THE EMPHASIS IN THE ENOCH EXAMPLE (11:5-6) RESTS EVEN MORE SQUARELY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ONE’S SPIRITUAL POSTURE. THIS FAITHFUL BELIEVER, ACCORDING TO HEBREWS’ INTERPRETATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT TEXT, WAS TAKEN OUT OF THHIS WORLD BY GOD WITHOUT EXPERIENCING DEATH (GEN. 5:24). Why? Because in his life he was “commended as one who pleased God”. that is, he brought God pleasure. This observation reflects a conviction inherent to the Genesis text, which tells us that Enoch “walked with God.” Most significantly, however, the author still has in mind the quotation of Habakkuk 2:3-4 (Heb. 10:37-38), which speaks of God’s lack of pleasure toward one who shrinks back from commitment. By contrast, Enoch was resolute in his commitment, thus bringing God pleasure.
ALTHOUGH THE OLD TESTAMENT TEXT DOES NOT MENTION ENOCH’S FAITH, OUR AUTHOR CAN ASSUME THAT HE EXEMPLIFIES SUCH A STANCE TOWARDS GOD, BASED ON THAT HABAKKUK QUOTE. “Without faith.” he goes on to tell us in 11:6,”it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In other words, the life of faith may be said to have at least three components.
- It involves a life of coming to God and seeking him earnestly. This point is in keeping with the author’s challenge to approach or draw near to God (4:16; 10:22). Thus God’s people are called to live lives of radical openness to and in conversation with God.
- This life of faith involves believing that God exists. It is absurd to think that a person can sincerely come to God in prayer without a firm confidence in his existence. A foundational belief in God supports further acts of faith in which the believer comes to God for help.
3) This life of faith involves confidence that God will reward those who exercise such faith. The acts of persons expressing confidence in the living God do not go unnoticed or unrewarded. God, by his nature and in accordance with his promises, rewards those who act in faith toward him.
ROUNDING OFF HIS ACCOUNT OF EXAMPLARS PRIOR TO ABRAHAM, THE AUTHOR INTRODUCES NOAH (GEN. 6:1-9:17), THE FIRST TO ACT IN FAITH BASED ON A MESSAGE FROM GOD. Noah acted on the divine warning in regard to a flood that was not yet seen and did so “in holy fear” (a form of the verb eulabeomai, meaning that he paid close and reverent attention to God’s instruction). Accordingly, Noah built an ark to save his family and correspondingly, condemned the world. His building of the ark both bore witness to the unseen God and his Word and constituted a stark, prophetic rebuke to that godless generation. Their belief stands in bold relief to Noah’s faith stance toward God. As one who lived by faith, or confident boldness, with regard to God’s Word, he became an heir of righteousness.
THE AUTHOR NOW MOVES TO AN EXTENSIVE TREATMENT OF THE GREATEST EXAMPLE OF FAITH IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, ABRAHAM THE PATRIARCH. VERSES 8-12 FOCUS ON TWO FOUNDATIONAL EVENTS FROM THE GREAT EXEMPLAT’S LIFE AS EVIDENCING HIS FAITH. (1) Abraham obediently followed God’s call to move to a place with which he was unfamiliar (see Gen. 12:1-9). Abram’s father, Terah, originally had taken his son Abram and his family from Ur of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran, intending to go to Canaan (Gen. 11:31). In Haran, Abram received the word of the Lord (12:1-3).
Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
ABRAHAM DEMONSTRATES HIS FAITH BY OBEYING GOD, EVEN THOUGH HE WAS COMPLETELY UNFAMILIAR WITH THE LAND TO WHICH HE WAS GOING. THIS THOUGHT CONTINUES THE MOTIF THAT FAITH CONSISTS OF ACTING WITH REFERENCE TO THE UNSEEN. It is important to note that the promise that his descendants would inherit the land did not come until Abraham was already in Canaan, and the promise would not be realized by Abraham himself but by his offspring. Thus, he did not go to the land to possess it but to live out an act of obedience to God.
ALSO, HIS MODE OF LIVING IN CANAAN – DWELLING IN TENTS – SERVED AS A SYMBOL OF HIS COMMITMENT NOT TO SETTLE INTO THE EARTHLY CITIES OF THE CANAANITES, BUT TO SEEK A MORE PERMANENT CITY BUILT BY GOD.
(2) ABRAHAM WS ENABLED TO BECOME A FATHER BECAUSE HE BELIEVED GOD, (SEE Gen. 18:10-15, 21:1-7). Faith moving beyond the normal boundaries of possibility, works miracles. Abraham, an old man, and Sarah, his wife, well past the age of being able to conceive, became parents, trusting in the faithfulness of God. Again the emphasis here challenges the hearers to take their eyes off the obvious – in this case the inability of old people to become pregnant – and to focus on the faithful God of integrity, who keeps his promises.
IN VERSE 11, THE WRITER ALLUDES TO GENESIS 15:6. “ABRAM BELIEVED THE LORD. AND HE CREDITED IT TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” THE HAPPY RESULT, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROMISE OF GOD (GEN.15:5), IS RECORDED IN HEBREWS 11:12. “And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Out of nothing comes a multitude too numerous to count. – NIV COMMENTARY
PROFESSOR THOMAS A. ROHM