The Faith and Hope of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses

Copyright © 2016 Richard C. Barcellos. All rights reserved.

 

Let’s think theologically about the early post-lapsarian history of man, asking a few questions that, I think, warrant asking and answering. After the fall into sin, and before the account of Abraham was written, there are some persons (and their actions) that were accepted by God. For example, Abel and his sacrifice are accepted by God (Gen. 4:1ff.). The author of Hebrews says that “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain . . . [and that] he obtained the testimony that he was righteous . . .” (Heb. 11:4). Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah are mentioned in addition to Abel as those who

 

died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:13-16)

 

In each instance of the above-named persons, their “faith” precedes the writings of Moses. In other words, these had faith in promises that, though they may be written by Moses, precede Moses’ writings. In Hebrews 11:7, Noah is even said to have “become an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” This indicates that Noah was a saved man, a justified man, though not due to his own works. The same seems to be the case for all those listed in Hebrews 11.

Added to these observations is Hebrews 11:24-26.

 

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Heb 11:24-26, emphasis added)

 

The word translated “Christ” is Χριστός [Christos], meaning anointed one or messiah. Owen comments:

 

Much endeavour hath been used by some to remove the consideration of Christ, as then proposed unto the church in the promise, out of the words. Grotius and his follower would have “the reproach of Christ” to be only such kinds of reproach, sufferings, and afflictions, as Christ himself afterwards, and Christians for Christ, did undergo. Of the same mind is Crellius, who feigns at least a catachresis [i.e., a misuse or strange use of words] in the words, arising out of sundry tropes and metaphors. But he thinks that chiefly the affliction of the people of Israel were called the reproach of Christ, because they were a type of Christ, that is, of Christians in some sense. So unwilling are some to admit any faith of Christ, or knowledge of him, into the religion of the ancient patriarchs. But,—

(1.)  `O Xριστός, as here, is never used for any type of Christ, for any but Christ himself. (2.) If Moses underwent reproaches as the type of Christ, and knew that he did so, he believed in Christ; which is the thing they would deny. (3.) The immediate reason of the persecution of the Israelites was, because they would not coalesce into one people with the Egyptians, but would still retain and abide by their distinct interests and hopes. Now, their perseverance herein was grounded on their faith in the promise made to Abraham, which was concerning Christ. So these things have nothing of solidity in them.

But the mind of the apostle is evident in this expression. For,—

(1.) From the first promise concerning the exhibition of the Son of God in the flesh, Christ was the life, soul, and the all of the church, in all ages. From him all was derived, and in him all centred: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to day, and for ever;”—a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” To deny this, is to destroy the whole mystery of the wisdom of God under the old testament, and in particular, to overthrow the whole apostolical exposition of it in the epistle.

(2.) Being so, he was the original cause or occasion of the sufferings of the church in all ages. All the persecutions of the church arose from the enmity between the two seeds, which entered upon the promise of Christ. And the adherence of believers unto that promise is the only cause of that separation from the world, which is the immediate cause of all their persecution. Wherefore, “the reproach of Christ,” in the first place, signifies the reproach which upon the account of Christ, or their faith in him, they did undergo. For all outward observances in the church, in all ages, are but the profession of that faith.

(3.) Christ and the church were considered from the beginning as on mystical body; so as that what the one underwent, the other is esteemed to undergo the same. Hence it is said, that “in all their affliction he was afflicted,” Isa. lxiii. 9. And the apostle Paul calls his own sufferings, “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ,” Col. i. 24,—namely, which belonged unto the full allotment of sufferings unto the mystical body whereof Christ is the head. And in this sense also the afflictions of the church are the afflictions of Christ.

(4.) Somewhat of that which is here called “the reproach of Christ” is called by the same apostle “the marks of the Lord Jesus in his body,” Gal. vi. 17; or the stripes which he endured, with the marks of them that remained, for the sake of Jesus Christ. And so are all the sufferings of the church the reproach of Christ, because it is for his sake alone that they undergo them, and it is he alone whom they lay in the balance against them all.[1]

 

Understanding Hebrews 11:26 this way indicates that Moses, before writing the Pentateuch, had a consciousness of an anointed one, a messiah. The same could be argued about Abraham from the words of Jesus in John 8:56, which reads, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” As with Moses, Abraham possessed a messianic hope prior to Moses’ writings.

Important questions that should arise in consideration of Hebrews 11 (and John 8:56) include these: From where did this hope arise? Upon what basis did these die in faith (Heb. 11:13a)? If Noah “became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb. 11:7), doesn’t this imply a promise, in some form, already in place which promised that he would receive something through his faith?

Also, Hebrews 11:13-16 is laced with eschatological overtones. For example, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises [i.e., that which was promised], but having seen them [i.e., the promises] and having welcomed them [i.e., the promises] from a distance, . . .” (Heb. 11:13). They saw the promises and welcomed them from a distance. In other words, they knew the promises were about the future. In Hebrews 11:16, we are told that “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” and that, because God is their God, “. . . He has prepared a city for them.” These are future-oriented concepts that the writer to Hebrews assures us were present in those who had faith prior to the writing of the Old Testament. We know that no one is accepted by God based on their own works. These, then, must have been justified by faith. Faith always has an object. It is not faith in faith, but faith in what God has promised. These, then, must have had faith in a promise or promises made by God and revealed by God prior to Moses’ writings. So, does the Bible reveal to us what the content of that promise was or what the content of those promises were? And if it does, when was this promise given and what is the form in which the promise was given?

These are important questions. These are not vain, speculative, abstract, or theoretical questions. They are very practical and legitimate questions, arising from observations made based on what God himself has told us about the faith, righteousness, and eschatological hope of some who lived prior to the writing of the Old Testament. With these questions in mind, we can ask a further, more direct question: Is Genesis 3:15 the revelatory basis upon which these who died in faith based their eschatological hope? Though we cannot say with certainty that they did not have more information than the text of Genesis indicates, can we say with a high degree of probability that Genesis 3:15 contains the rudiments of their faith? I answer in the affirmative and hope to show you why in what follows.

 

[1] Owen, Works, 23:153-54.