The Example of Abel
There are several Old Testament characters about whom we know a
great deal, such as Abraham, Moses, and David. There are others about whom we
know very little, sometimes not even their names, such as Lot's wife, the butler
and baker in Egypt, and David's little child who died. Then there are those in
between, about whom we know some but not a whole lot. The story of Abel, found
in Genesis 4:1-10, would fall into the latter category.
However, the lives of all people recorded in the Old Testament, whether we know much or little, are there for a reason. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4). It is not just to give us some interesting biographical or historical information, but to provide important lessons by which we can learn something about God's will for us. What can we learn from the example of Abel?
To begin, we see that Abel obeyed. "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, 'I have acquired a man from the LORD.' Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering" (Gen. 4:1-4).
Why did God respect Abel and his offering? The Bible says that it was because Abel acted by faith. "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; and through it he being dead still speaks" (Heb. 11:4). There is only one way to act by faith. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Thus, we conclude that God must have spoken. We do not know exactly what God told Cain and Abel about sacrifices. The most logical conclusion is that He wanted animals offered. But whatever He said, Abel did exactly as He commanded.
From Abel's example we can see the importance of obeying God's will. We must obey God to meet His conditions for our salvation. "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17-18). However, even after we become Christians, we must continue to obey God in all things. Paul wrote to the saints at Philippi and said, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, butnow much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). We need to obey as Abel did.
Next, we see that Abel suffered because He obeyed God. In contrast to God's acceptance of Abel's sacrifice, it is said, "But He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.' Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him" (Gen. 4:5-8).
Why did this event occur? It is an example of the righteous being persecuted by the unrighteous. "Not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous" (1 Jn. 3:12). Cain chose to follow the will of the evil one in offering a sacrifice that was not acceptable to God. Rather than repenting, he continued to listen to the evil one in venting his frustration by murdering his righteous brother. Jesus warned us that such things would happen. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for
righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake" (Matt. 5:10-11).
Christians in the first century often were persecuted for righteousness' sake (Acts 5:40-42). And even though we may not be put to death, as were Abel and many in the first century, we are told, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). From the example of Abel, we can learn to expect it.
Finally, we see that Abel still speaks. "Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, 'I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?' And He said, 'What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" (Genesis 4:9-10). Even then, though Abel was dead, his blood spoke to God. And remember that the writer of Heb. 11:4 said that he, being dead, still speaks. Though now long dead, Abel still speaks to us because his obedience and suffering for righteousness' sake are recorded in the scriptures, so that Jesus was able to make reference to him (Matt. 23:34-35).
However, our lives are not recorded in the scriptures. So when we die, can we yet speak, and if so, how? One way is by the influence that we have on our families. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Let me cite a personal example. I am a Christian because I heard and obeyed the gospel of Christ, but the circumstances that brought me to hear and obey the gospel are interesting in this regard. At some time in my family's history, I do not know exactly when, where, or how, one or more of my ancestors heard and obeyed the gospel. As a result of teaching done in the family, my grandfather was brought up in the training and admonition of the Lord, so that he became a gospel preacher. In turn, he brought up my mother to know the Lord and become a Christian, and it was from her that I first came to remember the Creator in the days of my youth. So, someone whose name I do not even know still speaks through my life.
Another way that we can speak is by our example on our friends. "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12). Even young people who are trying to serve the Lord can be a good example to their friends at school and play, so that in later years, perhaps after they are dead, others whom they have influenced for good may still remember them. I have heard older Christians on occasion speak of some friend who is no longer alive but led them to Christ when they were younger. Such influence can still speak after death like Abel does.
We do not know very much about Abel, other than that he was thesecond son of Adam and Eve, that he was a shepherd, and that he was murdered by his brother Cain. Yet, by what we do know about him, he still speaks to us regarding the need to obey God, to be willing to suffer for righteousness' sake, and to be a good influence upon others. May we learn these lessons and follow this great example in our lives today
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 9.1; January 2002