Particular words throughout the Scriptures act as a magnifying glass on God’s character. Read at face value, with only our limited language as descriptors, we miss a depth of truth. For example, Psalm 103:8 tells us this about God:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.”
It is comforting to know God is compassionate and gracious. However, it’s life-changing to realize what this verse actually means. The root words in this Scripture for “compassionate” and “gracious” are used throughout Scripture only in reference to God. They are reserved for Him alone. They are not reined in by our limited understanding or experience. These words — compassionate (raḥûm) and gracious (ḥannûn) — are descriptors of the Maker of the universe and our heavenly Father. They cannot be applied to anyone or anything else in existence. They are unique to God.
There is a lot of discussion in today’s society around renewable and nonrenewable resources. When God spoke the universe into existence, He engineered certain materials to reestablish and continue themselves. Others He created in limited quantities. Further, with the world and its systems broken by sin, things meant to regenerate struggle to do so. Our planet has a timestamp, and for anyone living without the hope of God, our dwindling resources can cause panic. How incredible then to recognize the renewable resources of God’s compassion and grace! His reserves never run dry. Like creation before it was broken, God’s love and kindness replenish themselves similarly to the water cycle or wind or solar power. But, unlike these systems, His love is unbroken and timeless.
The hebrew word in Psalm 103:8 for compassion, raḥûm, is also found in Exodus 34:6 when God met with Moses, showing mercy toward the Israelites. We see this description of God: “… The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate (raḥûm) and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in faithfulness and truth ….”
Raḥûm alludes to God’s deep and abiding love — a love like no other!
Along with raḥûm, Psalm 103:8 and Exodus 34:6 have another word in common. They both speak of God “abounding” in mercy and faithfulness. From this word, we gain this picture: God’s mercy and faithfulness are more than enough! They are plentiful, exceeding, and sufficient.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this love in Ephesians 3:17-19, “… that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.” We’ll never fully comprehend the extent of God’s love on this side of heaven. However, we can experience it more each day as we abide in His presence and hide His Word in our hearts.
Nothing we can do will alter these characteristics of God. He is eternal and unchanging. In Psalm 102:25-27, we glimpse a contrast between the dwindling resources of the earth and the everlasting nature of God:
“In time of old You founded the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
Even they will perish, but You endure;
All of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will pass away.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.”
Compassion (raḥûm) and grace (ḥannûn) are eternal properties, existing from before time began. They originate in God and have never been attributed to anyone or anything else. They are who He is and how He interacts with us, His children. We can draw on His infinite reservoirs of kindness and love, knowing they’ll never deplete. His is a love that never fails.