The Pentateuch: 5 Books About God’s Grace

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You’ve heard it before. “The God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath. Things have changed now.” “The Pentateuch is all law. The NT is all grace.”

Cliches like this may be convenient for easily-categorized thought, but are they true? It is a misconception to say that the NT is all grace and OT all law. “Grace” and “Pentateuch” are not oil and water.

If we take a tad closer look at the Pentateuch, we will see that it contains five books filled with God’s grace.

Though many Christians might be familiar with the pentateuchal stories and events, many have missed the sovereign grace of God therein. You need not travel far to find grace. The Seed-Savior promise is a promise of grace (Gen. 3:15). That Adam and Eve don’t perish immediately is grace (cf. Gen. 2:17). God’s handling of Cain is grace (Gen. 4:15). Genesis 5 features grace (e.g. Gen. 5:24). Noah’s cruise is an act of grace. God’s promise to Noah, and the world is grace (Gen. 9:12-16). Being able to eat meat is certainly grace (Gen. 9:3). God’s promise of land, people, and world-blessing is, and would span out to be, grace par excellence (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s grace builds like a tidal-wave throughout Genesis. For the sake of ten righteous people, God would spare sin-saturated cities like Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:32).

Much of Genesis is the story of the God graciously bearing with a hopeless and helpless people. Abraham—someone like Abraham—is justified by faith alone (Gen. 15:6). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve are hardly moral heroes who valiantly succeeded in securing God’s favor upon his people. God is the sovereign-grace-hero in Genesis. Despite his crafty deceit, Jacob remained under God’s shepherding eye all his days (Gen. 48:15). The dealings with Joseph was the story of sovereign grace upon a twisted people (Gen. 37-50). God is the one who valiantly succeeds in securing the grace and safety of sinners. The remainder of the Pentateuch is no exception.

Much of Exodus concerns sovereign God keeping his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as he extends protecting and redeeming grace to helpless Israel. A few million enslaved, sinful Israelites are miraculously rescued from Egypt for no other reason than God was pleased to extend radical grace in accordance with his grace-promise to Abraham.

The grace continues in Exodus. Think “God’s grace” when deep in the tabernacle instructions. Why? Though man forfeited the blessing of dwelling in the presence of God (Gen. 3:24), he initiates relationship once again in order to bless sinful man by dwelling in his midst. That is sovereign grace: what could man do to initiate God’s relationship blessing after Eden? “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8). Exodus concludes with God residing among his people for blessing (Exod. 40:34). The flaming sword is gone and God dwells with his people. And the fact that God decides to even have a people is grace.

Admittedly, this also brings an element of wrath and terror: sinful man cannot safely dwell in the presence of God without proper propitiation. However, in his mercy, God will address this very problem as meticulously explained in Leviticus.

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Leviticus is that portion of the Bible which people usually skip and skim in their Bible reading plan. But don’t miss the grand purpose of all the blood. It’s God’s grace: he is creating a way for sinful man to safely dwell amidst holy God. That’s sovereign grace. Leviticus concerns how the true God—a holy God—has initiated relationship with sinful man, approached him, and prescribed proper worship, so that man might be allowed and enabled to worship God. That’s grace. The blood brings man out from a state of offense before God into acceptance with God (e.g. Lev. 1:4, 4:31, 17:11). Incredible! We should fall down in awe when we come to Leviticus and discover that a God as great as this God is actually allowing sinners as sinful as us to be acceptable to him. Hallelujah!

Think of it. God initiates the relationship. God redeems the people. God constructs an atoning system. God spells out how the system works. God makes all the stuff necessary for the system and supplies it to sinners. God allows monstrous sinners to engage in the system. Grace.

Numbers is no exception to displaying the grace of holy God. The book begins with a census (Num. 1:1-46). Resist skip-skimming the census, brothers and sisters. Despite all that they have been through, self-inflicted and otherwise, there are enough Israelites to be counted. Not only are there enough to count, but the quantity is comparable to the stars (Gen. 15:6). The number is huge (Num. 1:46). That is only explainable by a great God who keeps his promise. The grace continues (Num. 6:22-27).

Thereafter, much of the book of Numbers concerns God’s gracious patience with an insatiably rebellious people (e.g. Num. 11, 12, 13, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23). Though God punishes Israel at times in the midst of their rebellion—which is simply justice—he is also sparing many. Lest we’re tempted to think that Numbers is all judgment, consider that only a small fraction are immediately judged after national wickedness. Balak doesn’t prevail. Moab’s influence is stayed. Not all perish from the quail. The earth eats only a small fraction.

Finally, Deuteronomy also features the sovereign grace of God. Deuteronomy contains one of the mountain peaks of grace in Scripture:

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deut. 7:7-9).

God blesses Israel because he has decided to love her. Grace.

Also in Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the history of God’s faithfulness despite their faithlessness (e.g. Deut. 1-4). Her clothes did not wear out after forty years (Deut. 8:4). He spurned Balaam’s counsel simply because he loves sinful Israel (Deut. 23:5). Water and food never ceased. Incredibly, Israel remained as God’s special treasure (Deut. 26:18). Of all people, would you label Israel as your special treasure?

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Much of Deuteronomy concerns God’s commitment—faithful and loving commitment—to bear with a people who will certainly live up to their name; “wrestles with God” (Deut. 4:31). Though they will fail, in the end, God will keep his promise to Abraham. After her hard history, Israel’s Husband will circumcise her heart such that she will be saved (Deut. 30:6, cf. Rom. 11:25-29). Certainly the Pentateuch is a grand demonstration of the sovereign grace of God.

Finally, there is a sense in which the OT laws reveal God’s grace. Despite the difficulty to obey his commands, the commands themselves were an expression of grace. Apart from God’s direction, Israel would be flowing down the sewers of man’s wisdom. But God’s commands are good commands. Every command served to either love God and/or love people.

The parapet prevented rambunctious Hebrew kids from face-planting off their neighbor’s roof (Deut. 22:8). Leprosy commands were to preserve cleanliness and health. Marriage and sexuality laws honored the holiness of God, fidelity to humanity, and the well-being of society. Crimes were not to be tolerated (e.g. Exod. 21:12-36). God shows his goodness in the various situational commands. Blanket retribution was not given for crimes. A farmer whose ox was not previously in the habit of goring someone would not be punished upon its first incident (Exod. 21:28). Further, God is a God who looks out for the socially marginalized. Contrary to surrounding nations, God’s people were commanded to show kindness to orphans, widows, and foreigners (Exod. 22:21-24). Human sacrifice was intolerable. That’s a good thing (Lev. 20:2). Human life is sacred and few places demonstrate this like the OT laws. Finally, God’s laws mandated kindness even to one’s enemy (Exod. 23:4-5). Thus, the OT laws also show God to be a God of grace.

Finally, the fact that anyone was saved in OT times shouts, “Grace!”

Certainly the Pentateuch contains laws and judgments. However, it is short-sighted for NT people to use blanket clichés like, “The OT is all law, the NT all grace.” If we’re willing to dig into the Pentateuch a bit we can learn much about grace long before we hit the NT.



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