The terms grace and mercy are used frequently in the Bible, but these words may be misunderstood with respect to how they relate to God’s plan of salvation. Noah was the first person that benefitted from God’s grace (Genesis 6:8). He and his family were saved from the flood that killed everything that was living on the earth. Grace is something we obtain, or are given by another person, and is equivalent to saying in English, I like you or I love you (2580). Grace is an attribute of God, meaning it is a part of his character, something he does naturally. “However, God extends His ‘graciousness’ in His own sovereign way and will, to whomever He chooses (Ex 33:19)” (2603). A proper translation of the Hebrew word that is translated gracious would be “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (2603).
Mercy or in Hebrew, chesed (kheh´ – sed) means loving-kindness. “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel)” (2617). One way that mercy has been described is, not getting what you deserve. Lot was the first person in the Bible associated with God’s mercy (Genesis 19:19). He and his daughters were rescued from Sodom before the city was destroyed by God and later conceived two sons through incest.
Ezra, the priest’s description of the situation in Jerusalem centered on God’s grace and mercy in returning his people to the Promised Land after they had blatantly rejected him and turned to idol worship. Ezra said, “And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage” (Ezra 9:8). God caused circumstances to work out so that his people could return to Jerusalem. In particular, he prompted two kings of Persia, Cyrus and Artaxerxes, to issue decrees that made it possible for anyone that wanted to return to go back without any negative repercussions. The phrase Ezra used, “give us a little reviving in our bondage” meant that God had even provided sustenance for his people through the freewill offerings of king Artaxerxes and his counsellors (Ezra 7:15).
Ezra was appalled when he found out that some of the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon had married foreigners that were idol worshippers (Ezra 9:2). The Jews knew this was illegal, and that it had been the cause of their downfall, and the primary reason they had been taken into captivity in the first place. In his intercessory prayer for the Jews, Ezra declared, “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest thou not be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?” (Ezra 9:13-14). Ezra pointed out that God had punished his people less than they deserved. In other words, God showed them mercy; his loving-kindness was still at work in spite of the Jews continual failure to live up to his standards.