4 It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
In our series on Hebrews 11, we have arrived at the forth verse. At first glance, it may look a little out of place. What has faith got to do with the story of Abel and Cain? In order to understand more, let us go to the book of Genesis on the story of Abel and Cain.
1 Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!”
2 Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.
When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground.
3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord.
4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift,
5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
9 Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”
“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”
10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood.
12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
Here is a brief run through. After Adam and Eve had fallen from their original status, they started to reproduce. Their first son is Cain. Their second is Abel. As both sons grew up, they had their own professions. Abel became a shepherd while Cain became a farmer. Both presented their offering to God.
Cain offered some of his crops and Abel offered the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. Notice the difference? Cain offered some but Abel offered the best. God did not accept Cain’s gift. Cain was angry. God spoke to Cain and advised him to take control of himself in order not to allow sin to control him.
For some reasons Cain plotted and killed Abel. Abel’s blood caused the ground to be cursed. The ground will no longer yield good crops.
So the questions here are:
1. What is wrong about Cain and right about Abel?
2. What has the above got to do with faith?
First, let us look at their offering. The offering they presented hold the key to both questions. Have you ever wonder why does God want offerings? Is he so poor that he needs us to feed him? Of course, not. He is rich enough to take care of his own needs. If he needs to eat, surely he knows how to get his own food. The gift offerings we present to him represent our impression of him in our hearts.
Abel offered the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. This tells us that this man regarded God as the highest priority in his life. This was why he offered nothing but the best. Incidentally, Jesus is also God’s firstborn and he was called the Lamb Of God. Therefore, Abel’s offerings were representations of Jesus who came to die in order to pay for the penalty of our sins. Our righteousness is based on Jesus’s sacrifice at the Cross and not on our own effort. God was pleased with Abel because he got his priority right. Abel put God in the first place in his life and he relied on God’s way on paying for his sins.
Cain went the other way. He offered gifts to God as well but the Bible tells us the gifts were some of his crops. It was just a token offering. It wasn’t the best like what Abel had offered. This tells us that Cain did not put God first place in his life. Not only that, crops have no blood. The atonement for sin requires blood sacrifice. This is why Jesus chose to come to die for our sins. There is no other way other than God’s way of blood sacrifice to pay for the penalty of sins.
Cain chose his own way. The crops did not represent Jesus’s sacrifice at the Cross. It represents human effort to atone for sins. In fact, this is the cornerstone for every religion we see today. Every religion works the same way. Their focus is on human effort to reach God. Like Cain, they rely on their own efforts and sacrifices in hope that their self-righteousness will make God pleased with them. Like Cain, they failed.
Have you ever wonder why religious people are often angry? Cain was angry when God did not accept his gifts. The religious people are likewise. Instead of reflecting on God’s words, they choose to look for people to blame. Bible believing christians are often the target. Do you want to see some examples? Type the words “Kenneth Copeland” in Google and click “Search”. Apart from some legitimate links to the ministry, you will see a lot of writings from angry people.
In Cain’s story, God did not give up on him. God himself reached out to Cain and corrected him. Cain had not only rejected God’s counsel, he resorted to the unthinkable. He murdered his brother. This is what will happen to those who relied only on their own efforts and failed. They will be at loss and might resort to extreme measures. Did God love Cain? Yes he did. He spent time to advised Cain to get to the right path and be in control of himself or he might be controlled by sin instead. However, Cain had chosen to reject God’s counsel. Sin took control over him and caused him to kill his own brother.
Did that solve Cain’s problem of God not accepting his gifts? It didn’t. In fact it made the situation worse. Abel’s blood in the ground caused the ground to be cursed. Cain was banished. Genesis 4: 12 tells us the ground no longer yields good crops. This means it yielded good crops before Abel was murdered. Cain was living a prosperous life with abundance harvests before the murder. His sin had stopped the flow of prosperity in his life.
So, what has all these got to do with faith as stated in Hebrews 11:4? Abel acted in faith by his offering of his best firstborns to God. He relied on Jesus’s death at the Cross for his righteousness even though the Cross had not taken place at his time. In contrast, Cain relied on his self-effort. His focus was on self-righteousness, which means righteousness by self-effort. In doing do, he found himself losing out to Abel when it comes to the acceptance from God.
God likes people with faith because faith in God means trusting in God. God likes to be trusted. When he found himself failing, Cain was angry, he resorted to behave like any religious person would in a similar situation. He committed murder. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all the religious people are outward murderers. Most of them are not. However, didn’t Jesus say that anyone who got angry and called his brother “raca” is guilty of murder? The Cains of this world have not stop trying to kill the Abels.
In conclusion, we need to be in faith in order not to repeat the mistakes of Cain. Stop relying on self-effort to please God. It will never work. Righteousness from self-effort is nothing more than self-righteousness. Self- righteousness does not please God. What we need is Christ- righteousness, the righteousness that comes from Jesus at the Cross. This is the only form of righteousness that works and pleases God.