Abel's Sacrifice

INTRODUCTION: The first offerings to the LORD recorded in scripture were from Cain and Abel, with no specific record of offerings to God by their father Adam. There are some points that will be considered about the things that were offered, and the response by the LORD. There is direct conversation between Cain and the LORD, but none recorded between Abel and the LORD. The New Testament provides brief but important commentary on Cain and Abel.

NOTE: Bible text is from the American King James Bible.


A - THE BEGINNINGS OF THE GENERATIONS OF MAN

Genesis "3:16 To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you. 17 And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return."

Genesis "4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bore Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. 2 And she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground."

COMMENTS: Since God is the creator, Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," he has complete authority over his creation. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden, and set a restriction, which they were required to accept. Their failure of faith in their disobedience to God's command brought the results described because God keeps his own word. After Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden because of their fall into sin, they were to begin a difficult life of agriculture AND TO BEGIN the CONCEPTION OF OFFSPRING. In verses 1&2 of Genesis chapter 4, we are told by name, of the separate births of two sons, and we are told by general description that they had different vocations. There is no detail of their upbringing as the first children of the human race, from infancy to adulthood, or what instructions they may have received from God or from their parents regarding worship or sacrifice.


B - TWO DIFFERENT OFFERINGS

Genesis 4 "3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect to Abel and to his offering: 5 But to Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell."

COMMENTS: We learn just a few things from the contents of This passage of the Bible in Genesis chapter 4, but we also need to take note of the information that is not provided. After some length of time, each man apparently now as an adult brought an offering to the LORD from the material wealth of their respective occupations. Prior to these offerings being given, Genesis does not provide any predetermined guidelines established for those offerings, and we do not know where or when the offerings were presented, whether in the same or in separate locations. The LORD had respect, or looked upon with favor, the offering brought by Abel, and there is no record of any response from Abel. The LORD did not look upon Cain's offering with favor, and Cain's reaction was furious anger and depression. There is no reference to any parental influence in this matter for the two men. There is great detail given about sacrifices after the great flood and after Israel became a nation, but without clear scriptural cross references, I am not applying those details to judge the content of these offerings. The examples are given only to illustrate that a variety of offerings could be given in obedience by faith according to the law.

In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy there are many references to offerings that were acceptable to the LORD after Israel was called out of Egypt as the people of God. These included both animals and agricultural produce, and the offerings involved intermediary priests. Leviticus 1:10 And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish. 11 And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle his blood round about on the altar. 12 And he shall cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat: and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire which is on the altar: 13 But he shall wash the inwards and the legs with water: and the priest shall bring it all, and burn it on the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet smell to the LORD." Leviticus "2:14 And if you offer a meat offering of your first fruits to the LORD, you shall offer for the meat offering of your first fruits green ears of corn dried by the fire, even corn beaten out of full ears. 15 And you shall put oil on it, and lay frankincense thereon: it is a meat offering. 16 And the priest shall burn the memorial of it, part of the beaten corn thereof, and part of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof: it is an offering made by fire to the LORD."

Later scriptures also make it clear that offerings without the right heart attitude cannot be a substitute for true humility in love for the Lord. Proverbs "21:3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice." Psalm "51:16 For you desire not sacrifice; else would I give it: you delight not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

A right heart must always be the motivating factor in following God's commandments. Mark "12:29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these. 32 And the scribe said to him, Well, Master, you have said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." The apostle Paul describes in personal terms our continual sacrifice for the Lord Jesus. Romans "12:1 I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."


C - THE LORD GIVES CAIN COUNSEL

Genesis 4 "6 And the LORD said to Cain, Why are you wroth? and why is your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, shall you not be accepted? and if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And to you shall be his desire, and you shall rule over him."

COMMENTS: As the offerings established for Israel in the book of the law were routinely brought to a priest at the tabernacle, perhaps in this first account the LORD was the priest at the alter. Since God sees the heart of man, when he asked Cain why he was furious and depressed it was not to gain information, but he was giving Cain an opportunity to reflect on his improper response to the LORD regarding the sacrifice. This gave Cain an opportunity to do the right thing and to be accepted by God. The LORD would not have spoken this way if Cain did not know what he should do to set things right. And the LORD warned him that if he did not do what was right, that he would be overtaken by sin.

Those who seek God today do not have such direct verbal communication from the LORD, but we do have the written word of God, and the Holy Spirit can guide those who have accepted Christ. The apostle Paul said that every person is yet without excuse for rebellion against God. Romans "1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it to them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened."


D - CAIN COMMITED THE FIRST RECORDED MURDER

Genesis 4 "8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9 And the LORD said to Cain, Where is Abel your brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 10 And he said, What have you done? the voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground."

COMMENTS: Again the LORD asked Cain a question, this time about his brother, but Cain responded with a lie, as if God did not already know what he had done. This reaction was similar, but even more rebellious, than that displayed by Adam and Eve after they had sinned. The LORD said to Cain "the voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground." This was a poetic way of saying to Cain, and to us, that the LORD is aware of every detail that takes place in his creation. This failure to recognize God's omniscience seems to be an inherent human quality that has passed from Adam to all of mankind.


E - THE CONSEQUENCE OF CAIN'S VIOLENCE

Genesis 4 "11 And now are you cursed from the earth, which has opened her mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand; 12 When you till the ground, it shall not from now on yield to you her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shall you be in the earth. 13 And Cain said to the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from your face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that finds me shall slay me. 15 And the LORD said to him, Therefore whoever slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest any finding him should kill him."

COMMENTS: The LORD makes reference to the earth that had provided Cain his abundant material sustenance by personifying the decrease in yield that would now occur. He also said the earth had "opened her mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand." This was as if the inanimate earth had directly witnessed the event. The LORD said, "when you till the ground, it shall not from now on yield to you her strength." Cain's actions caused him to become a fugitive and a vagabond rather than a prosperous farmer. When Cain heard his just punishment, he complained to the LORD about his future difficulties, but still showed no sign of repentance. Cain expressed his concern that he might be murdered, which would have been an appropriate consequence as would be later clearly established after Noah and his family emerged from the ark. Genesis "9:5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." But for Cain, the LORD graciously provided a mark of protection, and the promise that he would be avenged sevenfold if he was killed, which apparently underscored the level of protection. However, the sentence of eventual physical death that passes to all sons of Adam remained on Cain, and his spiritual death could only be eliminated if he forsook his rebellion and placed full faith and trust in the LORD.


F - CAIN WENT OUT FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

Genesis 4 "16 And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelled in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bore Enoch: and he built a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch."

COMMENTS: There is no more mention of Cain in Genesis after this point, but a number of his descendents are listed with some detail about their lives, including skills given them by the Lord. Though Cain was not to receive abundant blessing from the cultivation of the land, the text indicates that he had a family, and that he was apparently prosperous enough to be able to build a city. We do not know how long he lived, and we do not know from any specific mention in scripture if any of his female offspring eventually married into the blessed line of Seth. Cain chose to remain a man of the world, gaining only the temporary benefits of the material realm, while Abel had died as one accepted by the LORD.


G - THE BIRTH OF SETH

Genesis 4 "25 And Adam knew his wife again; and she bore a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, has appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. 26 And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call on the name of the LORD."

Genesis 5 "1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. 3 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth: 4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: 5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. 6 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: 7 And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters: 8 And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died."

COMMENTS: At the close of Genesis chapter four we have the record that Eve believed Seth was appointed to her by God as another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew, making it clear that the murder was known to the parents. We also learn that Seth had a son named Enos, and at that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD: an interesting statement of a beginning, when Adam was about 235 years old at the birth of Enos (based on information in chapter five). Clearly Abel had already been obedient to the LORD earlier, so this statement of men beginning to call on the name of the LORD may indicate a gradual spread of practice of worship to the LORD among men in the line of Seth since Abel had no descendents. Both Adam and Seth lived for over 900 years, and that was not a highly unique lifespan in this period before the great flood. The scripture indicates that both Adam and Seth had other sons and daughters, but the line leading to Noah, Abraham, and eventually to Christ came through Seth's son Enos.


H - ABEL LEADS THE LIST OF RIGHTEOUS MEN

Matthew "23:34 Why, behold, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall you whip in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35 That on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, All these things shall come on this generation."

1 John "3:11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And why slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. 13 Marvel not, my brothers, if the world hate you."

COMMENTS: Jesus gave warning that he will call to account those who kill the ones who are righteous by faith before him, and that will begin with the murder of righteous Abel. The apostle John says that following Christ in a way that can be observed by others will place the believer in the position to be hated by those who hate Christ. John uses the first murder as his example, and declares that Abel was righteous when Cain murdered him. Cain was following the evil way of the world, and Christians in every age will live in a world of men like Cain.


I - ONLY ONE SACRIFICE BETTER THAN ABEL'S

Hebrews "11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks."

Hebrews "12:24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel."

COMMENTS: The first passage above defines faith in terms of displaying actions and attitudes that represent an intangible quality of hope in our lives, and provides evidence of things that could not otherwise be seen to exist. So then we must look past the different resources entrusted to the care of Cain and Abel, and consider the heart attitude that our Just and righteous LORD desired from each man. These same principles apply throughout all ages to each individual.

From the passage in Hebrews chapter 11 we find that by faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, as God accepted his gift. From the passage in Genesis chapter 4, since God did not accept Cain's gift, but told him he would be accepted if he did what was right, we know that Cain was not righteous by faith, and he was responsible for the choices he made.

In Hebrews chapter 12 Abel is again mentioned in conjunction with the superior blood sacrifice made by Christ Jesus. When Abel died at the hand of his brother, after offering an acceptable sacrifice to God, that sacrifice had value only for his own soul. Abel had no choice about whether his brother would kill him, and he could not personally offer any benefit to others after his death. Christ Jesus knew the purpose of his own sacrificial death, and willingly gave his life on a cross even though that involved intense suffering and unparalleled rejection by men and God. According to the scripture, his resurrection verified to us that his offering was acceptable because he is the Son of God.

The sacrifice of Christ Jesus was superior to Abel's in many ways, not all of them to be covered in this brief study. Because the Lord Jesus Christ did not need to offer any sacrifice for himself as he is always righteous, his offering was made in the behalf of others as the high priest for all who will receive God's grace by complete faith and trust in Christ Jesus. Abel's sacrifice offered in faith to God, set the standard for mankind at the earliest point in scripture, and Hebrews records this about Abel and his offering by faith: "by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks." May we all hear that message in Abel that the only acceptable sacrifice to God, is one offered by faith. No one can trace their blood line back to Abel to boast of being like him since he had no children, but it is possible through God's grace to share in the faith that Abel had that was accounted to him for righteousness. Since Cain was the firstborn son in the flesh, Abel may well stand as the first example of how faith and obedience to the LORD can override any birthright in the flesh for eternal blessings.


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord, I ask that you guide me by your Spirit to continually evaluate my own heart as I make personal sacrifices of my finances or my time to praise your name. I don't want to act purely out of a sense of doing good works to earn what you have already offered by your grace, or to seek the praise of others. As creator of all that exists, you have no need of any material gift from me. You know my every thought and see all my deeds, and I often forget that fact of your omniscience as I stray from the guidance of your word that I have in my mind and heart. May I resist the many temptations of the world, and keep my course fixed on the promise of being accepted by you Lord for doing what is right. Help me to remember that as Abel suffered the loss of his life at the hands of his own brother, I may suffer loss in the world because of people around me who are rebellious to God. Despite difficulties that may come because of my faith in you Lord, I don't want to be like Cain who looked only to material gain that ends with physical life, but to be like Abel who loved you with faith in action. Amen.

Published 7 December 2012