GRACE IS A MAJOR CONCEPT THROUGHOUT THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS. As I discussed in the first part of this series, grace is NOT a New Testament revelation as mainstream Christians usually teach, but it is seen throughout the Old Testament as well. The reason that Christians do NOT see the same amount of discussion of “grace” in the Old Testament is because of how the Old Testament equivalent of “grace” has been translated into English.
THREE HEBREW OPTIONS
Although there are three Hebrew words – chen, techinnah and chesed – that contain the meaning of “grace,” only one of them is used in the same way as the Greek word charis (“grace”) in the New Testament. Over the years, most ministers and teachers have erroneously thought the Hebrew word chen was the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek charis since both are translated in English as “grace.” The Hebrew word chen (Strong’s #2580) does appear 67 times throughout the Old Testament, but in most cases, it is not translated as “grace,” but as “favor.” For example, we do find it translated as “grace” in Genesis 6:8, “Noah found GRACE in the eyes of the Lord,” and in Ruth 2:2 when Ruth tells her mother-in-law, Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find GRACE.” But even when the word chen is translated as “grace,” it still carries with it the idea of “favor,” rather than being used in the context of the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation that we see used in the New Testament. Another word translated as “grace” is the Hebrew word techinnah (Strong’s #8467), such as in Ezra 9:8,
But now for a brief moment GRACE has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in this Holy Place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.
This noun is translated as “grace” in this verse, but in Joshua 11:20 as mercy,” and then again as “supplication” (i.e., a cry for mercy) in Psalm 6:9; 55:1; and 119:170. So although the Ezra 9:8 reference comes close to the use of the meaning of charis (“grace”) in the New Testament, this is not the word’s dominant use. However, the best choice for the equivalent of the Greek word charis (grace) is the Hebrew word chesed (Strong’s #2617). Regularly, the Greek word charis (grace) is translated by Jewish scholars and in songs translated into Hebrew by the word chesed, as my wife and I experienced in the three months we spent in Jerusalem (Aug. 2 – Oct. 31, 2016). And chesed is seen and used throughout the Old Testament just as the Greek word charis is seen and used in the New Testament, as I’ve also shown in part 1 of this study. But now in this second part of the study, I want to continue discussing what I’ve learned about chesed [grace] in the Old Testament.
INDIVIDUALS MAY WISH GOD’S CHESED [GRACE] ON OTHERS.
In the Old Testament, we are taught that we may wish God’s chesed [grace] on others. For example, in 2 Samuel 15:20, David offers “mercy [Heb. chesed; grace] and truth be with you” to Ittai the Gittite, a Gentile. Consequently, Paul may be following David’s example by offering “Grace and peace” to his Gentile audience in his epistles. We do see it used in reference to forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God as in the New Testament, such as the following passage in Hosea,
Who is God like unto You, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in MERCY [Heb. chesed]. He will turn again, He will have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities; and You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will perform the truth to Jacob, and the MERCY [Heb. chesed] to Abraham, which you have sworn unto our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20; emphasis mine)
God not only forgives us of our great sins against Him, but He casts them “into the depths of the sea,” and all of this He does as a result of the promise He made to the fathers, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But in addition to this use of grace, the Old Testament provides us with a wider array of its use and understanding.
ISRAEL’S RELATIONSHIP TO GOD IS BASED ON HIS CHESED (“GRACE”).
Throughout the Old Testament, we read how Israel’s relationship was based on God’s chesed [or grace]. In many of the references, the word chesed is translated either as “lovingkindness” or “mercy.” For example, in Hosea 2:19, God prophecies about His future restoration of the Northern Kingdom back to Himself:
And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.
And then after the Babylonian exile, after the Jews had returned and were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, we read in Ezra 3:11,
And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘For He is good, for His LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] is upon Israel forever.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
So in what specific ways has God shown chesed [grace] to the people and nation of Israel? Some of these will fit our Christian understanding of grace, but others will challenge Christians to look at other unexpected expressions of God’s grace.
GOD LED THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL OUT OF EGYPT BY HIS CHESED [GRACE]. In the Song of Moses [Exodus 15[, Moses is exalting God for His redemption of the people, and he says,
In Your LOVINGKINDNESS [chesed] You have led the people whom You have redeemed; in Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation. (Exodus 15:13; emphasis mine)
Has God changed? No, He still leads His people by His chesed [grace], and it is in His strength that He guides us to His holy habitation. Another place we see this is in Psalm 136. This Psalm provides a beautiful overview and reminder of all the acts of chesed [grace] that God did in the Creation (Psalm 136:5-9) and in Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. And throughout the Psalm, we read the same refrain: “For His LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] is everlasting.” And what were His acts of chesed [grace]?
- He “brought Israel out from their [Egypt’s] midst with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” (Psalm 136:11-12);
- He “divided the Red Sea asunder, and made Israel pass through the midst of it” (Psalm 136:13-14); and
- He led “His people through the wilderness” (Psalm 136:16).
It was only AFTER redeeming His people by His grace, His chesed, and bringing them through the waters of the Red Sea [a picture of baptism], that God gave to His people His commandments. He did NOT give them His commandments and THEN redeemed them, which would be a legalistic approach to God, but He redeemed them FIRST, and only AFTER REDEEMING THEM, did God give His commandments to His people, consisting of both Jew and Non-Jew. This hardly sounds like the “legalistic approach to God” that Christians often accuse the Old Testament of teaching.
GOD DESTROYED ISRAEL’S ENEMIES BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].
This is a point that I believe many American Christians will find challenging to their preconception of grace. We have been taught to view grace only within the context of “forgiveness” and love, not in the context of God destroying our physical enemies, and yet this is exactly what the Old Testament teaches us about grace as well. For example, in Psalm 136, and again as before, there is this repeating refrain after each statement, “For His LOVINGKINDNESS, His chesed [or “grace’] is everlasting.”
- To Him who smote [or killed] the Egyptians in their firstborn (vs. 10);
- To Him who smote [killed] great kings (vs. 17);
- And slew [killed] mighty kings (vs. 18);
- Sihon, king of the Amorites (vs. 19);
- And Og, king of Bashan (vs. 20);
- and gave their land as a heritage (vs. 21)
- even a heritage to Israel His servant (vs. 22).
Does our Christian concept of grace include the idea of God taking human life for the benefit of His people? Some say, “Well that was the Old Testament. God is not like that since the death of Jesus on the cross.” Really? Did you know if you treat the Communion /the Lord’s Supper (a covenant meal) in an “unworthy manner,” we eat and drink God’s judgment upon ourselves:
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord…For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are WEAK and SICK, and a NUMBER SLEEP [i.e., have died]. (I Corinthians 11:27, 29, 30; emphasis mine].
Am I saying that when a Christian becomes physically weak, or sick, or even dies, it is because they have irreverently ate of the Communion? No, it’s not the only reason for these things to happen, but Paul is saying that it is A REASON. So even in the New Testament, God does judge us for our sin, including killing those who does not reverently treat those things that are holy to Him.
Has God changed? No, He hasn’t. He is still the same God who punished the Egyptians with plagues, who drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, who oversaw the destruction of the Canaanites so that Israel could inherit the land, and it is the same God who judges those who irreverently treat His holy things. So when we think about this aspect of our God, do we see all of this as “God’s grace”?
GOD ESTABLISHED DAVID AS KING BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].
According to Psalm 89, God had NOT only made David king by His chesed [grace], but unlike Saul, God would NEVER remove His chesed [grace] from him or his family line.
I have found David My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him, with whom My hand will be established; My arm also will strengthen him…And my faithfulness and My LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] will be with him, and in My name his horn [rule] will be exalted. (Psalm 89:20, 21, 24; emphasis mine)
God then again reconfirms His covenant with David,
My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful. Selah.
GOD ESTABLISHED SOLOMON AS KING BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].
After Solomon is made king, He prays to God and says,
You have shown great LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed], that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. (I kings 3:6; emphasis mine)
GOD SHALL ESTABLISH THE MESSIAH ON DAVID’S THRONE BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].
Throughout the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets, there are prophecies of the coming son [or descendant] of David who will come and one day rule and reign from his throne over Israel and the nations. For example, in Isaiah 6-7, we read,
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, ON THE THRONE OF DAVID and over His Kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. [Emphasis mine]
Notice where will this future “son of David” rule and reign? “On the throne of David,” but where is his throne? It is in the city of Jerusalem in Israel. Consequently, the throne in heaven belongs to the Father, but the throne in Jerusalem belongs to the Messiah, the son of David: the Messiah Yeshua /Jesus. This means that Yeshua/ Jesus has not yet ascended His throne.
In Isaiah 16:5, we also read,
A throne will even be established in LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace], and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; Moreover he will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness. (Emphasis mine)
MESSIAH SHALL ALWAYS POSSESS GOD’S CHESED [GRACE].
Not only will the Messiah, the son of David, be made king by God’s chesed [grace], but He will always possess it. In Psalm 89:28, we read,
My LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] I will keep for Him forever….But I will not break off My LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] from Him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.
GOD’S CHESED [GRACE] CANNOT BE PROCLAIMED FROM THE GRAVE.
Finally, the Old Testament teaches us that we cannot proclaim God’s grace from the grave:
Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Will your wonders be known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (Psalm 88:10-12; Emphasis mine)
And the obvious answer to this rhetorical question of whether God’s grace, His chesed, will be declared in the grave is “No, it will not be,” but Jesus did rise from the dead to continue to proclaim forevermore the grace of God in His reign and rule over our lives within His Kingdom.
When I began this study, I thought I could do it all in two parts; however, after completing part two, I realize that a third and final part is necessary. I have already started it, and I will have it ready in a couple of days. I hope you have found this study so far a blessing to you.