ABEL looked at his flock of sheep grazing peacefully on the hillside. Then, perhaps he looked far beyond his sheep to a spot in the distance where he could just make out a faint glow. He knew that right there a flaming blade was turning, ever turning, blocking the way into the garden of Eden. His parents once lived there, but neither they nor their children could enter now. Picture the late afternoon breeze ruffling Abel’s hair as he turned his gaze upward and thought about his Creator. Would the breach between man and God ever be healed? Abel wanted nothing more than that.
Abel speaks to you today. Can you hear him? You might say that such a thing is impossible. After all, this second son of Adam died a long time ago. His remains are long lost, mingled with the dust of nearly 60 centuries. Regarding the dead, the Bible teaches us: “They are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Further, Abel never uttered a single word that is recorded in the Bible. So how can he speak to us?
The apostle Paul was inspired to say this about Abel: “Through it he, although he died, yet speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4) Through what does Abel speak? Through faith. Abel was the first human ever to develop that sterling quality. So powerfully did he demonstrate faith that his example is alive, a vibrant standard that we can apply today. If we learn from his faith and seek to imitate it, then the record of Abel is speaking to us in a very real and effective way.
What, though, can we learn of Abel and his faith when so little is said of him in the Bible? Let us see.
GROWING UP WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG
Abel was born near the dawn of human history. Jesus later associated Abel with “the founding of the world.” (Luke 11:50, 51) Jesus evidently meant the world of people who have the hope of being redeemed from sin. While Abel was the fourth human to exist, it seems that he was the first one whom God saw as redeemable.* Clearly, Abel did not grow up among the best of influences.
Though the world was young, a pall of sadness hung over the human family. Abel’s parents, Adam and Eve, were likely beautiful, dynamic people. But they had fallen far in life, and they knew it. They were once perfect, with the prospect of eternal life before them. Then they rebelled against Jehovah God and were banished from their Paradise home in the garden of Eden. By putting their own desires ahead of all else—even the needs of their offspring—they lost perfection and eternal life.—Genesis 2:15–3:24.
Exiled to life outside the garden, Adam and Eve found their existence hard. Yet, when their first child was born, they named him Cain, or “Something Produced,” and Eve proclaimed: “I have produced a man with the aid of Jehovah.” Her words suggest that she may have had in mind the promise Jehovah made in the garden, foretelling that a certain woman would produce a “seed” that would one day destroy the wicked one who had led Adam and Eve astray. (Genesis 3:15; 4:1) Did Eve imagine that she was the woman in the prophecy and that Cain was the promised “seed”?
If so, she was sadly mistaken. What is more, if she and Adam fed Cain such ideas as he grew up, they surely did his imperfect human pride no good. In time, Eve bore a second son, but we find no such high-flown statements about him. They named him Abel, which may mean “Exhalation,” or “Vanity.” (Genesis 4:2) Did the choice of that name reflect lower expectations, as if they put less hope in Abel than in Cain? We can only guess.
In any case, parents today may learn much from those first parents. By your words and actions, will you feed your children’s pride, ambition, and selfish tendencies? Or will you teach them to love Jehovah God and seek friendship with him? Sadly, the first parents failed in their responsibility. Yet, there was hope for their offspring.
ABEL DEVELOPED FAITH—HOW?
As the two boys grew up, Adam likely trained them in work that had to be done to provide for the family. Cain took up farming; Abel took up shepherding.
However, Abel did something far more important. Over the years, he developed faith—that beautiful quality of which Paul later wrote. Think of it. Abel had no human example to whom he could look. How, then, did he develop faith in Jehovah God? Consider three solid bases upon which his faith likely rested.
True, Jehovah had placed a curse upon the ground, causing it to produce thorns and thistles that impeded agriculture. Still, the earth generously produced the food that kept Abel’s family alive. And there was no curse on the animals, including birds and fish; nor on the mountains, lakes, rivers, and seas; nor on the skies, clouds, sun, moon, and stars. Everywhere Abel looked, he saw evidence of the profound love, wisdom, and goodness of Jehovah God, the one who created all things. (Romans 1:20) Meditating appreciatively on such things strengthened his faith.
Abel surely took time to ponder spiritual matters. Picture him tending his flock. A shepherd’s life required a great deal of walking. He led the gentle creatures over hills, through valleys, across rivers—ever seeking the greenest grass, the best watering holes, the most sheltered resting-places. Of all of God’s creatures, sheep seemed the most helpless, as if they were designed to need man to guide and protect them. Did Abel see that he too needed guidance, protection, and care from Someone far wiser and more powerful than any human? No doubt he expressed many such thoughts in prayer, and his faith continued to grow as a result.
In creation, Abel found a solid basis for faith in a loving Creator
Adam and Eve must have related to their sons the events in the garden of Eden that led to their expulsion. Thus, Abel had rich food for meditation.
Jehovah said that the ground would be cursed. Abel could clearly see the thorns and thistles that fulfilled those words. Jehovah also foretold that Eve would suffer pain in pregnancy and childbirth. As Abel’s siblings were born, he no doubt learned that those words came true as well. Jehovah foresaw that Eve would feel an unbalanced need for her husband’s love and attention and that Adam would, in turn, dominate her. Abel saw that sad reality playing out before his eyes. In every case, Abel saw that Jehovah’s word is completely reliable. Thus, Abel had solid reasons for putting faith in God’s promise about a “seed” who would one day right the wrongs that had begun in Eden.—Genesis 3:15-19.
Abel did not find any good examples in the human family, but humans were not the only intelligent creatures on the earth at that time. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, Jehovah made sure that neither they nor their offspring would gain access to that earthly Paradise. To guard the entrance, Jehovah posted cherubs—very high-ranking angels—along with the flaming blade of a sword that turned continually.—Genesis 3:24.
Imagine Abel seeing those cherubs when he was a boy. In their materialized form, their appearance surely bespoke immense power. And that “sword,” ever flaming, ever turning, inspired awe as well. As Abel grew up, did he ever find that those cherubs got bored and left their post? No. Day and night, year after year, decade after decade, those intelligent, powerful creatures stayed right in that spot. Abel thus learned that Jehovah God had righteous, steadfast servants. In those cherubs, Abel saw a kind of loyalty and obedience to Jehovah that he could not find in his own family. Surely that angelic example strengthened his faith.
Meditating on all that Jehovah revealed about himself through creation, divine promises, and the examples of His servants, Abel found that his faith grew ever stronger. His example speaks to us, does it not? Young people in particular may find it reassuring to know that they can develop genuine faith in Jehovah God, no matter what their family members do. With the wonders of creation all around us and the entire Bible at our disposal, as well as many human examples of faith, we have ample basis for building faith today.
ABEL’S SACRIFICE—WHY IT EXCELLED
As Abel’s faith in Jehovah grew, he wanted to find a way to express that faith in action. Yet, what could a mere man give to the Creator of the universe? God surely did not need any gift or help from humans. In time, Abel came to grasp a profound truth: If—with the right motive—he simply offered Jehovah the best of what he had, his loving heavenly Father would be pleased.
So Abel prepared to offer up some sheep from his flock. He selected the best, the firstlings, and offered up what seemed to be the choicest pieces. Meanwhile, Cain too sought God’s blessing and favor, preparing an offering from his crops. But his motives were not like those of Abel. The difference became apparent when the brothers presented their offerings.
Both sons of Adam may have used altars and fire for their offerings, perhaps within sight of the cherubs, who were the only living representatives of Jehovah on earth at that time. Jehovah responded! We read: “Jehovah was looking with favor upon Abel and his offering.” (Genesis 4:4) How God made his favor evident, the account does not say. But why did he favor Abel?
Was it the offering itself? Abel did offer a living, breathing creature, shedding its precious lifeblood. Did Abel realize how valuable such a sacrifice would be? Many centuries after Abel’s time, God used the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb to picture the sacrifice of His own perfect Son, “the Lamb of God,” whose innocent blood would be shed. (John 1:29; Exodus 12:5-7) However, much of that surely lay well beyond Abel’s knowledge or understanding.
What we know for certain is this: Abel offered up the very best of what he had. Jehovah looked with favor not only on the offering but on the man himself. Motivated by love for Jehovah and by genuine faith in him, Abel acted.
It was different with Cain. Jehovah “did not look with any favor upon Cain and upon his offering.” (Genesis 4:5) It was not that Cain’s offering was faulty in itself; God’s Law later allowed the offering of the produce of the ground. (Leviticus 6:14, 15) But the Bible says of Cain that “his own works were wicked.” (1 John 3:12) Like so many to this day, Cain evidently thought that the mere outward show of devotion to God was enough. His lack of real faith in or love for Jehovah quickly became apparent through his actions.
When Cain saw that he had not won Jehovah’s favor, did he seek to learn from Abel’s example? No. He seethed with hatred for his brother. Jehovah saw what was happening in Cain’s heart and patiently reasoned with him. He warned Cain that his course was leading toward serious sin, and He offered hope of “an exaltation” if Cain would only change his ways.—Genesis 4:6, 7.
Cain ignored God’s warning. Instead, he invited his trusting younger brother to walk with him in the field. There Cain assaulted Abel and murdered him. (Genesis 4:8) In a sense, Abel thus became the first victim of religious persecution, the first martyr. He was dead, but his story was far from finished.
Figuratively, Abel’s blood cried out to Jehovah God for vengeance, or justice. And God saw justice done, punishing wicked Cain for his crime. (Genesis 4:9-12) More important, the record of Abel’s faith speaks to us today. His life span—perhaps about a century long—was short for humans of that era, but Abel made his years on this earth count. He died knowing that he had the love and approval of his heavenly Father, Jehovah. (Hebrews 11:4) We can be confident, then, that he is safe in Jehovah’s limitless memory, awaiting a resurrection to life in an earthly paradise. (John 5:28, 29) Will you meet him there? You may if you are determined to listen as Abel speaks and to imitate his outstanding faith.
The expression “the founding of the world” involves the idea of casting down seed, suggesting procreation, so it has to do with the earliest human offspring. Why, though, did Jesus connect Abel with “the founding of the world” and not Cain, who was the first human born? Cain’s decisions and actions amounted to a willful rebellion against Jehovah God. Like his parents, Cain does not appear to be in line for resurrection and redemption.