Meaning “to feel passion with someone” or “to enter sympathetically into one’s sorrow and pain.” In various translations of the Bible, this English word is used to translate at least five Hebrew words in the OT and eight Greek words in the NT. The subtle variations in the original terms are emphasized below, with the inevitable overlapping of meaning being apparent.

OLD TESTAMENT: Chamal means “to regret,” to be sorry for (i.e., to pity),” “to grieve over,” or “to spare someone.” See 2 Sam 12:4 for an example in which a rich man “spare” (KJV) his own sheep (“refrained” (NIV) from taking his own lamb) and obviously had more compassion for his sheep than he had for his poor neighbor.

Pharaoh’s daughter “had pity” on the baby Moses (Exod 2:6); David “spared” Mephibosheth (2 Sam 21:7); in anger, God often showed no “pity” on rebellious people (Zech 11:6); but, in exercising grace, God more often showed “compassion for” or “grief over” His people (Joel 2:18; Mal 3:7; Gen 19:16; 2 Chron 36:15; Isa 63:9).

Chen represents “grace” and “charm.” The term identifies what is “gracious.” for example, God planned to demonstrate a spirit of “grace” or “compassion” (NRSV) on His people (Zech 12;10). He would enable them to “mourn” the one they pierced (possibly a messianic reference). The term is used again in Job 8:5 where Bildad instructed Job to implore the “compassion of the almighty” (NASB).

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