Great Moments in Bible History
The Man Who Never Died
Death was a comparatively rare event back in those days. People lived such long lives. Of Enoch’s six ancestors, only one, Mahalalel, failed to make it to 900. He died at the age of 895. When Enoch was born, all of his ancestors, including his great-great-great-great-grandfather Adam, were still living.
But people did die. None of Enoch’s ancestors made it to 1000. Even Enoch’s son Methuselah, the oldest man in the Bible, died at the age of 969. They all died.
All, that is, but one. When Enoch was only 365 years old (barely into middle age for those times) God took him into heaven and he was not seen on earth again.
The Bible account of this event is tantalizingly brief and told in a surprisingly matter-of-fact style. The entire account reads as follows: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
The story leaves so many questions in our minds. How could anyone walk with God? How could anyone be good enough to be taken straight to heaven without having to die? The Bible provides us some clues to the answers. In the next few articles we will look at these clues and see if we can satisfy our curiosity.
He Walked With God
When we read that Enoch was whisked off the face of this earth without dying, we are surprised and somewhat puzzled. But when we read that before this event he walked with God, we become positively bewildered. All kinds of unusual pictures flash through our minds. Indeed, some would have us believe that an alien astronaut arrived in a flying saucer and carried Enoch off to some distant planet. Such an idea might explain the story about Enoch but it would contradict most of the rest of the Bible.
What thoughts come to our minds when we talk about walking with someone? I can remember taking walks through the forest with my grandfather when I was young. He would point out plants and animals for us boys to notice. I can remember taking walks with my father, discussing the events of the day and the problems of life. When I began dating the girl who is now my wife, we took a lot of walks. We didn’t go anywhere on our walks—we just walked. There is just something special about taking a walk with someone.
I realize that Enoch’s walking with God is in a sense figurative. God is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17) and does not come down and walk around on the earth. And yet there is a sense in which a person can walk with God. When we take a walk with someone, it is not the walking that is important. It’s the being with that person, the communicating, the sharing. Surely this is the sense in which Enoch walked with God. He was close to God. He enjoyed talking with God. And listening to what He had to say.
But why was Enoch so unusual? Surely there have been many people who have enjoyed being with God, talking to Him and listening. If we think that, then we have too limited a concept of walking with God. Walking with God is not something one does for a hobby just when they have the time. It is a way of life. It affects every area of a person’s life. The person who enjoys being with God will do the things that are pleasing to God. They will not live their lives selfishly as most people do, but will devote themselves to God.
We can see just how unusual it is for someone to walk with God by looking at someone else who did. Noah was Enoch’s great-grandson. We read that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Righteous and blameless. You don’t find too many like that.
No, there are plenty of people who say they like to be with God, but there are very few who show it. Enoch showed it. And God did not let him go unremembered.
When a young man begins work with a construction crew it usually isn’t very long before someone decides to have some fun at the greenhorn’s expense. Perhaps the new fellow has made a mistake in measuring and cutting a board. When he goes to nail it in place he finds that it is too short. Try as he will, there is no way to get it to fit.
At this point someone offers him a “helpful” suggestion. “Go ask Jack for the board-stretcher.” The young man innocently goes and asks Jack for the board-stretcher.
“The board-stretcher, you say? No, I don’t have it. I think maybe Bill had it last. Ask him.” And so he goes off and asks Bill. If he does not catch on soon enough, he will end up asking every member of the crew for the board-stretcher. Eventually he will realize that there is no such thing as a board-stretcher. If you cut a board too short, that is just too bad. There is no way to stretch it.
And that is a real shame. If someone would just invent a good board-stretcher, I would be one of the first to buy one. How many times have I wished for one!
That is very similar to the problem Enoch must have faced. Sure, he was a good man and tried hard to please God; but was he perfectly sinless? I’m sure he was not. Did he obey all of God’s commandments 100% of the time? No. Then his life must have fallen short of God’s standards. How was he going to fill the gap between what God demanded of him and what his life really was? He needed a super board-stretcher.
Obviously, it would be as impossible for Enoch to stretch his imperfect life as it would be for me to stretch a two-by-four. But Enoch did not do the stretching. God did. God had already promised Adam and Eve that one of their descendants would crush the power of the devil (Genesis 3:15). The animal sacrifices that they offered at God’s command gave them the hope that someday there would be a sacrifice that would really take away their sins.
So Enoch did the very best he could (which is more than most people are willing to do) and trusted in the grace of God to do what he could not. In the New Testament we read, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death” (Hebrews 11:5). Faith is simply trusting God. Faith was Enoch’s “board-stretcher”.
Did He Try Too Hard?
Maybe Enoch tried too hard. Since God was going to forgive his sins anyway (he was saved by faith) why did he have to work so hard at being righteous? I mean, it is not easy to walk with God. Trying to live a life centered on God, trying not to be selfish and self-centered—that’s hard. And Enoch preached to people, too. Here’s an excerpt from one of his sermons: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 1:14-15). That’s strong stuff. You start calling people ungodly and telling them the Lord is going to bring judgment on them and you are going to start making enemies. I doubt that Enoch won any popularity contests.
So why did he do it? Why didn’t he just accept his salvation by faith and sit back and relax?
Because that would not have been faith. James tells us, “I will show you my faith by my works.” He goes on to say, “Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:18, 26). Certainly Enoch made mistakes. His works were not perfect. But at least his works showed the direction he wanted to go. They showed what his faith was. And God rewarded him accordingly. Had he just sat back and relaxed, that would have shown the direction he didn’t want to go. And he would have had no true faith for God to reward.