“I will tell of the LORD’s unfailing love [chesed]. I will praise the LORD for all He has done. I will rejoice in His great goodness to Israel, which He has granted according to His mercy [racham] and love [chesed].” (Isaiah 63:7)
“For by grace are you saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Many Believers think that the Tanakh (Old Testament) is all about the Law, whereas the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) is all about grace, which they consider the antithesis of the Law. While it is true that grace is evident in the New Covenant, grace did not just appear with the coming of Yeshua (Jesus).
Grace can be found throughout the Tanakh, and it is not the antithesis or the opposite of the Law. Both the Law and grace coexist together.
Not only is grace active in the Tanakh, but so is faith in the Lord. Genesis 15:6 states that “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (see Romans 4:3, 22; Galatians 3:6)
In fact, Habakkuk 2:4 states that the just will live by faith.
The Origin of Grace
“The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness [Chesed] to him, and gave him favor [Chen] in the sight of the chief jailer.” (Genesis 39:21)
The concept of God’s grace did not begin in the New Testament.
The idea that the Old Testament and Judaism is a religion of laws while the New Testament and Christianity is a religion of grace is simply not correct.
Grace originates in the character of God, who does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It, therefore, naturally follows that we would see it expressed in the Tanakh.
In the Tanakh, two Hebrew words essentially express grace: Chen and Chesed. In the Greek, these words have been translated as Charis and Eleos. In the Brit Chadashah, Charis is often translated as grace and Eleos as mercy. Both Charis and Eleos are used to translate Chesed.
The Hebrew word Chen, meaning to bend or stoop, figuratively means favor, grace, charm, acceptance, and elegance.
Chen often conveys God’s grace in spite of sin and rebellion. Examples of God’s grace for His people include those mentioned above as well as His freeing them from bondage in Egypt though they were a rebellious people, and God knew this.
He also gave them Chen (favor/ grace) in the sight of the Egyptians who turned their jewels over to them.
In Zechariah 12:10, the prophet tells us that in these Last Days God will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem “the spirit of grace [Chen] and supplication [Tachanun — a related word meaning supplication for grace or favor], so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”
Both can mean kindness, mercy, forbearance, but in the case of Chesed, there is a bond, duty, faithfulness, love, and loyalty between the two parties even if the two parties are not equals.
Chen, on the other hand, does not indicate a two-way relationship as does Chesed. It portrays the gracious favor of a superior to an inferior. The two parties are not in covenant, and the superior has absolutely no obligation to show favor, mercy, or generosity. Moreover, the inferior has no covenant claim to it.
In this sense, Chen might be considered to convey the idea of “unmerited favor” better than Chesed, a word that implies an existing covenant relationship and, therefore, duty. Both, however, reveal God’s love, while even the word mercy implies unmerited favor.
The first use of Chesed in the Tanakh occurs along with Chen. It is found in Genesis after Sodom is destroyed. Lot, who had been slow and hesitant to respond to the angels’ warning that he must leave Sodom, recognized that he had been saved by God’s hand.
Lot states, “Your servant has found favor [chen] with you, and you have shown me great kindness [chesed] by sparing my life.” (Genesis 19:19)
So Chesed is directly linked to salvation, an idea that is underscored time after time in the Psalms.
“Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake [chesed].” (Psalm 6:4; see also Psalm 31:16; 44:26; 109:26)
For another example of Chen in the Tanakh, we need look no further than Noah. This word is used to describe the favor or grace that God extended to Noah in Genesis 6:8:
“Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”
It remains, therefore, that Noah was saved from the Flood because of grace.
Noah was not the only one to find grace before the advent of the New Covenant.
Judges 6:17–23 reveals that Gideon also found it. In Jeremiah 31:2, God promises the Northern tribes of Israel that those who survive the sword will find grace in their wilderness.
Chen and Chesed are so intertwined, they are often found together.
In Psalm 51:1, David calls out for both after sinning with Bathsheba, pleading:
“Have mercy [chen] on me, O God, according to your unfailing love [chesed]; according to your great compassion [racham], also translated mercy] blot out my transgressions.”
Both Chen and Chesed are also used to describe the favor and grace Esther found before King Ahasuerus.
In Esther 2:17 we read,
“And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace [Chen] and favour [Chesed] in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.”
Although, Chen can be seen as unmerited favor, it nevertheless has a link to outward actions and inner attitudes.
In Psalm 84:11, David connects God’s Chen with blameless living:
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace [Chen] and glory [Kevod]: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly [Tamim].”
Proverbs 3:34 connects the outpouring of Chen with humility:
“Surely He scorns the scorners: but He gives grace to the lowly.”
In Joel 2:13, we see both Chen and Chesed connected with repentance:
“And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for He is gracious [Channun, from chanan, the verb form of Chen] and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness [Chesed], and repenteth him of the evil [relents from sending calamity].”
But what is Grace? Grace has been defined as receiving something we don’t deserve while mercy is not getting what we do deserve.
Though this may help us understand grace, it is oversimplified. Grace and mercy actually overlap and, in fact, one cannot exist without the other.
Another way of defining grace is “undeserved acceptance and love received from another.” More specifically, grace “refers to the kind turning of either God or humans to persons in an act of assistance in time of need.” (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 678)
For instance, when David needed divine relief from enemies, he prayed,
“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious [Chanan] to me and hear my prayer!” (Psalm 4:1)
As David calls out for God to be gracious (Chanan), God grants David relief, showing mercy / compassion for David’s distress in his time of need.
Chanan can also be used in relationship to the nations, as can be seen in this verse that reveals that it can be withheld, especially when we come against Israel.
“For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour [techinnah, from Chanan or Chen].” (Joshua 11:20)
Chanan (favor) occurs 56 times in the Tanakh and is usually translated in the King James Bible as finding favor or mercy — but not only from God; people often sought and found favor with those in superior positions to them:
- Jacob sought reconciliation with his brother Esau and, indeed, found his favor (Genesis 33:8, 10);
- Joseph found favor with his Egyptian master, Potiphar (Genesis 39:4);
- The people of Egypt found favor with Joseph, who saved their lives (Genesis 47:25);
- Ruth found favor with Boaz as Naomi had prayed (Ruth 2:2);
- David found favor with Jonathan the son of Saul, who sought to kill David (1 Samuel 20:3); and
- Esther found favor with King Ahasuerus, who made her queen of the Persian Empire (Esther 2:17).
In each instance, the one granting favor had the power and resources to judge, condemn, and destroy the one in an inferior position; instead, they each showed grace and favor by helping the other in their time of emotional or physical need. In doing so, they showed compassion and mercy for their distress.
How often do we judge others in their sin and distress and then throw them into the pit of rejection, curses, and destruction when, in fact, we could show Chen and reach down, help them up, and lead them to greener pastures? Should we not show the same grace to others that we ourselves have experienced?
Jewish Concepts of Grace
In Judaism, grace is so closely connected with the character of God that two of the traditional 13 Attributes of Mercy are associated with grace (see Exodus 34:6–7):
Chanun (Gracious) — “God shows mercy even to those who do not deserve it consoling the afflicted and raising up the oppressed.”
Rav Chesed (Abundant in Kindness) — “God is kind toward those who lack personal merits, providing more gifts and blessings than they deserve; if one’s personal behavior is evenly balanced between virtue and sin, God tips the scales of justice toward the good.” (My Jewish Learning)
Within Jewish rabbinical thought, the concept of grace is usually expressed as a balance between God’s grace, mercy, and justice.
For example, in the Talmud (the book of rabbinic commentary), it is written that God created the world with both grace and justice because He knew that His grace alone would cause sin to spread, while justice alone would only condemn creation (Genesis Rabbah 12:15).
In fact, all of creation is thought to rest on the three pillars of existence: Chen, Chesed, and Rachamim (mercy).
In Judaism, God’s grace cannot be earned because that would mean that man could control God through his actions. This idea of not being able to receive God’s grace through works is also a core concept in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).
Grace is the gift of God’s favor. And even today, the blessing of grace and favor is imparted over the congregation through the Aaronic Benediction:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious [chanan] to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26)
Candace R. Kwiatek explains the Jewish idea of grace in a Dayton Jewish Observer piece: In the Tanakh, God’s favor toward humankind is usually unmerited and implies His involvement with us.
It is also believed that man is able to open the door to tikkun olam or repair of the world, and to gain God’s favor, mercy, and forgiveness.
Living in God’s Grace in Yeshua
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).” (John 1:17)
As we’ve seen, grace is not a New Covenant phenomenon; it actually began at the time of Creation, and even before that since it is a part of God’s very nature.
We have always needed and received the love of God and His grace.
And while God’s grace is evident in the Tanakh, Yeshua so fulfilled and personified it that grace has been entirely revealed in His person.
Because of that grace, salvation has been extended to Israel and the nations through faith. Instead of cursing us as sinners, human failures, He blessed us with the ability to receive the righteousness of Yeshua Himself.
God raised us up with Messiah and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Yeshua HaMashiach, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Yeshua HaMashiach. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:6–10)
Sadly, the idea that we are saved through faith and not by works has led many to believe that we are no longer obliged to keep any of God’s commandments. Because of that, many practice a form of lawlessness.
But Yeshua did not do so. He upheld the law.
Rabbi Sha’ul (Paul) also upheld the law as a light in the darkness.
As he wrote to the Jewish Believers in Rome, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” (Romans 7:7)
“So the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” (Romans 7:12)
Therefore, the law continues to make us aware of our sin and to lead us into a blameless walk with humility and repentance. We can’t just go about our days blindly, deciding arbitrarily how we should behave. To do so would inevitably lead to sin.
It was because sin separated us from enjoying the full, intimate relationship with God that He intended that Yeshua showed us grace and mercy, hanging on the tree for us in the first place.
And so we see that just as grace is connected to blamelessness, humility, and repentance, and inseparable from God’s love, favor, mercy, and faithfulness in the Tanakh, it is also in the Brit Chadashah.
Moreover, Yeshua’s instructions, coupled with the Torah that He followed and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) that He imparted, provide us with all we need to remain in the Presence of God, leading holy lives, as God commands in Leviticus 11:44: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” (See also 1 Peter 1:16)
May we stand in His grace to lead that holy life, shining ever brighter as a light in the darkness of this present age.