Friday, January 20
We begin with the fifth and final contrast between Gospel righteousness and that of the scribes and Pharisees; it has to do with the love of one’s enemies. The Old Testament does not actually prescribe hatred on one’s enemies, of course; that part is a sort of hyperbole. Nevertheless, the prescribed love of one’s neighbor (22:39; Leviticus 19:18) certainly prompted some question about who, exactly, was included in this list (Luke 10:29). Jesus extended the Mosaic commandment on this point by expanding the word “neighbor” to include “enemy.” This truly was a new idea in Israel’s experience.
This love of one’s enemies must come from the heart, because Jesus made it a matter of prayer (verse 44). It has to do with one’s relationship to the “Father in heaven” (verses 45,48).
Once again, as in all these five contrasts, believers are called to “exceed” (perisson–verse 47). Their love, like their righteousness, must be “in excess” (verses 46-47). To love those that love us affords no reward, because such love is its own reward. The love of one’s enemies, however, is not an act rewarding in itself. One loves in such a way only for the sake of the heavenly Father.
This kind of love makes a person “perfect,” it most renders him like God, and being “like God” is the purpose of the Torah (Leviticus 19:2). It is understood, of course, that only God can enable a person to love in this way (Romans 8:2-4).
The love of one’s enemies appears last in Matthew’s sequence of contrasts based on the Torah, because it is the perfecting and ultimate sign of Gospel righteousness. It must be the distinguishing mark of the Christian. By it, believers become not only “more righteous, but perfect like unto God. The love of one’s enemies certainly does not “come naturally.”
Indeed, if it does seem to “come naturally,” something is wrong with it. In such cases, it is a counterfeit. Such counterfeits are not rare, so we do best to distinguish this Gospel love from things that resemble it.
For example, the love of enemies enjoined in the present context is not a tactic, a thing done to accomplish something else. It is not the practical means to an end, such as the conversion of the enemy. The love of enemies enjoined in this passage is an end in itself, because it renders a man like unto God.
This Gospel-enjoined love of enemies is not a mark of noble character—the generosity of the magnanimous man—nor is it the cultivated fruit of universal benevolence, of the sort we associate with the oriental religious sage. These are but human counterfeits of what the Lord enjoins here. Christian love of enemies is done purely to please a Father in heaven.
Nor is the purpose of the love of enemies to feel good or virtuous. In fact, the Christian who loves his enemies may feel perfectly miserable about himself. The love of one’s enemies is not an exercise in self-fulfillment. It is, rather, an act of self-emptying. It is the Cross. It is to love as Christ loves, and as His Father loves.
The first four verses of chapter 6—on the subject of almsgiving—are proper to Matthew.
The first word, a plural imperative, is a summons to caution: “Take care,” prosechete. The Christian moral life has this in common with any serious moral system; namely, that an intense, reflective custody of the soul is necessary. In the present instance this custody has chiefly to do with the purity of one’s intentions. The entire moral life can be radically undermined by wrong intentions. Purification of intentions requires a most serious vigilance over the mind and will.
Jesus, having told us in a series of five contrasts, that our righteousness must excel that of the scribes and Pharisees, now insists that this righteousness (dikaiosyne) must not be “done” (poiein) for the benefit of human approval. Were this latter to be the case, that human approval must suffice as its reward.
In this insistence we find the complement to the preceding chapter. In the five contrasts just noted, attention was given to righteousness with respect to our dealings with our neighbors (control of the temper and the sexual impulse, complete honesty, non-resistance to aggression, and the love of enemies). Now the direction of righteousness is turned to God, our Father in heaven (verse 1).
This verse introduces the three subjects treated in chapter 6, the great triad of traditional Jewish piety: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Because our Lord Himself authoritatively juxtaposes these three components here in Matthew, it is normal to think of them together as constituting a kind of ascetical standard. In truth, for a very long time Christians (for example, Hermas and Leo I of Rome, John Chrysostom, and Maximus the Confessor) have habitually spoken of the three together as sort of a paradigm or outline of biblical ascetical life. In pre-Christian biblical literature, however, that specific triad of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is found in only one place: Tobit 12:8. It is through Matthew that this triad passed into Christian piety.
Even as Jesus treats of these three practices of piety, however, He continues the spirit of the five contrasts that He elaborated in the previous chapter. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, He says, are all to be undertaken in a spirit that is contrasted with that of the hypocrites (verses 2,5,16). By now it is clear that this word refers to those same scribes and Pharisees; it is shorthand for the Jewish leadership that set itself against Jesus and the Gospel. Matthew’s references to them in these early chapters show a rising hostility on their side, as well as Jesus’ disposition to take them to task. This latter disposition will reach its climax in chapter 23, which several times will condemn the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
In the present text, these hypocrites are accused of failing to “take care” not to practice their righteousness to gain human approval. Theirs is not a true righteousness.
The first deed of righteousness named by Jesus is almsgiving (verses 2-4), which comes closest to the concerns of social behavior enunciated in the preceding five contrasts. The social nature of almsgiving makes it the easiest thing to do for human approval. However, those who abuse almsgiving by a bad intention are simply using the poor to their own advantage. Very well, says Jesus, they must be satisfied with that advantage (verse 2).
According to Gospel righteousness, on the other hand, the value of almsgiving must be preserved in secrecy. If the deed is disclosed to others, it loses its value before God (verse 3). The deed must not be spoiled by its motive.
Saturday, January 21
Hebrews 10:1-10: This interpretation of Psalm 40 (39) comes in the center of the major argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews: the heavenly significance of the Lord’s death on the Cross. As we have seen, the author appeals to the Mosaic prescriptions about the ancient Tabernacle to elaborate that significance. These prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, he says, possessed only “a shadow of the good things to come.” Offered “continually year by year,” they were not able to “make those who approach perfect” (10:1). That is to say, those sacrifices did not really take away sins, and their effectiveness depended entirely on the Sacrifice of the Cross, of which they were only a foreshadowing. Indeed, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (v. 4).
In support of this thesis, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire / . . . In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin / You had no pleasure” (vv. 5, 6). In fact, this theme appears rather often in the Old Testament itself. Isaiah, for example, and other prophets frequently attempted to disabuse those of their countrymen who imagined that the mere offering of cultic worship, with no faith, no obedience, no change of heart, could be acceptable to God.
The author of Hebrews, therefore, is simply drawing the proper theological conclusion when he writes: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (v. 11). What God seeks, rather, is the perfect obedience of faith, and such an obedience means the total gift of self, not the mere sacrificial slaughter of some beast.
This obedience of Christ our Lord is a matter of considerable importance in the New Testament. He Himself declared that He came, not to seek His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him (John 5:30). This doing of the Father’s will had particular reference to His Passion, in which “He . . . became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). This was the obedience manifested in our Lord’s prayer at the very beginning of the Passion: “Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).
Christ’s own obedience to God’s will is also the key to Palm 40, and Hebrews goes on to quote the pertinent verses, referring them explicitly to the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus the Lord: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, / But a body You have prepared for Me. / In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin / You had no pleasure. / Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— / In the volume of the book it is written of Me— / To do Your will, O God’” (vv. 5–7).
The body “prepared” for Christ in the Incarnation became the instrument of His obedience to that “will” of God by which we are redeemed and rendered holy: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (vv. 10, 14).
The various sacrifices of the Old Testament have now found their perfection in the one self-offering of Jesus the Lord. Again the author of Hebrews comments: “Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God’” (vv. 8, 9).
The “He” of this psalm, then, according to the New Testament, is Christ the Lord. We pray it properly when we pray it as His own words to the Father. The “will” of God to which He was obedient was that “will” to which He referred when in the Garden He prayed: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
This self-oblation of our Lord’s obedience to God is not simply a feature of this particular psalm; it is the interpretive door through which we pray all of the psalms. The “Your will be done” of the Lord’s Prayer is likewise the summation of the entire Book of Psalms, and what ultimately makes Christian sense of the Psalter.
Sunday, January 22
Matthew 6:25-34: The “therefore” of verse 25 means that the following verses are a conclusion of the message enunciated in the preceding section of this chapter. If we are not to covet (as we were told in the preceding verses), we are also not to worry; the disciplining of inappropriate desires should diminish inappropriate anxiety. God provides all necessary things for those who seek first His kingdom (or, to put it differently, who love Him — cf. Romans 8:28). Except for Luke 12:28, the adjective “of little faith” (oligopistos) is found only Matthew; besides here in 6:30, it also appears in 8:26; 14:31; 16:6.
Hebrews 10:11-18: Citing Jeremiah 31, which he quoted at greater length in chapter 8, the author contrasts the sacrifices of the Mosaic Law with the sacrifice offered in the Passion of Jesus.
There are several points of contrast:
First, the Old Testament priest “stands,” whereas Jesus is enthroned: “And every priest stands ministering daily . . . But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” From the very beginning of this work, Jesus is portrayed as “seated” in glory: “when He had purged sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3). Later on the author will say of Jesus that He “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).
This image of Jesus seated in glory is drawn mainly from Psalm 109 (110), cited at the beginning of this work (1:13) and obviously much favored in the early Church (cf. Mark 16:10; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Revelation 3:21).
Second, the Old Testament sacrifices were many, whereas the New Testament sacrifice is unique: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices . . . But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” In the previous chapter we read that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (9:28). This word “once” (hapachs) is found in Hebrews 8 times, more than all the other New Testament books put together.
This hapachs, “once,” is contrasted with pollakis, “many times” (9:25-26).
This “once” contrasted with “many” is related to the “seated” contrasted with “standing.” The “once” and “seated” indicate finality and fulfillment—the end of history—whereas the “standing” and “many” suggest an ongoing process.
Third, the Old Testament sacrifices were unable, of themselves, to atone for sins and purify the heart: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, and “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
Implied in the development of this theme is an underlying judgment on the Jewish religion itself: Now that the fulfillment of its history has come in Christ and His redeeming work, the Jewish religion no longer represents God’s will for history. This is why it is called “the old covenant: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13). The continued existence of a “Jewish religion” alongside the Christian Gospel remains an anomaly yet to be resolved.
Monday, January 23
Matthew 7:1-6: Just as the preceding verses told us not to worry about ourselves, these verses tell us not to worry about others. In neither case are we to take the place of God. This chapter, then, continues the theme of freedom from distraction, so that God receives our entire attention. One will also observe an irony in these verses. Immediately after being told not to “size up” others (6:1-5), we are exhorted to size them up! (6:6)
Hebrews 10:19-25: What the Jewish high priest could do only once a year—enter the Holy of Holies—the Christian can do everyday, by reason of the blood of Christ. It is the blood of Christ that gives the believer intimate access to God.
The author begins by speaking of boldness—parresia, an expression of which he is fond: “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.”
In context, this boldness comes from the full certainty of faith: en plerophoria pisteos: “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full certainty of faith.”
This word, plerophoria is found four times in the New Testament, two of them in Hebrews. The other place is 6:11—“and we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full certainty of hope [plerophoria elpidos] until the end.”
And what does “full certainty” bring? Boldness—parresia. The full certainty of faith finds expression in boldness of the heart.
Whereas the Acts of the Apostles had used this word, parresia, to describe the proper tone in Christian preaching (Acts 4:13,28,29,31), St. Paul used the expression to speak of our relationship to God. He wrote that in Christ, “we have boldness [parresia] and access with confidence by the faith of Him” (Ephesians 3:12).
This is the normal sense of the word also in Hebrews, which is similar, in this respect, to Ephesians. Thus, our author says that we are the house of Christ, “if we hold fast the boldness [parresia] and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (3:6). Again, he exhorts his readers, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). And somewhat later in the present chapter, he further exhorts, “Therefore do not cast away your boldness [parresia, which has great reward” (10:35).
This attitude of boldness in the Epistle to the Hebrews is not limited to the four times when the word is used in this book. The boldness of the Christian soul in approaching God is, rather, a presupposition of the whole book. We find it later, in chapter 12, where the author contrasts Mount Sinai with Mount Zion. Mount Sinai, he says, “burned with fire, and . . . blackness and gloom and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet” (12:18). It was a very scary place, of which Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (12:21). This was the kind of place where no one could safely feel bold.
It is not to Mount Sinai, however, that Christians are called, but to a gentler mountain: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (12:22).
Tuesday, January 24
Hebrews 10:26-31: Here we find one of Holy Scripture’s most solemn declarations of judgment. Having exhorted his readers to boldness in their access to God (verses 19-22), our author now describes the alternative in frightening terms.
In both instances—the exhortation to confidence and the warning of judgment—he uses the description “living, declaring that we have a new and living way,” and then reminding his readers, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” In both cases the modifier serves to put the reader on notice that these things are not matters of theory and abstraction. “Living,” in each of these contexts, indicates real, actual, existential. It means that both salvation and damnation are worthy of our most serious attention.
These verses depict the gravity of falling away from God. The author recalls that such falling away, even at the time of Moses, was dealt with in a radical manner—namely, those who rejected the rule of Moses were devoured with fiery indignation (verses 27-28). Our author, who has been at pains to emphasize the superiority of Jesus over Moses, argues here that this superiority implies a greater severity toward those who fall away: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be deemed worthy who has trampled underfoot the Son of God” (verse 29). He had earlier contrasted Moses and Jesus, calling the first God’s servant and the second God’s Son (3:5-6). Which of them, he asks is it more dangerous to abandon?
Our author used this same argument in chapter 2, where he contrasted the word given by angels to the message given by Christ: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him?” (2:2-3)
In chapter 2, and again here, our author treats such apostasy as a sin against the Holy Spirit. Here he speaks of insulting the Spirit of grace (verse 29), and in chapter 2 he spoke of “the gifts of the Holy Spirit” as pertinent to the message of salvation (2:4).
When our text describes the just recompense of apostasy as “a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (verse 37), the reader is put in mind of the rebellion against Moses, narrated in Numbers 16. According to that account, certain of the Reubenites—including Korah, Dathan, and Abiram—revolted against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Their punishment, we recall, consisted in being devoured by the earth, as fire from heaven descended upon them (Numbers 16:31-35).
Now, our author contends, if such was the retribution allotted to those who fell away from Moses’ Law, what should we expect for him who has “trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” This is the sustained threat, he says, against anyone who sins willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth.”
Wednesday, January 25
Matthew 7:13-20: Here begins a series of contrasts: two different ways and gates (7:13f), two kinds of trees and fruits (7:15-20), two sorts of people (7:21-23), two contrasted builders (7:24-27), two opposed styles of teaching (7:29). The references to plants and fruit in 7:16-19 are paralleled in 12:33 (cf. also Luke 6:43f; John 15:4f). Because of the risks involved in all agriculture, there are clear threats in verses 13 and 19, which will be paralleled in verses 23 and 27.
Hebrews 10:32-39: In a sense this section of Hebrews is a synopsis of the whole, or at least a summary of its thesis. That is to say, it is an exhortation to patience.
An initial motive for patience, says our author, is the active recollection of those things endured immediately after conversion and baptism (verse 32). This is not simply a remembrance, but an intentional recollection: anamimneskesthe.
In those earlier days, he goes on, his readers experienced an áthlesis. This noun, obviously the root of the English “athletics,” is perhaps best translated as “struggle.” The present text is the only place where this word appears in the New Testament, though St. Paul uses similar metaphors drawn from sporting competition. Athlesis suggests that the Christian life carries within itself the character of contention, in the sense that either victory or defeat is still possible.
That struggle, says Hebrews, came in the aftermath of baptism: photisthentes—“you were enlightened.” We recall the same metaphor for baptism was used in 6:4.
It is important to recognize the relationship between baptism and struggle, such as we see here. Indeed, the three accounts of our Lord’s contention with the demon all come right after the story of His baptism.
In what were these Christians tried after their baptism? They “were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations,” and they joined themselves to those “who were so treated” (verse 33). They suffered both psychologically and financially (verse 34), and they endured each trial in view of the greater treasure awaiting them in heaven.
The remembrance of these things—the active recollection of the many sufferings they had already endured—would strengthen the readers to brace themselves for whatever lay ahead. The message is clear: “Don’t give up now! Don’t waste the great investment already made.”
This passage is concerned with what I have called an “aftermath,” a term that literally means “what is learned (mathein) afterwards.” This word testifies that education is existential. In the present context it refers to the period after baptism. One does not learn to be a Christian until one has already become a Christian. The real study of the Christian life is post-baptismal. The life in Christ does not commence until a person is in Christ. Baptism is called “illumination,” because it is the introductory step. Only then can there be an “aftermath.”
And this, says our author, is learned through patience, which is an exercise of faith. It is at this point that he quotes that famous line from Habakkuk, so dear to Paul: “The just shall live by faith” (verse 38; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). This prophetic citation about faith lays the basis for the long account of the heroes of faith in the following chapter.
Thursday, January 26
Hebrews 11:1-7: The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks twice about Abel, the second son born of woman. In addition to the present passage, Abel appears likewise in 12:24, which refers “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling more eloquent than that of Abel.” The latter reference points to the blood shed by Cain, of which blood God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” The author of Hebrews contemplates the sacrificial death of Jesus in the context of that first death, which was also a death of violence and a test of faith.
"By faith," says the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain," at which point, says the Book of Genesis, "Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell." Consumed with rage, he at last "rose up against his brother Abel and killed him" (Hebrews 11:4; Genesis 4:5,8). The first man to die, therefore, perished in testimony to his faith, and it was an angry unbeliever who took his life.
While we easily perceive that Cain killed because he was a bad man, it is important to see also that Abel was slain precisely because he was a good man. His goodness was the very reason that Cain took his life. St. John affirms it: "And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12). While it is said of Cain that "he perished in the fury wherewith he murdered his brother" (Wisdom 10:3), of Abel we are told that "he obtained witness that he was righteous" (Hebrews 11:4).
Thus commences the Bible's reading of history as a prolonged chronicle of "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel" (Matthew 23:35). The saga of persecution begins with "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" and ends with "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Genesis 4:10; Revelation 6:10)
If Adam is the Old Testament's first type (typos) of the Christ to come (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45), the death of Abel is rightly regarded as the first foreshadowing sign of Christ's death on the Cross. Jesus Himself laid the foundation for this symbolism by declaring that "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel," would come upon the generation of those who crucified Him (Matthew 23:35). For this reason, St. Augustine believed that the death of Christ was represented in the figure of Abel (The City of God 15.18).
With respect to Enoch (verses 5-6), we know that he pleased God—even to the point that God removed him from the earth—by turning completely to God. As Genesis says, “Enoch walked with God.” He did what the Lord later commanded Abraham to do: “Be pleasing before Me and blameless” (Genesis 17:1).
Enoch was not a Jew. Living earlier than Noah, he was not even part of the covenant with that early patriarch. Indeed, Enoch was undoubtedly a cave man. Anyway, he is our most primitive example of a man who relied entirely on the early religious tradition of the human race. Yet he pleased God. He pleased God so much that God took him up, because the world was not worthy of him.
What did Enoch know of God? According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, he knew only that God “is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). That simple metaphysical and moral truth, however, was quite enough. The very thought of God’s existence made all the difference between a worldly man and a godly man. Enoch, as far as we know, had no other hope.
Friday, January 27
Hebrews 11:8-16: Prior to the calling of Abraham, God provided the human race with certain introductory instruction through the deep perceptions of three patriarchs: Abel, Enoch, and Noah. In what Holy Scripture says of these men, we discern the initial steps of human education.
First, Abel examined the structure of the world around him and reached the conclusion “that things which are seen were not made by things which do appear.” The “thing-ness” of the world, that is to say, was not self-explanatory. The world was not its own cause. On the contrary, it gave “evidence of things not seen.” Abel’s probing mind, gazing at this visible world, became aware of certain invisible truths.
Chief among these, I suppose, were the simplest rational principles (such as causality and non-contradiction) and the basic axioms and elementary theorems of the mathematical order. These interests emerged from the intellect’s encounter with empirical data. Abel’s mind perceived in matter an explanatory reference, and this perception laid the foundation for logical analysis and, in due course, metaphysics.
It is not without interest to reflect that Abel was a shepherd; the pastoral life was eminently compatible with the leisured intellectual exertion required for mathematics and metaphysics. Standing guard over his flock, as it grazed on the grass of the fields, Abel sought deeper nourishment from a greener pasture. He sharpened the earliest human hunger for “the substance of things hoped for.”
In the first generation that followed man’s alienation from God, then, Abel took the first human step back in the direction of Eden. In the world of things seen, he perceived God’s most basic self-testimony. This spiritual perception was an act of faith, in which Abel understood that “the worlds were framed by the word of God.”
Abel’s thought was followed by that of Enoch, who discerned the moral structure of existence. It was clear to Enoch, not only that God is, but also that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” To the deductions of mathematics, therefore, and the insights of metaphysics, Enoch added the requirements of the moral order. He perceived that whatever separated true from false also separated good from evil.
In the transition from Abel to Enoch we trace the noetic step from “the invisible things clearly seen” to “the law written in the heart”—man’s conscience bearing witness to his responsibility. Just as Abel discerned the human mind as the locus where the universe learned the truth about itself, Enoch perceived in the human conscience the classroom where the universe was instructed about right and wrong.
The biographies of Abel and Enoch testify that neither man lived very long. The first was driven from this world by a violent human hand, and the second was summoned forth by a divine impatience, unwilling to wait longer for the delight of his company.
Since neither thinker remained long on the earth, it fell to a third patriarch to discover the moral structure of history; this discovery takes a bit more time. Living longer than Abel and Enoch, Noah carried their teachings to his consideration of culture and human affairs. If Abel was a metaphysician and Enoch a moralist, Noah was a prophet.
Tutored by the patriarchal tradition, which affirmed that God is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, the logical and observant Noah became certain that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Metaphysics and the moral order drove his mind to the necessity of the retributive eschata. Evil was unnatural; it could not go on indefinitely. Driven by the fear such a perception engendered in his soul, Noah got busy and “prepared an ark to the saving of his house.”
Thus, in the three major patriarchs who followed the Fall, the human mind was enabled to grasp the true structure and significance of the world, to lay hold on the moral foundations of reality, and to act on a correct understanding of human events.
In this progression, humanity was duly prepared for the vocation of Abraham. Even as he dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, Abraham was the heir of a thorough and intense tutelage. Though he left Ur not knowing whither he went, he was in no doubt about the universe—and university—he came from.