Hermeneutics teaches that a word’s meaning can be defined by examining the context of its first mention in Scripture. This is known as the “law of first mention.”
Let’s look at the first time “grace” is found in the Bible.
We only have to travel a few pages into the Torah before we find God gifting man with the Hebrew word chen (חֵן), or “grace.” By reading Genesis 6:5-9 we can learn about how God set this word up to be defined throughout Scripture.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD… Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.”
This opening book of God’s Word writes that mankind had become wicked and his intentions were evil continually. The fall in the Garden had led man to depravity as he engaged in things evil in God’s sight. But, there was one man in that corrupt generation who stood out — Noah.
In a wicked generation, Noah walked with God and had right standing with Him. It also says Noah was blameless. The Hebrew word used here for blameless means “sound, wholesome, innocent, or having integrity.” Noah walked in integrity and innocence before the LORD. He was a light in the midst of darkness.
The most common definition I hear of grace is “unearned, unmerited favor.” Is this what we see with Noah? Unearned and unmerited constitutes that actions count for nothing when grace is considered. Did Noah’s actions count for anything as he received grace?
I’m not sure if he “earned” the grace of the LORD, but it seems like his three actions of being righteous, blameless, and walking with God did have an impact on God’s decision to gift Noah with grace.
The only man to receive grace was the one man who these three actions were attributed to in the text. So this means that in order to receive God’s gift of grace we each must be righteous, blameless, and walk with God. Right?
Let’s take a look at one more verse in the story.
“But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” – Genesis 6:18
I think this is the best verse out of the entire story of Noah. Why? Because it’s where I fit in.
All my life I read this story thinking I needed to be like Noah, blameless and perfect before God. But the reality is that I can’t. I fall short — often — but I’m part of the family.
You see, each of us fit in with one of three verses in Genesis 6. Verse 5 with the wicked, verse 8 with the blameless man, or verse 18 with the family of the blameless man.
For believers, the story of Noah points to Yeshua through and through. Because of the righteousness of one man, Noah, his whole family received grace in place of judgment. Through Yeshua, we, as part of His family, also receive grace in place of judgment.
“For the grace of God has appeared [through Jesus], bringing salvation for all people.” – Titus 2:11
Lastly, we see something beautiful in the spelling of Noah’s name in Hebrew. It is spelled identically with the Hebrew word for grace — only backward. Noah is a mirror, a reflection of grace. Just as Noah reflected the grace from God to his family, Yeshua reflects the grace from the Father to each of us who have been adopted into His family.
So, what is a good, Biblical definition for grace in light of the “law of first mention?” That’s for the scholars to figure out, but I think the following may not be too far off.
Grace (n.) — a gift of favor that comes through good relationship with someone, and which can be reflected to others by the one who receives it.