Following Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden, Eve bore her first-born son, Cain, whose name signifies “acquired,” implying that Eve expected to see a beginning of the fulfillment of the Divine promise (Genesis 3: 15) in Cain, for she said, “I have gotten a man from the LORD (Genesis 4: 1).
Later, Abel was born. Cain became a farmer and gardener, and Abel a herdsman or shepherd (Genesis 4: 2). Eventually both men recognized that they should present offerings to the Lord, expressing their dependence upon, and appreciation of His kindness. Cain brought of the fruits of his harvest, and Abel brought from the firstlings of his flocks. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s offering, which disappointed Cain keenly, and that disappointment subsequently turned to anger (Genesis 4: 3-5).
Cain a bad, Abel a good Example
The Lord said to Cain, “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Genesis 4: 6, 7). Had he asked the Lord why his sacrifice was rejected, the Lord would surely have explained that all acceptable sacrifices must picture the death of a ransomer and atoner for sin; but Cain, failing to heed the Lord’s warning, allowed sin to enter his heart, which led him to murder Abel (Genesis 4: 8), the first martyr for righteousness.
Abel chose his sacrifice by faith. Evidently he had been seeking the mind of the Lord, and had found it; and was therefore enabled to offer acceptably. So it is with God’s children now: to those who exercise faith, and who seek and knock, the mind of the Lord is revealed, and they see that nothing short of the great sacrifice, our Redeemer’s life, could be acceptable before God.
God’s Plan Illustrated
Abel is mentioned twice as “righteous” (Matthew 23: 35) (Hebrews 11: 4); and Hebrews 12: 24 reads, “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” These Scriptures suggest that Abel was an illustration of Christ.
Following Abel’s murder, God said to Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4: 10). Abel’s blood is figuratively said to cry out to God for vengeance. In fact, Divine justice requires that every injustice committed shall receive a just recompense of punishment, whether in the present or in the future life. However, Christ’s blood, instead of calling for justice, will eventually call for mercy, not only upon those who crucified Him (Luke 23: 34), but upon the whole world. When God turns the world over to the great Mediator, Christ and His Church, the Lord’s judgments shall be executed justly, but tempered with sympathy and kindness.
Besides Cain and Abel, there are similar cases of first-born sons who occupied positions of favor and opportunity, but were unworthy and unready to use them. One example is Abraham’s son, Ishmael, who for years was looked upon as the heir of Abraham and his promises, and who continued to claim them, even after Isaac, the child of promise was born – even mocking and persecuting him. Another example is Esau, who held the birth-right to the same promise, yet not appreciating it rightly, sold it to Jacob for a mess of pottage, and then strove to regain it unjustly, and was angry with the one who valued it rightly.
The Apostle (Galatians 4: 22-31) explains that these things were allegories or pictures, written for our admonition and instruction. The first seed of promise was Moses and his house, fleshly Israel, represented by Cain, Ishmael and Esau; but the true seed is Christ and His Church, represented by Abel, Isaac and Jacob. Although Christ and His Church have proven to be the spiritual Seed of promise, Fleshly Israel will receive a lesser favor, by becoming the leading nation on the earth in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. Also, how comforting to know that Cain, Ishmael and Esau are not lost forever, but will be awakened from the grave and face their trial for life during Christ’s Mediatorial Reign.