Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.

                         

Tuesday
Jul262005

By Faith Noah

This is the fourth post in a series on Hebrews 11. You’ll find the other posts in this series here.

After discussing the faith of Enoch in verses 5-6, the writer of Hebrews moves to the next faithful “ancient” on his list.

By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7 NET)

We’ll find God’s forewarning to Noah about these “things not seen” in Genesis 6:

I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. (Genesis 6:17 NET)

The flood God warned of was unseen in the sense that it was yet to come, and also in the sense that it was unlike anything Noah had ever experienced. God spoke a warning and gave a command to Noah, and that word from the unseen realm of the eternal was more real to Noah than what his own five senses told him. There was no sensory evidence of what was coming, but on the basis of God’s word alone, Noah was convinced of the reality of the coming flood and destruction. He built the ark because his firm conviction of   the rock-solidness of what was yet unseen to him.

Noah obeyed God’s command to him, but those around him—the “world”—did not heed God’s warning. His faithful obedience stands in contrast to the disobedience of the rest. His faith in action condemned them.

But more than that, Noah received something through his faith: He “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” His status changed as a result of his faith, because he was given the righteous standing before God that comes through faith.*

*This is not the way the writer of Hebrews most often uses the word “righteousness,” but it does seem to be the way he uses it here.

Thursday
Jul212005

By Faith Enoch

The first two posts in these series are here and here.

Enoch is the second of the faithful ancients to be listed in Hebrews 11. The writer of Hebrews tells us this in regards to Enoch and his faith:

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:5-6 NET)

You’ll remember Enoch from the Old Testament as the the man who “walked with God.” Here’s the Genesis record of his life:

When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God for three hundred years, and he had other sons and daughters. The entire lifetime of Enoch was three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God, and then he disappeared because God took him away. (Genesis 5: 21-24 NET)

There’s not a whole lot there, and what is there is quite mysterious, isn’t it? And still, the writer of Hebrews sees in Enoch’s life an important lesson about faith.

It was as a result of his faith the Enoch did not see death. The Old Testament account tells us simply that “God took him away.” Enoch was just there one day and gone the next, and his mysterious end was because he had faith.

You’ll notice that the verses from Genesis don’t say explicitly that Enoch had faith, but the author of Hebrews points out to us that this is implied in the story. That Enoch received God’s commendation as having pleased him is implicit in the statement that Enoch “walked with God,”* and since it is impossible to please God without faith, we can conclude from this little bit of text in Genesis that Enoch had faith.

The writer then points us to two things about the nature of faith that we can learn from Enoch. That Enoch approached God—or “walked with him”—in faith required two things: Belief in the existence of God, and belief in the goodness of God’s character.

No one can come to God if they don’t believe he’s really there, so believing in his existence is a necessary first step toward faith, but it’s not enough. James tells us that even the demons go this far. They believe there is one God, but their reaction toward him is not one of trust in his goodness, but rather revulsion and fear. There’s no way the demons want to walk with the God they know exists.

However, the person of faith sees the God they know exists as a God who “rewards those who seek him.” A person with faith in God understands that God has good things for those who seek him out, so they want to be with him. They want to walk with him like Enoch did.

*The term “pleased God” found in Hebrews comes from the Septuigent translation of the Hebrew “walked with God.”

Monday
Jul182005

By Faith Abel

This is the second post in a series on Hebrews 11. You can find the first post here.

After the preliminary remarks of verse 1-3, the writer of Hebrews begins to go through his list of the faithful “people of old” to show us the significance of faith in their lives. He starts way back at the beginning with Abel, one of the sons of Adam and Eve.

By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4 NET)

You remember the story, right? Eve had two sons. Cain, the first son, grew up to be a “tiller of the ground”, and Abel, the second-born, kept sheep. Each of the two sons brought an offering to the Lord—Cain from the harvest of his crops and Abel from the firstborn of his flocks.

The Genesis account tells us that

….the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. (Genesis 4: 4,5 NET)

You’ve probably heard the same reasons given for God’s pleasure with Abel’s sacrifice but not with Cains that I have. I remember being taught in Sunday School as a child that Abel brought his best to God and Cain brought leftovers. Later on I was taught that the acceptability of Abel’s offering had to do with the nature of his sacrifice: It was a blood sacrifice, while Cain’s was not.

Neither of these explanations comes directly from scripture. In this passage, the writer of Hebrews points to something other than the substance of the sacrifice as the reason for God’s acceptance of the one sacrifice and rejection of the other. It was, he says, Abel’s attitude that made the difference. Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith,” and it was because of his faith that God spoke of him as righteous.

God spoke of the acceptability of Abel and his offering, and because of that, Abel speaks to us. Abel has been dead longer than anyone else on the face of the earth, yet his story is much more than a piece of historical trivia, for his example of faith continues to teach us. Long-dead Abel is one of the ancients who obtained a good testimony through faith, and he speaks to us as one of the “great cloud of witnesses” whose faithful examples cheer us on to “run with endurance the race set out for us.”