The Bible records that Abel was born after Cain to Adam and Eve (Gen. 4:1-2). Although brief, the account of these two brothers is a very early demonstration of two people’s approach to God. Being the first born, Adam and Eve may have thought that Cain was the redeemer that the LORD promised in Genesis 3:15; however, Cain turned out to be displeasing to the LORD. Abel, on the other hand, is an example of faith and obedience.
Cain and Abel pursued different occupations: Abel tended sheep, but Cain worked the ground. This difference between the brothers was highlighted when they came before God in worship:
“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (Genesis 4:3-5, ESV).
For an offering to be acceptable to God, it required the shedding of blood. This had been illustrated to Adam and Eve in the garden when God rejected their fig-leaf covering and provided garments of skins to cover their nakedness. Furthermore, it is quite possible that the occupation Abel chose was in dedication to God’s service as there is no indication that people were to kill animals for food at that time. Regarding animals for food, we are told that animals were allowed to be eaten only after the flood when Noah and his family came out of the ark (Genesis 9:3)
Since the only reference to the use of animals was when God slew an animal, shedding its blood as a covering for sin, this would seem to be the acceptable use of animals as a form of worship at that time. Therefore, if Abel were a shepherd, why would he tend to sheep if it were not for sacrifice? We are told that Abel was a righteous man (Matthew 23:35) and that his sacrifice was more acceptable than his brother’s offering:
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4, ESV).
Very little information is provided about the offerings that Cain and Abel made to the LORD, but we are told that the LORD had regard for Abel’s offering and the LORD had no regard for Cain and his offering (Genesis 4:4-5). Abel was considered to be righteous, and Cain’s deeds were evil.
“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12, ESV).
Since the LORD had regard for Abel’s offering and we can see the significance of animal sacrifice at the time of Noah (Genesis 8:20) and under the Law of Moses (Leviticus 1:1-3; 3:1; 4:1-4; 5:6,15), it would seem that Abel understood what was acceptable to the LORD and he willingly offered it. Cain, on the other hand, offered fruit from the ground. It would appear that the LORD set the standard of worship in shedding blood by an animal sacrifice and Abel willingly offered what the LORD required, whereas Cain offered what Cain wanted to offer.
The Scriptures do provide some insight into Cain’s attitude. Once the LORD had declared that He was not pleased with Cain’s offering, Cain became angry and his “face fell” (Genesis 4:5). The LORD asked Cain about his attitude and told him that he only needed “to do well” and he would be accepted, otherwise, sin was waiting to take hold of him. Cain did not control his anger, but waited for his brother and killed him. When the LORD confronted Cain, Cain denied that he knew where Abel was. The LORD pronounced a punishment upon Cain. Cain essentially told the LORD that He was unfair in his punishment, for he said,
“My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13, ESV).
The account of Cain and Abel establishes the point that there would be enmity or hostility between people that desire to follow God and worship Him acceptably and those who have no desire toward God or interest in following His ways. The Bible records this conflict time and again. This conflict continues to exist today and it will not be removed until Jesus returns to the earth and establishes a divine government. Consider the following passages:
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7, ESV).
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4, ESV).
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the
blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has
broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of
commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man
in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body
through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16, ESV).
The question is, are you ready and willing to serve the LORD, like Abel?