Heroes is a term I use loosely.
No one is depicted in God’s Word as perfect except Jesus, and He alone is our ultimate hero. Still, there are certainly a number of men and women in the Bible who have lived exemplary lives worth noting and following. Many of these folks blazed the trail of faith for us without the benefit of the indwelling Holy Spirit, an endowment that makes the victorious life so much more attainable for those of us on this side of the cross.
Today we begin our weekly walk with these trailblazing heroes. And though I could have started with any of a number of the faithful, I’ll begin with the one the writer of Hebrews began with in the famous Hall of Faith, Hebrews Chapter 11. No, it’s not Abraham or even Noah. The author of Hebrews reached even further into history and began with…
His walk of faith was shortened by his own brother and we don’t know much about him, but we know Abel’s faith was worthy of being called out in the list of faith walkers heralded in Hebrews. So I figure he’s worthy of a glance from us too.
If you’d like to check out Abel in the Bible, it won’t take you long. You’ll find him in Genesis 4:1-8, though the story surrounding him continues into verse 15. He’s also mentioned in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51 (as being righteous) and, of course, in Hebrews 11:4 and 12:24 (which reminds us that while Abel was righteous he wasn’t as righteous as Jesus).
Adam and Eve, banished from the garden of Eden due to their willful sin, conceive a child and name him Cain. Sometime later Eve again gives birth to a boy child and this one is called Abel.
Some time passes by; we’re not sure how much. But Cain and Abel are undoubtedly at least young adults. They have chosen their professions, the first two named in the Bible. Cain is a tiller of the ground, a farmer. Abel is a keeper of the flocks.
I wonder why these two young men felt compelled to bring offerings to God? We don’t really know. Perhaps their parents told them about the God they had been in such close fellowship with while in the garden. Perhaps they even confessed their poor choices that had landed them outside paradise. Or perhaps God audibly called for them to present an offering to Him. At any rate, Cain and Able offered gifts from their bounty to God.
Cain brought God an offering “of the fruit of the ground.” Grain? Vegetables? Fruit? We don’t know, but the offering was brought from what he had and from that which he loved, no doubt. The fact that his offering is mentioned first in Genesis 4 may indicate that he was even the one who initiated the whole “let’s take God an offering” conversation. Still, we’re not sure about that either.
Abel offered God from “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” Once again the offering is from what the young man considers his finest, his most precious.
And then the problems begin.
The Bible says the Lord “had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.”
Cain gets angry in his heart and his countenance falls. Funny how that works, how our emotions show up on our faces even when we don’t mean for them to. Cain undoubtedly loses the smile, drops his shoulders and stomps away in disgust.
God doesn’t let this go. He asks Cain, “Why are you angry? Why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?”
It almost sounds at this point, to me, that God is saying, “Hey buddy. No need to get all upset. This was your first encounter with Me and your first offering. Instead of getting all bent out of shape and offended, just do the right thing next time.” That’s my interpretation anyhow.
God goes on to warn Cain that “if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door” and if you don’t get a grip it’s going to take you down. You need to master this thing. I think God was warning Cain that if he didn’t get an attitude adjustment he would end up doing something much more offensive than he had up to this point.
You know what happens next: Cain doesn’t deal with his anger “well” and in fact takes it out on his brother Abel. He kills him, and thus the first murder. More importantly, this is the first time innocent human blood is shed.
So that’s the story of Abel. Doesn’t seem like much. Cain ends up being the star of the show, even if he is a villainous one. So what about that story lands Abel in the Hebrews Hall of Faith and what makes him a trailblazer this Tuesday?
One commentary I read shooed me away from considering the offering these two men brought to God. The commentator said we shouldn’t really contemplate what made one offering acceptable to God and the other unworthy of regard. Instead he wanted us to move on to Cain’s reaction to God’s chastisement.
But wait a minute. The offering, offered in faith, is the very thing the author of Hebrews highlights about Abel. If God chose to bring it to our attention right off the bat in Hebrews, I’m not about to disregard it.
So here’s where I think Abel walked by faith.
The scripture points out very clearly that God judged both the offering and the heart with which it was offered in both cases. We don’t know whether Cain’s offering, in and of itself, was acceptable or not, but we do know, based on Cain’s subsequent actions, that his heart probably was not.
We also don’t know whether Abel’s offering, in and of itself, was any better than his brother’s (though I’d prefer a juicy steak over a garden salad any day), but we do know his heart was right because the author of Hebrews was divinely inspired to inform us that he had offered his sacrifice in faith and was declared righteous because of it.
The bottom line? Cain’s offering represents every time a believer knows what God wants from him and refuses to give it, giving a substitute instead. God prioritizes obedience over sacrifice. And He expects that obedience to come from the heart.
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord
as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
(1 Samuel 15:22)
I’m guilty. There are times when I’ve known God wanted me to obey Him with a certain action or attitude, and instead I tried to appease Him with a sacrifice of sorts. “Tell you what God, I can’t do what You’re asking, but I’ll be sure and read my Bible today” or “Sorry, I can’t forgive that person, but I’ll be extra nice to so-and-so over there. How’s that grab You?” Change of heart? Too hard! Here, have an extra dose of my service instead.
Abel set the standard for righteousness way back in Genesis 4. It begins with a heart that says yes to God and no to self because that heart trusts God. He pleased God with his offering of fatty meat and with his righteous, faith filled heart. In Hebrews 11:6 we learn this is the crux of the matter because it says,
And without faith is is impossible to please Him,
for he who comes to God
must believe that He is,
and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Tips for the Trail
And so here’s where I think Abel’s footprints lead us – to keep our hearts pure and faithful before the Lord, to be real with Him and not try to hide our lack of faith with fruity sacrifices. If God asks us to do something we just can’t do with a pure heart, then we need to be honest with Him about that, ask Him to change our hearts and walk in faith. He abhors pretense, that much we know. So let’s not try to “look good” to God; let’s just be faithful from the heart instead.
What do you think? I welcome your take on Abel, his sacrifice, and how he gained God’s favor. Or if you have any other comment, I look forward to hearing that too! Have a blessed Tuesday.