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Friday, June 17, 2022

Abel's Sacrifice by Faith versus Cain's Sacrifice

Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, is the first person listed among many in Hebrews chapter 11 commended by the Holy Spirit for their faith.  Of Abel it is said, "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 NKJV)  Men have long been troubled by this passage trying to figure out why Abel's sacrifice was pleasing to God while his brother Cain's was not.  It is a subject worth looking into.

In Gen. 4:2-5 we read about the offering as follows:  "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, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell." (NKJV)

It is worthwhile to read what followed seemingly not long afterwards in a conversation between God and Cain.  "So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.'" (Gen. 4:6-7 NKJV)  It doesn't seem like a lot to go on, these few verses, but there is more here than meets the eye when one begins to study a little.

First, I ask the question of how Abel and Cain knew anything at all about sacrifices and/or offerings to God.  Where did such a concept of making offerings to God come from?  How did the idea of such a thing even enter into their minds?  We do not think about things of which we know nothing.  My grandparents died in the nineteen sixties.  How much time do you think they spent thinking about the Internet?  It was impossible for them to even have such thoughts, to conceive of such a thing, and so I ask again where did Abel and Cain get the idea about making an offering to God (the writer of the book of Hebrews calls it a sacrifice)?

The answer has to be such information was supplied by God himself either in direct speech to them or through commandments given to their parents (Adam and Eve) and thus passed on down to them from parent to child.  That God spoke directly with not only Adam and Eve but also with Cain we see from Gen. 4:6-7 and Gen. 4:9-15.  Jesus, in the New Testament, in Luke 11:49-51, includes Abel with the prophets so we know God spoke to him as well.  A prophet was one who proclaimed God's will and not just necessarily one who only fore-told things to come.

Furthermore, I would add that without direction from God how could Abel know it would please God to kill an animal as a sacrifice?  Adam and Eve were directed while in the Garden of Eden to eat of herbs and the fruit of trees (Gen. 1:29) and when driven out of the garden they were to eat of the herbs of the field (Gen. 3:18).  Nothing was said, that is revealed in scripture, about killing animals in those early days of man's existence on earth.  Thus for Abel to take this bold step God must have revealed to him that it was okay to do so. 

We are thus at the point where we (should I say I?) believe God gave directions for making offerings/sacrifices.  I think this can be further confirmed by a passage found in the New Testament--Rom. 10:17.  "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (NKJV)  How can you have faith when you are flying blind without any word from God?  Is an "I think so" or an "it seems to me" faith?  Is that the definition of faith?  That is opinion, not faith.

The writer in the book of Hebrews (11:4) says Abel's sacrifice was by faith.  When one acts by faith in the Bible he is acting in confidence, not in doubt.  He is not guessing or hoping.  Well, how could Abel be so confident about his sacrifice?  There is only one way and that is if he had received instructions from God as to how to sacrifice which would include the procedure for doing so and also what it was that was to be sacrificed so that he would have no doubt about the acceptability of that sacrifice with God.  If you are just guessing or hoping your offering will be pleasing how can it be said you are acting by faith? 

Why is it that there is no text saying that Cain's sacrifice was "by faith?"  Could it be because it was not?  Could it be because Cain had personal doubts about it himself?  Why was it that Cain did not sacrifice "by faith?"  Surely, if Abel was able to sacrifice "by faith" Cain should have been able to do likewise.  Had Cain made a sacrifice "by faith" would God have been displeased? 

The Bible says God "did not respect Cain and his offering." (Gen. 4:5 NKJV)  One has to ask why not?  If both were doing the very best they could why not?  Could it be one (Cain) was not doing the best he could?  God asks Cain, "Why are you angry?" (Gen. 4:6 NKJV)  God's rejection of his offering had made him angry.  God then says to him, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" (Gen. 4:7 NKJV)  Evidently, then Cain had not done well.  But, he could only know how to do well if he had information as to how that was to be done.  Thus again we see that both Cain and Abel must have had information about making sacrifices (offerings) that would please God and Cain had failed to follow the instructions.

By means of his sacrifice (and the manner in which it was made--by faith), it is said that Abel "obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts." (Heb. 11:4 NKJV)  This was not said of Cain but I ask the question could it have been?  Was it impossible for Cain to make an acceptable sacrifice?  That Cain knew all he needed to know to make such a sacrifice is self-evident.  God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).  Cain's failure was just that--Cain's failure.  He had none to blame other than himself.

1 John 3:12 gives some additional light as it tells us why Cain murdered his brother Abel.  "Cain...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." (NKJV)  When God failed to respect Cain and his offering it made Cain mad.  He later killed Abel out in the field due to his anger and jealousy.  The text in 1 John says the motive was "his works were evil and his brother's righteous." (NKJV)  The question is whether this has reference to Cain's sacrifice or to other things?  We do know his anger and lack of love (we could say his hate) drove him to murder.

Rather than find repentance when God spoke to him in Gen. 4:6-7, a time when God was giving him we might say a second chance to do right, Cain goes off instead and commits murder giving full vent to anger, hatred, and jealousy.  He lived not for God or even for his own family.

This is a good time to make a point about faith and what it is.  Faith that is pleasing to God is not faith in God's existence alone.  God even spoke to Cain.  Cain had no doubt about God's existence.  We could go so far as to say he did not need faith in God's existence for he had firsthand knowledge of it.  So, faith that God lives is not saving faith.  There is more to it than just that.  "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble!" (James 2:19 NKJV)  Do we believe Cain and the demons were saved?  If not we need to continue to study to learn what saving faith is.  It certainly involves more than just believing God exists in the heavens.

The writer of the book of Hebrews says of Abel that he "obtained witness that he was righteous." (Heb. 11:4 NKJV)  Jesus declared him righteous in Matt. 25:35.  He became such by faith.  Abel died a righteous man.  He was a man of faith who heard God's word, believed it, and obeyed it.  There is no saving faith where a man simply hears God's words with the ear and then goes off in disobedience doing his own thing.  A man of faith trusts God's words for God spoke them and thus they are trustworthy.  In obeying them one is obeying God and manifesting faith in him.

We do not know what all Abel knew about sacrifice to God but we do know he followed by faith what he had been told and did not deviate from it for his trust was in the one who had directed him.  The lesson for today--trust what God has told us in his word and do it for in doing it we will be "by faith" acting as did Abel.

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