By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.Hebrews 11:4
Using Abel as an example of faith is a curious one. Much has been said among the commentators in order to come up with a reason as to why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s not. The suggestions put forward are numerous but essentially centred around the quality or nature of the sacrifice offered. Many have suggested that the reason is Abel’s offering was a living sacrifice with the blood still in it – i.e. an animal. Whereas Cain’s was a sacrifice of vegetables. Abel was a shepherd and Cain raised crops. But that can’t be the reason, despite the fact that blood sacrifice was at the heart of Abel’s sacrifice and not present in Cain’s. That would not be fair as the nature of their livelihoods were different. The other line of thought is that Abel offered his sacrifice as first-fruits while Cain offered his ‘in the fullness of time’ of the harvest. But that is not correct either as Cain gave his offering at the time of harvest. No, neither of these ways of looking at the issue can be correct.
So surely there must be something intrinsically present in the story that gives the clue as to nature of what made one man’s offering acceptable and the other’s not. Was it the quality of each sacrifice? Was it the content or substance of the sacrifice? Was it the manner in which it was offered? Many commentators latch on to the word “the dividing” of the offering and seize on the division of the animals being separated in two as we have seen before in the sense of Genesis 15 and Abraham laying out the halves of the carcasses. No, that can’t be the answer because that would mean God was prejudiced against Cain because of his livelihood. That would lead us to the conclusion that it’s better to be a shepherd than a cropper. Some commentators think that Abel could see by revelation that future sacrifice would require a blood sacrifice and therefore Abel offered his sacrifice by foreknowledge or insight. The text doesn’t lead us to that conclusion.
Then what is the defining element which makes one acceptable and the other not acceptable? The text tells us. It was Abel’s faith that made his sacrifice more acceptable. “By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain.” There it is; it’s stated clearly at the beginning of the sentence. Only God is able to discern the inner attitude of the heart of the one offering the sacrifice. God saw that Abel gave his offering in faith. Some see that Abel ‘giving his sacrifice in faith’ meant that because of his faith or trust in God it prompted Abel to give more or to give a more sacrificial offering. In other words, his love and adoration for God prompted Abel to give that which was worth more than what Cain gave. We are forcing the story if we come to that conclusion.
Quite simply Abel was righteous. God noticed he had the right heart and by being a man after God’s heart he was pronounced righteous. Now where have we heard that before? Because Abel was pronounced righteous by God, his sacrifice was acceptable. Abel offered his sacrifice by faith and in so doing he was pronounced righteous. Not only does it have to do with God recognising Abel’s faith, but Cain was also told, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” [Gen 4:7] That comment is an additional piece of evidence which suggests the clue lies in the fact God saw their hearts and knew who was operating out of righteousness or faith.
Which leads us to the next question which the commentators posit:- what was it that showed the acceptance of the sacrifice? All we are told is that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t. The word used is [martureō] meaning “attested”, “witnessed” or “accepted”. So what made it acceptable? How was that acceptance signalled? Once again it is not stated but the classic Old Testament way of the sacrifice being shown to be accepted was for it to be burned up by fire, by way of a fire the one making the offering did not start. The fire falling from above was the indication that God accepted the sacrifice and that too was what happened in the tabernacle and the temple and on the brazen altar wherever it was placed. Here are some other examples:- Genesis 15:17, Leviticus 9:24, Judges 6:21, 1 Kings 18:38, 1 Chronicles 21:26, 2 Chronicles 7:1.
So is it not reasonable to accept that this is what happened in this first case of the attestation of the sacrifice being acceptable?
Have you received a word that awaits your next step of faith? Proceed, no matter how incredible it seems.Bob Gass
Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.Mother Teresa
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.Martin Luther King Jr.
Faith is spiritualized imagination.H W Beecher