Mercy: when teaching children, I like to tell them that mercy means 'not getting what you deserve'. This is in contrast to justice, which means 'getting exactly what you deserve'. And the right to execute justice or show mercy belongs ultimately and totally to the One who sits as Judge over all the universe. It is Yahweh, the Creator, who says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" (Exodus 33:19). All of our own exercises of justice and mercy as human beings derive totally from His decisions in these areas. It is that last statement - that our exercise of mercy derives from His - that leads me to write on 'evil mercy' this morning. A statement like that may sound nice and proper on the surface, but when carried out to its logical end, it can lead to some not-very-politically-correct conclusions. For instance, what if God has not extended mercy to a people group or individual? What then? If the human exercise of mercy derives totally from God's extended mercy - since He is the Judge - then are we as humans to be unmerciful where He has not shown mercy?
In a word: yes.
Consider if you will a story from the book of 1 Kings. In chapter 20 of that book, there is a story of King Ahab and the northern kingdom of Israel going to war against Syria, which was under the leadership of Ben-hadad. Before the battle, an unnamed 'man of God' approached King Ahab and told him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because the Syrians have said, "Yahweh is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am Yahweh.'" God was going to prove that He created, owned, and sat as High Sovereign over every inch of the universe through His victory over the Syrians, using the much smaller army of Israel as His tool. He had "devoted to destruction" (20:42) the entire Syrian force, deciding to execute justice and withhold mercy.
Toward the end of the battle, though, Ben-hadad, king of the Syrians, took council with some of his servants, and they decided to put sackcloth around their waists and ropes on their heads and beg Ahab for mercy. "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings," they said (v. 31).
Now it is certainly not a bad thing at all to have a reputation as a merciful person. Our God has a reputation of being a God rich in mercy, and we are to be like Him. But that's just it: we are to be like Him. We are to show mercy where He shows mercy. But when He declares that there is to be no mercy for a particular people, person, or crime, then we need to withhold our own exercise of mercy in that event.
King Ahab did indeed show mercy where God had not: sparing the life of Ben-hadad. And immediately upon releasing the enemy king, a prophet of Yahweh came to Ahab and told him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people'" (v. 42). God judged Ahab for showing mercy where He had not extended mercy.
This is not the only case of this happening in the Bible. King Saul did something very similar in sparing the life of Agag, king of the Amelekites, in 1 Samuel 15:8. Because of this evil mercy where God had not shown mercy, God said that He regretted that He had ever made Saul king, and it was from that day that God began to remove the kingdom from Saul and give it to his servant David.
But what is the application of all of this for those of us living in the twenty-first century of the New Covenant? Is there ever a situation in which we could be said to be guilty for showing mercy where God has not shown mercy?
Yes there is. The application for us would be in the way that we execute justice for crimes committed. We are not in a situation where we have prophets walking up to us and telling us to devote this or that people to utter destruction, but we have been told what God's just penalty for various sins should be. We are told that sacrificing to and worshiping gods other than Yahweh carries the death penalty. Other sins that carry the same judgment are adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, bestiality, rebellion against one's parents, murder, kidnapping, being a false prophet, and even lying about your virginity.
The only one of these crimes that we in America still punish with the justice that God demanded is murder, and we don't even do that well. Some states do not hand out death sentences for murder at all, and when those that do actually do so, it is rarely done in a timely enough manner to be considered 'justice'.
It is a very dangerous thing for a nation to consider itself 'more civilized' than God and extend mercy for crimes that the Judge declared were abominations against His very character. We do not have that right, and we ought not to think of ourselves as merciful and loving when we do so. It is simply and purely disobedience, and it shows that we care more about the creature than we do the Creator. I am not advocating that individuals take God's Law into their own hands and carry out those death penalties that the state leaves unfulfilled. That is never once commanded in Scripture. I am merely declaring that for any nation to be obedient to the Lord and bear the sword of justice as it was intended - and thus receive the blessings of God - that nation needs to pattern its laws after God's perfect Law. And we as Christians need to recognize this fact and help our leaders to make right decisions that bring our nation's laws more in line with His.