Faith & Disbelief

Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

In our Torah portion this week, Moses begins by giving a brief overview of the last forty years of the Children of Israel’s journeys in the wilderness. One of the first events he brings to their attention is the evil report about the Land, and how that report put fear into their hearts, keeping them from entering the Land as the LORD intended. He makes a point to remind them that, because of this one event, all of God’s plans for them were put on hold and they had been suffering the consequences of this for the last forty years:

Then I said to you, “Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.” Yet in spite of this word you did not believe in the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 1:29-32).

In this rebuke, he says that the Children of Israel “did not believe in the LORD your God” (1:32). What did Moses mean when he said that they did not believe in God? Does it mean they didn’t believe in His existence? How could they not? They had seen His miracles, His signs, and wonders. They had seen His deliverance firsthand! So what did Moses mean?

If we backtrack a few verses, we will find the real issue at hand. Moses reminds them of how they initially responded when they received the instruction to enter the Land. They said, “Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt” (v. 27). Because He hated them? Yes, their disbelief in God wasn’t about whether or not they believed in His existence or if He had the ability to do miracles on their behalf. Their disbelief was rooted in their doubt of God’s love for them. Sure, He could do incredible things, but why didn’t He just remove all of the obstacles and teleport them into the Promised Land? Why did they still have to fight and toil and labor if God really loved them? This was one aspect of their disbelief. Let’s look at another.

The Hebrew root behind this word “believe” is emunah. It is the same word we translate as “faith.” But let’s look at its very first use in the Bible to discover something interesting. When Israel was battling against Amalek, the position of Moses’ hands was important to their victory:

Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:11–13)

When it says Moses’ hands were “steady,” the original word is emunah. In other words, Moses’ hands remained faithful and true. They did not waiver. Due to the assistance of Aaron and Hur, Moses’ hands remained true the entire day throughout the course of the battle. They could be trusted to not fail.

To have emunah in someone or something is to place a confiding trust in them; so much so that you are devoted to them despite the challenges that may arise along the journey of life. In a relationship it means that both trust and devotion are central. When one of these components is missing, the relationship will begin to crumble. One person may have trust in God, but not faithfulness. Another might have faithfulness, but not trust. Both of these scenarios, however, lack true faith. True, biblical faith is expressed through both trust and faithfulness. When we apply this to our relationship with God, we must ask ourselves if we are expressing both of these qualities. If we are lacking either one, then our faith in Him is lacking also. 

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