ONLY A LIFE OF FAITH PLEASES GOD – HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF ABEL, ENOCH AND NOAH
The fundamental principle being illustrated by these key OT historical figures is that the righteous must live by faith if they want to please God. The essence of faith, the operation of faith and the rewards of faith are all highlighted in the examples of Abel, Enoch and Noah in the biblical narrative leading up to the devastation of the worldwide flood. Faith must live in light of the reality of God and the conviction that God will reward those who seek Him. There is always a past component of faith (drawing upon historical examples of God’s faithfulness to His promises) and a future component of faith (looking forward with confident anticipation to the rewards that God has promised) in order to motivate the present outworking of our faith.
Richard Phillips: As we study this great eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we will discover the variety of things that faith does or accomplishes. We often think of this chapter as focusing on the heroes of the faith, on the people themselves, and certainly the writer of Hebrews does draw upon the wonderful histories of the Old Testament and therefore on its personalities. But ultimately it is not these men and women who are on display, in all their variety of experience, but rather the one faith that shows its various facets in their lives. Through these historical and biblical figures, the author personifies the faith he is commending, and we thereby see all the things faith does and the benefits it conveys.
In the previous chapter we saw two things that faith does. It makes present and real things that are future and unseen. By faith we presently lay hold of our possessions in Christ. Moreover, faith sees the Creator behind the creation; by faith we understand who made and sustains the universe. As we proceed through this chapter, we are going to see more of the many things faith does. Faith pleases God; it does good works; it looks upon a heavenly city; it trusts God’s promises; and it conquers over obstacles. This is what the apostle John had in mind at the end of his first epistle: “This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).
John Piper: Notice how the two parts of verse 6 correspond to the two parts of verse 1. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That’s verse 1. The “conviction of things not seen” corresponds to faith’s belief that God exists (verse 6a). And the “assurance of things hoped for” corresponds to faith’s belief that God is the rewarder of those who seek him (verse 6b). Faith has at least these two components: one is the conviction that there is a great unseen God who exists absolutely and does not depend on us in the least. And the other is the assurance that this great unseen God is a God of love and bounty and free and sovereign grace for all who seek him in truth.
What we have seen in Hebrews now is that the nature of faith and the vitality of faith is rooted in what God is like, not what we are like. You don’t find out what Christian faith is by consulting your felt needs. You find out by consulting the nature of God. Therefore, if you would have your faith be strong, and your soul be strong and your family be strong and your church be strong and your denomination and schools be strong, know your God. Know your God!
I. (:4) FAITH OF ABEL – TESTIMONY OF RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER
A. Primary Highlight – Faith Approaching God the Right Way
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain,”
Two different views:
1) Kent: the author of Hebrews does not state specifically that the superiority of Abel’s offering was due to its bloody character. Rather, he says it was accepted because it was offered by faith. The statement in Genesis 4:4 that God had respect first “unto Abel” and then “to his offering” may suggest that it was the character of Abel that was primarily in view. With this Matthew, as well as Hebrews, concurs as it emphasizes that Abel was “righteous” (Matt. 23:35). Abel’s heart was right in the sight of God, and his offering was a demonstration of his faith. With Cain it was a mere ritual, having no efficacy because it was not offered in faith.
2) Steven Cole: The Genesis account simply says, “the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:4-5). The only hint of a reason is when the Lord tells Cain, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” (Gen. 4:7).
That question indicates that God had previously made clear to these brothers the type of sacrifice that would please Him. Faith is always an obedient response to God’s revelation. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Biblical faith never rests on manmade ideas, or on vague speculations. It rests on the revealed word of God. Abel, by faith, had obeyed God’s command. Cain refused to submit to it. Abel’s faith pleased God; Cain’s disobedience displeased God. When the Lord told Cain to “do well,” He meant, “Bring the kind of sacrifice that you know that I commanded.”
We are not reading too much into the story to infer that God had made this plain to Adam and Eve after they sinned. Their sin caused them to be ashamed of their nakedness, and so they sewed together fig leaves to try to cover that shame. But God did not accept their fig leaves. Instead, He clothed them with garments made of animal skin (Gen. 3:7, 21). Undoubtedly, at that time He explained to them four things. First, to stand before the holy God, they needed a proper covering. Second, humanly manufactured coverings were not adequate. Third, God would provide the necessary covering apart from their efforts. Fourth, the only acceptable covering for their sin required the death, or shedding of blood, of an acceptable sacrifice (adapted from A. W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews [Ephesians 4 Group, CD], p. 658).
Surely, Adam had communicated these facts to his sons. They did not think up on their own the idea of bringing sacrifices to God! No, God had clearly revealed to Adam and Eve the necessary and proper way to approach Him through a blood sacrifice. They had made this way plain to their sons. But Cain disobeyed, while Abel, by faith, obeyed.
John MacArthur explains,
In Abel’s sacrifice, the way of the cross was first prefigured. The first sacrifice was Abel’s lamb—one lamb for one person. Later came the Passover—with one lamb for one family. Then came the Day of Atonement—with one lamb for one nation. Finally came Good Friday—one Lamb for the whole world (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Hebrews [Moody Press], p. 301).
So Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s because he offered it in obedient faith to what God had clearly revealed. God rejected Cain’s sacrifice because he did not offer it by faith, and “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6).
B. Testimony of Righteousness
“through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous,
God testifying about his gifts,”
C. Legacy of Faith
“and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.”
Kent: In Genesis Abel’s blood cried out to God for vengeance. Here it is Abel himself (not his blood) that speaks to us (not crying out to God) of the vital importance of faith in God’s sight. He may have died prematurely, but he still has something of great value to say to us by way of his life recorded in Scripture.
F. F. Bruce: Our author’s point appears to be that Abel is still appealing to God for vindication, until he obtains it in full in the judgment to come. The idea in that case is paralleled in Rev. 6:9 ff., where the souls of the martyrs cry aloud for vindication, and are told that they must wait until the full tale of martyrs is complete. It has been held, on the other hand, that our author simply means that Abel, by his faith, bears abiding witness to succeeding ages; but that more than this was in his mind is suggested by Ch. 12:24, where he says that the purifying blood of Christ “speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel” (RSV) – a clear reference to Gen. 4:10.
Mohler: What will be said at your funeral? What words are going to make up the content of your eulogy? How will your life be summarized in fifteen minutes of reflection? Hopefully, we will all leave the type of testimony left by Able: though he was dead, his life bore witness to the grace and mercy found only in a substitutionary sacrifice. Christians should aspire to leave behind a legacy of faith.
Steven Cole: By bringing his own sacrifice as the way to approach God, Cain became the father of all false religion. False religions reject the cross. It offends them because it confronts their self-righteousness. Those in false religions take pride in their own goodness and their own works. They reject the idea that they are sinners in need of a Savior who shed His blood. Or, if they accept the cross (as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches do), they still want to add their good works to it as a partial means of salvation. But to add human works detracts from the total sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross and gives sinners grounds for boasting in their works.
MacArthur: Now, this text is divided into three progressive points, and I want to share these with you tonight. Abel’s faith led him to do three things. Number one, to offer a more excellent sacrifice. Number two, to obtain righteous. Number three, to openly speak though dead. Because he believed God, he did those three things, and they’re progressive. Because he believed, he offered a better sacrifice. Because he offered a better sacrifice, he obtained righteousness. Because he obtained righteousness, he is for all the ages a living voice saying righteousness is by faith. You see? So, it’s progressive.
II. (:5-6) FAITH OF ENOCH – TESTIMONY OF PLEASING GOD
A. (:5a) Primary Highlight – Faith Walking with God
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death;
and he was not found because God took him up;”
B. (:5b) Testimony of Pleasing God
“for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up
he was pleasing to God.”
“pleasing to God” = Same meaning as “walking with God” in the Genesis account
Richard Phillips: What does it mean to walk with God? First, this speaks of a living relationship, a companionship between a man or woman and God. It implies personal knowledge, an ever-increasing understanding of the one with whom we walk. It implies agreement of mind and heart (Amos 3:3). There are an intimacy, a fellowship, and a joy of company between two who walk together. . . So every day – ordinary days, difficult days, joyful days – are days with God, a foretaste of heaven: to be with him, to know his love, to see his light and feel the warmth of his pleasure.
C. (:6) Essential Connection Between Faith and Pleasing God
1. Connection of Faith to Pleasing God
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him,”
Not just difficult, but impossible
Mohler: without faith it is impossible to be commended. While works of external righteousness and general morality may commend us before men, these things are not sufficient to commend us before God. Humanitarianism, religiosity, morality, and following the most scrupulous personal ethical codes cannot bring us God’s approval on the day of judgment.
2. Commitment of Faith
a. Committed to the Existence of the Living God – God is Real —
The Object of Faith
“for he who comes to God must believe that He is,”
F. F. Bruce: Belief in the invisible spiritual order involves, first and foremost, belief in Him who is “King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17); and belief in God carries with it necessarily belief in His word. It is not belief in the existence of a God that is meant, but belief in the existence of the God who once declared His will to the fathers through the prophets and in these last days has spoken in His Son. Those who approach Him can do so in full confidence that He exists, that His word is true, and that He will never put off or disappoint the soul that sincerely seeks Him.
b. Committed to His Faithfulness to His Promises – God is a Rewarder –
The Motivation of Faith
“and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
Hewitt: Verse 6 is neither confined nor necessarily related to Enoch. It is a truth of universal application that whoever approaches God to worship Him and to receive a blessing from Him must believe in His existence and in His power to recompense those who diligently seek Him.
III. (:7) FAITH OF NOAH – TESTIMONY OF SALVATION VS. CONDEMNATION
A. Primary Highlight – Faith Working (relationship between faith and works)
“By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen,
in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household,”
Leon Morris: In the NT the noun “salvation” (soteria) usually refers to salvation in Christ. Here, however, as in a few other places, it is the more general idea of salvation from danger – deliverance from disaster – that is in mind. Noah’s faith led to the preservation of his entire household during the Flood.
Richard Phillips: Indeed, what God demanded of Noah was far greater than what he asks of us. God required Noah to believe something that had never happened before, something totally unprecedented and seemingly unlikely. . .
The Puritans in seventeenth-century England were like Noah. The name “Puritan” was given to them by scoffers because of their care for studying and obeying God’s Word in great detail. Then, as today, people think such reverent attentiveness to be narrow religion. They wrongly equate it with the attitude of the Pharisees, who made life difficult not with their biblical obedience, but with their man-made restrictions. Yet biblical obedience does not fetter you, or make you narrow. Rather, it liberates you to what is good and true and wholesome. This is why James speaks of the “law of liberty” (James 1:25). Studying and following through on God’s Word will not shrink you but make you grow.
B. Testimony of Salvation vs. Condemnation – Two Contrasting Results
1. Condemned the World
“by which he condemned the world,”
Kent: Noah’s faith is regarded as throwing into bold relief the unbelief of those around him. The very fact that Noah believed God made the guilt of his contemporaries all the more inexcusable.
Mohler: Whenever an individual lives in obedience to God against the immorality of the world, that individual condemns the rest of the world in its unrighteousness.
Wil Pounds: Noah’s testimony condemns the world to this day. Jesus used Noah’s experience and testimony to declare a sudden coming day of judgment when He returns. “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:37-38).
2. Obtained Righteousness
“and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
Doctrine of justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness
Leon Morris: Here in v. 7 we have the author’s one use of the term “righteousness” in the Pauline sense of the righteousness that is ours by faith. In the Bible Noah was the first man to be called righteous (Gen. 6:9). He was right with God because he took God at his word; he believed what God said and acted on it.
Mohler: For some reason, many evangelicals underestimate the importance of the story of Noah in redemptive history. . It is important that we pause to make a few theological observations about the Noah story.
– First, the Bible is absolutely clear that this was a universal flood. The biblical text clearly indicates that the flood was a global judgment on all of humanity. Further, the geological features of the earth testify to this reality – from remnants of marine life in the middle of Colorado to the formation of the Grand Canyon.
– Second, the flood’s origin is divine, not natural. In other words, this was not just a natural disaster like any other. Noah’s flood was a divinely orchestrated, supernatural judgment on humanity.
– Third, the story of the flood is an essential element of biblical theology. The flood is the archetypal example of God’s judgment and the catastrophe of human sin. In fact, throughout Scripture we see that he flood typologically points to God’s final eschatological judgment.