At the end of chapter 10, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that it is by faith that we preserve our souls and are saved (10:39). It is our endurance in faith that allows us to persevere unto the end.
In Hebrews 11, we find many examples of persevering faith. Such faith finds its expression first of all in the fact that by faith we see that God created the world (11:3). In today’s passage, we begin looking at some of the heroes of the old covenant in order that we might better understand the nature of persevering faith.
Before we discuss verse 4, let us recall that persevering faith is not something that we create in ourselves. We only possess true faith if God has sovereignly given it to us (Eph. 2:8). Nevertheless, we recognize that once given to us, we still need the Lord to increase this faith from time to time (Luke 17:5). One of the ways the Lord can do this is through the examples of faith found in Hebrews 11.
In verse 4, we read, “by faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.” Why was Abel’s sacrifice more acceptable than Cain’s? Over the years, several different explanations have been offered. One popular interpretation is that Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable because he offered a blood sacrifice while Cain offered only a sacrifice of vegetation (Gen. 4:2–4). However, this is probably not the best understanding of this passage because God also commanded His people to offer up grain (for example, Lev. 6:14–15).
What then shall we say? The answer is found in today’s verse. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel’s offering was done in faith, implying that Cain’s was not. God had regard for Abel because he had faith; but Cain, though outwardly obedient, lacked such faith.
The story from Genesis, on which Hebrews 11:4 is based, reinforces this. In Genesis 4:2–4, we read that whereas Abel brought the first fruits of his labor, Cain did not. Abel trusted that God would continue to provide even after he gave up the first evidences of God’s provision. But Cain did not and withheld his first fruits from God.
Abel’s faith — the faith that trusts in God’s provision — is the kind of faith that will endure even in the midst of adversity. If we do not trust God to provide for us even before He has done so, we will certainly not trust Him under duress.
Do you trust that God will provide for you? Do you believe that God will really give you all that you need? Take some time to look at the things you can offer to God — for example, time, money, or relationships. If you have been holding back in any of these areas, seek to give of them in ways that truly reflect trust in His provision.