Compassion is the translation of racham, "to love," "pity," "be merciful" (Deuteronomy 13:17; 30:3); of rachamim, "mercies" (1 Kings 8:50); of chamal, "to pity," "spare" (Exodus 2:6; 1 Samuel 23:21); rachum (Psalms 78:38; 86:15; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8), is rendered by the American Standard Revised Version "merciful." We have splagchnizomai, "to have the bowels yearning," in Matthew 9:36; 14:14, etc.; sumpatheo (Hebrews 10:34), "to suffer with (another)"; sumpathes (1 Peter 3:8, the Revised Version (British and American) "compassionate," margin, Greek, "sympathetic"); metriopatheo (Hebrews 5:2, the Revised Version (British and American) "who can bear gently with"); eleeo, "to show mildness," "kindness" (Matthew 18:33; Mark 5:19; Jude 1:22, the Revised Version (British and American) "mercy"); oikteiro, "to have pity" or "mercy" (Romans 9:15 bis).
Both racham and splagchnizomai are examples of the physical origin of spiritual terms, the bowels being regarded as the seat of the warm, tender emotions or feelings. But, while racham applied to the lower viscera as well as the higher, splagchnon denoted chiefly the higher viscera, the heart, lungs, liver.
The Revised Version (British and American) gives "compassion" for "mercy" (Isaiah 9:17; 14:1; 27:11; 49:13; Jeremiah 13:14; 30:18; Daniel 1:9 the King James Version "tender love with"; for "bowels of compassion," 1 John 3:17); for "mercy" (Hebrews 10:28); "full of compassion" for "merciful" (the American Standard Revised Version "merciful" in all cases) (Ex; 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 103:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2); "compassions for mercies" (Isaiah 63:15; Philippians 2:1), for "repentings" (Hosea 11:8).
Compassion, literally a feeling with and for others, is a fundamental and distinctive quality of the Biblical conception of God, and to its prominence the world owes more than words can express.
(1) It lay at the foundation of Israel's faith in Yahweh. For it was out of His compassion that He, by a marvelous act of power, delivered them from Egyptian bondage and called them to be His own people. Nothing, therefore, is more prominent in the Old Testament than the ascription of compassion, pity, mercy, etc., to God; the people may be said to have gloried in it. It is summed up in such sayings as that of the great declaration in Exodus 34:6:
"Yahweh-- a God full of compassion (the American Standard Revised Version merciful) and gracious" (compare Psalms 78:38; 86:15; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8; Lamentations 3:22, "His compassions fail not"). And, because this was the character of their God, the prophets declared that compassion was an essential requirement on the part of members of the community (Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; compare Proverbs 19:17).
(2) In Jesus Christ, in whom God was "manifest in the flesh," compassion was an outstanding feature (Matthew 9:36; 14:14, etc.) and He taught that it ought to be extended, not to friends and neighbors only, but to all without exception, even to enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:30-37).
The God of the New Testament, the Father of men, is most clearly revealed as "a God full of compassion." It extends to the whole human race, for which He effected not merely a temporal, but a spiritual and eternal, deliverance, giving up His own Son to the death of the cross in order to save us from the worst bondage of sin, with its consequences; seeking thereby to gain a new, wider people for Himself, still more devoted, more filled with and expressive of His own Spirit. Therefore all who know the God and Father of Christ, and who call themselves His children, must necessarily cultivate compassion and show mercy, "even as he is merciful." Hence, the many apostolic injunctions to that effect (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17, etc.). Christianity may be said to be distinctively the religion of Compassion.
W. L. Walker
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