Abel was Adam and Eve’s second son. What else do we know about him?
Jesus called him “righteous Abel” (Matthew 23:35). Why would Jesus tag him as “righteous Abel,” while the Lord gave this designation to no other? Jesus never spoke of “righteous Abraham” or “righteous Moses” or “righteous David” or “righteous Elijah” … only “righteous Abel.” Why? Did something set Abel apart from the others?
Abel’s story starts after Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience and after God “drove” (Genesis 3:24) them out of the Garden of Eden. Abel didn’t grow up in paradise but in a fallen world. Following their change of address, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord’ ” (Genesis 4:1, NKJV). Cain’s name meant “acquisition.” By God’s grace, our earliest ancestors “acquired” a son. Their second son was given the name Abel, a name meaning “breath or vapor” foretelling a life that would be cut short. Life is “like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes” (James 4:14).
Though the boys didn’t grow up in the Garden, they were reared in a home with parents who knew the joy of an intimate relationship with a real and gracious God. I would only be speculating, but it seems logical to believe that Cain and Abel sat at their daddy’s feet and listened to stories about life in the Garden. “We walked in God’s glorious presence and in a place that was fearless, worriless, painless… perfect.” Likely, Adam warned his children about the tempter, the slithering snake, with his smooth lies and half-truths and of God’s promise to send a Savior, the offspring of a woman. God promised that the Savior would suffer but ultimately defeat and destroy the enemy (Genesis 3:15). Adam must also have told the boys about their parent’s shame and of their failed attempt to cover their nakedness with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). “Boys, your mom and I never imagined God’s actions. He, God, sacrificed innocent lambs to create lambskin coats. “The Lord God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Again, I’m speculating, but I believe that Adam must have relayed God’s instructions concerning worship, explaining that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
As the brothers matured, “Abel became a shepherd of flocks, but Cain worked the ground” (Genesis 4:2). When it came time to bring an offering to God, “Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but he did not have regard for Cain and his offering” (Genesis 4:3-5). What did Cain offer to the Lord? Some over-ripe zucchini? Something worthless? Whatever it was, it didn’t please the Lord. “Cain was furious, and he looked despondent” (Genesis 4:5) and invited his brother to go for a walk in the field. While they were out, Cain murdered Abel.
As Abel’s final act of worship, he sacrificed “the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4). Had he moved through his flocks and carefully select the best lamb, the one that was unblemished and unbroken? God accepted Abel’s gift. “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4). “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man” (Hebrews 11:4).
But why was Abel designated as “righteous Abel”? Because of his great sacrifice? Because of his extraordinary obedience? Due to his superior faith? No. No. And no.