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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.”

Thursday
Jul142005

God's Immutability

It’s a big word, immutability, that simply means that God doesn’t change. There is constancy about him, a steadfast unchangeability that applies to who he is and what he does. One of my favorite passages of scripture is from Hebrews 6, a text that points to a couple of ways in which our God is immutable:

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17,18 NASB)

God’s purpose, or hiscounsel—the plan he is carrying out in creation—is unchangeable. If God determines that He will do something, then it will certainly be done. We have this text, along with others, that tell us that this is so.

It it is logical, too, that God’s plans are immutable. God’s plans can’t be like my plans, which are subject to change because of unforeseen circumstances, like plumbing disasters, for instance, or even unpredictable feelings like tiredness or crankiness. All of the sorts of things that make my plans subject to change don’t apply to an all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful God.

This text in Hebrews grounds the immutability of God’s counsel in something else—the impossibility of God’s promise changing or his oath being rescinded. His promise and his oath are immutable because it is impossible for God to lie. That God cannot lie points us to the unchanging nature of hischaracter—a character that remains constantly truthful. His promises are certain and he does as he vows, for he has always been truthful, he is always truthful, and he will always be truthful because of his immutable character.

There are many other places in scripture that point to this steadfastness of character that belongs to our God. James 1:13 tells us that God can’t be tempted with evil, nor does he ever tempt anyone with evil. His constant righteousness makes these things impossible for him. Isaiah 40 tells us that God can’t be taught anything, so we know that his knowledge is complete and unchanging. His mercy can be counted on to be enduringly consistent as well, according to Psalm 107:1.

Just as it is logical that God’s counsel is immutable, it is logical that His character is changeless. God is what he is in a complete way—a perfect way. To change would imply increase or decrease, growth or loss, improvement or corruption, and none of these things are compatible with completeness or perfection.

We need to be careful, though, that when we think of God as immutable, we don’t think of him as inactive or completely unfeeling. His character and his plans are unchanging, yet he does not simply sit back to watch those perfect plans unfold. No, he is working constantly within creation to bring his unchanging plans into being. And while it seems certain that God does not feel emotions in exactly the same way we do, we still need to take seriously the statements of scripture that show him manifesting love or joy or anger or wrath. Rather than showing the God is unchangeable, these affections show the unchangeableness of God’s character. He consistently takes pleasure in righteousness, and on the other hand, he is consistently displeased with sin. This constant character assures us that when we change our attitude and actions, his attitude and actions directed toward us are different than they were. That God always loves righteousness and always hates unrighteousness means that the attitudes and actions of God that we experience when we are obedient are different than they are when we sin.

What does it mean for us that our God is immutable? I’d say the biggest benefit to us is that an immutable God is one who can be trusted. His promises are kept with certainty. In the Hebrew 6 passage quoted at the start of this post, it tells us that if we’ve taken our refuge in God, his immutability gives us strong encouragement to hold on to what is promised to us. Because our God is unchanging in both his counsel and his character, the hope we have is an “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast.”


We may think of hope as something elusive, like a rising helium balloon—something that bobs in the wind, dancing away from us just beyond our grasp—but the hope we have in God is not something fleeting. It’s no balloon, but an anchor, because our God is like an anchor. Or a rock. He can be counted on to be forever as he is and to do forever what he says. Out of his steadfast character and standing counsel comes his complete faithfulness.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

(Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

Wednesday
Jul132005

By Faith the People of Old

The pattern of faithful endurance in difficult times that Jesus gives us as described in Hebrews 12 is not the only help for making it through tough times that we’re given in Hebrews. In the chapter 11, before we get to chapter 12, we’re given a description of the kind of faith that will sustain us through trials and examples of people who’ve had this kind of faith.

Verses 1-3 are an introduction to the rest of the chapter.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. For by it the people of old received God’s commendation. By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible. (NET)

Sometimes you’ll hear people quote verse 1 as if it’s a complete definition of faith—as if it gives the whole answer to the question, “What is faith?” It gives us some of the answer, but we should probably understand it more as a statement about a particular characteristic (or characteristics) of faith than as a true definition of it.

Faith is being sure of what we hope for.
Literally, faith stands under what we hope for. It undergirds our hopes, so that even though the things we hope for are not currently here with us, they are not pie in the sky, either. We are certain of them because because we have faith. Faith makes us sure of the rock-solidness of the things we hope for.

Being convinced of what we do not see.
This could be taken two ways: that faith is the proof of the things that aren’t visible to us or that it is the test of things that aren’t visible to us. Both are legitimate ways to translate the text, and depending on the word meaning choice, the sense of the phrase would be different. If the word means proof (as the NET takes it), then this phrase is simply saying the same thing as the first one in a slightly different way: Faith makes us certain of the things we hope for even though they are not yet reality.

However, if it means test, then the idea would be that faith tests the things that can’t be tested by our five senses. If something can’t be sensed by ordinary means and thus known to be true through our physical senses, we have yet another way to test it—the test of faith. Faith tests to find out what is real in the unseen world in the same way that our senses test what is real in the physical world.

For by it the people of old received God’s commendation.
These “people of old” are the Old Testament saints, some of whom we find listed in the rest of this chapter. These people received the approval of God by faith. When God revealed things to them, they believed him, and because they believed him, they lived as if what he told them was certain. Because they believed God, they were “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (10:39).” God’s commendation comes to those who have this sort of faith.

By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command.
Before moving on the the examples of the expression of faith in the lives of the O.T. saints, the writer of Hebrews gives us an example of the expression of faith within himself—and in us, too. Are you convinced that God created the world out of nothing by his command? If you are, then you understand this by faith. You did not reason your way entirely from the physical evidence to this conclusion. This is not something you came to know through your five senses only, but something you became convinced of through your “eyes of faith.”

So that the visible has its origin in the invisible.
What we see came into being ex nihilo by fiat—somethingness from the nothingness simply because the invisible God  commanded. If you believe that, you believe it because you have faith.