Trust is an important theme throughout the Bible. It is clear that a life lived to its fullest is a life lived out of trust in God. As I reflected on the importance of trust, I was curious how many times God actually says “Trust me” in the Bible, so I did a quick word search on Accordance. What I found surprised me.
Nowhere in the Bible does God say “Trust me.” There is one phrase that comes close, which is found in Jeremiah 49:11: “Leave your orphans, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.” Other than this verse, the only time a command is given to trust in God, it’s always a human giving the command. Despite the fact that God never makes the command himself, most positive instances of trust in the Old and New Testament is about finding trust in God.
Stick with me, because I learned some interesting stuff about the word “trust” in the Bible. In the rest of this post, we’ll talk about the Hebrew and Greek words behind our English word trust and we’ll look at a few examples of how trust is used in the Bible.
“Trust” in Hebrew and Greek
The main reason that God never says the phrase “trust me” in the Bible is relatively simple. “Trust me” is an English colloquialism. We use this phrase a lot in casual conversation when what we really mean is “believe me.”
As I write this article, my dog is lying next to me on the couch, flat on his back with his feet in the air. I’m scratching his belly between sentences. This is a beautiful example of what trust looks like. My dog is in his most vulnerable position. By showing me his belly, he’s showing that he trusts me. He believes that I have his best interests at heart. He knows that I would never do anything to harm him or to abuse his trust.
This isn’t just a clever comparison, either. The Hebrew word for trust (batach) reflects the same root that in other ancient Semitic languages literally means “to lie extended on the ground.” So to trust someone is to be comfortable and vulnerable around them, to let your guard down. To let them rub your belly. Okay, so maybe my dog’s trust for me isn’t the perfect example.
Having a relationship with someone that is defined by the total trust is a beautiful thing. But it’s also a dangerous thing. What happens when you place your trust in the wrong people or let down your guard at the wrong time?
Do you remember Shechem and his father Hamor? We find them in the book of Genesis chapter 34. Shechem rapes Jacob’s daughter Dina and then apparently falls in love with her. He wanted nothing more than to marry her. So Hamor starts negotiating with Jacob and his sons. We’re told that Jacob’s sons speak to Hamor “deceitfully” (Gen. 34:13). Basically, they agree to Hamon’s terms of marriage as long as everyone in his community becomes circumcized. Hamor and Schechem agree, and quickly proceed to circumcise everyone they know.
This was trust in that they believed the words of Jacob and his sons. But more than that, Shechem and Hamor displayed their trust in the family of Jacob by allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
“On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males” (Gen 34:25 NRSV).
Other translations say they came against the city “while they felt secure” (ESV) or they attacked the “unsuspecting city” (NIV). But the word used there is batach, trust. They were vulnerable, relaxed, comfortable. Well, they were far from comfortable at this point, but you get the idea. They were secure. They had placed their trust in the wrong people. And because of that, they all died.
As we move into the New Testament, we move also closer to the English nuance of trust. The idea of trust in Greek is more connected to “believe.” To trust someone in Greek (pepoitha) is to have been persuaded by them.
Take Jesus’ words in Luke 16:21, for example: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Someone who doesn’t believe the prophets cannot be persuaded, they can’t be convinced, they can’t trust.
Now that we have a basic idea of “trust” in the Old and New Testaments, let’s take a look at how many times the Hebrew and Greek words for “trust” appear in the Bible.
How Many Times “Trust” Appears in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures
The Hebrew word batach appears in the Hebrew Bible 158 times across 152 verses. The Greek verb petho appears in the New Testament 52 times. But wait! The verb petho only carries the sense of “trust” when it appears in the perfect tense. The verb appears in the perfect tense only 23 times.
Through the rest of this article, we’ll take a look at these uses and try to figure out what it means to trust and what that means for us in our relationship with God today. (Keep in mind that the following verse lists are not exhaustive. I’ve left out uses of the verbs that don’t directly relate to trusting someone. For instance, instances where the word is often translated as “secure” or “unexpected” have been excluded.)
Verses About Trusting God
Despite the fact that God never commands anyone to trust in him, positive instances of the verb batach in the Old Testament almost always refer to trusting God. In fact, there’s only one instance where trust is described positively that God is not the referent of that trust. We’ll get to that verse in a later section. For now, here’s a list of 37 Old Testament verse that describes people who trust in God using the verb batach:
2 Kings 18:5; 19:10; Is. 12:2; 37:10; Jer. 7:14; 17:7; 39:18; Psa. 9:10; 13:5; 21:7; 22:4, 9; 25:2; 26:1; 28:7; 31:6, 14; 32:10; 33:21; 40:3; 52:8; 55:23; 56:3–4, 11; 62:10; 84:12; 86:2; 91:2; 119:42; 125:1; 143:8; Prov. 16:20; 28:25–26; 29:25; 1 Chr. 5:20
People who trust in God are like a tree planted by the water. They have no fear and no shame, but only salvation and deliverance. People who place their trust in God enjoy his presence and his steadfast love forever. Like Mount Zion, people who trust in the Lord cannot be moved.
Here are verses in the New Testament when the perfect tense of the verb petho is used to describe trust in God.
Matt. 27:43; Rom. 14:14; 2 Cor. 1:9; Gal. 5:10; Phil. 1:14; 2:24; 2 Th. 3:4; 2 Tim. 1:12
Not all of these verses refer only to trusting God. In some verses, Paul mentions that he trusts that God is working within and on behalf of others. Take Galatians 5:10, for instance, when Paul says, “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view.” In fact, much of the use of “trust” in the New Testament revolves around community and the church. That could very well be simply because these are mostly letters written specifically to certain churches. Nevertheless, there is a sense that a deep trust in God pervades throughout God’s community.
Verses Commanding Others to Trust in God
There is only one instance that God commands others to trust in him, and it’s found in the third person. In Jeremiah 49:11, God says “Leave your orphans, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.” In other words, God is inviting the most vulnerable people in society to be vulnerable with him, to place their total trust in him.
Even though God never actually says “Trust me,” there are a few instances in the Old Testament where people command others to trust God. More specifically, there are nine verses where the verb batach carries an imperatival force:
Is. 26:4; 50:10; Psa. 4:5; 37:3; 62:8; 115:9–11; Prov. 3:5
The command here is to totally rely on God for everything, to be vulnerable, to cast every care and every anxiety on him. To be the kind of people described in the previous section. Why is it so important to trust in God? It’s the only thing that leads to life. The alternative, putting your trust in anyone or anything else, only leads to death.
Verses About Trusting Anything But God
Now we turn our attention to the negative uses of the verb batach. These are the verses where the word “trust” is used to describe people being vulnerable with anyone or anything besides God or to warn people against this behavior:
Deut. 28:52; Judg. 9:26; 20:36; 2 Kings 18:21, 24; Is. 30:12; 31:1; 36:6, 9; 42:17; 59:4; Jer. 5:17; 7:4, 8; 9:3; 13:25; 17:5; 28:15; 29:31; 46:25; 48:7; 49:4; Ezek. 33:13; Hos. 10:13; Mic. 7:5; Hab. 2:18; Zeph. 3:2; Psa. 37:5; 41:10; 44:7; 49:7; 52:9; 62:11; 78:22; 115:8; 118:8-9; 135:18; 146:3; Job 39:11; Prov. 11:28; 31:11
In most cases, these verses describe the vice of placing one’s trust in anyone or anything but God. In the whole Old Testament, there is only one positive instance of the word batach used to describe anything but trust in God, and that’s Proverbs 31:11. Yep, the chapter about the ideal wife. The only time in the Old Testament that trusting a human being is seen in a good light is referring to a husband’s trust in his wife.
Every other time, trusting a human being only ends in death and destruction. Whether someone is putting their trust in themselves, their strength, or a foreign government, it’s not a good thing.
Now to the New Testament. There are a few verses where trust is applied to people other than God, but it’s not always a negative thing. Here are the verses:
Luke 18:9; Rom. 2:19; 15:14; 2 Cor. 2:3; Phil 3:3.
In the New Testament, trust is more neutral. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to trust another person or be persuaded by them. But again, the concept of trust in the New Testament isn’t as deep as its Hebrew counterpart. Philippians 3:3 is the closest we get to the Old Testament’s view of trust. Paul warns the Philippian church about trusting in human flesh instead of trusting in the Spirit of God.
It seems as though, even though it’s not necessarily a bad thing to place our trust in another human, that confidence still seems to find its source in Christ. Obviously, we ought to trust one another as God’s people, but that trust is not founded in our flesh. The trust we are able to have in our church communities and small groups does not come from our own abilities or our own trustworthiness. It all comes from the power of Christ in us, changing us from the inside out.
What Does This Mean For Us?
We’ve been through a lot of verses in this blog post. It’s clear throughout all of them that placing our trust in God is crucial. While God never uses the phrase “Trust me,” he is indeed the only one we can fully trust and depend on. Once we realize that our strength, our abilities, our very lives depend on him, then we can come to the understanding that we can fully rely on his love and his grace. We can be vulnerable in our relationship with him. We can grow in trust with other members of our faith communities. And we can extend the trust and reliability of God to those in our communities that need it the most.