THE FAITH OF ABEL
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.
Verse one, preceding the lesson text of this epistle written to Hebrew Christians, tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is explained in general terms by applying it to the creation of mankind and the universe in which we live. Explaining creation by historical information fails miserably. Only God's word can explain how the worlds were framed (Vs. 3). Although the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork (Psalm 19:1), it is only by faith that mankind can possibly understand and believe the creation by God to be true. It is only by this general faith in God, as our Creator, that we can see the faith of individuals, and accept the lessons being taught by their example. This chapter, of the Hebrew letter, is given to these examples of faith. Some are mentioned along with specific details, while others are mentioned in name only. However, each example is referenced from inspired Old Testament scripture.
The first example of faith was Abel, the second son born to Adam and Eve. The first son born to their union was Cain (See Gen. 4:1-2a). To study the faith of Abel, it is necessary to consider his actions along with those of Cain. God's word continues by saying that Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground (Vs. 2b). We know that, with their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam was required to provide for he and his family by his own labor. This required raising domestic animals and tilling the ground in order to provide food and clothing. With these life-sustaining duties assumed by Adam, they became the natural occupation of his sons. Cain, when he was of age, became a tiller of the ground, while Abel, became a keeper of sheep, and it was good in the sight of God and their parents for them to do so.
What occurred that demonstrated the faith of Abel was not his occupation being different from that of Cain, but the difference in their sacrifices to God. The lesson text states that by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. Each brought the fruits of their labors. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof (Gen. 4:3b-4a). At this point of time in Old Testament history, we have no record of God giving commandment for sacrifices, however, by inference, we know that it was God's will.Whether they acted from God's command given through their patriarchal father Adam, or whether their sacrifices were made as a required thanksgiving act of worship to their Creator, we are not specifically told.
This we do know, God considered the sacrifice of Abel to be a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. Likewise, as recorded in Genesis, we know that the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect (Gen. 4:4b-5a). Why was the sacrificial gift of Abel more excellent than that of Cain? Consider these possible reasons. First, Cain's offering was of the fruit of the ground, while Abel's offering was of the firstlings of his flock. Cain's offering was that of grain he had harvested; Abel's was an animal from the flock he tended. Had God given Adam, and his sons specific requirements for animal sacrifices, then Abel obeyed and Cain disobeyed God's commandment. Secondly, had Abel offered the best of his flock, and Cain that which was left over, it is possible that Abel obeyed, and Cain disobeyed, the will of God. Thirdly, it is possible that Abel offered his gift from a pure heart with proper gratitude for God's blessings, while Cain's gift was made from a begrudging heart out of duty rather than appreciation. All are possible reasons Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
Regardless of the reason, Abel's offering was acceptable because it was given in the faith that God required. Cain's faith in God was lacking, and therefore his offering was rejected. The writer of Proverbs tells us that the sacrifice of the wicked is abomination (Prov. 21:27a). Whatever the act of worship toward God may be, we learn from the lesson text that it must be done in faith - an active faith that is confirmed by godly deeds. By our actions we can deny our faith in God (Titus 1:16). But it was Jesus that told us what acceptable worship to God is to be: by faith true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice. We are to do likewise. This is our example!