By Annette Halsey
Why are Abel and Enoch in the “Hall of Faith”?
Seriously?! King David is grouped with a bunch of others at the end of the chapter and the prophet Daniel isn’t even mentioned by name, while Abel and Enoch are mentioned in detail.
The heroes listed are in chronological order; do you think the author just started at creation and listed faithful ancients until he got tired of writing? Or do you think there is something specific about these ancient, faithful witnesses that the original readers needed to consider?
The book of Hebrews is written to a group of Jewish believers who were considering going back to Judaism. While Christianity and Christians were persecuted, Judaism was a legal religion in the Roman Empire. Before these Hebrew Christians had heard of Jesus, they had served God according to the instructions given to them through Moses. Jesus the Messiah had come, but He hadn’t conquered the Romans and set up the Kingdom on earth yet. Why not avoid persecution by serving God according to the Law of Moses until Jesus returned?
Abel, the first hero listed in the “Hall of Faith,” also had a choice between obedience and compromise.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. –Hebrews 11:4 NASB
Abel’s older brother Cain had brought an offering to God, but had done it his way instead of God’s way (Genesis 4:3, 5-7). Abel believed that God knew best, and obeyed Him. Consequently, God had regard for Abel and his offering (Genesis 4:4).
Cain was rebuked by God for disobedience, and God told him that he had the choice to resist sin or to let sin win. Cain chose the latter option, and murdered Abel because he had chosen to do what was right.
Enoch, the second hero in Hebrews 11, is first mentioned in Genesis, in the middle of a genealogy:
“Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years…and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 4:22 & 24).
Hebrews tells us nearly as much about Enoch as Genesis:
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. –Hebrews 11:5 NASB
The last entry in the Bible that mentions Enoch by name is in Jude:
“…Enoch…prophesied, saying ‘Behold, the Lord came with His holy ten thousands to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’” (Jude 14-15 NASB)
If you count the verses in the Bible that mention Enoch, the number is small, but his testimony is not. Enoch lived when both the population and the wickedness of mankind was increasing (Genesis 6:1-4), and he prophesied of God’s judgment. He was pleasing to God, and was taken up to heaven without dying.
What were the original readers supposed to learn from these examples?
Hebrews 12:4 tells us that none of the readers had been martyred yet. They had been persecuted (Hebrews 10:32-34), but needed to endure with faithfulness (Hebrews 10:36). If they decided to keep following Jesus, they might end up being killed like Abel. It’s also possible that they would remain on earth as unwelcome reminders of God’s truth in an evil world, just like Enoch was. On the other hand, they could turn from following Jesus back to government-allowed Judaism and have more comfortable lives.
What was it that Abel and Enoch gained by their faithfulness?
Hebrews 11:4 says God Himself testified that Abel was righteous. Jesus calls Abel the first righteous prophet slain (Luke 11:50-51).
Abel died. He missed out on the centuries of life that most pre-Flood patriarchs had, and apparently did not have any children. But God commended him for his righteousness.
Enoch lived. He prophesied about judgment in a sinful world, and may have, like Elijah, wished he were dead. Instead, he served God for a l-o-n-g time, and God testified about Enoch’s life by miraculously taking him from the earth.
These men gained God’s praise. That alone is impressive. Did you know that humans can gain God’s praise? Not just the perfect humans that exist only in our imaginations, but real people who are trying to serve God in a sinful world. And that’s not the only thing they gained: 1 Corinthians 2:9 emphasizes that we can’t even imagine the great rewards that God has prepared for those who love Him, the book of Daniel ends with him being told something like “finish this life, and when this time is done you will be resurrected and rewarded,” and Hebrews 11 focuses on men and women who are looking to a future reward for present (to them) faithfulness (Hebrews 11:10, 13-16, 26, 39)[AH4] . Many other verses speak of rewards for faithful servants of God (Lk 19:11-27, 1 Cor 3:10-15, John 4:36, Mark 8:38, Rev 22:12, etc.). Anyone who has believed in Jesus alone for eternal life can never lose that life (John 3:16, 6:47, 11:25-27, etc.), but the Bible makes very clear that God has special rewards for obedience.
We are not told exactly what rewards Abel and Enoch will receive when Christ comes back again, but it’s going to be amazing. Would the Hebrew readers of this letter keep following Jesus, looking forward to His praise and reward, or would they trade it for the praise and reward that might be given to them by the people around them?
The author of Hebrews continues:
And 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 seek Him. –Hebrews 11:6 NASB
If you do believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him, but are struggling to seek Him in this broken and sinful world, remember Abel and Enoch. There are individuals who have stood up for God in all kinds of situations. Abel and Enoch did what was right, and God noticed. When you do what is right, God notices. And He has a reward for you that is better than any you can get by giving in to the pressure to sin.