The Israelites in the wilderness could not live by faith, despite having strong visual evidence of God's nearness to them daily. For example, He killed the firstborn of Egypt; He divided the sea; He provided water from a rock when necessary. Every day for forty years, He witnessed to His presence by providing manna and the cloud over the Tabernacle! On occasion, because of their unbelief, He triggered an earthquake or caused poisonous snakes to invade the camp, sending many to their deaths. He did much more, but these examples make the point: Those who lived by sight fell by the wayside.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice
The apostle Paul equates faith and obedience, or conversely, unbelief and disobedience. Unbelief and disobedience are directly linked. Unless faith motivates a person to obedience, it is not faith but merely an esoteric opinion. James corroborates exactly what the apostle Paul says: "Show me your faith without your works, and I will you show you my faith by my works. Faith without works is dead" (see James 2:17-18). It does not even exist.
What was Lot's wife's sin? She did not believe. It is that simple. She died for her lack of faith, which was revealed in her direct rebellion against the messengers of God. She looked back. The root cause of her rebellion, of her worldliness, was her unbelief. Due to her unbelief, she was not prepared to leave Sodom and did not really obey the command to leave.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 4)
In regard to faith, we must understand what the Bible means by its frequent admonitions to "hear." Paul writes in Hebrews 3:15, "Today, if you will hear His voice." He is not pressing us to hear the sound of His voice, but to understand what God wants us to learn through what Paul, the preacher, is expounding in his epistle. Paul is urging us to take the time now to "get" it, to "see" or "grasp" what God is teaching.
Hebrews 3:17-18; 4:2 will help us reach a conclusion about what God intends regarding hearing. Whether a person physically hears the actual voice of God Himself is of little importance. Whether "hearing" in our personal reading or "hearing" the preaching of a minister, what is critical is that we obey the godly instruction, because unless we actually obey, we have not yet truly heard. If a person continues to sin, he has not really heard, in the biblical sense, what God has taught.
Put in another way, if a person continues to sin because God's Word does not motivate him to obedience to what He teaches, then he, in a worst-case scenario, either does not believe God or at this point his belief is so weak that he cannot bring himself to trust Him. Such are the ones who died in the wilderness. The weakness is not that people do not believe that He exists, but that they do not trust what He says because, in reality, they do not know Him. Thus, in the biblical sense, they have not yet truly heard.
In Hebrews 4:2, Paul uses the Greek word pistis for the first time in his letter. He will use it 31 more times. Pistis is translated either as "faith" or as "faithfulness." I believe that "faithfulness" is better here because that is what the Israelites lacked. Faithfulness is trusting God in continuous fashion as shown by conduct. God has given us a great deal, but it is our responsibility to hold firmly to His instructions by living them. Living them engrains them into our characters as habits, and this is good. Through habitual use, they become so entrenched in our behavior that we do not even have to call them to mind.
The unbelief that Paul is speaking of here is that our weak trust results in weak Christian living because we do not know and "see" God with the clarity that we should have. It can be rectified, but that is not always easy and at times may seem costly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 3:18:
1 Corinthians 10:6-11