“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’ And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?’” Genesis 4:1-9 (ESV).
The story of Cain and Abel provides us with a powerful picture: there is only One sacrifice we can give to God that pleases Him. As we read from the text, Cain offered the fruit of the ground for his offering, and Abel offered the firstborn of his flock. We can make many speculations as to why Abel’s offering pleased God and Cain’s didn’t, but I believe the reason God was pleased with Abel’s offering is very simple: Abel understood the cost of his sin, through faith.
Because of the fall of Adam, all of mankind after Adam became subject to the dominion of sin, which includes Cain and Abel. We are not given any context regarding the “course of time” that is addressed in verse three, but we do know that both brothers eventually felt moved to give an offering to the Lord. Considering the people responsible for humanity’s fall are Cain and Abel’s parents, it makes sense as to why they are both aware of the necessity to please God–we should have this same imperative, as God is just as present with us now as He was with them. Nonetheless, it is clear that one offering fails and the other succeeds. Does God just dislike vegetables?
I believe Abel’s offering provides us with a glimpse into the perspective of his heart–a perspective that bloomed out of faith and evinced a proper form of repentance, as alluded to in Hebrews; “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain.” (Hebrews 11:4 NASB). Why the lamb and not the crops? Abel offered up the life of an innocent lamb, the firstborn of his flock; Abel understood that sin to a holy God meant justice in the payment of death. Why death? It is written, “but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17 ESV). It is evidenced what kind of death was produced for Adam and Eve as the Genesis story progressed: a physical death (Adam dies at 930 years old; v. 5:5) and spiritual death (Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden ). “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
The Promises of God
When we act out of our own free will and rebel against God’s created order, we produce death for ourselves, because God’s order is life. It is not out of a desire to control us that God tells us not to sin–it is because He knows that sin leads to death. Since God is holy and defines what is good, He does not change. Therefore, God isn’t actually telling us to not sin simply to not die, rather, He is telling us to choose Him because He is life itself. Thus, when God gave mankind His authority to rule creation, along with His command to Adam to not eat the one tree in the Garden, He was entering into a personal relationship of love with His foremost creation. For love to flourish, there must be trust. God fully entrusted all of His authority over creation to Adam and Eve, and thus demonstrated the extent of His boundless trust and, therefore, His love–despite knowing we would betray Him. God trusted humanity with the good world He had created–that is like putting a nuclear detonator in the hands of a baby. Nevertheless, God’s ways are higher than our own, and even with humanity's fall, God is working all things for His purpose.
If God knew humanity would fall, and that creation would collapse into chaos because of sin, why did He create everything, including us, in the first place? We see the answer in Abel, in that, though sinful and fallen under Adam, He still entered into the promises of God through faith. Essentially, God took our sin and repurposed it for His plan of salvation through Christ. God offers everyone the opportunity to return to the Garden through Jesus, by faith–God has reconciled our separation caused by sin via the cross, which aligns perfectly in every way with His character of absolute truth, justice, and grace. Thus, the promises of God are ultimately all that matter in the end–not creation, not our works, not our sin, not our nature–, which God provides only in Christ Jesus, who reconciles all things. This is why it is written, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 (ESV). God is the promise, and He is reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). If all things are being reconciled to God, what will be the fate of those still under their sin and outside of the promise?
The Grand Design
God’s purpose is so much greater than we can comprehend, but at the same time, it is one–if I may be so bold to say–that is perfectly logical. If God alone is God, then anything that is created cannot also be God, because God is uncreated and over all. Therefore, when Adam and Eve were created, their fall was inevitable because they were not God, though they were made in His image and without sin. At the same time, we also know that God tempts no one to disobey Him to do evil, so Adam and Eve led themselves astray out of their own God-given authority. Thus, we can discern that, though God’s creation in the beginning was entirely good, it did not–nor could it–fulfill the purpose of His design on its own because sin (creation’s nature that is below God and rooted in rebellion) had not been reconciled. We know sin is simply a delineation from the will of God, which is an inevitability when dealing with beings who have a will of their own yet exist under a holy God. The Word says, “Now He said to His disciples, ‘It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to one through whom they come!’” and “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (Luke 17:1 NASB; 1 John 1:8 ESV).
Abel placed his faith in God, demonstrating his contrite and repentant spirit through the sacrifice he gave, which was one that transferred the death he believed he deserved to an innocent animal–a lamb–, whereas Cain placed his faith in the toil of his own hands–the crops of the ground. But, why does God reward Abel for killing an innocent animal? We see that after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and became ashamed of their nakedness, God clothed them with animal skins: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21 ESV).
The price for Adam and Eve to be covered by God from their nakedness and shame was innocent life, and provides us with a picture of Him who they trespassed against: God, who is more pure and innocent than an infinite number of lambs and goats, is the One who had been violated. Yet, despite our violation of God’s trust, He does not victimize Himself–He enacts justice (Genesis 3:14-19) but then demonstrates His grace and compassion by clothing those who hurt Him (Genesis 3:21). Nonetheless, despite Adam and Eve being covered by the skins God made for them, the life of the animals was an insufficient payment, seeing that the two never returned to the Garden and that both of them eventually died.
He Became a Curse
In truth, it was actually God’s death that was caused by Adam’s sin (who can also represent humanity as a whole), because he was the one who God commanded to not eat of the tree. Thus, when God pronounces His curses upon Adam and Eve for their disobedience–along with all other curses He pronounces against humanity in the Bible–, He was actually pronouncing the same curses upon Himself (though, indirectly, because He is holy) because He already knew He’d be the One to ultimately–and willingly–pay for them. God, out of the abundance of His love and justice, from eternity past, had the cross of Calvary in mind. This is why it is written, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—” (Galatians 3:13 ESV).
It is only through the Christ that creation could be reconciled from sin because He is the only eternal and uncreated, authoritative, and sufficient sacrifice that could overcome the limitation of creation’s nature as being ungodly due to our rebellion. For creation to enter into God’s promises and purpose–into the Garden of God’s design–it would require that He bring it there Himself. The world actually never hinged on Adam and Eve’s decision, but rather, it was already leveraged and cast in the eternal shadow of the cross. This is also shown through Cain and Abel–who gave their sacrifices before God’s covenant with Abraham–, demonstrating that, by faith, Abel inherited the promises of God through the eternal payment of Christ, and that by the absence of Christ in Cain was Cain condemned. The passage from Genesis provides us with this exact image as well: Abel brought the firstborn lamb of his flock for his sacrifice, and Cain did not. Jesus is the Firstborn Son of God, and He is the Lamb who was slain, as it is written, “for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…”; “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:9 & 5:12 ESV).
The covering of Adam and Eve with animal skins by God, along with Abel’s sacrifice of a lamb, are both foreshadowings of the perfect atoning sacrifice of Christ. Jesus is the innocent Lamb who was slain for our wrongdoings, and is the One God uses to clothe us from our spiritual nakedness and sustain us in our sanctification. This is why it is written, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” because “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Romans 13:14 ESV; 2 Corinthians 5:21 BSB). Abel’s faith is a reminder to us all to do as he did: accept the sacrifice that has been given by God through faith in the Lamb, Christ Jesus, and be clothed by Him, thus covering the rebellion of our nature and putting on the righteousness of the Creator.
Faith in a Living Hope
To be reconciled to God, one must accept the death of innocent life they have caused–God’s own life; that is, the Son. To be restored to the Creator, one must acknowledge His act of becoming one with His creation. To enter back into God’s Garden, one must follow the Man who left it to bring us home. God does not want the works of our hands and the crops of our fields. God does not want our own goodness, because He knows it utterly fails to bring us into His promises. The grand story of the Bible is this: we are insufficient in every way, but God provides. He is YaHWeH Jireh, our provider. If we are simply willing to receive the gift God has given–to lift our eyes and look at what He did on the cross–then He will heal us. God’s healing work is rooted in and focused on the heart of man, and as He changes us from within, our life changes. Where we once lived in bondage to the darkness outside of God, Christ’s blood has brought us close and set us free. Not as the world is free are we free, but as the Spirit of the Lord is free, so too are we who abide in Him. It is written, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV).
If all the promises of God are available to us right now in Christ, then all that is required to access the treasures of heaven is faith. Paul provides us with a clear picture of what this looks like: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10 ESV). The type of sacrifice a person gives to God within their heart will be put on display by the life they lead. If Christ is truly the Lord of your heart and the One you are following, then your life will show it. What kind of words do you speak? What kind of actions fill your days? We know God’s power is made perfect in weakness and only by His grace can we change, but we must be willing.
Even so, while God’s kingdom is available to us at this very moment by faith, truth acknowledges that this present darkness we live in is not the Garden, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 ESV). One day, Christ will return, and all the darkness of this world will be washed away. The goal in which we strive towards, and the living hope that we hold fast to, is that good promise that all will look upon the face of God in unison. Jesus first came as the Lamb, but He will be returning as the Lion. It is written, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Romans 12:19 ESV). Because Christ lives, then, so too does our hope. And, until the day of the Lord comes, we press on in expectant and persevering faith, and in unity with the Body of Christ–that is, the Church.
“I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV).