Why is favour said to be “found,” although people were not searching for it? Why does it not instead say, “favour found Noah” in Genesis 6:8?
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. NKJV, ©1982
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Although in English the verb “find” is commonly used in the sense of “to discover or attain by search or effort,”1
it can also be used in the sense of “To meet with, come to have or experience, obtain, receive, get (chiefly, something desirable or needful).”2
Coincidentally, the Hebrew verb מָצָא (matza) conjugated in binyan Paʿal (Kal) can also be used in this latter sense. Gesenius wrote,3
In summary, neither the English verb “find” nor the Hebrew verb מָצָא need imply that Noah was searching for favor when he “found” it.
1 Oxford English Dictionary online, “find” (v.), II., a.
2 id., I., 3.
3 Gesenius, p. 499, מָצָא (matza), 1.
Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.
Oxford English Dictionary online. (https://www.oed.com)
You are right, Mndeni, it doesn't say that Noah searched for favor, but it is derived from the situation. Noah lived a righteous life in the midst of a very corrupt generation, and there's no better way of finding grace than through acting according to God's will in the midst of evil. There is a reason why God chose him, and his family, to be the sole survivors of that whole generation.
Moses asked God if he had "found grace" in Exodus 33:13, but again it never says that he had asked for it.
Typically, people ask for God's mercy in the Bible. When they see God's impending judgment, they throw themselves on His mercy and plead for their generation. Naturally, they live lives of repentance themselves and show they way. Then, when they have fasted, prayed, resisted the temptations of their generation and given their lives over to God, they dare to ask the question "have I found grace", "will you hear my plea". Their cause is no longer their own, their goal is only for the greater good and to fulfill God's will.
In Moses' case, he averted many disasters from Israel. In Noah's case, he averted the destruction of mankind.
To "find grace" is a key expression in the Bible, not least in the salvation of mankind through Jesus. Noah and Moses are forerunners of the Messiah and act as saviors of their generations.
As an extra bonus: Noah and Moses are further tied together through the Hebrew word תֵבָה (tevah) which is translated as the "ark" of Noah and the "basket" where Moses was put. The word only appear in these two passages in the entire Bible.
As an extra, extra bonus: The name "Noah" has the exact same letters as "favor" in Hebrew, just read it backwards: נֹחַ מָצָא חֵן (...and then you actually get the phrase "favor found Noah")
Anyway you read it, God is really making a point here.