Abel is a pivotal character in Scripture. Ironically, little is revealed about the son of Adam and Eve but his life marks an important point in history. Abel is first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 as the second of two children born to the first couple. His name appears in only 13 verses in the Bible and 6 of those are in the initial account in chapter 4. Nevertheless his life offers some important aspects for our learning.
Abel Teaches Us That Righteousness Is Best
Jesus himself observed the righteousness of Abel and highlighted his goodness (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51). The writer of Hebrews notes his excellent service to God.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4).
We don’t know precisely why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s rejected except that it was offered in faith which is a part of his righteousness. But we do know that thousands of years later his goodness was known by mankind and was used by Jesus and the inspired writers of the Bible to teach us how important righteousness is.
There are few things that we can do today that will have long lasting effects. Personal righteousness is one of them.
Abel Teaches Us That the Righteous Suffer
It is comforting to think that if we live righteously God will protect us from trouble and strife. He does not. Abel was murdered by his brother. His only act that contributed to his death was his faithful service to God. His righteousness got him killed. God did not shield righteous Abel from an angry, malice driven brother.
We suffer today at the hands of people who are unrighteous. We suffer from their freely made choices and decisions that cause harm and mayhem to others.
Abel suffered at the hands of his brother (Genesis 4:8). David suffered at the hands of King Saul (1 Samuel 13:1-11). Peter and John suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin Council (Acts 5:40-42).
Of course the ultimate example is Jesus who suffered for unrighteous men (Romans 5:8) at the hands of unrighteous men (Acts 2:36).
The unrighteous have always persecuted the righteous and always will – at least in this life.
Abel Teaches Us That There is a Right Way to Approach God
An outside observer might conclude that worship is open to any interpretation but the conflict between Abel and Cain suggests otherwise. Abel’s offering was acceptable to God because it was given “by faith.” We conclude that Cain’s was rejected because it was not by faith (Hebrews 11:4). We learn that men who approach God “by faith” are accepted by him (Acts 26:18).
The Bible teaches that faith is central to Christian living. Paul says “the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 quoted from Habakkuk 2:4). He says we are justified by grace which must be received by faith (Romans 3:24-25). This justification by faith sets us apart from Mosaic laws which were fleshly, even mechanical in nature (Romans 3:28). Of course James complements Paul’s writings when he says we are not justified by “faith alone” but by works as well (James 2:24). Notice we say they complement and not contradict one another. Works are a part of the Christian life. But works under the law of Moses, which Paul is speaking of in Romans 3:28, do not save. Indeed nothing in the Mosaic law produced salvation (Hebrews 9:13).
We are saved today through faith and through obedience to Jesus Christ (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17). Like Abel, there is a right way, and a wrong way, to approach God.
Abel is a great messenger of God even today. Let us learn from his example.