Faith Before the Flood Hebrews 11:4–7
In Hebrews 11 a gallery of portraits is paraded before us, painted by the hand of God. Each portrait presents the unique faith of individuals who performed great exploits. These men and women believed the unseen. They trusted God’s promises; waited patiently for those promises to be fulfilled (often never receiving them); and refused to allow persecution, pain, prison, or peril to weaken their faith. Neither did they allow disappointment, depression, discouragement, distrust, or the threat of death to crush their devotion to God.
Having described the foundation of faith (Heb. 11:1–3), the chapter then moves us through periods of biblical history to present individuals of faith. Verses 4–7 present three men who lived before the patriarchal period. Although there is only one verse per person, the verses clearly explain why these people are singled out as examples for us to emulate.
Worshiping by Faith
First comes Abel: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (v. 4).
The story of faith does not begin with Adam and Eve, but with Abel in Genesis 4. Eve gave birth to two sons: Cain, then Abel. Both were born with a sin nature because of the sin natures of Adam and Eve. One can assume that both were provided with knowledge of God and knew of Adam and Eve’s fall. They would have been taught that, by sacrificing animals, God shed blood to provide skins to cover their nakedness (Gen. 3:21).
Genesis 3:21 also shows that people can only approach God if they have a proper covering (one provided by Him), and it reveals explicitly that the covering is not obtained through self-effort but through blood sacrifice. Scripture states (in reverse order of their births) that Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer like his father (4:2).
“In the process of time,” Cain brought a fruit offering from the ground, and Abel brought a firstborn sheep from his flock (vv. 3–4). Abel’s sacrifice was “more excellent” than Cain’s (Heb. 11:4) in three ways: (1) It was a firstborn sheep, (2) it was a blood sacrifice offered by divine decree, and (3) it was presented in faith. On the other hand, Cain’s offering was “of the ground” (Gen. 4:3); there is no indication it was the first fruit, was the best of the fruit, or was presented by faith on any altar.
The Lord accepted Abel’s offering. Why? Because Abel offered it by faith, as was his duty, and presented it according to God’s revealed will. Keep in mind that biblical faith is always tied to God’s revealed will. Abel brought a blood sacrifice, the type of offering God required.
In contrast, Cain’s offering had no efficacy because it was not a blood sacrifice, nor was it offered in faith. Cain trusted in himself and approached God in his own way, rather than in the way God set forth. Thus God rejected Cain’s sacrifice (v. 5).
God told Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door” (v. 7). Rather than return with the proper offering, Cain seethed with anger toward God and eventually murdered Abel.
Abel, however, “obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts” (Heb. 11:4); that is, God received the gift and bore witness that it was correct. It was not Abel’s blood sacrifice that made him righteous but, rather, his faith in God (cf. Gen. 15:6). Even a blood sacrifice offered out of duty, not faith, would still be rejected. The proof of Abel’s faith was that he brought the right sacrifice in faith and complete obedience to the Lord.
Abel has been dead for centuries, but he still “speaks,” or witnesses, to us concerning his life of faith and the need of a blood sacrifice to please God. Abel’s witness is that he believed in God, offered the prescribed sacrifice, and was declared righteous and accepted by God because of his faith. What a portrait of faith for future generations to emulate.
Walking by Faith
The second portrait is of Enoch: “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken [translated] him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).
This is not Enoch from the line of sinful Cain (Gen. 4:17) but, rather, Enoch the son of Jared from Seth’s line (5:18). Enoch was a man of faith who walked in close communion and fellowship with God. His character and conduct testified against the corrupt, godless age in which he lived. He was a prophet who preached that the Lord would come and judge the ungodly (Jude 14–15). Furthermore, he lived in total obedience to his Lord and “had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).
Enoch’s end was glorious: “He was not [he disappeared], for God took him” (Gen. 5:24); that is, “Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death” (Heb. 11:5). The word taken (Greek, metatithemi) means Enoch was “translated,” transported suddenly from Earth to heaven. His body was physically changed, and he is now in heaven with a glorified body.
Consequently, it would be impossible for Enoch to be one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11. His translation is a picture of living Christians being raptured to heaven when Christ comes for His church (1 Th. 4:17). Enoch’s removal prior to God’s universal judgment on the antediluvian age no doubt prefigures the church’s Rapture prior to the future Great Tribulation.
Before Enoch was translated, his character and obedience to God demonstrated that he was righteous. His generation knew of his faith because he had the “testimony, that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). Although the Genesis account does not use the word faith when speaking of Enoch, Hebrews calls him a man of “faith.” Enoch had to be a man of faith or he would not have pleased God.
Hebrews 11:6 reveals a universal principle about faith: “But 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 diligently seek Him.” Thus individuals who come to God must first believe God “is”—that He exists—and that He eventually will reward those who diligently seek Him. What a testimony Enoch had—one all believers should manifest.
Working by Faith
The third portrait is of Noah: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (v. 7).
Noah’s spiritual qualities and faith are recorded in Genesis 6. He is described as a just man (literally, “justified”), perfect (literally, “blameless” or “having integrity”) in his generation. This does not mean Noah was without sin but that he stood complete in his faith. Noah worshiped God like Abel and walked with God like Enoch. Because of Noah’s faith, he “found grace [unmerited favor] in the eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 8).
Hebrews 11:7 records five facts concerning Noah’s faith:
(1) Noah was “divinely warned of things not yet seen.” God told him rain would fall from heaven and flood the whole earth. He instructed Noah on how to prepare an ark so that he and his family could survive the coming judgment. It probably had never rained on Earth (see Genesis 2:5) until the flood. Noah did not argue with God but completely believed the revelation he had received.
(2) God’s revelation produced “godly fear” (reverential awe) in Noah. He did not doubt God but, rather, was moved by faith to embrace what He had learned.
(3) Noah “prepared [built and equipped] an ark for the saving of his household.” The ark was more like a huge ship made of gopherwood and measured 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It had three levels, a window in the top, and one door in the side (Gen. 6:14–16); and it was large enough to carry 550 railroad cars of livestock cargo. It was not meant to sail, but float.
Noah likely built the ark during the 120 years when God’s Spirit strove with his generation (v. 3). He had only his three sons to help. The ark’s purpose was to preserve life during the flood. Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives, and various species of created life would be saved from death. By faith, Noah obediently built the ark on dry land, with no sea in sight, and probably endured daily scoffing, jeers, criticism, and insults from all who saw him. The people in Noah’s day were completely astonished when the flood came. They did not believe judgment was imminent until it swept them all away (Mt. 24:38–39).
(4) Noah’s faith “condemned the world.” The word world refers to the ungodly men of Noah’s time. Noah’s faith in God, his obedience in preparing the ark, his godly conduct, and his preaching of righteousness condemned all those living around him (2 Pet. 2:5). Noah no doubt denounced wickedness and warned people they would face God’s imminent judgment unless they repented.
(5) Noah “became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” Noah is the first person in the Bible to be called “perfect,” meaning righteous (Gen. 6:9). This term does not mean he was sinless. He was righteous on the basis of his faith in God and because of his commitment to do what God told him to do. Consequently, God imputed righteousness to him. Being an “heir of righteousness” meant he inherited eternal life.
Noah’s testimony was that he did “according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (6:22). Let it be said of us that we worship God like Abel; walk with God like Enoch; and, like Noah, do all God commands of us.