After reading the chapter, and giving the children a chance to tell the story back to me, we looked at the discussion points in Long Story Short. The key idea for this passage was to make sure the kids knew what the word mercy means, and how it applies to Joseph's actions towards his brothers. And how God shows mercy to us.
The compassionate treatment of an offender. Pity, clemency, forbearance. The judge's power to pardon or to mitigate a sentence.
Lamentations is a disturbingly vivid poetic account of God punishing sin in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In the middle of verses eloquently describing the physical and emotional agonies of starvation and war, Jeremiah throws out this:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
Even in the midst of horrors, we can have hope because we have confidence in the unfailing mercies of God towards his people.
God's mercy is amazing. In Psalms, it is repeatedly linked to his steadfast love - the love that never changes or fails. His mercy gives us life and keeps us from the destruction that our sins surely deserve. The prophets tell us that God shows mercy to his people by limiting the extent and duration of their chastisement. The sick and the blind come to Christ crying out for his mercy. Paul tells us in Romans and Ephesians that the softening and quickening of our stone-dead hearts is an act of God's mercy.
I kind of have a thing for old, semi-obscure hymns, and it is National Poetry Month, so here's another of my favorites:
Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affections and bound my soul fast.
Without thy free mercy I could not live here.
My sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And he that first made me, still keeps me alive.
Thy mercy surpasses the sin of my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep to the praise of the mercy I found.
Thy mercy in Jesus exempts me from hell;
Its glories I'll sing, and its wonders I'll tell:
'Twas Jesus the friend, when he hung on the tree,
That opened the channel of mercy for me.
Great Father of mercies, thy goodness I own,
In the covenant love of thy crucified Son:
All praise to the Spirit, whose action divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.
- John Stocker, 1776