Faith and the Golden Calf

What is faith?

GARY B. PATTERSON, Pastor, Oregon Conference

Faith is one of the most important and vital ex­periences into which the Christian may enter, but it is also one of the most misunderstood and mis­applied tenets of Chris­tian doctrine.

The general opinion exists in the minds of many that faith and the power to work miracles are the same thing. Many believe that only those who have such power are true possessors of faith. Miracles surely have played an important part in the establish­ment of faith, but they are not faith.

The results of a great miracle are the same today as they were in the days of Christ. Almost everyone is forced to be­lieve when the strong evidence of the super­natural as seen in a miracle is presented. Only one who will not see can reject such a manifestation of the power of God.

Belief and faith are not the same thing. Many fail to understand that there is a vital distinction. There are those who be­lieve in God who do not have faith in Him. There are even those who, in spite of their own desire not to believe in God, believe anyway. An example of this kind of belief is recorded in the scripture, "the devils also believe" (James 2:19). But this belief is not coupled with faith.

What Is Your Faith?

Another common error is often put in the form of a question. One may ask you, "What is your faith?" This is like asking, "What is your hand?" or any other part of you. Your faith is a living, integral part of your total being. It is one factor contribut­ing to the stature of the whole man. With­out faith, man is lacking a part of himself every bit as much as if he were lacking a hand or a leg. Your faith is not your de­nomination any more than your hand is a part of your house. Your hand is used in the service of your house and your faith is used in the service of your God.

Faith Healing

Another error in the understanding of the work of faith has come through the work of so-called faith healers. Though some may claim, and have impressive evi­dence of, actual healings, the Scripture makes it clear that this is not the proper use of faith. It was never designed to be used as a tool or as a weapon with which man may force God. It was not made to be a lever that man could place in the heav­enly courts to move heavenly powers to his own ends. Such usage of faith is not Bibli­cal and it violates the very nature of God and His omniscience.

Many may be heard to say, "I just didn't have enough faith." This may be true, for all can see the need of more faith, but the reason behind this statement is often wrong. Those who make it usually have passed through an experience in which they were praying for some specific thing that they felt was of utmost importance and their request was not granted in the man­ner they wished. This experience brings many to the place where they doubt God because they cannot understand why He deals with them in this way. When that which was believed and expected is thwarted they have nothing left. True faith in God, however, when put to the test will still cling to God and in Him seek the an­swer.

There are many examples of faith given in the Scriptures, both of true faith and that which springs from belief in God's power only. The classic example of belief without faith is the story of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

The ten plagues, which finally convinced even Pharaoh of the power of God, were truly miraculous. God was working for Is­rael and they all believed in Him. They left Egypt under the direction of the cloud and the fire and all were confident that God would work for them.

Just out of Egypt trouble began to arise. Pharaoh had second thoughts as to what the release of the Israelites would mean to the economic conditions in his land. He realized that none of his people knew how to do the work that Israel had been doing for them for more than 400 years, and most surely the nation would experience finan­cial as well as industrial ruin. The only course of action that could save his nation was to recapture his escaping slaves. This he set out to do, and when Israel saw they were trapped between the sea and Phar­aoh's approaching armies they forgot all the belief they had in God and the miracles He had done for them. They even forgot the cloud and the fire that were with them. They doubted God.

Even in this condition God saw fit to de­liver them out of the hand of Egypt, and He opened the sea before them so that they crossed between its walls on dry ground.

Three short days from the Red Sea ex­perience we find the camp of Israel lack­ing water. Seeing a desert oasis they rush forward only to find that the water is bit­ter and undrinkable. The memory of the deliverance less than a week before van­ishes. Their belief disappears under the seeming affliction. The bitter disappoint­ment of the unquenched thirst of the mul­titude gave name to the place, and it was called Marah. Again everyone doubted God and they cried to Moses to give them water. Under the direction of God, Moses cut down a tree and cast it into the bitter water and it became sweet and drinkable. Then everyone believed God.

From Marah we follow Israel to the base of Mount Sinai. Here the supply of food is beginning to run low and again God is doubted. But He performs another miracle and sends bread down from heaven. Un­der the power of this marvelous gift every­one again believes.

One of the marvels of the Old Testament is its record of the long-suffering of God to these people who doubted Him under ev­ery trial or test.

After a time God came down on the mountain to talk with His people and to make a covenant with them. Great manifes­tations of power were seen on the moun­taintop. Thunder and lightning and smoke that put fear into the hearts of the people.

After the covenant was made God called Moses up into the mountain and he was gone for some time, as Deuteronomy 9:9 in­dicates. After five weeks had elapsed the people became worried. They knew not where Moses was nor what had happened to him. This fear brought up the same re­action as before—doubt of God. This led them to do a most foolish and rash thing. "And when the people saw that Moses de­layed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him" (Ex. 32:1).

They wanted a new god. The God who had brought them out of Egypt was such a strange and mighty One. His ways were not understandable to the people of Israel. He did what He wanted to do instead of what the people wanted Him to do. They be­lieved in His power, they recognized His superiority over any other power or god, but they could not understand Him. They did not have faith, and a lack of faith is idolatry, for it is an indication that the faith has been put in something else.

Israel wanted to be the creators of God rather than the creatures of His creation. They wanted a god they could control, one they could take where they wanted it to go, one who would not go away on the mountain and do strange things, one who would serve them rather than one they should serve. Thus they decided to have a god of gold, not because of their faith in gold but because of a lack of faith in the true God.

The Scriptures give many examples of idolatry by lack of faith. Though all do not show their idolatry in the form of worship­ing a golden calf, it is still the same prob­lem that the calf worshipers had—a lack of faith.

The allegory of the rich man and Laza­rus, though often misapplied, is an excel­lent story for illustrating lack of faith on the part of mankind. The rich man re­quested Lazarus to go to his five brothers and warn them of their impending doom if they did not change their ways. But the an­swer was that even a supernatural event such as a resurrection from the dead would not convince them (Luke 16:30). No doubt they would have been impressed for a time and even have believed, but the benumbing influence of time and the in­toxication of human reasoning would even­tually convince them that there was really nothing to faith in God.

As Jesus hung upon the cross the faith­less leaders of Israel stood before Him in mockery. One said to Him, "Let him now come down from the cross, and we will be­lieve him." But would they have believed and had faith in Him if He had come down? All the proof needed had already been given in superabundance and they did not believe.

Man today is guilty of the same evil in which the Israelites indulged. If some act of God such as Creation, the Flood, or any other supernatural event is beyond the comprehension of man he considers it a fable and some other theory is devised even more fantastic than the one being destroyed.

Natural man limits his acceptance to a narrow scope of things, including only what he can see, only what he can touch, what he can understand.

Spiritual man, on the other hand, ac­cepts the two important tenets of faith—all things are possible in God, and God's will is correct in all things. If these two points could be understood properly one would possess true faith.

Look at faith under the test in the Scrip­tures. Don't look at the great miracles for this test—the woman touching the gar­ment, the centurion and his healed servant, nor the healing of the man born blind. Too many have looked here only and have been led astray in their concept of faith by thinking this is the way faith always is to be used. Look past all these to Hebrews 11: 36-39. Here lies the secret of true faith, the experience of faith under test. These are the ones who "had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being desti­tute, afflicted, tormented; . . . they wan­dered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise." These had faith that stood the test!

For a closer look at faith in the test con­sider the experience of the three young men on trial before Nebuchadnezzar. Dan­iel 3:16-18 tells of the understanding these young men had of the two tenets of faith. First, God can deliver us from Your hand, 0 king, and second, if He does not, it makes no difference; we still will not wor­ship your idols. This is a statement of faith in the face of death itself, faith so strong the ruler of the world could not shake it.

The classic example of faith comes from the book of Job. His immortal words are, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). This is true faith in ac­tion, true faith in the test, true faith tri­umphant, when one can rely upon his God even in the face of death and disaster and tragedy.

There is a modern-day experience which parallels the experience of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. The people said Moses had delayed upon that mount. To­day mankind is fulfilling a prophecy spoken by Christ nearly 2,000 years ago. Speaking in a parable, He said many peo­ple in our day would say, "My lord de­layeth his coming" (Matt. 24:48). It is no different in this day than it was in ages past. A lack of faith is still idolatry and this belief of a delayed coming of the Lord has caused man to make idols of such things as securities and pleasures of the world.

Israel was punished for her idolatry. Moses burned the golden calf and put it in the water supply of the camp "and made the children of Israel drink of it" (Ex. 32:20). It was not a pleasant experi­ence. No one likes metallic tasting water, but it was a mild punishment in compari­son to the punishment for idolators who must "drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation" (Rev. 14: 10). No mixture of mercy will be there at that time, and it will be much more un­pleasant than Israel's punishment.

The reward for those who have faith, however, is markedly different. It is very pleasant. Christ, speaking again in a para­ble, says, "Well done, good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

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GARY B. PATTERSON, Pastor, Oregon Conference

February 1965

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