Hebrews 11 is considered the “Role Call of Faith” by many. And it is. The writer of Hebrews draws from many important examples in Scripture to point out the path we are to take in our own lives. His choices follow a chronological path through the Torah and Joshua, but stops right at Judges.
Let’s look at the those who lived prior to the Flood, the “antediluvian” examples:
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Hebrews 11:4-7 (NASB)
The first example, Abel, offered a better sacrifice. There has been a ton of speculation about why his sacrifice was better. The author of Hebrews seems to believe it was because of his faith. This is at least as good as any interpretation, and better than most. He doesn’t claim it was because Abel offered blood, since offerings of crops were common in Israel, that’s not a great interpretation.
In Genesis, we have a record of God’s conversation with Cain, not Abel. And it reveals something about Cain, and what probably went wrong with the sacrifice.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (NASB)
Just a couple of observations. First off, Cain didn’t sin, but rather sin was close. So, to be clear, Cain did not aim at a mark and miss (sin by definition). What God claims is that “If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up?” In something, some qualitative way, he didn’t bring something regarded by God. The author of Hebrews thinks it a quality of Cain, not his sacrifice. Abel had faith, and Cain did not.
This will become clearer as we move on to Enoch who was “transferred”. The NASB translated what happened to Enoch as “taken up”. The important detail is that Enoch “pleased God” (Hebrew, “walked with God”), and God simply put him in heaven, no suffering death. What this means, precisely, is unknown. But the interpretation of the writer of Hebrews is that it was because Enoch pleased God by faith.
One of the struggles we face as disciples of Jesus is belief. It’s been two millennia, and still no return of our Savior. It’s difficult to hold out, persevering when there is no end in sight. The people then thought Jesus was coming back immanently. We don’t truly have that “angst”. The thing is, we are supposed to have that angst.
When we believe that our Creator and Savior exists and is One rewarding those seeking Him, we please Him. Think about that two-part criteria for a moment. We believe that He exists, which is good, although so do demons (James 2:19). The key activating the effect of faith is that we believe He rewards those seeking Him. Enoch, according to the writer of Hebrews, sought God.
Enoch sought God believing there was benefit in seeking Him. If you want a major point of application, this is where you will find it. Seek God believing there is benefit for you. And if you are curious about what it means to “seek”, or what the “reward” is, keep reading this chapter. It’s probably not what you might expect.
Noah is our next contestant. He has faith to build an enormous “box” in which to float about on the flood. But does so out away from the ocean. By doing so, he condemns those who reject his project, who don’t pay attention to what he’s doing or why. They continue on with life, business, family, friends, and what not. And then, one day, the rains come, and it’s too late.
Noah believed God’s decree, and probably built the ark over a period of 120 years (Gen. 6:2). So, for 120 years, people had an opportunity to catch on to what was happening. It wasn’t like there was no option for them to believe, there was ample time. They chose not to until the opportunity had passed. And in faith, Noah preserved his family before his Creator, who by then, was also his Savior.
Noah’s “right standing before God”, his righteousness, was based on his faith, which led to his obedience. It wasn’t just obedience, Cain did that. This was obedience that was motivated by faith, obedience as seeking God, obedience as seeking that reward, persevering in obedience because of what is to come.
Noah didn’t see it (Heb. 11:1), but he believed what God said was coming. He obediently built the massive ark, believing in the eventual reward, which he obtained. But his reward exceeded what he expected. He was recorded forever as one of those pleasing to our Creator through faith. He becomes an example for us.
That’s my view through the knothole this morning. What do you see?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation