A SEA OF WHITE. That’s what filled the Armstrong Auditorium stage on Friday, September 3, 2010, when the 170-strong chorus of Philadelphia Church of God members, plus the 50-piece local orchestra, performed at the dedication ceremony of the building. The males were in white suit jackets, shirts and ties, and the females were in white dresses or formal gowns.
The chorus sang a composition about the temple being a “house of prayer,” plus a movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah which set the seraphim lyrics of Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy … Now His glory hath filled all the earth.”
We knew we were making history of biblical proportions. The Bible records four ceremonies like this: the dedication of “Solomon’s” temple, the dedication of the second temple foundation, the dedication of the second temple itself, and the dedication of Nehemiah’s wall around Jerusalem. The first, second and fourth of those accounts specifically mention the music performed at these ceremonies.
The first temple dedication performance was the most dramatic, for “as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever; that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the lord had filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).
God filled the temple with His presence to the point where the priests could not even serve there because of the great cloud. And what praise elicited this remarkable response from God? “For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.”
Notice in 2 Chronicles 7:3 that the people sang the same lyrics when God’s glory once again filled the temple.
Five centuries later, after returning from captivity in Babylon, Zerubbabel led the construction of the second temple. Music was performed at the dedication of the foundation. And what were the lyrics? “And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid” (Ezra 3:11). After five centuries, including a captivity, this remnant is found singing praises to God for His enduring mercy.
That opening weekend of Armstrong Auditorium, God’s remnant did the same. On Sunday, September 5, we performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah in its entirety. A dramatic moment occurs just before the final movement of the first half, where the title character bellows out these words: “Thanks be to God, for He is gracious, and His mercy endureth forevermore!”
Our Common Refrain of Praise
Lyrics about God’s enduring mercy have been a common refrain in the history of God’s people—not just while dedicating buildings or walls. David composed a song including such lyrics when he brought the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:34). When Judah’s King Jehoshaphat sent his musicians to the front lines of a battle that he knew would include miraculous deliverance from God (2 Chronicles 20:14-18), here is the song these singing soldiers shouted: “… Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth forever” (verse 21).
Study Psalm 136, which not only opens with a similar phrase, but every single verse of that 26-verse psalm ends with “for his mercy endureth for ever”!
The attitude of all these songs regarding God’s mercy is one of praise and thanksgiving. 1 Chronicles 16:41 shows that God’s enduring mercy was why David commanded thanksgiving in song. Of all God’s people throughout history, we, most of all, should be praising God and thanking Him daily for His enduring mercy.
How thankful are you for God’s mercy? How much do you praise God for it? This will affect the extent to which you express godly mercy.
Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages, “How wonderful beyond the ability of words to express is the glory of God and his wonderful purpose actually now in progress. Praise, honor and glory be to God and to Jesus Christ forever and forever.” He commissioned his brother Dwight to compose the majority of songs in The Bible Hymnal, which is used in song services giving praise and thanksgiving to God on every Sabbath and holy day observed by congregations of the Philadelphia Church of God.
The Mercy Seat
When we pray, we enter God’s throne room in spirit (Hebrews 4:16; 12:22-24).
Even though we don’t have the physical ark that King David had in his city, we have continuous access to the ultimate authority in the universe! This Being is a Father: He fathered us as literal, begotten sons (Romans 8:14-16); He is the “Father of lights” (James 1:17). This great Being who sits on His throne is called the “Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3; Revelation 4).
The throne God sits on was typified by the ark of the covenant housed in the temple. The golden cherubim atop that ark represented the angels who cover God’s throne—referred to as “the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17-22).
“The earthly type of God’s throne was the mercy seat in the holy of holies,” wrote Mr. Armstrong. “After Christ died, He went to the heavenly mercy seat interceding for us, as our High Priest. ‘[E]ntereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec’ (Hebrews 6:19-20)” (Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which?).
Editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote this about the mercy seat: “Never lose sight of the great, majestic God who rules from His throne! First there is God and his throne, symbolized by the mercy seat on top of the ark. That means that the government of God must always flow from the unparalleled mercy of God!” (Zechariah—The Sign of Christ’s Imminent Return).
Not only is God’s throne called the mercy seat, so too is God Himself! In Exodus 34:6-7, God calls Himself “merciful and gracious,” and another of His names there is “keeping mercy for thousands.”
Mercy is an integral part of God’s very existence and His rulership. He is the Father of it, it’s the name of his throne, and it’s even one of His many names.
Immeasurable and Unending
There are two Hebrew words for mercy used in the Old Testament. The word for “mercy” in Exodus 34:7 is checed, meaning zeal toward anyone, love, kindness, benevolence, even pity, according to Strong’s Concordance. “Merciful” in verse 6 is rachuwm, the verb form of which is racham. It means to have compassion or cherish, and has the connotation of emotion. It is translated as “pity” three times. The noun form means the bowels, the womb or tender mercies.
In Psalm 86:12, King David said he would praise God with his whole heart. Why? Verse 13: “For great is thy mercy toward me ….” Verse 15 says God is “full of compassion.” The word “compassion” is rachuwm, translated “mercy.” David continues that God is “plenteous in mercy and truth.”God’s mercy is great, it fills Him, and He has plenty of it.
In a sermon on April 22, 1995, Mr. Flurry said, “I’m just absolutely bowled over by God’s mercy. And I have to learn more of that mercy as I go along. And when I see how merciful God is, it’s very greatly inspiring. But there are times when I think, Wow, I can’t believe God has that much mercy.”
King David elaborated more on this idea in Psalm 103, which is devoted almost entirely to God’s mercy.
Verses 9-10 show how God doesn’t constantly complain about our shortcomings or stay angry at us for long.“For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him” (verse 11). That is an unmeasurable distance. You could say the quantity of mercy God has is actually out of this world! It is too great to calculate! God recognizes that we are dust, and He “pities” us (verses 13-14).
David brought up our frail temporary state to contrast how enduring God and His mercy are. Verse 17 says God’s mercy is from “everlasting to everlasting” to those who fear Him. That’s forever to forever—meaning, infinity times infinity, or from “past” eternity to “future” eternity!
God’s supply of mercy will never run dry.
In Lamentations 3:22-23, Jeremiah poetically says that God’s compassions and mercies are “new every morning.” They never get stale or old. God’s mercy toward us only gets fresher every day!
The psalms reveal that God’s mercy saves us from destruction, from the lowest hell, crowns us, surrounds us, follows us, makes a path for us, preserves us, holds us up, satisfies us, strengthens us, and delivers us.
That should rouse us to praise and thank Him more often and more enthusiastically.
Love Being Merciful
We must not only love having mercy shown to us; we must also love extending mercy. Micah 6:8 says that God requires us “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with Him.
Mr. Flurry wrote about this verse: “God wants us to love mercy, which, in Hebrew, means mercy with deeds. We must have mercy with deeds, so that we are not just saying, ‘Mercy, mercy—I just love that person, and I pray for that person here and those over there.’ We must back up our mercy with deeds. We love the people in God’s lukewarm Church and want to embrace them. We do everything we can to help them because that is God’s way” (Micah—God’s People Rise Up as His Enemy).
So loving God’s mercy includes loving to extend it.
We are God’s begotten children, soon to be born as God beings. If we are to become God, we too must become mercy—measuring ourselves next to God’s mercy.
Psalm 103 shows how to become more like God in this area. We must become “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (verse 8). God is tremendously patient—it takes Him a long time to get angry. Verse 9 says He doesn’t always chide us. How do we measure up to this? Are we quickly irritated? Always pointing out others’ flaws?
God has so many things He could criticize or chastise us for. He works on those areas carefully and systematically—but never nitpicks our sins, inconsistencies or broken promises out of selfish irritation.
“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (verse 10). God is positive! He looks at our potential and He rewards that.
What if we all got what we deserved? How often do we think, Well, that’s what they deserve, rather than extending mercy and softening our approach? That’s dealing with them according to their iniquities, when God does the opposite.
We might think God would hold someone back from an opportunity or blessing because of weakness when God might, in fact, say, Let’s give him more responsibility in that area and see if he rises to the challenge! By mercifully not dealing with us according to our shortcomings, God causes us to aspire to greater heights! We can do the same for our fellow brethren: forbear and forgive them (Colossians 3:12-13), focus on their strengths, and watch them soar!
“For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).
To God, our past sins can be all the way on the other side of the world, or on the opposite horizon (verses 11-12). God wants us to deal with others this same way (Matthew 7:12). But how often do someone’s past decisions or faults color our current dealings with them? Do we measure, so to speak, the distance we have put someone else’s sins away from us—ready to bring them back up when it’s most convenient for us? It is too easy to hold grudges and never completely let go of other people’s sins, though we want others to do that with our sins.
Psalm 103:13 talks about God pitying those who fear Him as a father pities his children. We are a part of God’s Family, and should have pity for our family members. If we see a fellow brother struggling or striving with us, we need to ask God to give us more of the pity He has for us.
We should not think condescendingly about members of the family but, rather, pity them. “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (verse 14). God considers that we are dust, and that significantly impacts His patience and forbearance toward us. Do we consider that about one another? Do we demand immediate perfection from one another that even God would not expect from any human?
Just because God pities us doesn’t mean He condones or compromises with sin (Luke 18:9-14). In His mercy, He gives us time to change, encouraging us and getting us to elevate our thinking.
A Leadership Trait
Psalm 103:19 reads: “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” This is mentioned after a summation of God’s mercy because David wanted to make it clear that God’s mercy is what makes Him such a perfect ruler!
As the Zechariah booklet states, the throne being a “mercy seat” means that “the government of God must always flow from the unparalleled mercy of God!”
That means mercy is a leadership trait we must be growing in. Imagine if God’s leaders just went around correcting people all the time—the lay members would be terrified of them! Even worse, God’s people wouldn’t come to understand this defining characteristic of God—His lovingkindness, goodness and compassion (2 Corinthians 1:24). God is turning us into leaders with this strength, and it is a strength (Psalm 86:16).
The time is coming when this leadership trait will be on full display: Jesus Christ will rule the entire Earth from His “mercy seat” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Jeremiah 33 shows people in the millennial World Tomorrow will be singing about that rule. What lyrics do you suppose they are singing? Verses 10-11 show us!
“… Again there shall be heard … in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, … The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness … the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts; for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.”
Praises of God’s enduring mercy will be sung in Jerusalem again! What a time for those of us in God’s true Church who love God’s mercy to prepare for—when the divine Husband and Bride will be singing these songs of praise and thanksgiving in His house!
The more we understand and appreciate God’s mercy, the more we can praise and thank Him for it, and the more we will be taking on this attribute ourselves!