Grace In the Old Testament (part two)
3 min 25 sec reading time
Psalm 89 speaks of God’s faithfulness.
"I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness." - Ps 89:1-2
In Hebrew, this text is rife with emphasis upon aspects of faithfulness. I will sing, I will make known, I said, all refer to what? Yahweh's love. And love, amplified by the word steadfast, is used here to translate the Hebrew word hesed (chesed). This is one of the most important terms in the Old Testament, every disciple needs to know this word.
Hesed speaks of two things: of God’s love or grace, and of his covenant faithfulness. Hesed is often translated as steadfast love, lovingkindness, love—it is the word for grace in the New Testament. It is like both the root and the trunk of a tree. The mercy and love of God are made manifest in his faithfulness to his covenants, and to his words. So, it is of God’s faithfulness that the psalmist sings.
"Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!" - Ps 89:5
"O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?" - Ps 89:8
"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you." - Ps 89:14
"It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night." Ps 92:1-2
"The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness* in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." Ps 98:2-3
* Interestingly, in verse 2 the words righteousness and salvation are used in parallel. Salvation can be used as a synonym for righteousness in the Hebrew Bible.
The crucial point I want to emphasize is that hesed goes to the very heart of who God is. And because of that, we can have confidence and hope in him. And because of that, he looks for us to reciprocate.
The LORD protects (guards, preserves) his people; God defends those he has made faithful. He is searching the earth for faithful men and women, young and old, from every tribe and tongue that witness to his character. He scours the earth looking for those who are faithful to his faithfulness. Not only is this the essential characteristic of God, but if we turn to the NT we see that it is also the essence of what Jesus did. Like Father, like Son.
Turn with me to a familiar text, a passage that is pivotal to the whole Protestant Reformation.
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law (Torah), although the Torah and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (the Messiah) for all who believe." - Romans 3:21-22a
In the original Greek, Paul's emphasis is on what we do in light of what he has done—it is a result of what we truly believe. Though it is seldom taught this way, it seems clear to me that an objective reading of this text in context reveals that Paul here is highlighting what Jesus did.
Let's back up a bit.
Remember I told you that the fundamental meaning of faith comes from the Hebrew word emunah. (click here to go to part one) As you read the NT, carefully consider the context of the authors and think of what faith meant to them. Even though they wrote in Greek, the writers were first-century Israelites with a Jewish mindset steeped in the Word of God, the Hebrew Scripture.
Faith (emunah) in the Bible is always spoken of in terms of behavior, not in terms of theories, concepts, or beliefs. It is described rather than defined by behavior in varying, specific circumstances—usually tests and trials.
To my mind, the best reading is that this righteousness from God manifested itself through the FAITHFULNESS of Jesus the Messiah, to those who believe. Otherwise, Paul is being redundant. If the Apostle to the Gentile world is saying that this righteousness comes to those who have faith in Jesus then why does he finish with "for all who believe"?
As we use the terms, there is no difference in having faith and having belief. True? But if Paul is saying that God accomplished his new covenant salvation through the faithfulness of Jesus, then we now believe that—and because of that belief—we come into a relationship of faithfulness.
That fits better with Paul's Hebraic perspective. Whether you agree with me or not, what I am suggesting to you is that when you read the word faith in the NT, think of the concept of faithfulness and see if it adds new dimensions to the text and to your understanding.
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. He founded JC Studies in 1984. Click here to explore his audio seminars.