Without faith it is impossible to please God. It has always been this way. Chapter eleven has often been called the “Role Call of Faith” as it lists Old Testament saints from more than a thousand years before. You will sometimes hear some say that people in Old Testament days were saved by obeying the law. That is NOT true. No one was ever saved by performing works of the law but condemned. The Preacher reminds us of this here as he lists the old saints and nowhere says, “By works….” It is always by faith that one received his commendation from God—in this case by looking forward to the promise God made them. Granted, they showed forth many good works which this chapter plainly illustrates, but those works were born of faith.
And what promise was it to which these looked forward? In a word: Christ. Oh, he was prophesied in different ways, but always promised. Did Abel know of the promise to his mother concerning the seed who would conquer the serpent: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15)? I think he did. And why would Noah build an ark had he not faith that God would one day bless the world and even leave a rainbow as a sign (Genesis 9:1-17)? And why the promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed in him, that is, through his seed (Genesis 12:3)? These Old Testament saints knew of the coming Messiah. Granted, their knowledge of Christ was dark compared to ours as we live on this side of the cross, but it was real, and they proved it by works that far outshine ours.
So now we have the examples. First is Abel whose sacrifice was accepted while his brother’s was not. And why was his accepted? God answered Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted” (Genesis 4:7)? In other words, Abel pleased God and Cain did not, else his sacrifice would have been accepted. Then we have Enoch about whom we would love to hear more specifics. But all we are told is that “he walked with God” (Genesis 5:24), and we must assume that he did so in intimate fellowship that God should up and bring him home. And then we are reminded of Noah who obeyed what no doubt seemed a foolish command given that nothing of the kind had ever happened before then.
But these pleased God and did so the only way God will be pleased: By believing that He is, that His word is true, and by obeying that word; that is, by faith. And if we shall be saved, we shall be saved the same way: Through faith in Christ.