Day 263: Grace, Grace (Zechariah 4:7)

7 Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” Zechariah 4:7

Through the Bible: Zechariah 1-4

I am always interested in how and why translation teams for various English translations choose to translate certain words the way they do. The word “grace” for example, shows up only six times in the ESV Old Testament, compared to 37 times in the KJV, 18 in the NKJV, 7 times each in the NIV and CSB, and 9 times in the NASB. Two of them are in Zechariah.

The word is the Hebrew word chane (rhymes with “chain,” only pronounce the ch like you would the ch in Bach). It’s not that rare a word in the Old Testament, 69 times in all. Usually, it is translated “favor” or “acceptance,” as in “if I have found favor (chane) in your eyes.”

Its usage is split fairly evenly between describing someone finding favor in another human being’s eyes, such as Jacob finding favor in Esau’s sight, and Joseph finding favor in Pharaoh’s sight; and a human being finding favor in the Lord’s sight, such as Noah, Moses (especially) and, in the Psalms and Proverbs, anyone who walks uprightly.

So, I don’t know why the ESV translates it “grace” in Zechariah 4:7 and 12:10. But these two occasions jump out to me because you just don’t see it that often.

In 4:7, in the vision God gave to Zechariah, “Grace, grace to it!” is what the people are shouting when Zerubbabel places the finishing stone on the Temple. This is how nearly all the English translations render it. Only the NIV and NLT differ. They go with “God bless it, God bless it,” which actually feels a little closer to the idea of “Let the favor of the Lord rest upon this work.”

Notice what they don’t say. The people didn’t shout, “Whooo-wee! Git ‘r done, Zerubbabel!” (the way I might expect them to where I live in Alabama). They didn’t pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for all their hard work. Why not? Because God has already said to them that this temple will be built “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit” (v. 6).

Grace was what moved Cyrus, king of Persia, to send Zerubbabel and his builders back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Grace was what enabled them to persist in the work, even when some of those who had seen the first temple wept over the second one. So when the Temple was complete, and Zerubbabel laid the top stone, “Grace! Grace!” was the only appropriate response. 

Zechariah is a grace-filled Old Testament book. When we get to Day 265, we’ll talk about the other use of the word “grace” in Zechariah. It is truly—wait for it—amazing.

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