The Hebrew Word for Grace: Hen

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Grace is often described as unmerited favor. It is also clear from scripture that grace came through Jesus Christ. This means that the New Covenant is a covenant of grace, unlike the Old Covenant, which was a covenant of the law. However, this does not mean that grace was not revealed in the Old Testament. Speaking of grace, let’s look into how it was used in the Bible and what’s its Hebrew translation. 

The Hebrew word for grace is HEN. HEN, as used in the Septuagint (LXX) creates the impression of a stronger individual assisting one that is weaker. However, the assistance is purely voluntary and it stems from the free will of the stronger person. The strong person is not driven by a sense of obligation or guilt – just his goodwill to help. This concept of grace is made clear in lots of Old Testament passages. 

Grace in the Old Testament 

The Old Testament depicts God’s gracious actions, such as singling out Noah for survival due to his positive adherence to divine principles (Genesis 6:8). God finds pleasure and receives glory in delivering faithful believers, emphasizing the connection between grace and faithfulness. Here are some of the most prolific examples of grace in the Old Testament:

  • God’s grace to Israel (Exodus 33:12-17)

The story of Moses and the Israelites is an interesting demonstration of grace. At one point, God is not amused at how stiff-necked the Israelites are and he tells Moses that he will destroy them and raise new people who fear him. But Moses intercedes for the nation of Israel which results in God demonstrating his grace by lifting the looming judgment. Eventually, the descendants of Israel make it into the promised land. 

  • Jacob and Esau (Genesis 32:5)

In this passage, Jacob comes out as the stronger one and he demonstrates grace by reaching out to the brother. They had been estranged due to a family feud but Jacob decided to reconcile after many years. 

  • Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2:2, 10, 13)

In this passage, Ruth is portrayed as the weaker individual. Boaz, as the stronger individual, demonstrates grace by not only helping Ruth but also protecting her. Eventually, the two get married as the final demonstration of grace. 

  • David and Saul (1 Samuel 26:1-25)

Even though Saul was the first king of Israel, he disobeyed God which led to God rejecting him. God then sent his prophet to anoint David as the next king. From then on, Saul sought to kill David but he never got a chance. On the contrary, David got several opportunities to kill Saul but he refused to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” We can say that David was the stronger one but he demonstrated grace by preserving Saul’s life

  • Queen Esther and the King (Esther 8:5)

Esther is in a seemingly weak position. Not only is she a foreigner and slave but her predecessor had been killed for going against the will of the king. Esther knew it was not allowed to approach the king without being summoned but she risked her life and did it anyway – and the king demonstrated grace by welcoming the queen and even granting her request. 

  • Noah and God’s grace (Genesis 8)

The story of Noah is arguably one of the most popular Bible stories. Man’s sin had become so much that God decided to destroy humanity. However, Noah found grace in God’s sight because he was a righteous man amid all that sin. After he built the ark and was saved from the flood, Noah gave a sacrifice to God and as the Bible records, the sweet savour of the sacrifice reached God and he vowed never again to destroy man through water. This can also be seen as an extension of god’s preserving grace over humanity. 

To wrap it up, God’s grace in the Old Testament entails the actions of God’s mercy as a precursor of what was to happen in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament, God uses men to paint the metaphor of a weaker being being helped by a greater one to illustrate the message of the cross. 

Jesus’ Teachings on Grace in the Gospels

When introducing Jesus, John reminds us that the law came through Moses while grace and truth came through Jesus (John 1:17). From the very onset, the gospel of John makes it clear that the New Testament concept of grace goes hand-in-hand with truth. A couple of chapters later, Jesus taught that he was the truth (John 14:6). To put it simply, he was the embodiment of God’s grace.

Jesus demonstrates this grace in many ways including healing the sick, helping the needy, and preaching the gospel to the poor. Several parables of Jesus demonstrate the grace of God in action but the story of the prodigal son is arguably the most powerful. In the parable, a father had two sons and one demanded his inheritance while the other one remained loyal to the father. The one that demanded his share went ahead and wasted all his wealth on “riotous living.” After going broke, he started taking odd jobs to make ends meet and at one time, he was so broke that he could eat whatever was fed to the pigs. At this point, he decided to go back home. He figured that he didn’t deserve the forgiveness of the father but he could always beg to be a servant because his father’s servants lived better than he was. However, his father gladly received him back as a son and even organized a homecoming party. 

In this parable, Jesus demonstrated how God’s grace works – that even the worst of sinners are still candidates for God’s love and mercy. In a way, this tallies with the Old Testament concept of grace (HEN). This is because God is the strong one who is reaching out with mercy towards man who is the weak one. 

Conclusion

The Hebrew word for grace, HEN, reveals a profound concept of divine favor and assistance extended to humanity. Grace is demonstrated every time an immortal God reaches out to mortal man. Even though Hebrew is only used in the Old Testament, the concept of grace cuts across the entire Bible. In fact, grace is only revealed in part in the Old Testament but the real demonstration of grace is when heaven’s best (Jesus) died for earth’s worst (all of us) in the New Testament.  

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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