Updated: May 23, 2020
By Barry Wilkins.
We think of grace as a New Testament word; a 'new covenant of grace' in which God's central act of grace is the cross and resurrection. Grace is generally seen as undeserved favour. The grace word (Greek charis from which we get charity and charismatic) appears about 200 times in the New Testament, (e.g. Luke 2:40 "... the grace of God was on him"; John 1:16 "... we have all received grace upon grace"; Acts 6:8 "... full of grace and power"; and Romans 3:24 "… justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"). This grace word is closely related to the word for thanks. After all, we should be thankful or grateful when we receive grace.
But what about grace in the Old Testament? Is the OT an 'old covenant of grace'? It is indeed. We see grace everywhere in the OT. Was not the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden an act of grace, to prevent them from committing their error again? Was not the mark of Cain likewise a gracing, to prevent him from coming to harm? There is a grace word in the OT (Hebrew hen) that occurs well over a hundred times. We meet it first in Genesis 6:8"... Noah found favour [grace] in the eyes of the Lord." Psalm 84:11 "... the Lord bestows favour and honour"; Exodus 34:6 "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness". The word is incorporated into names such as Hannah (gracious), Hananiah (Daniel's friend, God is gracious) and even John, where the 'hn' is the grace word (God is gracious). Interestingly, whereas New Testament 'grace' is related to 'thanks', old testament 'grace' is related to 'please', or 'plea' or 'plead'. For example, 1 Kings 8:30 "… listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel" [grace us]; Psalm 6:9 "The LORD has heard my plea;" Daniel 9:3 "I turned my face to the LORD God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy". After all, 'please' and 'thank you' do go together, so our mothers told us!
In the OT, grace is not only used of God, though that is most frequent but also of people. For example, Ruth found grace in the eyes of Boaz, her redeemer (interesting that Charles Spurgeon called Jesus 'our great Boaz'). Esther found favour in the eyes of the pagan king Xerxes.
But it is used most of God giving grace when his people do not deserve it, because of his love for them. Jeremiah writes "... I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people … With weeping shall they come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back … for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn" (Jer. 31:1,9). The grace-giver will be with his people – the giver comes with the gift. That's what's so amazing about grace! When Daniel confessed to the Lord the sins of Israel, For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy (Dan 9:19), Gabriel appeared to him and promised that an anointed one would appear and be cut off [die] (v.26, anointed = messiah), a hint of the coming Christ (Greek Christ = anointed) who would offer salvation for the whole world, despite our failings. How amazing!