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).
Genesis tells us that Abel was a keeper of sheep (Genesis 4:2), a worshipper of God (Genesis 4:4), and the first person killed among the human race (Genesis 4:8). A rebellion that had begun through the eating of fruit escalated within one generation to jealousy and envy, anger and sullenness, murder and fraticide. Cain killed his brother Abel, both sons of Adam and Eve.
In many ways, this narrative is unsurprising. Afterall, God did say to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam ate of the forbidden tree and humanity died. At that point, we, as an entire race of creatures, became totally depraved, entirely sinful, unwilling to seek or to worship God. Therefore, it should not be surprising that Cain neither wanted to worship God nor love his brother. Death was decreed and death was received.
Cain is exactly who we should expect him to be. Indeed, it is Abel, not Cain, who ought to shock us. In the wake of devestating sin and the total corruption of human nature, here is a man who worshipped God! Here is a man who gave his best to God. Here is a man who is “commended as righteous” by God (Hebrews 11:4).
What was it that compelled Abel to worship as he did? The writer of Hebrews tells us that it was faith. Adam must have told his son about his fall into sin. Eve must have explained to her second-born that God had undeservedly wrapped them in the skins of animals in order to cover their nakedness. And yet, in spite of these reports, Abel was still a natural born sinner. He could not have sought after God in the power of his own strength (Romans 3:10-18). Case in point is Cain, who undoubtedly heard the same stories.
No, it must have been God who intervened. It must have been God who gave Abel the faith he needed to draw on grace and be saved. It must have been God who drew this man to worship. Jesus Himself has said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Abel is a wonderful example, so early in our human history, of this drawing by the Father.
O the magnificent grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! In the second generation God’s grace was at work, saving for Himself the beginning of a people by faith.