The Signs of Unbelief

by Skip Moen

The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? Numbers 14:11

Not Believe – This event in the history of wandering in the wilderness is crucial for understanding God’s view of belief. In fact, the Scriptures refer back to this event time and again as a demonstration of what it means to not believe. We will do ourselves a big favor by recognizing exactly what God says and what God expects in this verse.

Let’s set the stage. God tells Moses to send men into the Promised Land to gather intelligence about its inhabitants before the children of Israel move to occupy it. The men come back, full of stories about the abundance in the land. It truly is a land of milk and honey. Anyone who lives there will be well satisfied. But there is a problem. The spies report that the descendants of Anak live there along with the dreaded Nephilim. “We were like grasshoppers compared to them.”

Scripture tells us that upon hearing these words “all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night.” Why? Because they were afraid. Simple, isn’t it? That’s exactly how we would react to such a devastating report. In fact, that’s exactly how we do react when we get overwhelming evidence of a potential disaster. We wail. We quake. We run out to Home Depot and buy up all the fortification supplies. We empty the shelves on the grocery stores and wait in line at the gas stations. “Oh, Lord, help us. The Nephilim are coming! What can we do? What can we do?”

Joshua and Caleb had the answer. “If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into the land.” But the answer fell on deaf ears; ears stopped up with fright and anxiety. I think Yeshua called it “the cares of the world.” I am quite certain we all know what He meant.

God responds. How long will these people (not believe in Me)? But now we need to be careful. God is not asking how long these people will be atheists. He is not asking how long they will deny His existence. That’s what we might think from our contemporary understanding of the word “believe.” The Hebrew word here is ‘aman‘. It is a particularly Hebrew word, not found in cognate languages. It carries the idea of reliability, faithfulness and trust. This is not about beliefs. It is about actions that result from taking God seriously. In other words, God indicts these people by saying that they refuse to act as they should, as He expects them to act, based on all the evidence of His reliability. God requires that His children respond on the basis of His faithfulness (not theirs). And here’s the clincher. The children of Israel who did not act on the basis of God’s character perished. Their unbelief brought about their demise.

It’s the same today. If you believe, you act accordingly. If you don’t act, you die in your unbelief. The creeds won’t save you. Catechism won’t deliver you. God expects obedience. Fear, apathy, anxiety or cowardice insult Him. Who cares about the Nephilim?

It might be a good time to adjust our lives to the Hebrew view of belief. It might be time to look at all the things that make you feel like a grasshopper and say, “Yes, Lord. You will bring me into the land.”

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