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The grace of God in the Old Testament
Even in its diversity, the Bible is tied together by the theme of God’s grace, and we can see this in every book of the Old Testament.
There is always a danger of squeezing the Bible into a mold we bring to it, rather than letting the Bible mold us. There could hardly be more diversity within the Protestant canon—diverse genres, historical settings, authors, literary levels, ages of history.
But while the Bible is not uniform, it is unified. The many books of the one Bible are not like the many pennies in the one jar. The pennies in the jar look the same, yet are disconnected; the books of the Bible (like the organs of a body) look different, yet are interconnected. As the past two generations’ recovery of biblical theology has shown time and again, certain motifs course through the Scripture from start to end, tying the whole thing together into a coherent tapestry—kingdom, temple, people of God, creation/new creation, and so on.
While the Bible is not uniform, it is unified.
Yet underneath and undergirding all of these themes is the motif of God’s grace, his favor, and love to the undeserving. We can see the grace of God in every book of the Bible, throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
Genesis shows God’s grace to a universally wicked world as he enters into relationship with a sinful family line (Abraham) and promises to bless the world through him.
Exodus shows God’s grace to his enslaved people in bringing them out of Egyptian bondage.
Leviticus shows God’s grace in providing his people with a sacrificial system to atone for their sins.
Numbers shows God’s grace in patiently sustaining his grumbling people in the wilderness and bringing them to the border of the promised land not because of them, but in spite of them.
Deuteronomy shows God’s grace in giving the people the new land ‘not because of your righteousness’ (Deut. 9).
Joshua shows God’s grace in giving Israel victory after victory in their conquest of the land with neither superior numbers nor superior obedience on Israel’s part.
Judges shows God’s grace in taking sinful, weak Israelites as leaders and using them to purge the land, time and again, of foreign incursion and idolatry.
Ruth shows God’s grace in incorporating a poverty-stricken, desolate, foreign woman into the line of Christ.
1 and 2 Samuel show God’s grace in establishing the throne (forever—2 Sam. 7) of David, an adulterous murderer.
1 and 2 Kings show God’s grace in repeatedly prolonging the exacting of justice and judgment for kingly sin ‘for the sake of’ David. (And remember: by the ancient hermeneutical presupposition of corporate solidarity, by which the one stands for the many and the many for the one, the king represented the people; the people were in their king; as the king went, so went they.)
1 and 2 Chronicles show God’s grace by continually reassuring the returning exiles of God’s self-initiated promises to David and his sons.
Ezra shows God’s grace to Israel in working through the most powerful pagan ruler of the time (Cyrus) to bring his people back home to a rebuilt temple.
Nehemiah shows God’s grace in providing for the rebuilding of the walls of the city that represented the heart of God’s promises to his people.
Esther shows God’s grace in protecting his people from a Persian plot to eradicate them through a string of ‘fortuitous’ events.
Job shows God’s grace in vindicating the sufferer’s cry that his redeemer lives (Job 19:25), who will put all things right in this world or the next.
Psalms shows God’s grace by reminding us of, and leading us in expressing, the hesed (relentless covenant love) God has for his people and the refuge that he is for them.
Proverbs shows us God’s grace by opening up to us a world of wisdom in leading a life of happy godliness.
Ecclesiastes shows God’s grace in its earthy reminder that the good things of life can never be pursued as the ultimate things of life, and that it is God who in his mercy satisfies sinners (note Eccl. 7:20; 8:11).
Song of Songs shows God’s grace and love for his bride by giving us a faint echo of it in the pleasures of faithful human sexuality.
Isaiah shows God’s grace by reassuring us of his presence with and restoration of contrite sinners.
Jeremiah shows God’s grace in promising a new and better covenant, one in which knowledge of God will be universally internalized.
Lamentations shows God’s grace in his unfailing faithfulness in the midst of sadness.
Ezekiel shows God’s grace in the divine heart surgery that cleansingly replaces stony hearts with fleshy ones.
Daniel shows God’s grace in its repeated miraculous preservation of his servants.
Hosea shows God’s grace in a real-live depiction of God’s unstoppable love toward his whoring wife.
Joel shows God’s grace in the promise to pour out his Spirit on all flesh.
Amos shows God’s grace in the Lord’s climactic promise of restoration in spite of rampant corruption.
Obadiah shows God’s grace by promising judgment on Edom, Israel’s oppressor, and restoration of Israel to the land in spite of current Babylonian captivity.
Jonah shows God’s grace toward both immoral Nineveh and moral Jonah, irreligious pagans and a religious prophet, both of whom need and receive the grace of God.
Micah shows God’s grace in the prophecy’s repeated wonder at God’s strange insistence on ‘pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression’ (Micah 7:18).
Nahum shows God’s grace in assuring Israel of ‘good news’ and ‘peace,’ promising that the Assyrians have tormented them for the last time.
Habakkuk shows God’s grace that requires nothing but trusting faith amid insurmountable opposition, freeing us to rejoice in God even in desolation.
Zephaniah shows God’s grace in the Lord’s exultant singing over his recalcitrant yet beloved people.
Haggai shows God’s grace in promising a wayward people that the future glory of God’s presence with them will far surpass its former glory.
Zechariah shows God’s grace in the divine pledge to open up a fountain for God’s people to ‘cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’ (Zech. 13:1).
Malachi shows God’s grace by declaring the Lord’s no-strings-attached love for his people.