“Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:2–3, ESV)
Grace is a fascinating word to study. Many sermons I have listened to define it as unmerited favor, but when you really look into the word it is so much more richer than that.
The Strong’s definition is #2580 is the word “chen” and has the meanings of grace, favour, beauty and loveliness. It is derived from the root verb Strongs #2603 “chanan” which brings the ideas of mercy, grace, pity, and favor, as well as the idea to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. (1)
There is a shared root syllable with the word Strong’s #2583 “chanah” that is very interesting. The idea in this word it to pitch a tent, to encamp, or to rest in tent. (1)
In the wilderness the Israelite’s set up camp by pitching their tents in such a way that they provided a wall that separated the camp from the outside. When you look at the pictograph of the letter “het” it is a picture of a wall, which could imply the idea of separation. The second letter is the “nun” which has a pictograph of a sprouting seed which has the idea of continue, in that the seed continues the next generation.(2) So combining the two pictures we get the idea of a wall that continues. The camp is inside the walls that continue and surround the camp separating it from the outside. To live inside the walls is where the people find protection. In the center of the camp is the tabernacle which is where the Lord dwelt among His people.
Think about what the picture provides, the ideas of refuge, protection, healing, help, salvation and covenant. How about the idea of separation or being set apart. (Holiness)
To live inside the camp also meant that you lived in the covenant community and followed the instructions that God provided for that covenant community. To step outside the camp was to leave the place of refuge and protection and enter a wilderness of danger and trouble.
Pondering the beauty of God’s grace is to discover so much more to such a simple word. In doing so I find so much more richness in what Paul writes in Ephesians:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10, ESV)
It is by God’s grace that he brings us back into the camp where we find His salvation, His protection, His Help, His healing. In the camp we join the covenant community and become set apart for His purposes. It is where we find the freedom to live in the boundaries that God has provided. When we are to travel into the wilderness it is as part of the covenant community and it is always God who leads the way.
It is sad though that many of us like to jump back over the wall into the wilderness where we find danger and trouble. Sometimes we try and live on both sides of the wall hoping to get the best of both worlds, but that to is just a deception of our own flesh. The other problem we have is that we try and move the walls in closer and closer to the center, but the end result is that we have no longer have any room to move around in the freedom that the original walls provided.
Lord help me to live in the freedom that is your grace, a freedom to live in your covenant community, under your amazing instruction. The freedom I have is not to do anything I wish, but a freedom to live in the encampment of your grace.
1. Strong, J. (1996). The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
2. Seekins, Frank T. “Hebrew Word Pictures”