Hebrew Hebel. Second of Adam and Eve's sons, Genesis 4: Abel means "vanity" or "weakness", "vapor" or "transitoriness". Cain means "possession"; for Eve said at his birth, "I have gotten as a possession a man from Jehovah," or as the Hebrew (eth) may mean, "with the help of Jehovah"; she inferring the commencement of the fulfillment of the promise of the Redeemer (Genesis 3:15) herein. On the contrary, Abel's weakness of body suggested his name: moreover prophetic inspiration guided her to choose one indicative of his untimely death. But God's way is here from the first shown, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 11:34. The cause of Cain's hatred was "because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12). Envy of the godly was "the way of Cain" (Judges 1:11). "Faith" was present in Abel, absent from Cain (Hebrews 11:4); consequently the kind of sacrifice (the mode of showing faith) Abel offered was "much more a sacrifice" (Wycliffe; so the Greek) than Cain's. "By faith Abel offered unto God a much more sacrifice than Cain," i.e. one which had more of the true virtue of sacrifice; for it was an animal sacrifice of the firstlings of the flock, a token of the forfeiture of man's life by sin, and a type of the Redeemer to be bruised in heel that He might bruise the serpent's head.
God's having made for man coats of skin presupposes the slaying of animals; and doubtless implies that Abel's sacrifice of an animal life was an act of faith which rested on God's command (though not expressly recorded) that such were the sacrifices He required. If it had not been God's command, it would have been presumptuous will worship (Colossians 2:23), and taking of a life which man had no right over before the flood (Genesis 9:2-4). Cain in self-righteous unbelief, refusing to confess his guilt and need of atonement (typified by sacrifice), presented a mere thank offering of the first fruits; not, like Abel, feeling his need of the propitiatory offering for sin. So "God had respect unto Abel (first) and (then) to his offering." "God testified of his gifts" by consuming them with fire from the shekinah or cherubic symbol E. of Eden ("the presence of the Lord": Genesis 4:16; Genesis 3:24), where the first sacrifices were offered. Thus" he obtained witness that he was righteous," namely, with the righteousness which is by faith to the sincere penitent.
Christ calls him "righteous": Matthew 23:35. Abel represents the regenerate, Cain the unregenerate natural man. Abel offered the best, Cain that most readily procured. The words "in process of time" (Genesis 4:3 margin), "at the end of days," probably mark the definite time appointed for public worship already in paradise, the seventh day sabbath. The firstling and the fat point to the divine dignity and infinite fullness of the Spirit in the coming Messiah. "By faith he being dead yet speaketh" to us; his "blood crying from the ground to God" (Genesis 4:10) shows how precious in God's sight is the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15; Revelation 6:10). The shedding of Abel's blood is the first, as that of Jesus is the last and crowning guilt which brought the accumulated vengeance on the Jews (Luke 11:51; Matthew 23:34-35-38). There is a further avenging of still more accentuated guilt, of innocent blood yet coming on "them that dwell on the earth". (Revelation 11). In Hebrews 12:24, it is written "Christ's blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel," namely, than the blood of Abel's animal sacrifice. For Abel's is but the type, Christ's the antitype and one only true propitiatory sacrifice. To deny the propitiation would make Cain's offering to be as much a sacrifice as Abel's. Tradition makes the place of his murder and grave to be near Damascus. (See ABILA.)