Abel is the first old covenant saint held up to us in Hebrews 11 as an example of faith. The author of Hebrews 11 turns to Genesis 4:1–5 to teach us an important lesson about how true faith manifests itself in the kinds of things we offer to the Lord.
Hebrews 11:4 looks particularly to the statement in Genesis 4:4–5 that God “had regard”—was pleased with—Abel’s offering but not with Cain’s. Over the centuries, theologians have tried to discern what set Abel’s gift apart as acceptable to the Lord. Many have suggested that the problem was that Abel offered a blood sacrifice while Cain offered a grain sacrifice. This is understandable, since we know sin cannot be forgiven except through the offering of blood (Heb. 9:22). However, Genesis does not tell us that God rejected Cain’s sacrifice because it was grain, not blood. Furthermore, grain offerings were prescribed in the Mosaic law and thus were acceptable to Him when offered rightly (Lev. 2). “When offered rightly” is key. Genesis 4:4 says that Abel brought the “firstborn” and the “fat portions” for an offering—the first and the best. Verse 3 says only that Cain brought an “offering of the fruit of the ground.” This suggests that the problem was that Cain did not bring the first and best but offered his sacrifice to the Lord as an afterthought. Not being motivated by true faith, Cain did not bring the firstfruits of his labor. Abel, however, trusted God to provide for his needs even if he gave the best of his labor. That is the posture of faith.
The author of Hebrews then turns to the history of Enoch, who is mentioned in Genesis 5:21–24. Scripture says very little about him except that he “walked with God” (vv. 22, 24). The ancient Greek translation of the original Old Testament Hebrew text, called the Septuagint, says in this verse that Enoch “pleased God,” which is why Hebrews 5:5 says what it does. To “walk with God” is a Hebrew idiom wfor obeying Him, so “pleased God” is an acceptable reading of the text. In any case, Enoch stood out in his generation for his faithfulness to the Lord, his walking with God being rooted and grounded in faith. This reminds us that any good we do cannot truly please God unless it is motivated by our trust in Him and His promises. Faith leads us into a saving relationship with our Creator, and that faith bears the fruit of love for Him and for our neighbor. Enoch was also received into blessedness, and if we live by faith in the Lord, we will one day be received into blessedness as well (2 Tim. 4:6–8).