The following study is based on Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto 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 speaketh.”
Notice some important points from this text:
- Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
- That act of offering a more excellent sacrifice showed that he was righteous.
“God testifying of his gifts” means that God bore witness to the sacrifice that Abel brought.
So the reason that Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice was because of faith. So before we dive into the story of Cain and Abel, let’s recap what faith is, because that was the foundation of Abel’s life.
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Abel’s willing sacrifice was built on the word of God. He offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain because He was willing to listen to what God said instead of his own feelings.
So with that, let’s go and have a look at the story of Cain and Abel:
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 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.
So who was Cain and what do we understand about him? What is his background?
- First – he is the oldest and first son of Adam and Eve (verse 1).
- Cain was “a tiller of the ground” – meaning he was a farmer.
- That’s all that we really know about Cain from this passage.
How about Abel? What is his background?
- He is the younger brother.
- And he was “a keeper of sheep” – meaning he was a shepherd.
What was the offerings that Cain and Abel brought before God?
- Cain brought the fruit of the ground.
- Abel brought the firstlings (first born) of his flock and the fat.
- So one brought fruit and vegetables, and the other brought an animal sacrifice.
- The Lord had respect and honoured whose sacrifice? Abel’s.
But why? Why did God respect Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s?
- Leviticus 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
- God required them to bring an animal because the life of an animal is the only thing that can atone for sin. In the Old Testament, that was the requirement.
- Today we don’t have to because Jesus is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
- So Cain brought the wrong offering/sacrifice. He was disobeying what God had instructed for them to do.
Why is Cain angry?
- It seems obvious but there really is more than just the acceptance of Abel’s offering from God.
- Remember Cain is the oldest so it didn’t seem fair that Abel’s was accepted and not his. Maybe it seemed to Cain that God was picking a favourite.
Did Cain have a right to be angry? Maybe he didn’t know about what sort of offering he had to bring. Maybe they both were just bringing the best of what they had and Cain just happened to be a farmer and Abel was a shepherd.
- There are a number of fallacies in assuming this point – that Cain didn’t know.
- FIRST we are assuming that Adam and Eve didn’t educate them properly when they were growing up. The parents definitely knew about the need for an animal sacrifice.
- Genesis 3:21
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
- God made coats of skins as covering for Adam and Eve before they were cast out of the garden of Eden. So God was the One who performed the first sacrifice.
- Adam and Eve would have been making sacrifices after they left as well whenever they sinned, so Cain and Abel would surely have observed this.
- SECONDLY if Cain didn’t know, then Abel probably didn’t know and both would be just as confused as the other as to why one offering was accepted and the other was not. God would have made the clarification at the point and no one would have been jealous.
This situation illustrates an important point. Sometimes bringing our best is not enough, especially when God is specific about what to bring. I’m sure that Cain brought his best fruits and vegetables. But that is not what God asked for when they sinned. The reason Abel “offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain”
Let’s have a look at what happens next in the story.
- Genesis 4:6-7
6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
- God actually comes to reason with Cain. So at this point Cain is out of excuses about why he brought an offering of fruit and vegetables.
- God explicitly states that what he did is sin by saying “if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”
- What does the bible mean when it says “And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him?”
- It can seem a bit confusing, but all we need to do is look at another translation.
- “It (sin) desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (NIV)
- God was warning and encouraging Cain at the same time. Sin was trying to make Cain go against God, but God told him that he could have victory over this temptation.
So finally we know what happened. Even with the talk that God had with Cain, it didn’t change his mind and especially his feelings towards his brother. He was still angry even though he knew that he had disobeyed God. And finally we read in Gen 4:8 that Cain killed Abel.
Now it sounds like most of the story of Cain and Abel is more about Cain than Abel. But when we go back to read our initial text, it really is more about the faith of Abel. Let’s read that again:
By faith Abel offered unto 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 speaketh.
How was it that Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous?”
- The answer is very simple. After studying the story we can see that all Abel did was simply follow what God had instructed for them to do – and that was to bring the correct sacrifice. Not one of fruits and vegetables but one of an animal sacrifice, a lamb.
What does it mean that “by it he being dead yet speaketh?” Even though Abel died, the witness of his faith still lives on today. The lessons that we can learn from his faithfulness to God still shed a powerful influence on those that have come after.
What does the word righteous mean and was Abel working his way to righteousness?
- Righteousness is simply right doing.
- Abel was willing to do what God wanted Him to do. Not because he had the strength to do it. Not because he was trying to work his way to heaven. It is because he had faith in the word of God, the instruction that God had given to both him and Cain. And faith in the word of God gave Abel the power to do it.
- Let’s read Romans 1:16 again – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…”
- The word of God is that which gives us the power to do right. And the avenue to gain access to that power is simply faith, simply believing.
Let us learn to trust in God’s word today and believe every word of His from the Bible. Through that, like Abel, we can obtain witness that we are righteous as well. Here are some closing texts for us to consider:
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
- Every one of us has been given a measure of faith. We all have the ability to believe. God is the One that has given it to us.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God
- Both grace and faith are a gift. Faith is the hand that lays hold of grace and brings it down to us.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
- May this be the cry of our hearts today, that God would help our unbelief and turn it into belief.