By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
At this point in the book of Hebrews, the divinely inspired author is setting down examples of faith from biblical figures of the Old Testament in an effort to both teach and exhort his fellow Jewish Christians to have the faith necessary to stay loyal to Christ rather than fall back into Judaism (Hebrews 11:2; 10:32-39). He started by defining faith (11:1) and pointing out that it is through faith that Christians understand that God basically spoke everything into existence (11:3). As last week’s column pointed out, this kind of faith is not blind and naïve in nature despite the claims to the contrary made by atheists and skeptics. Rather, biblical faith is based on reasoned, logical conclusions taken from credible evidence.
The Hebrew writer’s mention of Abel and Enoch, as well as subsequent Old Testament heroes which he will speak of later in the chapter, show another necessary tenet of biblical faith: obedience. We can read about Abel’s acceptable sacrifice over Cain’s unacceptable offering, and Cain’s subsequent murder of his brother, in Genesis 4:1-8. Moses writes: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offer, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (vs. 3-7).
Why was Abel’s sacrifice accepted and Cain’s rejected? The Genesis account gives hints in the words God later spoke to Cain. Note that the Lord asked Cain, “I you do well, will you not be accepted?”, thus implying that the reason Cain’s offering was unacceptable was because he had not done well in God’s sight. His offering had not met God’s standards, which further implies that God had given the brothers those standards earlier.
The Hebrew writer spells out exactly why Abel’s offering was accepted by God over Cain’s: Abel’s sacrifice was offered “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4). Yet how did Abel get this faith? The Bible teaches that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God” (Romans 10:17). In other words, biblical faith is based on God’s Word, the message God communicates to man. At this point in history, God communicated orally to mankind as seen throughout Genesis (cf. Genesis 1:28-30; 4:9-15; 6:13-22; etc.). God had clearly told the brothers what he wanted in a sacrifice; Abel obeyed and Cain did not. Therefore, Abel’s offering was “by faith” and was accepted. The fact that we can still learn this from Abel thousands of years after his death shows very aptly how “through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (11:4).
Enoch is also mentioned in Genesis, albeit briefly. “Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (5:22-24). Jude also brings out that Enoch was a prophet (Jude 14). Other than Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12), Enoch is the only person who is said to have never experienced death. Instead, “God took him” as a reward for “walk(ing) with God” (Genesis 5:24) and thus pleasing God (Hebrews 11:5).
John urged Christians to avoid walking in darkness and instead walk with God in the light by penitently confessing sin when we commit it (1 John 1:5-9). He wrote this so that we would not sin, but would instead keep God’s commandments (2:1-6). Thus, to walk with God as Enoch did is to faithfully and penitently obey him. This too is associated with biblical faith, as Hebrews points out that Enoch did all of this “by faith.”
Want to have real faith in God? Obey him.