And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
The New Testament speaks about the grace that God bestows upon people through Yeshua. What does that mean? What is “grace”? Many teachers define “grace” as “unmerited favor,” but this definition is not completely accurate.
Some Bible readers believe that, prior to the New Testament, grace did not exist. They imagine a false dichotomy between “law” and “grace.” On the contrary, the Torah speaks of God’s grace frequently, but when we translate the Hebrew to English, we usually translate the Hebrew word chen (חן) as “favor.” The same word stands behind the Greek word charis (χάρις) which we translate as “grace.” In the Bible, grace and favor are the same thing.
Moses insisted that, if he had truly found favor in God’s sight, the LORD would not send him alone to lead Israel. The LORD replied, “My Presence shall go with you.” God promised to accompany Moses, but He did not promise to accompany the nation. His favor rested on Moses but not on Israel.
Moses refused the offer. He refused to separate himself from the people. He implored, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). He intentionally identified himself with the whole nation of Israel so that, if God was going to treat him with any favor, He must also treat the whole nation with the same favor:
For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth? (Exodus 33:16)
By positioning himself with Israel, Moses put the Almighty in an awkward position. If God intended to express His favor for Moses, He had to accord the same favor to the people of Israel with whom Moses so closely identified himself. The LORD agreed to extend His favor for Moses to the whole nation: “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name” (Exodus 33:17).
This story illustrates how the “grace of Messiah” functions. The story also demonstrates that grace is not “an unmerited gift.” Through His righteous life and His undeserved suffering, Yeshua of Nazareth merited favor in His Father’s eyes. When we identify ourselves with Yeshua and He identifies Himself with us, saying “I and your people,” He brings us under the favor He enjoys from the Father. The grace we receive through our association with Yeshua might seem like a free and unmerited gift to us, but for Him, it was not free at all. He earned it, and it cost Him His life.