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What Does it Mean to “Believe”?

“Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6)

Nothing was said out loud!  No words were spoken.  Abram made an invisible, personal choice.  He believed!  This belief was a decision on Abraham’s part, and his belief resulted in God declaring him to be righteous. Abram’s faith was mental. It was silent, invisible, yet real.

The Word “Believe”

The Hebrew word “believe” is in the Hebrew hithpael stem.  This means that it is causative.  God caused Abram to believe.  God gave Abraham the faith to believe.  The faith that Abram exercised was not a work of his flesh.  It was not produced by his humanness.

What does this word “believe” mean? This is the first time in the Bible that it is used in this way. Since Genesis is a seed book (the book of beginnings), the meaning of the word here should give us the pattern for what it means, “to believe” today. This verse clearly explains the kind of faith that justifies us.

The Hebrew language is a picture language.  Words in the Hebrew come from pictures, like hieroglyphics in Egypt.  For example, the Hebrew word for “grace” is chessed.  The word comes from a picture of a shepherd who is walking through a flock of sheep.  A little lamb is having trouble finding his way.  The shepherd reaches down and grab the little lamb by the front feet with one hand and by the back feet with the other hand and throws him over his shoulder and carries that little lamb right over the rough spots.

So the word chessed, the Hebrew word for grace, means, “to carry.”  If you think about the word grace, that is what it means.  God in the person of Jesus Christ carries us.   Chessed comes over into the Greek as charis, and it means grace.

The Hebrew word chasah  is the picture of a wolf chasing a rabbit.  The rabbit gets into the cleft of the rock so the wolf can’t get him.  The wolf can’t climb into those little places.  It means, “to take shelter” and as it is used in the Bible, it means, “to take shelter in the Lord.”

A word for strength is qaway – a rope that cannot be broken. A string that is wrapped around the hand will easily break. But when put together with other strings, it becomes a rope that cannot easily be broken.

“Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” (Isa. 40:31)

Then there’s yachal – to trust when you’re hurting.  Batach – trust in the Lord with all your heart.  It literally means to slam your troubles on the Lord.  Isn’t that interesting? Pictures in the mind!

But what about the Hebrew word, “believe”?  The Hebrew word is aman.  That is what we tag onto the end of our prayers when we close them. We say, “In Jesus name, Amen,” which means, “I believe it.”  Believe means “to lean upon.”  Picture a person leaning upon a secure object, an object that can hold them up. This is the meaning of the word believe. Abram, upon hearing the promise of God, responded by mentally leaning upon the Lord.  He placed the weight of his faith upon the Lord.  He had confidence in the Lord.  That’s what it means!  He leaned upon God!  Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer said it like this, “Abram amaned the Lord.”

There are other Hebrew words that come from this one. There is the word amun, which is the adjective, faithfulness; amunah in the feminine is steadfastness; ameth – is truth or what is believed.

There is another characteristic of this word that should be mentioned. The word aman is a transitive verb.  That means it has to have an object.  If you use this word, you must have an object to lean upon.  Abram had to have something he believed in.  This word cannot stand alone.  One can’t believe in belief!  In this case, the object becomes crucial.  What does Abram believe in?  That’s the issue!  Can the object that Abraham was leaning upon sustain his faith?  Does the object have the ability to do what the faith believes it can do?

Notice the object of Abram’s faith here.  He believed in the Lord.  That word “LORD,” when in all caps, is the personal name for God. It is the name “Jehovah.”  Jehovah is taken from a Hebrew being verb “I Am.” It means, “I exist.” The name implies that Jehovah always was what He is now and forever shall continue to be.  There never was a time that He did not exist.    We know that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus Christ of the New Testament. So Abraham actually believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Abram’s wife was barren, and he was an old man, but he believed what God said.  God said that He would give him a child, that He would bless him, that he would make of him a great nation, and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  And Abram believed it!  In Abram’s mind, when he leaned on the Lord, it was just as though the deal was done.  It was just as though Jehovah God had already done everything that He said He was going to do.  Abraham placed His confidence in the Lord. He expressed a state of mind that became sure of its object and relied firmly on it.  Abram responded to the promise of God by trusting in Him.

Righteousness

How did God respond to Abram’s faith?

“And He (God) accounted it (Abram’s faith) to him (Abram) as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6b)

The word “accounted” is an accounting term.  It means to “credit to one’s account.”  When one credits an amount to their checking account, the money is placed on the plus side of the ledger. God credited righteousness to Abram’s account.  He wrote in on the ledger of Abram’s account +R.  “Abram, I declare you to be right – forever right – before me, based on your faith.”

Righteousness is the Hebrew word tsedikah.  It literally means “to be set apart.”  We do not have the words necessary to adequately explain God’s righteousness.  God is totally set apart from man.  He has erected for Himself a righteous standard that is far above ours.  God is the author of righteousness. He is absolutely right in a maximum way.  In Him there is no darkness at all, no contamination.  He is light!  He is absolute righteousness.  This is the righteousness that God demands!

Psalm 11:7 says, “The Lord is righteous; He loves righteousness.”  Psalm 97:2 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” Man’s righteousness falls far short of God’s.

Abram was born a sinner!  God chose him out of the Ur of the Chaldeas (modern day Iraq).  His father, Terah, named him Abram, which means father of the high place. The “high places” were pagan temples.  Abram had grown up worshipping idols.  He needed a righteousness that he could never earn.

When Abram believed in the Lord, God declared Abram to be right before Him.  Abraham was instantly adjusted to God’s righteous standard.  Likewise, we adjust ourselves to the righteous standard of God today by our faith in Jesus Christ.  We receive a righteousness that we have not earned exactly like Abram, because of our faith.

What About Today?

We can trace what the word “believe” means all the way back to this Hebrew word aman.  It came over into the New Testament as the Greek word pistis, “faith.”  Pistis is a noun. The adjective is pistas, that’s “faithfulness.”  The verb is pisteuo, and it is also a transitive verb that needs an object.  We must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament – the Hebrew word aman was translated as the Greek word pistuo. So the New Testament word “to believe” means exactly what the Old Testament word “aman” means – to trust or to lean upon. It is this word that we find in these following passages.

“Therefore having been justified by faith (pistis), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1)

“For by grace are you saved through faith (pistis) and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

“Believe (pistuo) on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”  (Acts 16:31)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes (pistuo).” (John 3:16)

In order to receive righteousness from God today, we are to trust Jesus Christ. We are to believe in Him exactly the same way that Abraham believed in Him. God will give you the faith to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, right now!