Faith’s First Failure
The first occurrence of events, names and numbers in Scripture hold great significance, for they often establish a pattern or type for those things that follow. This is true when we look at the first sin which occurred in the Garden of Eden. The first sin was preceded by an attack of Satan upon Eve’s confidence in the love of God. Satan could only entice Eve to disobey the command of Yahweh by first assaulting her confidence in His kind intention toward her and her husband. Let us read this account:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which Yahweh God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Satan tempted Eve to embrace the idea that Yahweh did not really have her best interests at heart. He suggested to her that the reason God forbade her to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was that God wanted to withhold something that was good for her, and that God’s motives were not pure in the matter. The serpent’s words declared that God had lied to Adam and Eve in order to keep them from becoming like God. What was under attack was the woman’s confidence in God’s love for her, for if God loved her He would certainly always choose what was best for her.
The heart of God toward His children is expressed in the words recorded by Jeremiah:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares Yahweh, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
These words express the essence of Yahweh’s love toward mankind. It is an unselfish love that seeks the welfare of another. The apostle Paul gave definition to this love with the following words:
I Corinthians 13:4-5
Love is patient, love is kind… it does not seek its own…
In I John chapter 4 verses 8 and 16, we are told that “God is love.” We can then exchange the word ‘love’ with the word ‘God’ and understand the nature of God.
God is patient, God is kind… and does not seek His own…
God is unselfish in His love. If God were selfish, impatient and unkind, would He have ever sent His beloved Son to die in man’s place? Undoubtedly, He would not have done so. From the beginning of man’s creation, God has treated man with an unselfish love. He has looked after man’s best interests, and has even destined man to share in His glory and the glory of His firstborn Son. It was a great lie that Satan brought to Eve in the Garden as he told the woman that God was withholding some good thing from her. It is Satan’s nature to lie, and Yahshua bore witness to this.
“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Satan’s transgression in the Garden is shown to be an exceedingly reprehensible thing when we consider that his first recorded words to mankind consisted of lies against God’s holy character. He called God a liar with the words, “You surely will not die!,” and he maligned the character of God’s love for mankind when he suggested that God was withholding that which was good from Eve because He did not want her to become as He was. We see that what was under attack in the Garden was mankind’s faith in the love of God. When Eve received the lie, she was then removed from a foundation of faith and her fall into sin was accomplished.
What Eve did was displeasing to God. It was the first act of mankind that displeased Yahweh, and the door was opened for a flood of similar acts to follow. The Scriptures tell us that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” The first sin was both a failure of faith in the love of God, and a failure to please Him. With her faith in God overturned, it became impossible for Eve to please God.
Is it any wonder then that God has been looking for faith in the hearts of men and women ever since the Garden of Eden? When we are removed from a foundation of faith, when we begin to doubt God’s holy character, His flawless love and His righteousness, it becomes impossible to please Him. Any thought or action that arises from a heart devoid of faith in God will be regarded with displeasure.
I am sure that all saints have heard the phrase “Have faith in God” a multitude of times. It has become a cliche and often has little understanding attached to it. We need to examine what it means to have faith in God. Faith in God is trusting in who He has declared Himself to be. Faith in God is confidence in His character.
I think perhaps that most saints, when they have heard this phrase, have thought about God’s power. “Have faith in God” has been understood as “Have faith in God’s power to deliver you.” As we are seeing, a more accurate understanding would be, “Have faith in God’s character. Believe that He loves you and will work all things out for your good.” When we have this latter type of faith in God, when we trust in His character, we please Him immensely. We are declaring by our thoughts and actions that God is trustworthy.
Eve’s sin in the Garden was a declaration that she believed God to not be trustworthy. She believed that He had some selfish motive in withholding from her the fruit that was forbidden. She doubted that He had her best interests at heart. Such thoughts are an affront and a reproach to Yahweh. In spite of the great insult that Adam and Eve gave to God, He did not destroy them and start anew. Instead He gave them a promise of a Savior being born to mankind who would take away the curse of sin. His love is truly kind and unselfish.
This first sin, being a failure to trust in the character of God, set a pattern for many more sins to follow. The histories recorded in the Bible demonstrate this same example of unbelief and sin being played out time after time. We could fill hundreds of pages with examples.
Before Cain slew Abel, God spoke to Him, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” God was telling Cain to trust in the character of God. He is a rewarder of those who do right. Yet Cain failed to have faith in God and he gave himself over to evil, murdering his brother.
The history of the kings of Israel gives us many profound examples of men who failed to trust in God’s character. The first king was Saul. God made precious promises to Saul, telling him that if he did what was right that the kingdom would be established under him, and his sons would never cease to sit on the throne. As God does with ALL of His children, He tested Saul’s heart to see if Saul would have faith in Him and obey Him.
The story of King Saul’s failure to wait upon God is familiar to most saints. I have heard it frequently taught on. I think most saints are much too hard on Saul. I know few who would not cave in to the same pressure. Saul’s son Jonathan had just gone and raided a Philistine garrison and had achieved a stunning victory. This angered the Philistines. They called their whole army together. Their numbers were tremendous. “Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance… (I Samuel 13:5).
How many people did Saul have. We are told that there were 2,000 men with Saul and 1,000 with Jonathan. King Saul was vastly outnumbered. The people with him saw this and it is said that those following him “trembled.” They were scared to death. Things then began to deteriorate. Saul’s army began to slip off and disappear.
I Samuel 13:6-7
When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.
Now, it is bad enough to be outnumbered and to have the numbers get worse and worse (it got to the point that Saul only had 600 men left, 4 out of 5 of his soldiers deserted), but to have the ones who remained “quaking with fear” made it even worse. Who was there to encourage and embolden Saul? Who was there to tell him to stand fast and trust in the Lord? Few of God’s saints today have ever been put in such dire straits.
Saul rightly knew that only God could deliver Israel in such a situation. It was customary to entreat Yahweh’s favor before entering a battle. The king, however, was not to offer the burnt offering. It had been pre-arranged that the prophet Samuel would show up and make the offering and entreat Yahweh’s favor. Saul waited seven days, the days agreed upon for Samuel to arrive. When Samuel didn’t show up on time, Saul could endure the wait no longer.
It must be said that it was a tremendous test for Saul to wait even seven days. Each day he received reports of more Philistines gathering and more of his army fleeing. Saul was surrounded by terrified men. A seven day wait had to have been agonizing, but Saul waited these seven days. But, Saul had a point past which he could wait no longer. His endurance had limits to it.
I Samuel 13:11-12
Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought Yahweh’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”
Saul seems to have done the prudent thing. Certainly, he felt justified in his own eyes. Things started out bad and they were falling apart. In very little time Saul anticipated having no men left at all. The Philistines could come against him at any moment. In offering up the burnt offering he was seeking Yahweh’s favor. Yet God looks on the heart of man and He saw something different. Saul had been commanded to wait upon Samuel to make the sacrifice. Yahweh saw that Saul’s confidence in His character was failing. He began to doubt that Yahweh would save Him, and deliver His people Israel. Unbelief took hold of Saul’s heart, and from this position of unbelief Saul could not please God. Samuel told Saul,
I Samuel 13:13-14
“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command Yahweh your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; Yahweh has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept Yahweh’s command.”
It is interesting to note that if Samuel had shown up at the appointed time that Saul would have appeared to be the most godly of men. He had faithfully waited seven days under the most trying conditions when all were deserting him. How many of us appear godly when God is on-time? How many of us look like heroes when God meets us according to our expectation? But what if God’s answer is delayed; what will be revealed to be in our heart? Will we also feel “compelled” to do that which we know in our heart is wrong? Will unbelief take hold of our hearts? Will we begin to doubt the love of God toward us?
There are a few examples among the Kings of Israel and Judah of men who had confidence in the character of Yahweh, and these men pleased God tremendously. By looking at the character of the man that God chose to replace Saul, we can see the underlying foundations of this struggle for faith and what it takes to please God. David had a different heart than Saul, and God also tested his heart. David was anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as king, but first he spent many years being prepared and tested by God.
David was jealously pursued by King Saul, who sought to take his life because God’s favor was evident upon David. For years David lived as a refugee, even having to flee from the land of Israel. Saul organized military expeditions to hunt down David and his men, and this made his life very perilous. He was only a step ahead of death on many occasions. This precarious existence stretched from months into years, with no end in sight. The promise of God that he would be king seemed to be a distant fulfillment. The main obstacle between David and a fulfillment of the word of God was King Saul, for he was ruling as king and he was also seeking to put David to death.
On two occasions God delivered Saul into David’s hands to see if David would fail in faith. If David did not have faith in God’s character, if he doubted that Yahweh would fulfill the things promised to him, then he would reach out his hand to remove the obstacle from his path. He would kill King Saul and take the kingdom for himself. David knew in his heart that to do such a thing would be a great transgression against the will of God, but he was sorely pressed.
On one occasion David and his men went into a cave to hide from Saul and his army, and Saul came into the cave alone to relieve himself. David’s men said, “Look, God has delivered your enemy into your hand. Strike him with the sword and your problems will be over.” Great pressure was placed upon David to do this thing, for he and his men were living in peril of their lives. Yet David did not forsake his confidence in Yahweh’s character. He knew Yahweh was faithful and would surely fulfill His word to David.
On another occasion when Saul was pursuing David, Yahweh brought a deep sleep upon Saul and his army so that David and Abishai were able to enter their camp and walk right up to Saul. Abishai counseled David to kill King Saul, but David answered in this way:
I Samuel 26:9-11
But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against Yahweh’s anointed and be without guilt?” David also said, “As Yahweh lives, surely Yahweh will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. Yahweh forbid that I should stretch out my hand against Yahweh’s anointed…”
With these words, David demonstrated that his faith in God had not failed. He entrusted himself into Yahweh’s hands, believing Him to be faithful and true to His word. This faith pleased God tremendously, and God’s own testimony was that He had found in David a man who would do all of His pleasure. Without faith it is impossible to please God, but with faith we are able to fulfill all Yahweh’s pleasure and desire.
Is this not the difference between these two men, Saul and David; Saul failed to trust in the character of God, believing that God would abandon him, while David maintained his trust in the character of god? The Psalms of David are filled with words of trust in God’s character.
But know that Yahweh has set apart the godly man for Himself; Yahweh hears when I call to Him… Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in Yahweh.
Yahweh also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Yahweh, have not forsaken those who seek You.
Yahweh is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Yahweh is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.
One of the greatest themes of the Psalms of David is trust in God’s holy character. To be established in faith means that we have confidence in God’s character. The author of Hebrews summed it up with these words:
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
It is not enough to believe that God exists. It is not enough to be convinced of His mighty power. One must also believe that He rewards those who seek Him. This is confidence in His character. It is testifying that we believe that He is just, He is righteous, and He will do that which is right. Abraham, the father of faith, exclaimed his own confidence in the character of God with the words:
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Those who receive the testimony that they are pleasing to God are those who hold to their confidence in the holy character of God. Saul failed to maintain this confidence. Eve failed to maintain this confidence. The children of Israel at the Red Sea failed to maintain this confidence. All these received the testimony that they were not pleasing to God. Yet Yahweh has a remnant that will not waver in faith. These will look to God with confidence when the storms of life are raging and they are faced with great peril. Their testimony will be:
II Timothy 1:12
For I know Him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day.
Father, we confess that Your holy character is such that all men should rest easy as they entrust themselves to You. You are a just God, and those who place their lives in Your hands need never fear. You are a loving God, and those who place their lives in Your hands need never fear. You are a merciful God, and those who place their lives in Your hands need never fear.
Forgive us Father for allowing fear to have a place in our lives. We know from Your word that perfect love casts out all fear, so we ask You to perfect us in the confidence of Your love. May our lives be examples of the peace that surpasses all understanding as our hearts and minds are focused and set upon You. As we survey Your awesome faithfulness, Your immeasurable love, and Your certain justice, may we be brought to peace, and may anxiety, unbelief and fear find no resting place within us.