Timely lessons from Moses and Peter.
The book of Hebrews contains some of the Bible’s most encouraging statements regarding faith, but it also contains some cautions. One of those is found in Hebrews 10:38, which quotes Habakkuk: “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (NKJV). The writer of Hebrews then continues, “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (v. 39).
Those are inspiring and encouraging words — as long as our faith is doing well. But every disciple of Jesus Christ comes to realize that our faith, just like our love or any other spiritual quality, doesn’t always run at 100 percent operating potential. In fact, occasionally we may even experience a failure of faith in some aspect of our lives. The shadow of doubt may fall on us only for a while, but for some, even a temporary failure of faith can become a matter of lasting discouragement.
It doesn’t need to be that way. There are clear biblical examples of servants of God whose belief “cracked” temporarily, and yet those individuals went on to be listed in the Bible as examples of true and lasting faith. You may be surprised that two such persons were Moses and Peter.
Moses at Meribah
At one point during the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness, the community had no water, and the people rose in opposition to Moses and Aaron. At Meribah, God told the two leaders to take the staff from the holy place in the tabernacle and “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (Numbers 20:8). Then Moses and Aaron gathered the people in front of the rock. When Moses struck the rock twice with his staff, water gushed out (vv. 10, 11).
But God was angry with these leaders for the way they handled the situation. Though the account does not say exactly why, the fact that Moses struck the rock twice indicates he may have doubted when nothing happened at first. Wavering, he hit the rock again. Numbers tells us, in fact, that the incident involved a failure of faith on Moses’ part: “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (v. 12, ESV).
So in God’s estimation — not ours — Moses’ faith faltered and temporarily failed. But this did not mean that Moses needed to be replaced or that his potential for faith-based service was gone. God continued to do great things through Moses’ leadership. When we turn to Hebrews 11, we find Moses is given a place of distinct honor in the great Faith Hall of Fame. That inspiring chapter assigns six specific acts of faith to Moses (vv. 24-28), but his failing of faith at Meribah is not mentioned. This should teach us that God, who inspired the writer of Hebrews, is keeping track of our victories of faith — not our failures.
Another, and better known, example of this principle is the apostle Peter. We all know the story, told in three of the Gospels. The disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee in a small boat when Jesus appeared to them, standing on the water. At that point, Peter exceeded his own level of faith development and asked Jesus:
“Lord, if it’s you . . . tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him (Matthew 14:28-31).
Peter’s faith was good to a point, but then it cracked under the strain, as anyone’s might under those circumstances. Yet although Jesus mildly rebuked him, saying, “You of little faith . . . why did you doubt?” (v. 31), this was not the end of Peter’s discipleship. We know that Peter’s faith wavered and cracked again at Jesus’ betrayal (John 18), but we know equally that Jesus continued to work with him (21:15-17). And we have only to read the book of Acts to see that Peter went on to great acts of faith after these failures (3:1-10, et al.).
Investment of faith
The God who knows our hearts knows that our faith, like that of Moses and Peter, can and certainly does waver at times. But if we regularly walk in the way of belief and seek His help, the Bible makes clear that, just as He does in every other aspect of life, God looks at the overall picture of our faith, beyond any isolated failures. Put simply, God does not balance the ups and downs of our faith like a checkbook. He helps us grow faith like a savings account. Even after we experience a temporary setback, God still desires to strengthen and develop our faith according to His purpose.
It’s one of the most encouraging things we can learn about the path of faith every disciple must walk: If we keep with it, our faith will grow in a cumulative manner (2 Thessalonians 1:3). We must heed the biblical warnings against losing faith, but if we do not give up, faith will grow through time. And the more we grow in faith, the more faith grows in us.