Proverbs 12:10

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

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How well do you treat animals? It can be a measure of your character. A good man is merciful; he is gentle and kind; he is ruled by pity and compassion; he will not be mean or hard. But the wicked are cruel. Even their kindness is harsh, for they lack the tender, gentle spirit of the righteous man, who is concerned even for animals. They are not kind and merciful; they are like their master the devil, a liar and murderer from the beginning.

This proverb is not for PETA. The lesson is not the care of animals, but the illustration of compassion. While the LORD ordained merciful care of animals from the working ox to birds in the nest (Deut 25:4; 22:6-7), He also gave man dominion over them to work them, wear their skins, sacrifice them, and eat them (Gen 1:26-28; 3:21; 4:4; 9:1-4). A man may hunt honorably even today, but boyish torture of insects or animals is profane.

This writer witnessed many Amish horse-and-buggies in northwestern Pennsylvania as a boy. The difference in men’s character was visible, by this proverb. Some horses were well fed and groomed; others were undernourished and neglected. On hot days, some men walked their horses up the area’s steepest and longest hill; others whipped them on, ignoring the temperature, grade, or speed. And these were often the more pitiful horses!

The lesson is this: righteous men are tender, gentle, compassionate, and merciful; but the wicked are hard, harsh, inconsiderate, and cruel. A righteous man will bear the fruit of the Spirit, which includes tenderhearted gentleness (Gal 5:22-23; Eph 4:32; James 3:17). If you want to be like Jesus Christ instead of the devil, learn gentle kindness (II Co 10:1).

Dear reader, are you compassionate before God and men? Here is how you can show your God and Father’s character, Who sends warm sunshine and nourishing rain on His enemies (Matt 5:43-48). The LORD, though great and dreadful in judgment, is a God full of compassion and tender mercies (Ps 36:7; 103:4; 145:9; Lam 3:22). His ordinance of the O.T. Sabbath included rest for working animals (Ex 23:12; Deut 5:14). How merciful!

A righteous man is merciful to himself (Pr 11:17), animals (Gen 24:19,32; 33:13-14), his wife (I Pet 3:7; Col 3:19), his children (Ps 103:13; Col 3:21), his friends (Jas 3:17-18), and his enemies (Ps 35:11-16). He will not foolishly afflict, punish, or trouble them (Lam 3:32-33; Gal 6:10). He will rather pamper these same parties with kindness. He loves mercy, just like His Father in heaven loves mercy (Mic 6:8; 7:18; Eph 4:32; I Pet 3:8-9).

But the wicked are perverse; their tender mercies are cruel and harsh. They trouble their own souls (Pr 11:17) and neglect their own flesh and blood (I Tim 5:8). Balaam cruelly beat his ass (Num 22:22-32); Judah’s tender mercy to Joseph was to sell him (Gen 37:26-28); Adonibezek had seventy kings without thumbs or big toes under his table (Judges 1:7); Nahash accepted surrender on terms of putting out all right eyes (I Sam 11:1-2); Joab murdered Abner and Absalom in cold blood (II Sam 3:39; 18:5); Rehoboam scorned his own willing nation (II Chron 10:1-19); Jezebel murdered Naboth for a mere vineyard (I Kgs 21:1-16); Pilate offered to chastise the innocent Lord before letting Him go (Luke 23:13-16); and the Romans broke legs to end crucifixions (John 19:31-32)!

Righteous Job tenderly cared for his servants and the poor (Job 31:13-22), but his wife cruelly stabbed him in his darkest hour of need (Job 2:9). David mercifully spared Saul’s life (I Sam 24:1-22), but his daughter Michal scorned David’s finest worship of God (II Sam 6:20-23). Joseph mercifully protected Mary, though horribly hurt (Matt 1:19), but Judah forgot his promise to the lonely and needy Tamar (Gen 38:11-26).

A wicked man will treat his wife harshly, work too many hours, yell at the children, stay at cheap hotels on vacation, forget to feed the fish, slander his enemy, think romance is effeminate, neglect to train his children, expect the family to appreciate his personal preferences, criticize his wife to others, not take his mother out to eat, repeat stories about a co-worker, treat his daughters like sons, or clam up and avoid talking to the family.

A wicked woman will presume she is better than her husband, gossip about the neighbor, criticize her mother-in-law, defraud her husband of daily sex, over-protect her sons from boyish activities, fret about things to get done, nag rather than punish the children, correct her husband often, worry too much about details, dote on the children to the neglect of her man, make the family eat a veggie pizza, or beg for pity for her hard life.

Let every melancholy, introverted masochist read these words: “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh” (Pr 11:17). Your self-reflection and negative thoughts are wrong and destructive. They destroy you and those around you by your sullenness, withdrawal, bad attitude, critical outlook, or harsh words.

How merciful is a “quiet man,” who clams up? The “strong leader,” who yells frequently at home? The “thoughtful man,” who remembers offences and harbors bitterness? The “funny man,” who laughs all the time and only thinks about himself? The “zealous man,” who cannot forgive quickly and completely? These persons are not merciful at all.

Mercy does not compromise God’s standards (I Kgs 20:31-34). His law includes mercy, and you do not have the wisdom or right to modify His rules. Mercy compromises your standards, your opinions, your feelings, your habits, and your convenience for others.

You will receive the mercy and compassion you give, so it is important you show kindness and gentleness to yourself and others (Jas 2:13). Tender words are not enough: you need bowels of compassion (Col 3:12-13; I John 3:17) and their actions (Jas 2:16).

The blessed Lord showed His tender mercies from hungry crowds to a single grieving widow, from an untouchable leper to a despairing Mary Magdalene (Mark 8:1-2; Luke 7:11-15; Mark 1:40-44; John 20:11-18). And He is compassionate and merciful to you every day, dear reader. If you are a child of the King, then show tender mercy to all, as does your gracious King. Show His grace in your life by reflecting it to all others.