11:1-4. If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, then what does verse 4 mean? There are some possibilities to sort out.
By faith, the men of old obtained a testimony, verse 2. Abel is the first "men of old" example. Faith ... and the testimony they obtained. Two things. Let's look at the Abel example of these two things, plus whatever else it says.
Abel's sacrifice was offered to God by faith. Abel's sacrifice was something through which Abel obtained a testimony. That's three things: the testimony, the sacrifice, and the faith. What kind of testimony? That he was righteous. Who testified? God. What did God testify about? Abel's gifts ... and what did the testimony say? that Abel was righteous.
Abel obtained that testimony: that is, he was not only the beneficiary of it, but got the benefit of it.
Abel offered his sacrifice, his gifts, by faith. Adding the point of verse 2, although it was through the sacrifice that Abel obtained a testimony from God that he was righteous, he offered his sacrifice by faith.
Since this sentence directly compares one sacrifice to another, and calls one better than the other, we have warrant to do so ourselves, and follow along with why one sacrifice was better. Also, Genesis 4 itself makes a comparison. Why was Abel's sacrifice better than Cain's?
It is faith (the assurance of things hoped for ...) -- by that, that Abel offers a better sacrifice, and that leads to the rest. Therefore faith stands at the head of the whole sequence in time. Faith leads to Abel offering a sacrifice; that leads to God testifying about that; that leads to the testimony that Abel is righteous; that leads to Abel obtaining that testimony from God.
That's the time sequence. The logical sequence, "because," is the reverse. Abel obtains the testimony that he is righteous, because he obtains it from God, because God testifies about his gifts, because Abel's gifts were a better sacrifice, because Abel offered them by faith, because he offered them by the assurance of things hoped for / the evidence of things unseen.
So the whole thing begins with Abel's faith. That's why it's in this position. Faith is how Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain.
It's a microcosm of how the work of a single day -- two very different people, although brothers, putting something supposedly together for God -- look so similar on the outside ... and one is a better sacrifice than the other, and brings back something to the giver, and why.
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