The 12 Things the Old Testament Teaches Us about God’s Grace (Part 1)

GRACE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Did you know that the theological concept and spiritual reality of grace is, in fact,  in the Old Testament?  Contrary to what most Christians have been taught, God’s grace is not a New Testament revelation, but it is God’s modus operandi (“method of operation”) throughout all Scripture.  Some may ask, “Then why don’t we see the word ‘grace’ in the Old Testament?” There are a couple of places where the word “grace” does appear (e.g., Genesis 6:8; Ruth 2:2); these are the English translations of the Hebrew word chen. However, chen is not dominantly used in the Old Testament, as we see “grace” used dominantly in the New Testament.   But there is another word that’s dominantly used in the Old Testament that also means “grace,” but in our English Bibles, it is usually translated in other ways.

A LESSON IN HEBREW

Many years ago, I learned an important lesson about the Hebrew language.  Many of the Hebrew words have various levels of implied meanings that Hebrew speakers and readers understood, but was not understood to Greek speakers of the Second Temple period.  For example, let’s compare Deuteronomy 6:4-5 with the quotation of it in the New Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Mark 12: 29-30

“Hear, O Israel  The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  And you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might.” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is One LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your strength.”

Obviously, there are two main differences between these two texts.  The first one is the translation of the Hebrew YHVH echad (“the LORD is one”) where the Hebrew word ‘echad (“one”) is obviously last in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4, but in the Greek version, the word “one” comes before the word “LORD.”  Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) would have spoken this verse in Hebrew, so Mark here is translating what Jesus (Yeshua) said in Hebrew into Greek for His Roman audience.  The change from “the LORD is one” to “One LORD” by Mark would’ve been to emphasize and reiterate to his Roman readers the belief in one God, particularly since Roman culture was polytheistic, meaning it believed in many gods and goddesses.

The other difference is the inclusion of the phrase “with all of your mind” in the Greek New Testament, which is not stated here in the original Hebrew text.  Hebrew speakers, then and now, understand both the Hebrew word Lev (“heart”) and nephesh (“soul”) also include the mind.  Therefore, the command to love God “with all of your mind” was understood by Hebrew speakers, but what was implied and understood for them needed to be made explicit for the Greek speakers and readers.  This is why we find this phrase in the New Testament, but not in the Deuteronomy text.  And just like the phrase “with all of your mind,” the concept of grace is also an implied and understood concept within the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.

CHESED – THE HEBREW EQUIVALENT

Many years ago, God placed this study of grace in the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh] upon my heart, and as I was going through the various references, God revealed to me that the Hebrew word chesed was the Hebrew equivalent of the New Testament word charis, or “grace.”  I then wrote down what I learned about grace from these Scriptures, although I never published this study.  Then, a number of years later, I heard Joseph Prince on TBN discussing a trip he had made to Israel, and while he was there, he discovered that a group of Jewish scholars is currently translating the Greek New Testament into Hebrew, and he asked one of the scholars involved in the project, “What Hebrew word are you using to translate the word grace?”  And the scholar responded, “chesed.”  This again confirmed in my heart what God had previously revealed to me.

Therefore, the Old Testament (or Hebrew) word for “grace” is the word chesed.  We have not realized this before, because for a variety of reasons, which would take more room than I have here to discuss them all.  But one reason, obviously, is the fact that rather than using the word “grace,” a variety of other words have been used to translate this Hebrew word chesed into English instead.  For example, “love,” “steadfast love,” “mercy,” “lovingkindness,” “merciful kindness,” “goodness,” “mercies,” and “merciful.”  For example, I remember a chorus we used to sing in church while I was growing up.  It begins with the following lines:

Thy lovingkindness is better than life,
Thy lovingkindness is better than life.

My lips shall praise Thee, thus will I bless Thee.
I will lift up my hands unto Thy name.

This song is based on Psalm 63:3, and in this verse, the English word “lovingkindness” is the translation of the Hebrew word chesed.  We could translate this as “love and grace,” and we would have a fuller grasp of what the psalmist meant by the word chesed in this verse.  Note: I’ve even explained this to congregations, and then had them re-sing the song using “love and grace,” rather than “lovingkindness.”

This word chesed is so abundantly full of different meanings and levels of meanings that scholars have filled volumes of studies and books trying to determine the best way to translate this one Hebrew word.  But two Greek words that are definitely used as expressions of this one Hebrew word are agape (“love”) and charis (“grace”).  This is why we find “love and grace” paired up so often in the New Testament.  So although the Hebrew word chesed includes God’s abounding, extravagant, steadfast love, it also includes His unmerited favor and grace, as modern Jewish scholarship has determined and that God revealed to me many years ago.

WHAT DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT TEACH ABOUT IT?

Chesed is abundantly used in the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh], just as charis (“grace”) is abundantly used in the New Testament, but what do we learn about chesed, God’s grace, in the Old Testament?  In this article, I want to discuss twelve (12) things that I discovered was taught in the Old Testament regarding God’s chesed (His “grace”) and some sample passages where it is used.  In this first part, I will present the first six (6) things, and then in part 2, I will present the last six (6).

Chesed is one of God’s major attributes.

God’s chesed – His grace – is one of God’s major attributes throughout the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh] Scriptures.  For example:

And the LORD passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] and truth, keeping mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)

In this passage, we learn that God is abundant in chesed (“grace”) and He keeps chesed (His “grace”) for thousands.  In this passage, we can see the use of the word chesed (“grace”* in connection to God’s “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”  Doesn’t the New Testament also teach grace in connection to “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”?  Doesn’t this indicate a God who is consistent in His approach to sin, rather than one that changes? How about this next reference in Psalm 32:10?

          Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusts in the LORD, mercy
          [Heb. chesed, “grace”] shall compass him about.

Isn’t this also a consistent image of grace that we are taught within the New Testament that God surrounds those who put their trust in Him with His grace?  Or how about the following:

How excellent is Thy lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”], O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. (Psalm 36:7)

Isn’t this a beautiful image of God’s chesed, His grace?  It is due to His chesed (“grace”) that “the children of men put their trust” in God.  And how true that is throughout the Scriptures!  And I just love the image of “the shadow of Thy wings.”  Anyone familiar with the tallith (Jewish prayer shawl) knows that the corners of it are referred to as “the wings.”  This verse gives us of an image of a loving Father who is bending over and embracing His child, and as He does, His prayer shawl is covering the child there in His arms.  The child is hidden and protected “under the shadow of [the Father’s] wings.”  And there are so more beautiful verses like this, about God’s grace being one of His traits.  I’ll include one more just to prove my point.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”].  He will not always chide: neither will He keep His anger forever.  He has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.  For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] toward them that fear Him. So far as is the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:  8-12)

From this passage, we learn that God is “plenteous” or “abundant” in chesed (“grace”), and that as a result, “He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities,” and that His chesed [“grace”] is so great toward those who fear Him that He removes their sin from them as far as “the east is from the west.”  Isn’t this the same thing we are taught about God’s grace in the New Testament?

We need to realize that God does not change (Malachi 3:6).  He is eternally the same, and His grace is also the same in both the Old Testament {Heb. Tanakh] and the New Testament.  This doctrine that God’s grace is a New Testament revelation is obviously not the case and needs to be corrected.

God’s chesed Is eternal

Besides God being “abundant in chesed,” It is also eternal, for God Himself is eternal.  For example,

For the LORD is good; His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)

If God’s chesed – His “grace” – is eternal, then how could His grace have begun in the New Testament?  Obviously, it didn’t.  The problem has been our lack of understanding of grace as an expression of God’s chesed.  Let’s look at a few more examples.

For the mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children. (Psalm 103:17)

O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”] endureth forever.  Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy….Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness [Heb. chesed, “grace”], and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” (Psalm 107: 1, 2, 8, 9)

God’s chesed (“grace”) is “from everlasting to everlasting,” it is eternal, it “endureth forever.”  Did you catch the rest of the verse?  It says,

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy…Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!

Have you experienced His grace and His redemption?  Are you sharing what God has done for you with others?  Are you praising Him for His chesed, His “grace” and “goodness?  Has his chesed, His “grace,” satisfied your “longing soul and [filled your] hungry soul with goodness”?  Again and again, we see a consistent presentation of God’s grace in both Testaments.  It has been the same since the beginning of time and it will continue into eternity.

Our relationship with God is based on His chesed.

O continue Thy lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] to those who know Thee, and Thy righteousness to the upright in heart. (Psalm 36:10)

We can see here that God’s chesed, His grace, is “to those who know Thee.”  The word “know” here does not mean “know about God,” but rather it means “to know intimately, in an intimate relationship”; consequently, then, God’s grace is the basis of our relationship with Him.

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103: 10-12)

Again, we can see that because of His chesed, His “grace,” God does not deal with us according to our sins or iniquities, but He removes “our transgressions [far] from us,” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Cause me to hear Thy lovingkindness [Heb. chesed, “grace”] in the morning; for in Thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto Thee. (Psalm 143:8)

In this verse, hearing or experiencing God’s chesed, His grace, is so desirable that the psalmist prays to “hear” it “in the morning,” and that God would cause him “to know the way wherein [he] should walk….”  why?  Because he lifts “up [his] soul unto [God].”  His great enjoyment of God’s chesed, His grace, then, can be seen to be what motivates Him to respond to God in praise and in worship.

The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”].

Finally, we read that God takes pleasure in them that “fear Him,” and “that hope in His” chesed, His grace.  Do you “fear Him”?  Are you hoping “in His grace”?  Let’s walk in the truth of the whole Word of God, not just in certain parts here and there.

God’s chesed is the basis of His salvation or deliverance.

The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”], forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.  Pardon, I [Moses] beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”], and as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.  (Numbers 14:18-19)

Notice in this passage that Moses is interceding for the people and nation of Israel, and he is appealing – not to the people’s obedience to the Torah – but to the “great mercy” or the great chesed (“grace”) of God, since it is by His grace that He forgives our “iniquity and transgression.”  Also, notice that Moses was well aware that the only reason that Israel had not been totally destroyed by God so far was because of God’s “mercy” (chesed; His “grace”), and not because they did anything to deserve God’s blessings or because of any “righteousness” of their own, but all because of His “mercy,” His chesed.

Even later in Israel’s history, the psalmist, King David, understands and trusts in the chesed (“grace”) of God.  In this psalm, David is praising God for His salvation, for God saving him from those who wanted him dead.

Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that troubled me rejoice when I am moved.  But I have trusted in your mercy [Heb. chesed, “grace”]; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. (Psalm 13:4-5)

David trusted in God’s “mercy” (chesed; His “grace,”) and God saved him from his enemies and those that wished to see him harmed.   Again, we see God’s interaction with humanity is based on His grace, just as it is within the New Testament.  Our God does not change.  In Malachi 3:6, God says, “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”  It is because God does not change that Israel still exists, and that God has not destroyed them due to their sins.  Our God, indeed, is mighty to save, and He is great in His chesed (“grace”).

Not only is our relationship to God based on His chesed (“grace”), but God wants to see chesed (“grace”) developed within His people as well.

Finally, the Old Testament teaches us that we are to demonstrate chesed (“grace”) in our lives as well.  By doing so, we are imitating God.  Just as a Father (or parent) wants to see his child imitate him, so God wants His children to imitate Him as well.  And one way we can do this is by learning to show grace, chesed, not only to one another, but also back to God Himself.  For example, consider the following passages:

The merciful [Heb. chesed] man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself bad.  (Proverbs 11:17)

What is desirable in a man is his kindness (Heb. chesed, His “grace”), and it is better to be a poor man than a liar. (Proverbs 19:22)

He who pursues righteousness and loyalty (Heb. chesed, “grace”) finds life, righteousness and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

As we can see in these passages, chesed (“grace”) is a trait that God wants to see developed within His people.  In fact, God says that the one who pursues “righteousness and loyalty (or chesed/ “grace”) will find life, righteousness and honor.”  Indeed, a wonderful promise of God for His people.  Let’s look a few more references.

Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness (Heb. chesed; “grace”); break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12)

How we sown into the lives of people “with a view to righteousness”?  Are we breaking up the “fallow ground” of our hearts?  Are we seeking the LORD?  God promises that those who so will “reap in accordance with kindness or chesed (“grace”).  How long are we to do this?  Until He comes, and then He will “rain righteousness on you.”  Let’s look at one more reference.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [Heb. chesed; “grace”] and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

In this summary statement by the prophet Micah of what God expects of His people, he mentions three things: “to do justice, to love kindness [chesed; “grace”], and to walk humbly with your God.”  Do you love chesed (“grace”)?  Is it a trait that you are developing within your heart and life?  Are you being an imitator of God and His ways? God expects more from us than just us receiving His grace, His chesed, but He also expects to be imitators of Him by developing God’s chesed within ourselves, and then showing it to others.

Grace – A Whole Bible Revelation

So is “Grace” a New Testament revelation?  No, it isn’t.  As we have seen in the first half of this study, we see the same things taught about God’s grace in the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh) as we do in the New Testament.  Just as it is taught in Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change.”  We need to change our understanding of the Scriptures.  We need to quit teaching that “Grace is a New Testament revelation,” and begin to teach the truth of the Scriptures, “Grace is the way of God, from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation.”  God has not changed in His person, and He has not changed in His approach to us.  The same God we see in the Old Testament is the very same God we see in the New Testament.  He is the same God of love and grace. The whole Bible bears witness and testimony to this wonderful truth!  Let’s quit preaching a divided revelation, but the truth of the one revelation that’s taught to all of us throughout the pages of the Bible.

 

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