A Biblical Picture of Faith (part one)
3 min 26 sec reading time
Our great Savior needs you in times like these. He needs faithful men and women to be his witnesses in this world by standing up for his divine law—for truth, justice, and righteousness.
Let’s use Hab 2:4 as the springboard for our discussion. It is an essential text cited repeatedly in the New Testament. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (ESV)
This word faith in Hebrew does not mean to the prophet what the word means to us in English. The Hebrew word for faith is emunah, and it is not so much belief in something, or trust and confidence in someone—although those are good things and aspects of biblical faith. The foundation, the essence of faith, is not just an intellectual belief that God exists, nor is it only a matter of believing that Jesus was the Son of God who died for your sins and was resurrected.
In the fullness of its biblical understanding, faith has the core concept of faithfulness. The ESV and other translations have a footnote rendering the word emunah as faithfulness. That helps explain the sentence structure, not “live by faith” but “live by his faithfulness.”
The first use of emunah is found in Exodus 17:12. It is the story of Moses and the children of Israel coming out of Egypt and immediately encountering a test—opposition at the hand of Amalek. As long as Moses kept his hands aloft, holding the staff of God that parted the sea, Israel 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.”
The word translated steady/steadfastness is the Hebrew word for faith, emunah. What a vital picture this is for the people of God. The essence of faith is not some individual will-power; it is not some super-confidence; it is not some matter of intellectual prowess in which if you believe hard enough, then things happen.
Do you see the fallacy of that way of thinking? It places all the attention on you: how hard you believe or, do you have enough faith? The point of the scriptures is that it doesn’t take great faith; it takes faithfulness to a great God. Jesus taught that what we need is the faithfulness of a mustard seed, and mountains can be moved. Mustard seeds will fall in dry, barren places in the desert, in rocky areas where nothing else can flourish; it will embed itself and begin to develop steadily, and as it grows, it will literally move boulders.
Jesus is saying: this is what faith is all about; it is persistence, it is being in the midst of a test, a trial, a desert and you hang on and hang in there—you are loyal, you are steadfast, you are steady, you are persistent. It is not so much the matter of the hare; it is the matter of the tortoise. Faithfulness is a kind of a plodding determination; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
This is the case with Abraham, the father of the faithful. How was he given this designation? Because of his faithfulness during a test. He took his son to a distant place upon a hill called Moriah and was prepared to obey God, and it was this FAITHFULNESS under test and trial that God counted to him as righteousness. The rabbis say: ‘our father Abraham inherited this world and the world to come by his faith.’
So also, Habakkuk is saying to us, ‘The saved, the righteous, the justified person is one who lives by this determination to persist in God’s ways; to obey God, to honor God, to be loyal and steadfast. Not to be blown hither and yon by cultural winds, whether secular or religious. Instead, they are like a tree planted by living streams of water—this is what faith is all about.
In America, what we think of today as the great men and women of faith are those on Christian TV who tell all these fantastic stories—but my friends, they will be at the back of the line. Up in front will be people who lived uncelebrated lives. The ones who, with determination, faithfully obeyed God’s task for them—whether it’s to teach a Sunday school class, raise the family in godly ways, study the Scripture daily and pray.
This message needs to get ahold of us. We are celebrity-oriented, and we want results instantly. Could it be that we’ve lost this sense of the divine perspective? God is looking for people that will be faithful – today in your job, tomorrow in your classrooms; constant next week, next month, next year. God will nurture that like a tiny fleck of mustard seed, and it will grow into something that will bring him honor. God places such a high premium on emunah because he is the epitome of faithfulness.
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice. He founded JC Studies in 1984. Click here to explore his audio seminars.