What Is Faith?
In Greek the word (pistis) is translated as “faith.” According to Strong Dictionary, (pistis) is persuasion, that is, credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; abstractly constancy in such profession.
Hence, we find that in the Graeco-Roman mindset faith is an intellectual acceptance of what is true and we have to admit this is a very abstract concept.
However, what is faith from Hebraic perspectives? The ancient Hebrews as nomads lived in tents and raised livestock. When the livestock consumed the edible vegetation in one area, the herder would then pack up his tent and his belongings and move on to a greener land and so on. A tent (ohel in Hebrew) is the herder’s shelter when moving from one place to another.
In this study we will be looking at a tent stake in order to understand the word faith. The pictograph of the Hebrew word and letter vav is that of a peg. What is the most important factor when driving the tent stakes, or pegs? The ground.
If a nomad drives a tent peg in soft ground, the tension on the rope will pull the stake out, the peg will get loose, and in the first storm the tent will be gone. So, he will need very firm ground to hold the peg in. In a firm ground the stake will remain secure in its position. And how he will test whether the peg has been driven firmly? By checking the firmness of the tent cords.
Let us now look at a passage of Scripture that uses this “concept” of driving a peg firmly and try to grasp the meaning of faith from Hebraic perspectives.
“I will drive him like a peg into a firm place, he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father.” Isa 22:23
Here we have the peg being driven into a “firm” place. The Hebrew word translated as “firm” here is the verb אמן aman which literally means “to be firm or sure” (BDB Dictionary). This verb aman is used 110 times in the Tanak. The noun that derives from aman is Enfma emunah and means “faith.”
Let us now look at another passage using this same verb and see what it says.
Avram believed Adonai, and he credited it to him as righteousness Gen 15:6
וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן and he believed ביהוה in Yehovah וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ and it was considered לֹּ֖ו for his צְדָקָֽה righteousness
The word “believed” is the very same Hebrew verb “aman”. The picture we have from this is that Avram was firm in his obedience to YHVH. Just as a stake driven in firm ground supports the tent even in a storm, Avram was firm in his faith. The question we now ask is, How did Abram remain firm? The verse just before states;
And He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Avram believed Yehovah, and He considered it to him as righteousness. Gen 15:5-6
We usually read this to mean that Avram believed Elohim’s promise in verse 5 and the fact that he believed was considered for his righteousness. The problem with this concept of faith is that the Hebrew verb “aman” means more than just knowing something to be true or to exist.
Many people believe that just because they “believe” that God exists and He is the Creator of the universe is sufficient for their faith. But, satan believes the same, moreover, he knows God exists and that He created the universe; satan knows he was created on the second day of Creation.
Many people “believe” that Jesus was the son of God and this is sufficient for their faith, but satan believes that, too, moreover, he knew that, he wanted to get Him killed.
They also “believe” in addition to this that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and this is sufficient for their faith, but satan believes that, too, moreover, he knew that, he sent Him on the cross.
Therefore, we see that for many faith is an abstract word, a thought in mind. We see that, as it may sound cynically, there is no difference between what they “believe” and what satan believes. So, what should be the difference?
In order to understand it, let us ask the question: Why did Elohim give this promise to Avram?
I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Avraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my Torot. Gen 26:4-5
Elohim made this promise to Avram not because he just “believed” in YHVH’s promise but because he was firm in his obedience. The Hebrew in Genesis 15:6 does not say Avram just believed what YHVH was saying, it says he was firm in YHVH and from Genesis 26:5 we see that he was firm in his obedience to the Torah. This means that faith in YHVH is obedience to His Torah. And this must be the difference: obedience to YHVH’s Torah.
In conclusion, we understand that faith is not a thought we have in our minds. It is not a mental exercise, but concrete actions in doing the will of Elohim. And His will for us is to walk in righteousness, and we walk in righteousness when we do His commands. For more insight on this, read the article Misunderstanding Paul.
Many “believe” that their faith cannot be questioned and correctly so, since this is a thought and thoughts cannot be questioned. However, from Hebraic perspectives emunah, firmness, can be questioned and even tested as the Messiah will test us to see whether our pegs have been driven firmly into the ground.
In the article Hope we studied the meaning of the Hebrew word tikvah, hope, and learned that its literal meaning is that of cord or rope, as a tent rope. Hence, tikva and emunah are essential for how we stand before YHVH.