Grace Words in the Old Testament

13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm. (Joel 2:13, NKJV).

joel213This is one of my favorite Old Testament verses. It not only turns around a chapter and a half of unpleasantness, it does so by clumping together the almost the whole constellation of Hebrew words for grace. How cool is that, all here in one verse!  Let me introduce you to the core grace vocabulary in the Old Testament.

GRACIOUS… Hebrew words… hanan (verb), hanun (adjective), hen (noun “hayn”).  Make the “h” rough, like you’re clearing your throat.  This word conveys the feeling of having compassion on a begger, or of doing something nice for the ill-deserving.  I love this word, because it is part of my last name: Giovannetti. The Hebrew name, Johannan (notice the last part), comes into Italian as Giovanni (Gaelic = Siobahn, Scandinavian = Johann, English = John — that’s why the “h” is there).  The first part, Gio, refers to Jehovah or Yahweh, the LORD.  The second part, hanan, tells us he’s gracious.  The hen, hanan word group is all over the Old Testament.

  • Ge 6:8* But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
  • Ps 84:11* For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.
  • Pr 3:34* Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble.
  • Jer 31:2* Thus says the LORD: “The people who survived the sword Found grace in the wilderness– Israel, when I went to give him rest.”
  • Zec 12:10* “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
  • Isa 30:18* Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.
  • Isa 30:19* For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; You shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; When He hears it, He will answer you.
  • Jon 4:2* So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.

MERCIFUL… Hebrew word… racham (noun), rachum (adjective)… (again, clear your throat in the middle, and accent the last syllable… rah-CHAHM).  God’s tender mercies; that God feels compassion for us in the pit of his stomach. I know it’s an anthropomorphism, so work with me.  The tender-hearted compassion of God. The mercies of God toward the pathetic, wretched, and miserable. You can’t go far in the Old Testament without bumping into the tender mercies of God.

  • 18 “O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. (Daniel 9:18, NKJV).
  • 2Sa 24:14* And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
  • Ne 9:19* Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go.
  • Ps 25:6* Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, For they are from of old.
  • Ps 119:77* Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight.
  • Isa 63:15* Look down from heaven, And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained?
  • La 3:22* Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.
  • Da 9:18* “O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.

SLOW TO ANGER… roughly prounounced, air-ek uh-PIE-yim. It means “long of nose” which itself means having a very long fuse.  Let’s just mark it down that when judgment occurs in the Old Testament, it is long overdue.  Had God not been slow of anger, he would have blasted the relevant person long ago. But he waits and waits and waits and waits, giving us every opportunity to turn to his grace. With God, you get three strikes, and then three more, and three more, and three more… seventy times seven… and only then are you out. The basis of this longsuffering in God is the work of Christ on Calvary. We’d have no hope if God had a quick trigger finger!

  • 17 They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17, NKJV).
  • Jon 4:2* So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
  • Na 1:3* The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked. The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm, And the clouds are the dust of His feet.
  • Ps 103:8* The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
  • Ps 145:8* The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy.

GREAT KINDNESS: Hebrew word… hesed (clear your throat on the initial “h” and accent the first syllable… HEH-sed).  You might see it transliterated as chesed or checed, but those reminde me of “cheesehead” and I can’t stand the Packers, so I skip the c. The adjective “great” translates the Hebrew word rab (rahv), which means “a whole lot of it.”  God has a whole lot of hesed. An infinite storehouse. Here is the central word in the Old Testament for the freely given lovingkindness in the heart of God. We get hesed, not because we deserve it, but because he gives it freely out of his own character.  I think the old King James Bible translators actually coined the term “lovingkindess” for this word (not sure, though). It’s my all time favorite Bible word, and it’s EVERYWHERE in the Old Testament. Hesed emphasizes the UMERITED quality of God’s grace. He is infinitely more committed to you than you will ever be to him. Hesed is easy to overlook, because it is translated by so many different words.  I’ll underline them below (except “lovingkindness” which I think is always hesed).

  • 27 And he said, “Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren.” (Genesis 24:27, NKJV).
  • Ps 17:7* Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them.
    Ps 26:3* For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your truth.
    Ps 36:7* How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.
    Ps 36:10* Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You, And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
    Ps 40:10* I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth From the great assembly.
    Ps 40:11* Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O LORD; Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.
    Ps 42:8* The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me– A prayer to the God of my life.
    Ps 48:9* We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, In the midst of Your temple.
    Ps 51:1* <<To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.>> Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
    Ps 63:3* Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You.
    Ps 69:16* Hear me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good; Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
  • 3 The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jeremiah 31:3, NKJV).
  • 12 Then he said, “O LORD God of my master Abraham, please give me success this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham. (Genesis 24:12, NKJV).
  • 10 Then he said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. (Ruth 3:10, NKJV).
  • 3 Then the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” And Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.” (2 Samuel 9:3, NKJV).
  • Isa 54:8* With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness (hesed) I will have mercy (racham) on you,” Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
  • Isa 54:10* For the mountains shall depart And the hills be removed, But My kindness shall not depart from you, Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” Says the LORD, who has mercy (racham) on you.

One more word for today, and we have to go outside our Joel verse for it, but that’s okay…

LOVE… Hebrew word… ahab (a-HAHV). It’s a grace word, so let’s include it.

  • 15 “The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 10:15, NKJV).
  • 7 “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; 8 “but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8, NKJV).
  • 12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:12, NKJV).
  • 9 “Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9, NKJV).

THE MORAL OF THE STORY… never again say that we find law in the Old Testament and grace in the New.  The whole Bible is the testament of God’s grace.

Okay, it is now 5:30 am, and I’m going back to bed for a quick nap before I start my day.


12 thoughts on “Grace Words in the Old Testament

  1. thank you so much for your years of teaching me about God’s grace in the OT. Now, I can’t help but see it all over the place….with Abe, Jacob, Moses, & David to name a few; even in all the genealogies:) In fact, it has been studying the OT that has enabled me to appreciate and see the amazing beauty of God’s grace even more so in the NT.

  2. Dr. G, thanks so much for the word study. You are so right that Grace is all over the Bible. You’d have to be blind (probably are, huh?) to NOT see it. Oh, that God would give clear eyesight and hearing ears to His thoughts and heart.

    Thanks for feeding my soul and spirit! I also wanted to let you know we listened to “Do You Feel It? – Anger and Bitterness” and the timing and content were absolutely PERFECT for us right now. Praise God for His blessings on us through you!

  3. Bill…

    Wow. Very, very refreshing.

    The verse you quote mentions “returning” to the Lord, and reminds me of the prodigal son, who “returned” (repented) to the Father. As you know in that story, the overwhelming grace of the Father left the prodigal son completely speechless….. but the elder son was not left speechless, but was very resentful.


  4. Bill – I heard a teaching today regarding what an oxymoron “earned grace” was. I instantly thought of your teachings over the past few years. Your thoughts on grace are a continual blessing to those of us fortunate enough to hear them on a regular basis.


  5. If we were debating non-believers about grace in the Old Testament they’d likely bring up verses like Hosea 13:16, “Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open.” These are the types of verses I used to bring up to Christians when I was not one. I ended many conversations with them.

    Now, I still haven’t decided how to respond to such arguments. My current thinking on it is too long to type out here. Your thoughts, Bill?

  6. Hey Donny: The key to Hosea is “…for she has rebelled against her God.” Almighty Creator God set up the “rules” about living on this planet, and the first was to have absolutely NO OTHER gods than Him! Period!

    In our humanity, we, of course, don’t see the point as clearly as God does, but I truly think we ought to accept this first “rule” as non-negotiable. You may have ended many conversatiions with Christians, but believe me, our human reasoning/objections won’t fly with God. It also helps to understand the things of God are foolishness to unbelievers, and we cannot convince them at all without the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Specifically, I’m thinking about Penn/Tiller’s condemnation of the Holy Bible as bull(****oney) and you have to be looney to believe it. Not sure it’s worth it to debate that mindset!

    PS – Sure am glad you’re not ending the debates, as in the past, any longer!!!

  7. A really basic overview of my thoughts on this, Jean:

    All of us have rebelled against God at some point. But the Old Testament points to Christ, the savior of the world. Anything that interfered with the plan to bring Him into the world had to be dealt with. I don’t think Samaria, post-Christ, would have been dealt with the same.

    Of course, I still have very much to learn. My thoughts might change on this.

  8. Donny…

    The very last verse of the Book of Hosea is very illuminating (please review)… sort of reflects what Jean has already mentioned.


  9. Hey Donny,

    hope this doesn’t sound too simplistic. But I deal with questions like that by looking to the Cross. Samaria (well Bethlehem and in all that region (Matt 2) saw the killing of all male children under two years-old at the time of Christ. Which is why Jesus’ parents had to flee from Herod. Was this Samaria’s punishment or perhaps a prophecy fulfilled pointing us to Christ? Reminds of the time of Moses in the OT, who was also protected as a child (put in the basket in the water) and who later led the Israelite’s exile from Egypt. You can see Christ in all these stories (blood of the Lamb, leading people out of slavery, all to lead us to our Savior).
    In terms of being “ripped open”, I can’t help but think of our Savior on the cross who ultimately was ripped open….bearing the sins of Samaria and the whole world.

    sorry this is so short and all over the place….in a rush 🙂

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