(Aʹbel) [a breath; vapor; transitoriness].
1. The second son of Adam and his wife Eve, and the younger brother of their firstborn son Cain. (Gen. 4:2) It is probable that, while yet alive, Abel had sisters, since the record mentions the birth of daughters to his parents, but their names are not recorded. (Gen. 5:1-4) As a man he became a herder of sheep; his brother, a farmer.—Gen. 4:2.
After an indefinite period of time, Abel made an offering to Jehovah God. Cain did likewise. Each brought of what he had: Abel, of the firstlings of his flocks; Cain of his produce. (Gen. 4:3, 4) They both had belief in God. They undoubtedly learned of Him from their parents and must have known why they all were outside the Garden of Eden and denied entry to it. Their offerings indicate a recognition of their alienated state and an expression of desire for God’s favor. God expressed favor toward Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. How the approval and the rejection were manifested the record does not show. But the reason for God’s approval of only Abel’s offering is made clear by later writings. The apostle Paul lists Abel as the first man of faith, at Hebrews 11:4, and shows that this resulted in his sacrifice being of “greater worth” than Cain’s offering. By contrast, 1 John 3:11, 12 shows Cain’s heart attitude to have been bad; and his later rejection of God’s counsel and warning, and his premeditated murder of his brother Abel demonstrated this.
While it cannot be said that Abel had any foreknowledge of the eventual outworking of the divine promise at Genesis 3:15 concerning the promised “seed” yet his offering of the firstlings of his flock certainly was appropriate and undoubtedly was also a factor in God’s expression of approval. To the Giver of life, Abel gave as his gift life, even though it was only from among his flocks.—Compare John 1:36.
Jesus shows Abel to have been the first martyr and object of religious persecution waged by his intolerant brother Cain. In doing so Jesus speaks of Abel as living at the “founding of the world.” (Luke 11:48-51) The word “world” in this text comes from the Greek koʹsmos and in its use here means the ‘world of mankind.’ By the expression “the founding [Greek, ka·ta·bo·lesʹ] of the world,” Jesus manifestly referred to the birth of children by Adam and Eve, thereby producing a world of mankind. Paul includes Abel among the “cloud of witnesses” of pre-Christian times.—Heb. 11:4; 12:1.
Because of his faith and divine approval, the record of which continues to bear witness, it could be said that Abel, “although he died, yet speaks.” (Heb. 11:4) At Hebrews 12:24 the apostle refers to “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel’s blood.” Abel’s blood, though shed in martyrdom, did not ransom or redeem anyone, anymore than did the blood of his sacrificed sheep. His blood in effect cried to God for vengeance upon assassin Cain. The blood of Jesus, here presented as validating the new covenant, speaks in a better way than Abel’s in that it calls to God for mercy upon all persons of faith like Abel, and is the means by which their ransoming is possible.
Since Seth was evidently born shortly after Abel’s death and when Adam was 130 years of age, it is possible that Abel may have been as much as 100 years old at the time of his martyrdom.—Gen. 5:3.
2. A town also called Abel-beth-maacah or Abel of Beth-maacah. Elsewhere used as a prefix to the names of various places.—2 Sam. 20:18; see ABEL-BETH-MAACAH.
3. At 1 Samuel 6:18 the Authorized Version refers to “the great stone of Abel,” while the marginal reading says, “Or, great Abel, that is, mourning.” However, modern translations generally read here simply “the great stone.” (Compare AT, JB, NC [Spanish], NW and others.) While the Masoretic Hebrew text uses the word ʼa· velʹ in this verse, the Greek Septuagint and the Aramaic Targum translate it as if it were ʼeʹven, that is, “a stone.” This agrees with verse 14 of the same chapter. It could not refer to Abel of Beth-maacah, since the incident recorded at 1 Samuel 6:18 took place near Beth-shemesh in Judah.