EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Practical Theology for Women by Wendy Horger Alsup (Crossway).

Chapter Three: Faith Works!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2

Who in your life do you consider to be a man or woman of faith? Who in Scripture stands out as an example of faith to you? Think about it for a moment. What is it about them that demonstrates authentic faith to you? Is it what they said? Is it what they did? What have you noticed about how they responded to trials and struggles in their lives?

Unfaithfulness in the Old Testament

Let's start our survey of faith with Old Testament passages dealing with actions that give evidence of a lack of faith. The Hebrew word ma'al is the root behind the Old Testament words unfaithful, unfaithfully, and unfaithfulness. It is also translated "falsehood," "treachery," "trespass," and "broke faith."1

Ma'al is used several times in Leviticus and Numbers to give a warning for the consequences of unfaithfulness. In Leviticus and Numbers, the act of unfaithfulness is closely associated with sin:

If a person acts unfaithfully and sins … (Leviticus 5:15)

When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the Lord … (Leviticus 6:2 ....)

When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the Lord … (Numbers 5:6)

Later in the Old Testament, ma'al is used to describe acts of unfaithfulness.

 This includes Moses' disobedience at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, where he struck the rock instead of speaking to it in direct violation of God's instructions (see Deuteronomy 32:51). In Joshua 7, ma'al describes Achan's unfaithful act of disobedience, plundering the forbidden spoils of war, which leads to his severe punishment, death by stoning. I find both these discussions of unfaithfulness especially interesting (and a bit disconcerting) because both passages are more focused on describing the act of unfaithfulness and God's response than they are on initially setting up the situation.

In the instance of Moses' disobedience, which had very serious consequences, my initial reaction was "what's so bad about hitting the rock?" As I think through that situation, it occurs to me that I have hit rocks a number of times in my life. I can say boldly that

I do not have any conviction against hitting rocks and have never heard any pastor preach against hitting rocks. But for Moses, there was something about hitting this particular rock that caused God to accuse him of breaking faith with him and not treating him as holy in front of the children of Israel.

This reminds me that God asked very different acts of faith from different Bible characters. For Abraham, acting faithfully with God involved a willingness to sacrifice his son. For Moses, such an act would have been murder. For Daniel, faithfulness meant refusing the king's meat and drink, but there is no evidence that the same was required for Joseph, another captive of a foreign government. Many people have hit rocks—a good number of those have hit rocks out of anger. However, there was a specific understanding about this particular rock between Moses and God that caused God to rebuke Moses for the unfaithfulness inherent in the action of hitting it.

Even if I had been standing by Moses that day in Meribah-kadesh, I probably wouldn't have understood why hitting that rock caused him to lose the opportunity to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. But I guarantee that Moses understood. Moses was at a crossroads, and in that moment, he chose to turn his back on what he knew about God—an act of treachery that God strongly rebuked.