“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel because he has come and has redeemed His people… (as He said through His holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – to show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham.” (Luke 1:68-73)
One of the most important things that we can do is to get a big-picture view of the Bible. I know some people that come to church are not really interested in the “big picture” of God’s plans for the world. ‘That’s just for theologians,’ they say. They’re only concerned with immediate personal problems and hope that they might get a “thought for the day” that will get them over the particular hurdle they are facing at the moment. Well, that’s not a bad thing to do, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of ignoring God’s ultimate plans for us that are spelt out in the great covenants of the Bible.
One of the most important covenants in the Bible was the Abrahamic covenant. And here, in the Song of Zachariah, John the Baptist’s father tells us that it was about “showing mercy to our fathers”. Of course, the fathers to the Jews were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, and Zachariah says that the promise that God gave to them, or should I say “promises” (because the covenant was like a large cable that had many “wires” or promises running through it), was essentially about God showing mercy to both Jews and Gentiles.
Now it’s an interesting idea that the God of the Bible is a God of mercy and that the Old Testament is essentially a message that God delights in showing mercy to the world. Throughout the history of the church, or at least going back to the time of Marcion in the early centuries, people have had the idea that the God of the Old Testament is a God of vengeance, but the God of the New Testament is a God of mercy. Well, Zachariah will have none of that. He would tell Marcion to go back to theological college, and no doubt he would have strong words with Richard Dawkins over his recent claim that the God of the Bible is a “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, infanticidal…sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (The God Delusion, 31).
The simple truth is that God delights in mercy. While He is a judge who visits wrath on unrepentant sinners, nevertheless He is merciful towards the undeserving and actually seeks out sinners to redeem them. Did He leave Adam alone in the garden after he sinned? Did He shun him? No, He gave him a promise of hope (Genesis 3:15). Adam was expecting some good old-fashioned vengeance, but he received mercy instead.
The same goes for Abraham. In Joshua 24:2-3, Joshua reminds us that God gave Abraham a promise of salvation while he was lost in sin and superstition as an idolater in Ur. Is that an act of vengeance and wrath? In my book, that is called mercy. We worship a God who shows mercy to sinners and that is the open door to hope for each one of us. If God can save an idolater like Abraham, he can do the same for you.