For the week of June 21, 2008 / 18 Sivan 5768
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 13:1 - 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24
Where Faith Begins
Not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. (Bemidbar / Numbers 14:30; ESV)
Faith is a central theme of the Bible. According to the Bible it is through faith that human beings can actually know God. While the Bible addresses a great many themes, including the origins of life, the nature of God, and how human beings fit into the grand scheme of things, it is faith that makes God real to us and thus effectively connects us with the rest of God's Truth.
Having said that, faith is a concept that is not easily understood. I don't know if we really understand what faith is or how it works. I have the impression, at least among English speakers, that most people don't know that the words faith, believe, and trust are all from the same Hebrew and Greek word. This may explain why so many seem to struggle over the relationship of how we live and what we believe. But once we understand that to have faith in God is the same as trusting him, then it is easier to see how the way we live is derived from what we believe. Faith as expressed in the Scriptures is never something that resides solely in the mind. While faith has a cognitive element, which is to say that what we believe includes an acceptance of certain propositions, it is never only that, since if we truly believe something, it will be demonstrated in everything we do.
Another confusion over faith is that it is only a lifestyle, that by following a set of moral and religious guidelines we demonstrate faith. According to this emphasis, the engagement of mind and heart are not that important, if at all necessary. Faith in this case is more of faith in a system of sorts rather than a belief, and lacks a sense of having a personal relationship to God.
This week's Torah portion is helpful in understanding the basics of faith. In preparation for entering the Promised Land, God told Moses to send twelve scouts to report on the state of the Land to the people. Upon their return, they confirmed that the Land was just as God had told them. They also reported about the peoples currently living in the Land. Ten of the twelve scouts said that Israel would not be able to defeat these peoples, while only two, Joshua and Caleb, said that as long as God was on their side, everything would be okay. As it turned out the ten prevailed, and the people refused to believe God.
God's response to the people's unbelief was to cause Israel to wander in the wilderness for an additional 38 years until all the adults who did not believe died out. The only exceptions were Joshua and Caleb.
Note that the faith of Joshua and Caleb did not find practical expression, at least not at that time. Even though they expressed faith in God by their words, it is not as if they went and took the Land while the unbelievers stayed home. The unbelief of the majority aborted the mission for now. Joshua and Caleb would remain in the wilderness like everyone else. But God saw their hearts. Their faith set them apart from the others even though their faithful response would not have opportunity to fully express itself for many years. God knew what they were saying with their mouths was more than mere words. He acknowledged the genuineness of their faith without thier having to prove themselves.
There is little doubt that if the opportunity to take the Land then and there was given to Joshua and Caleb they would have done so. God knew that. But clearly fruit of their faith was not necessary to establish the reality of their faith.
No matter what we may face in life, it is true faith that keeps us in right relationship with God. True faith, as we see through the lives of Joshua and Caleb, begins in the heart and mind. It rarely ends there, but that's where faith begins.
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