O ye of little faith

The problem that we face today is the same problem Israel faced in the wilderness: a lack of faith. We can have faith on an intellectual and academic level—but it is the practical level where faith is demonstrated: in actions, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” ( James 2:26).

Consider Christ’s rebuke (Matt 6:30): “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”

The challenge to us is to consider the birds of the air and the grass of the field and contemplate how God looks after them. Will He not look after us? Jesus gently chides the disciples, calling them “ye of little faith”. We can easily fall into this category when it comes to trusting in God on a practical level. The phrase “little faith” carries the idea of faith which is ‘short-lived, short in measure, of light intensity’.

Israel in the wilderness demonstrated this short-lived faith when they vacillated between trusting in God and trusting in themselves. The tribulation they went through taught them to put their trust in God (Psa 78:34-35): “When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, And the high God their redeemer.”

Often it takes dire circumstances, when our own resources fail us, for us to put all our trust in God. It was only under tribulation that Israel “sought” God; a word that conveys the meaning ‘to wear down a path to, or to frequent a place’. It is often when we are in adversity that we ‘beat a path’ to God and ‘frequent’ the ecclesial hall. When we are in prosperity, we can tend to forget him. Adversity causes us to ‘return’ and go in the other direction from which we were heading and come back to God. Repentance isn’t stopping doing what we were doing—it is completely turning around and travelling in another direction. There is still movement and activity, but it is in a godly direction. They also “enquired” of Him, and the Hebrew means ‘to seek early and earnestly’ (i.e. at dawn). Rising early to find out what our God wants us to do before the day begins is not a habit we form easily, but it is a necessary one.

Israel realised that God was their “rock”. He was their strong rocky wall, their cliff or boulder—the solid foundation that kept them safe. We must remember that God is our rock and our “redeemer”. He is the One who buys us out of spiritual slavery. He is the ‘near kinsman’, as the word often means, who would rescue an impoverished relative driven to sell themselves or their children to pay their debts (Lev 25:47-49).

God is our redeemer and He has redeemed us, not by purchasing us back with literal silver and gold, but with the precious blood of His Son (1 Pet 1:18-19).

When we are affluent, we often forget our need for redemption, or it becomes ‘lip service’ whereby we acknowledge it academically, but fail to believe it fully. Israel did this when, though in need of redemption, they paid lip service until they were delivered, and then went back to their ways without having a real change of heart (Psa 78:36- 37): “Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, And they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.”

They “did flatter” with their mouth. The word means ‘to deceive, to be gullible or naïve, to seduce’. They thought God was gullible and could be deceived with their lip service and their lies. Their heart is described as “not right”. It wasn’t ‘firm, stable, established, enduring, or directed toward’ God. They were not convicted in their hearts, but went through the motions to get themselves out of immediate danger. They were not “stedfast” in his covenant; the same word we examined earlier meaning ‘to nourish, foster, be trustworthy and stable, like pillars that support a door’.

In spite of all of this, God forgave them (Psa 78:38-40):“But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. For he remembered that they were but flesh; A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!”

How often do we provoke God, and grieve Him in our wilderness wanderings? Yet He remembers that we are flesh, a breath that passes away. We must learn this, and remember that we are all the same, made of the same stuff, and liable to the same weakness (Psa 103:13-18): “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.”

It would be helpful for us to remember that we are dust in our dealings one with another. God is merciful to us because of the weakness of our nature and we need to remember this and be merciful one to another in our times of weakness.

The sad thing with Israel, and with us, is we easily forget what our God has done for us (Psa 78:41-42): “Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They remembered not his hand, or the day when he delivered them from the enemy.”

How often, after we have been delivered, do we turn back, tempting God and forgetting what He has done for us, and thereby ‘limiting’ the power of God? The word ‘limit’ means ‘to scribble, or to set a mark’. In other words, to draw a limit to the power of God. How true it is that we draw limits to the power of God, forgetting what He did for Israel in the past, and what He has done for us in our lives. When the next hurdle comes along, we somehow think that God is not powerful enough to help us overcome it.