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Grace in the Old Testament

by Art Farstad


Many people have the erroneous notion that the OT is all law and the NT is all grace. Some liberals even maintain that the God of the OT is harsh and vindictive but the God of the NT is tender and forgiving. Some people (not liberals, but very misinformed) think that OT believers were saved by keeping the law and NT believers are saved by grace through faith!

Of course these misapprehensions are not totally made up; there is much more of a gracious framework to the NT than to the OT. But God never changes; only His dealings change as conditions and times change. In both Testaments people are saved by grace through faith. "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness" is way back in the first book of the Bible (Gen 15:6). It is an important verse and it is quoted three times in the NT.

The word grace occurs 20 times in the NKJV OT, usually in the sense of "favor." The first usage, as so often is the case in the God's Word, is illuminating:

    "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8).

Both the meaning "favor" and the NT idea of undeserving kindness to needy man fit this context.

The two occurrences of grace in Psalms are very encouraging:

    "Grace is poured upon Your lips" (the speech of the Messianic King is full of grace and kindness [Ps45:2]).

    "The Lord will give grace and glory" (the Lord gives believers grace all along the way, culminating in glory at the end of life's road [Ps 84:11]).

The passage in Esther (2:17) is especially interesting because it uses grace (Heb. hen) and also the famous word hesed:

    "She obtained grace(hen) and favor (hesed) . . ."

This is the one text in the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint (LXX), that employs the well known NT word for grace, charis, to translate hesed.

This last word is usually translated lovingkindness" or "mercy" in the KJV/NKJV. A popular modern translation is "loyal love," tying the word in with God's covenant obligations. R. Laird Harris maintains that this word goes deeper than covenant obligations, and that the old KJV "lovingkindness" is "not far from the fulness of meaning of the word" (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p. 307).

Personally, I feel that the word charis--"grace" to us--would have been a good translation in many more passage in the Greek version of the OT than just Esther 2:17! For example:

    "Surely goodness and grace will pursue me [the Hebrew has a stronger word than just "follow"] all the days of my life, and I will return [lit. Heb.] to the house of the Lord forever" (Ps 23:6).

Other related words widely used are gracious and graciously.

Many harsh and legalistic people quite frankly don't like grace! When God fully forgives sinners such as the Ninevites, they say with the sullen prophet Jonah, "I told you so!"

    "I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness (hesed)" (Jonah 4:2; Jonah was griping, not praising!)

We prefer the attitude expressed in the lovely Aaronic benediction of Num 6:24-26! With this we close our little word study as a blessing on all of our loyal readers (and on our opponents too!):

    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
    The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
    And give you peace.



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