When the writer of Hebrews lists men and woman of faith from the Old Testament, Abel is the first name to appear. His name means ‘breath’, although he was not the first person to breathe, nor to be born; these descriptions belonging to his father Adam, and his older brother Cain. He was born outside Eden without the blessings of intimacy with the Lord that his father and mother had enjoyed and lost, and yet presented an acceptable sacrifice to God, and was declared righteous. He was also the first person to die, and to be murdered. At the beginning of history, his life was cut short demonstrating the truth expressed by James, ‘For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away’, Jas. 4. 14 NKJV.
‘By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts’, Heb. 11. 4. There are two aspects to Abel’s short life which are brought to our attention: what Abel offered to God; and what God said about Abel.
Abel offered a sacrifice to God that was acceptable. There is not much detail given in Genesis chapter 4 about the circumstances of the sacrifices that were offered to God by the first family on earth. There appeared to be a place and time for sacrifice, and, evidently, both Cain and Abel were aware of what God required from them. Abel demonstrated faith by his sacrifice and, since faith comes from hearing the word of God, we can assume that Abel was obedient to what God said, and Cain was not.
Abel is a sobering example and warning about the potential consequences of obeying God and living by faith. The first brothers on earth were divided by their attitude toward God. Hatred and envy festered within Cain, until he would rather kill his brother than listen to his voice, or tolerate his presence. They were divided in time and, sadly, remain divided in eternity. Why did Cain hate his brother? What had Abel done to provoke such extreme hostility?
It appears that Abel’s acceptance by God on the basis of the better sacrifice had stirred envy and bitterness in Cain’s heart. His pride and arrogance caused anger and irrational hatred against his own brother. Rather than humble himself before God, and learn from his brother that God demanded a blood sacrifice in order to be declared righteous, Cain chose to walk a different path. If he wasn’t going to be accepted by God on his terms, he would direct his bitterness toward his brother who had been accepted.
A person who comes to God on the basis of the blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, of which Abel’s sacrifice was a pale shadow, ought to be prepared for the same hostility, perhaps even from those closest to them. Becoming a Christian is not a popular decision, and sometimes stirs anger and bitterness in the hearts of those who deny the necessity of sacrifice for sin. It is sad that to be a Christian in our modern world is to place yourself in the category of weird, irrational, and dangerous people.
The most painful and difficult hostility to a Christian is often felt from within the immediate family. To be a Christian can lead to brothers and sisters or mums and dads feeling rejected and bitter. Where once the family was everything, and relationships within the family all-important, that is no longer the case. A Christian has a different set of priorities and values which will cause friction when they lead to the new Christian saying no to sin and living in a different way in the family home. The Lord Jesus anticipated that this would be a major problem for many of His disciples and told them that they should be prepared for a backlash, and be ready to count that cost if they were truly going to follow Him. He never downplayed the price that some would be called to pay to be a disciple.
Abel was murdered by his brother, and, in this, we see that irrational hatred can lead to terrible consequences. Even today, there are brothers and sisters in Christ whose family hate them because they are Christians. Some have to separate themselves from their family because they will not practice sin, and, in so doing, pay a high price for their decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Some have known the threat and even the reality of death. They have recognized a treasure in a field and a pearl of great price and were willing to sell all they had to gain the inestimable treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven.
If we have never experienced such painful circumstances in our family let us be thankful to God, and remember to pray for those who do. If we have lost contact with our family, and they hate us for being a Christian, may God be gracious and hear our prayers for their salvation. Let us not forget the experience of Christ, ‘They hated Me without a cause’, John 15. 25 NKJV.