MEADOW, VANITY or VAPOR.
The second son of Adam and Eve slain by his brother Cain (Gen. 4:1-15; Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4; 12:24).
The Man Who Was First to Die
Abel’s name, meaning breath or vapour, is associated with the shortness of his life. What was his life but a vapour? (Ps. 90:6; Jas. 4:14) Abel was a shepherd and a possessor of flocks and herds; Cain was a tiller of the ground. It was not occupation, however, that parted these first two brothers in the world, but their conception of what was pleasing and acceptable to God. Abel feared God and because he did, he offered to God the best of his flock. His was a sacrifice of blood and represented the surrender of a heart to God. Cain brought what he had gathered from the earth, an offering representing his own effort. Because God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s, the angry brother slew Abel in the field. But Abel’s blood cried from the ground for punishment.
Abel’s blood is placed alongside Christ’s shed blood (Heb. 12:24), which is better than Abel’s in that his blood cried out for vengeance but the blood of Christ cries out for mercy. Abel’s blood, although the blood of a righteous man (Matt. 23:35), cannot atone, but Christ’s blood is ever efficacious (1 John 1:7). Abel is unique among Bible men in a fourfold direction:
He was the first one of the human race to die. / He was the first person on the earth to be murdered. / He was the first man to be associated with Christ.
/ He was the first saint to present an offering acceptable to God.
Abel is also the name given to geographical locations (1 Sam. 6:18; 2 Sam.
Cain and Abel
His work: As the first child of Adam and Eve, Cain chose farming as his profession. His character: He failed to be generous and was quick to be defensive and outright violent. His sorrow: Like his father, Adam, Cain discovered God’s severe punishment for his sin. His triumph: In spite of God’s curse on Cain’s livelihood, God also promised to protect the man from his enemies. Key Scriptures: Genesis 4
His work: Cain’s younger brother, Abel, was the keeper of flocks.
His character: He was willing to offer the best he had to the Lord.
His sorrow: Brutally murdered at the hand of his brother, Cain.
His triumph: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Key Scriptures: Genesis 4
A Look at the Men
How could two brothers turn out so different?
Adam and Eve’s first two children were boys. And, as siblings often do when they grow up, they chose different vocations.
Cain became an agriculturist. Working the soil, planting, and caring for his crops were his greatest delights. Cain’s brother, Abel, became a herdsman. Tending, feeding, and protecting livestock became his occupation. Two good choices.
Both of these men knew God, introduced by parents who must have told them many stories of their own encounters with the Creator. Some of these accounts would have been painful recollections of Adam and Eve’s sin and corresponding punishment. And others would have included God’s mercy and grace—his loving pursuit of his wayward children, their remorse, their sacrifice and restoration to fellowship. The boys must have known these stories very well.
And so Adam and Eve’s sons offered the results of their vocations to the Lord. Cain brought fruits, and his younger brother, Abel, brought animals to offer to God.
When one of Abel’s flocks or herds delivered her firstborn, that animal was earmarked. This one belongs to the Lord, he thought to himself. It’s the most prized and perfect.
But like a man reaching into his pocket for a little loose change to toss into the passing offering plate, Cain only brought “some of the fruits of the soil.” This will have to be good enough, he reasoned. The premier crops he wanted to reserve for himself.
The offering might have been good enough for Cain, but his brother had done better. So like the laggard in school who resented the one who prepared for the test and spoiled the curve, Cain became “very angry.” This was compounded, of course, because the “teacher”—the Lord himself—looked with favor on Abel’s offering but with disfavor on Cain’s.
Cain plotted against his faithful and obedient brother. “Let’s go out to the field,” he told his younger sibling. And there he killed him.
In the moments that followed, Cain heard God pronounce a lifelong sentence on his life. But God also promised his protection on the man. For the remainder of his life, Cain must have wondered why God had not killed him after what he had done to Abel. Instead, his life sentence was to live with the memory of his sin, while never forgetting the mystery—and the bounty—of God’s grace and mercy.
Reflect On: Genesis 4 Praise God: Because nothing escapes him. He knows the state of our hearts. Offer Thanks: That God hasn’t left us in the dark, but speaks clearly to us about what he requires. Confess: Any patterns of anger that make you more vulnerable to sin. Ask God: To search your heart and free you from the root causes of your anger.