9. (a) Why did Jehovah declare that he would have compassion for his name? (b) How were the enemies of Jehovah silenced?
8 The surrounding nations rejoiced over this calamity. In a mocking way, they said: “These are the people of Jehovah, and from his land they have gone out.” Sensitive to this reproach, Jehovah declared: “I shall have compassion on my holy name . . . And I shall certainly sanctify my great name, . . . and the nations will have to know that I am Jehovah.”—Ezekiel 36:20-23.
9 After his nation had been in captivity for 70 years, the compassionate God, Jehovah, released them and allowed them to return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This silenced the surrounding nations, who looked on in amazement. (Ezekiel 36:35, 36) Sadly, though, the nation of Israel again fell into bad practices. A faithful Jew, Nehemiah, helped to rectify the situation. In a public prayer, he reviewed God’s compassionate dealings with the nation, saying:
10. How did Nehemiah highlight Jehovah’s compassion?
10 “In the time of their distress they would cry out to you, and you yourself would hear from the very heavens; and in accord with your abundant mercy you would give them saviors who would save them out of the hand of their adversaries. But as soon as they were at rest, they would again do what is bad before you, and you would leave them to the hand of their enemies, who would tread them down. Then they would return and call to you for aid, and you yourself would hear from the very heavens and deliver them in accord with your abundant mercy, time and again. . . . You were indulgent with them for many years.”—Nehemiah 9:26-30; see also Isaiah 63:9, 10.
11. What contrast exists between Jehovah and the gods of men?
11 Finally, after cruelly rejecting God’s beloved Son, the Jewish nation lost its privileged status forever. God’s loyal attachment to them had lasted over 1,500 years. It stands as an eternal witness to the fact that Jehovah is indeed a God of mercy. What a sharp contrast to the cruel gods and unfeeling deities invented by sinful men!—See page 8.
The Greatest Expression of Compassion
12. What was the greatest expression of God’s compassion?
12 The greatest expression of God’s compassion was his sending his beloved Son to the earth. True, Jesus’ life of integrity brought great pleasure to Jehovah, supplying him with a perfect answer to the Devil’s false charges. (Proverbs 27:11) At the same time, however, having to watch his beloved Son suffer a cruel and humiliating death no doubt caused Jehovah greater pain than any human parent has ever had to endure. It was a very loving sacrifice, opening the way for mankind’s salvation. (John 3:16) As Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, foretold, it magnified “the tender compassion of our God.”—Luke 1:77, 78.
13. In what important way has Jesus reflected the personality of his Father?
13 The sending of God’s Son to the earth also gave mankind a clearer view of Jehovah’s personality. How so? In that Jesus perfectly reflected the personality of his Father, especially in the tenderly compassionate way he treated lowly ones! (John 1:14; 14:9) In this respect, the three Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke use a Greek verb, splag·khniʹzo·mai, which comes from the Greek word for “intestines.” “From its very derivation,” explains Bible scholar William Barclay, “it can be seen that it describes no ordinary pity or compassion, but an emotion which moves a man to the very depths of his being. It is the strongest word in Greek for the feeling of compassion.” It is variously translated “feel pity” or “moved with pity.”—Mark 6:34; 8:2.
When Jesus Felt Pity
14, 15. In a city of Galilee, how is Jesus moved with pity, and what does this illustrate?
14 The scene is a city of Galilee. A man “full of leprosy” approaches Jesus without giving the customary warning. (Luke 5:12) Does Jesus harshly reprove him for not shouting, “Unclean, unclean,” as required by God’s Law? (Leviticus 13:45) No. Instead, Jesus listens to the man’s desperate plea: “If you just want to, you can make me clean.” “Moved with pity,” Jesus reaches out and touches the leper, saying: “I want to. Be made clean.” The man’s health is instantly restored. Jesus thus demonstrates not only his miraculous, God-given powers but also the tender feelings that motivate him to use such powers.—Mark 1:40-42.
15 Must Jesus be approached before he will show feelings of compassion? No. Sometime later, he meets up with a funeral procession coming out of the city of Nain. No doubt, Jesus has witnessed many funerals before, but this one is especially tragic. The deceased is the only son of a widow. “Moved with pity,” Jesus approaches her and says: “Stop weeping.” Then he performs the outstanding miracle of raising her son back to life.—Luke 7:11-15.
16. Why does Jesus feel pity for the large crowd following him?
16 The dramatic lesson learned from the above events is that when Jesus is “moved with pity,” he does something positive to help. On a later occasion, Jesus inspects the large crowds that keep following him. Matthew reports that “he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) The Pharisees do little to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the common people. Instead, they burden humble ones with many unnecessary rules. (Matthew 12:1, 2; 15:1-9; 23:4, 23) Their view of the common people was revealed when they said of those who listened to Jesus: “This crowd that does not know the Law are accursed people.”—John 7:49.
17. How does Jesus’ pity for the crowds move him, and what far-reaching guidance does he there provide?
17 In contrast, Jesus is deeply moved by the spiritual plight of the crowds. But there are simply too many interested people for him to give them individual care. So he tells his disciples to pray for more workers. (Matthew 9:35-38) In harmony with such prayers, Jesus sends out his apostles with the message: “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” The instructions given on that occasion have served as a valuable guide for Christians right down to the present day. Without doubt, Jesus’ feelings of compassion move him to satisfy the spiritual hunger of mankind.—Matthew 10:5-7.
18. How does Jesus react when crowds intrude on his privacy, and what lesson do we learn from this?
18 On another occasion, Jesus again feels concern for the spiritual needs of the crowds. This time he and his apostles are tired after a busy preaching tour, and they seek out a place to rest. But the people soon find them. Instead of Jesus’ being irritated by this intrusion into their privacy, Mark records that he was “moved with pity.” And what was the reason for Jesus’ deep feelings? “They were as sheep without a shepherd.” Again, Jesus acts upon his feelings and starts teaching the crowds “about the kingdom of God.” Yes, he was so deeply moved by their spiritual hunger that he sacrificed needed rest to teach them.—Mark 6:34; Luke 9:11.
19. How did Jesus’ concern for the crowds extend even beyond their spiritual needs?
19 While primarily concerned about people’s spiritual needs, Jesus never overlooked their basic physical needs. On that same occasion, he also “healed those needing a cure.” (Luke 9:11) On a later occasion, the crowds had been with him for a long time, and they were far from home. Sensing their physical need, Jesus said to his disciples: “I feel pity for the crowd, because it is already three days that they have stayed with me and they have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away fasting. They may possibly give out on the road.” (Matthew 15:32) Jesus now does something to avert possible suffering. He miraculously provides thousands of men, women, and children with a meal produced from seven loaves of bread and a few little fishes.
20. What do we learn from the last recorded instance of Jesus’ being moved with pity?
20 The last recorded instance of Jesus’ being moved with pity is on his final trip to Jerusalem. Large crowds are traveling with him to celebrate the Passover. On the road near Jericho, two blind beggars keep shouting: “Lord, have mercy on us.” The crowds try to silence them, but Jesus calls them and asks what they want him to do. “Lord, let our eyes be opened,” they plead. “Moved with pity,” he touches their eyes, and they receive sight. (Matthew 20:29-34) What an important lesson we learn from this! Jesus is about to enter the last week of his earthly ministry. He has a lot of work to accomplish before suffering a cruel death at the hands of Satan’s agents. Yet, he does not allow the pressure of this momentous time to crowd out his tender feelings of compassion for less important human needs.
Illustrations That Highlight Compassion
21. What is illustrated by the master’s canceling the large debt of his slave?
21 The Greek verb splag·khniʹzo·mai, used in these accounts of Jesus’ life, is also used in three of Jesus’ illustrations. In one story a slave begs for time to repay a large debt. His master, “moved to pity,” cancels the debt. This illustrates that Jehovah God has shown great compassion in canceling a large debt of sin for each individual Christian who exercises faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus.—Matthew 18:27; 20:28.
22. What does the parable of the prodigal son illustrate?
22 Then there is the story of the prodigal son. Recall what happens when the wayward son returns home. “While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) This shows that when a Christian who has become wayward shows genuine repentance, Jehovah will feel pity and tenderly accept that one back. Thus, by these two illustrations, Jesus shows that our Father, Jehovah, “is very tender in affection and compassionate.”—James 5:11, footnote.
23. What lesson do we learn from Jesus’ illustration of the neighborly Samaritan?
23 The third illustrative use of splag·khniʹzo·mai concerns the compassionate Samaritan who “was moved with pity” at the plight of a Jew who had been robbed and left half dead. (Luke 10:33) Acting upon these feelings, the Samaritan did all in his power to help the stranger. This demonstrates that Jehovah and Jesus expect true Christians to follow their example in displaying tenderness and compassion. Some of the ways we can do this will be discussed in the next article.
Questions in Review
□ What does it mean to be merciful?
□ How did Jehovah show compassion for his name?
□ What is the greatest expression of compassion?
□ In what outstanding way does Jesus reflect the personality of his Father?
□ What do we learn from Jesus’ compassionate actions and from his illustrations?
[Box on page 12, 13]
A GRAPHIC TERM FOR “TENDER LOVING CARE”
“O MY intestines, my intestines!” cried the prophet Jeremiah. Was he complaining of a bowel ailment due to something bad he had eaten? No. Jeremiah was using a Hebrew metaphor to describe his deep concern over the calamity coming upon the kingdom of Judah.—Jeremiah 4:19.
Since Jehovah God has deep feelings, the Hebrew word for “intestines,” or “bowels” (me·ʽimʹ), is also used to describe his tender emotions. For example, decades before the days of Jeremiah, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the king of Assyria. Jehovah permitted this as punishment for their unfaithfulness. But did God forget them in exile? No. He was still deeply attached to them as part of his covenant people. Referring to them by the name of the prominent tribe Ephraim, Jehovah asked: “Is Ephraim a precious son to me, or a fondly treated child? For to the extent of my speaking against him I shall without fail remember him further. That is why my intestines have become boisterous for him. By all means I shall have pity upon him.”—Jeremiah 31:20.
By saying “my intestines have become boisterous,” Jehovah used a figure of speech to describe his deep feelings of affection for his exiled people. In his commentary on this verse Jer 31:20, 19th-century Bible scholar E. Henderson wrote: “Nothing can excel the touching exhibition of tender parental feeling towards a returning prodigal, which is here presented by Jehovah. . . . Though he had thus spoken against [the idolatrous Ephraimites] and punished them . . . , he never forgot them, but, on the contrary, delighted in the anticipation of their ultimate recovery.”
The Greek word for “bowels,” or “intestines,” is used in a similar way in the Christian Greek Scriptures. When not used literally, as at Acts 1:18, it refers to tender emotions of affection or compassion. (Philemon 12) The word is sometimes joined to the Greek word meaning “good” or “well.” The apostles Paul and Peter use the combined expression when encouraging Christians to be “tenderly compassionate,” literally “disposed well to pity.” (Ephesians 4:32; 1 Peter 3:8) The Greek word for “bowels” can also be joined to the Greek word pol·yʹ. The combination literally means “having much bowel.” This very rare Greek expression is used only once in the Bible, and it refers to Jehovah God. The New World Translation gives this rendering: “Jehovah is very tender in affection.”—James 5:11.
How grateful we should be that the most powerful one in the universe, Jehovah God, is so unlike the cruel gods invented by uncompassionate men! In imitation of their “tenderly compassionate” God, true Christians are moved to act likewise in their dealings with one another.—Ephesians 5:1.
[Picture on page 10]
When divine compassion reached its limit, Jehovah allowed the Babylonians to conquer his wayward people
[Picture on page 11]
Watching his beloved Son die must have caused Jehovah God the greatest pain that anyone has ever had to suffer
[Picture on page 15]
Jesus perfectly reflected his Father’s compassionate personality