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Reference: Pity


This word is entirely synonymous with compassion both in OT and NT, except, perhaps, in 1Pe 3:8, where 'sympathetic' would better express the meaning of the original word (see Revised Version margin). Pity was regarded by OT writers as holding an essential place in the relations of God and His people (see Ps 78:38; 86:15; 103:13; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8; Isa 63:8; cf. Jas 5:11). One of the ways in which this Divine feeling became active on their behalf reveals an incipient belief in the dealings of Jehovah with nations other than Israel; for He is often represented as infusing compassion for His chosen into the hearts of their enemies (cf. 1Ki 8:50; 2Ch 30:9; Ps 106:46; Ezr 9:9; Ne 1:11; Jer 42:12). An objective manifestation of the feeling of pity in the heart of God was recognized in the preservation of His people from destruction (La 3:22 f.), and in the numerous instances which were regarded as the interventions of mercy on their behalf (cf. Ex 15:13; Nu 14:19; De 13:17; 30:3; 2Ki 13:23; 2Ch 36:15). The direct result of this belief was that Israelites were expected to display a similar disposition towards their brethren (cf. Mic 6:8; Isa 1:17; Jer 21:12; Pr 19:17). They were not required, however, to look beyond the limits of their own race (De 7:16, See De 7:9) except in the case of individual aliens who might at any time be living within their borders (see Ex 22:21; 23:9; De 10:18 f. etc.).

In the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus inculcates the exercise of pity in men's dealings with each other, and teaches the sacredness of its character by emphasizing its identity with God's compassion for sinners (Mt 18:33; cf. Lu 6:36; Mt 5:7; 9:18). The teaching of Jesus, moreover, broadened its conception in the human mind by insisting that henceforth it could never be confined to the members of the Jewish nation (cf. the parable of the Good Samaritan, Lu 10:25-37). At the same time His own attitude to the thronging multitudes surrounding Him was characterized by profound pity for their weaknesses (Mt 15:32 = Mr 8:2; cf. Mt 9:36; 14:14). Under His guidance, too, Divine pity for the world was transmuted into that Eternal Love which resulted in the Incarnation (Joh 3:16). Side by side with this development, and in exact correspondence with it, Jesus evolves out of human pity for frailty the more fundamental, because it is the more living, quality of love, which He insists will be active even in the face of enmity (Mt 5:43 f., Lu 6:27 ff.).

J. R. Willis.

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