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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Grace, Divine

One of the attributes of God, signifying His loving-kindness and mercy, and particularly His compassion for the weak, the unfortunate, and the sinful. It is in contrast with the attribute of justice, inasmuch as grace is granted even to the undeserving. The most significant Scriptural passage is in Exodus (34:6): "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." The relation of this attribute of grace to God's justice is not always clearly defined in the Old Testament. Righteousness, however, is taken to be so comprehensive that it includes all moral perfection, of which all virtues are a necessary corollary. Often grace and justice are used in parallel construction (Psalms 89:15; 101:1; 103:6,8). Jonah found it difficult to reconcile grace and righteousness (see Hamburger, "R. B. T." , s. "Gnade und Barmherzigkeit"; Jonah 3:8-9; 4:2,11), and the divine answer states that grace divine is extended not only to the chosen people, but also to the heathen; it is conditioned, however, on sincere repentance. The Book of Jonah is particularly intended to teach divine grace in its universal aspect (see Driver, "Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament," p. 303). However, the other books of the Bible are also replete with this idea, as Deuteronomy, where the existence of divine grace is cited as a guaranty that God will keep His covenant with Israel (4:31), and grace is promised as a result of obedience (13:18-19).

The Prophets, while emphasizing God's judgment and righteousness, also proclaim His mercy. Isaiah repeatedly teaches that divine grace will be granted to the repentant (60:7), God's loving-kindness to Israel (63:7-9). Jeremiah and Ezekiel, while denouncing Judah for its sins, hold before it the same picture of divine forgiveness (Jeremiah 18:8; Lamentations 3:32; Ezekiel 33:11). Joel expressly states that sincere repentance is the price of divine grace and mercy (2:13; comp. Hosea 14:2-9). Amos, while speaking burning words to sinful Israel, still promises divine grace to the saving remnant of Joseph (5:15; comp. Micah 7:18-20).

The Psalms abound in expressions of hope for and confidence in divine grace. It is found in conjunction with righteousness (116:5) and mercy (103:8) and compassion (111:4; comp. 85:10, where there may be an effort toward harmonizing the two attributes of God, grace and righteousness). In the Psalms there can be traced a gradual extension of the bestowal of divine grace from the anointed king and his seed (18:50) to the poor and the needy (113:7), then to all Israel (130:7), to all the nations (), and finally to all creatures (145:9). Divine grace is accorded because God desires to keep His covenant (106:45), and also out of consideration for human weakness (78:39). It is vouchsafed to the persecuted (9:13), to the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger (146:9).

The apocryphal writings, too, commemorate and appeal to this divine attribute. Divine grace is extended over all; "the mercy of the Lord is upon all flesh" (Ecclus. [Sirach] 18:13) out of compassion to weak, sinful, and short-lived man. Grace is given to those who forgive the wrongs done to them by their fellow men (ib. 28:2,5).

In the Talmud.

In the Talmud divine grace is designated by the term , the attribute of mercy, in contradistinction to , the attribute of justice. In creating the world God combined the two attributes: "Thus said the Holy One, blessed be His name! 'If I create the world with the attribute of mercy, sin will abound; and if I create it with the attribute of justice, how can the world exist? Therefore I create it with both attributes, mercy and justice, and may it thus endure'" (Gen. R. 12:15). The same is asserted about the creation of man (Gen. R. 21:8). This interpretation is based on the supposition, often expressed by the sages, that "Elohim" implies the quality of justice, and the Tetragrammaton the attribute of mercy (see Ex. R. 6:2; Ber. 60b). God is sometimes called ("the Merciful One": Lev. R. 17:4).

According to the sages, divine grace is given to those who are merciful to their fellow men (Gen. R. 30:3; Shab. 151b); about those who study the Law God draws a cord of grace () in the future world (Ḥag. 12b). Grace is given to some because of the merit of their ancestors, to others becauseof the merit of their descendants (Gen. R. 29:5). The righteous have the power to change the attribute of justice to the attribute of mercy (ib. 33:4). The contrast between man's cruelty and God's grace is shown in Men. 99b; 'Er. 19a. As laws of grace and mercy are interpreted Leviticus 22:27,28; 25:6; Deuteronomy 22:7 (see Deut. R. 6:1). Rabbi Jose, however, declares that these commandments are not founded on grace, but are divine decrees for which no reason may be given (Ber. 33b; Meg. 25a).

From the above it is clear that the frequent assertion that the idea of divine grace is not fully expressed in the Old Testament and in the Talmud has no foundation. As to the Paulinian idea of grace see Christianity and SAUL OF TARSUS. The medieval Jewish philosophers treating of the attributes of God did not mention grace. Saadia, the first to treat of attributes, enumerates only those which express the very essence of God without infringing upon the idea of His unity. The other philosophers followed Saadia's example. Judah ha-Levi, however, mentions the attributes ("merciful and gracious") among the so-called "active attributes" ("Cuzari," ed. Cassel, pp. 87 et seq.).

The Jewish liturgy is full of the idea of divine grace. It is expressed in praise and adoration, in supplication ("Ahabah Rabbah"), and in thanksgiving ("Shemoneh 'Esrch"). God is addressed as "merciful God," "merciful Father," and "merciful King." The long prayer recited on Mondays and Thursdays, beginning "Wehu Raḥum," is particularly a prayer for grace in times of persecution. The liturgy for the New-Year and the Day of Atonement is permeated with this idea.

  • Hamburger, R. B. T. 1:483;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, 2:254.
M. M. E.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Grace, Divine'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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