Volume 8, Issue 4: Exegetica
According to Faith -
The Hebrew Christians were soon to endure persecution at the hands of evil men. Though they had "not yet resisted to bloodshed," the author warns them of a chastening to come (Heb. 12:3-11), encouraging them to keep their confidence, look to Jesus, and draw near to God. To endure such visible persecution for the sake of an invisible kingdom requires great faith; the grace of the Father is hard to see in the face of His chastening rod. With this in mind the author reminds his readers in chapter eleven that their situation is not unique, that godly men throughout history have, by faith, conquered the unrighteousness of the world around them.
Such faith is justifying faith, producing good works by the hand of the faithful. And we are justified by this faith, the same faith as Abel, Enoch, and Abraham. Were this not true, we could derive little encouragement from the faith of these men, who are displayed before us as an encouragement. Among these great men of faith stands Noah.
Like Enoch, Noah is described a one who "walked with God" (Gen. 6:9, cf. 5:24). He was a righteous man, who obeyed the Lord in all humility. Noah "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8). How are we to understand this grace of God? Did God reward Noah for his personal integrity and righteousness? Was Noah favored by God's grace because he was a righteous man? Or was Noah a righteous man because he was favored by God's grace?
Consider this: God's eternal plans cannot be thwarted. But from the days of Noah we see that man, left to himself, will flee from God. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). In His holy justice God determined to destroy the earth; In His grace and love He also determined to save it. How was He to save it? His instrument for saving the earth was the faith of Noah. Now, did the fate of the world hang solely in the hands of Noah's personal decision making? Was God's eternal plan to save the earth through the work of His Son in danger of failure because the world en masse had forsaken Him, until He found Noah? Was God fretting or frustrated because without Noah there was no way to carry out His plan? No! God does not need us. We need Him. God uses men to accomplish His eternal purpose, but He does not depend on men, whose very thoughts are only evil continually.
For "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6). Paul teaches the same truth in Romans 8: 7-8, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God." As in the days of Noah, so it is in all ages: apart from the grace of God, men run headlong from Him and the terror of His holiness. On his own, man cannot submit to God: He does not understand the things of God (1 Co. 2:14); he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3); He does not seek after God (Rom. 3:11). On their own it is impossible for men to come to God. But men do come, "for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). Whence comes such belief? It surely does not find its origin in the spirit of man, but in the Spirit of God, who, "even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:5). Through His word He grants us knowledge of His goodness, and through His Spirit He grants us faith to believe it.
So "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" (Heb. 11:7). We see this pattern: God warned Noah "of things not yet seen" (cf. Heb. 11:1), namely, the coming worldwide destruction of the flood. He then moved Noah through godly fear, that a remnant would survive and the world be saved, according to the plan of Him who works out all things after the counsel of His will. God gives His word, then moves us to believe it.
What a great example of faith for the Hebrews and for us! For Noah believed God, not by sight, for there was yet nothing to see, but by God's word alone. He was warned to forsake his people and escape their judgment. Even so the recipients of this letter needed to heed its warning by faith, forsake the visible worship of the Jews, and escape the coming destruction upon their temple and its city. Let us also in godly fear take heed to forsake the corruptions of the world around us and escape the chastisement.
Noah's faith was evidence of things not yet seen, evidence "by which he condemned the world" of his day. His faith was seen by His work of obedience in preparing an ark of salvation. Such faith is described elsewhere as living, saving faith, for "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). We can see that Noah was justified by what he did, as could the author of this letter. For we see by that obedient work that Noah became an heir of righteousness, the righteousness which is according to faith.