Dr. James T. Naismith of Peterborough, Ontario, a physician and Bible teacher, continues his series of studies in Genesis.
Copyright by Everyday Publishers, used by permission.
Genesis 4, which records the story of Abel, is another chapter of “Firsts.” Here we have the first human birth — and death (physical); the first human family — and the first family quarrel; the first occupations of men — and offerings to God; the first murderer — and martyr. The story of Cain and Abel may baffle human reasoning and contradict man’s logic and philosophy — in acceptance of an offering that necessitated bloodshed, and the rejection of an offering that was evidence of considerable toil and labour. Yet it is deeply instructive to the child of God, who recognizes the truth of the Scripture: Without shedding of blood is no remission, Heb. 9:22. A key verse in the story is verse 4: The LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering. Both Abel and his offering met with divine approval. His offering illustrates God’s way of salvation. Abel demonstrates God’s way of living.
1. Abel’s Offering.
God’s Way Of Salvation
The fact that Abel brought of the fat thereof, v. 4, clearly indicates that the lamb he brought was not a living animal but a slain one. We can learn from this:
A. The Seriousness Of Sin,
necessitating death. The whole chapter emphasizes the serious character and grave consequences of sin. Note its progression in Cain: beginning probably with pride — in precedence of birth, and excellence of offering; proceeding through envy to anger and culminating in murder. Further sins — of bigamy and murder — characterized the line of Cain, see verse 19 and 23.
B. The Necessity Of Sacrifice
The essential difference between the offering of Cain and that of Abel was that Cain’s represented the results of work and toil, while Abel’s required the shedding of blood of an animal, which he offered in his stead. Both Cain and Abel were sinners; God had declared that disobedience brings death, Gen. 2:17. In offering a lamb, Abel was recognizing that his life was forfeit because of sin, but that the lamb was taking his place in death. This way of approach was still open to Cain. Sin lieth at the door, v. 7 may be translated. A sin-offering lieth at the door — at hand, ready to be offered for his acceptance. (Or it may mean, Sin croucheth at the door — like a wild beast ready to spring — a warning to Cain).
C. The Way Of Salvation
Hebrews 11:4 lets us into the secret behind Abel’s more excellent sacrifice — faith. Thus early in human history, we learn that salvation is not of works, Eph. 2:9 —Cain’s method; But through faith, Eph. 2:8, in the Lamb of God, to whom Abel’s lamb pointed forward.
God’s Way Of Living
It is important that God had respect unto Abel as well as his offering. Three New Testament passages shed light on the character of Abel: Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12. These indicate three characteristics of Abel’s life that pleased God, and that we should emulate.
Heb. 11:4. By faith Abel … Thus Abel takes his place as first in God’s hall of fame of heroes of faith. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, Rom. 10:17. Faith in God accepts God’s word and acts upon it. It seems certain that Abel and Cain heard, probably through the lips of their parents, about God, His punishment of sin and His provision of covering for Adam and Eve through the death of another. But only Abel acted on the basis of that revelation of God. In presenting his offering, he obeyed God — the obedience of faith, Rom. 16:26. In this he is an example to all successive generations of men.
Each of the three New Testament passages presents Abel’s righteousness. The Lord, Matt. 23:35, spoke of righteous Abel; John declares that his works (plural) were righteous, 1 John 3:12; and the writer to the Hebrews, 11:4, states that, by his sacrifice, he obtained witness that he was righteous. We can deduce from this that by his offering, and the shedding of blood, he was reckoned righteous — just as we are justified by blood, Rom. 5:9. In addition, it would seem from our Lord’s words and John’s statement about his works, that Abel’s righteousness was a characteristic of his life. He was, of course, a sinner, and required to bring an offering for sin, but he pleased God by his faith — and My righteous one shall live by faith, Heb. 10:38.
Genesis 4 records only one act of Abel: he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof, v. 4. It would seem that this may have been the habit of his life: John speaks of his works and the writer to the Hebrews of his gifts — both in the plural. From these actions of Abel, we can learn lessons about:
1. Giving to God. Abel brought a portion of the flock with which God had enriched him. The portion he presented was of the firstlings and of the fat — both expressions indicating that he gave his best to the Lord. It was true then as it is now that God loveth a cheerful giver.
2. Worshipping God. The first three characters in Hebrews 11 are examples of Worship (Abel), Walk (Enoch) and Work (Noah). As we shall see later in our studies, worship is giving to God (see Psa. 96:7-9); Abel’s more excellent sacrifice which he offered unto God is the first example of human worship in the Bible. No doubt God’s pleasure in that sacrifice derived from the fact that, looking down through the centuries of time, He saw the Lamb of His providing. We too can give Him greatest pleasure in our worship when we offer the Lamb of God in the glory of His Person and Sacrifice.
“When I stand with Christ on high,
looking o’er life’s history:
Then, Lord, shall I fully know, not till
then, how much I owe.”
—R. M. McCheyne