Hebrews 11:4

Friday, 1 March 2019

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. Hebrews 11:4

The author now begins his list of those mentioned in verse 2 as “elders,” meaning those of the past who demonstrated faith, and who then obtained “a good testimony.” The first example takes the reader all the way back to the very beginning of man’s time on earth. The two sons of Adam, Cain and Abel, are recorded in Genesis 4. The author says that “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” The specific incident referred to now reads –

“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” Genesis 4:2-5

The words translated as “more excellent” simply mean “more.” The word is used in a comparative sense, such as, “I have ten Bibles.” “Oh yeah, well I have more.” The sacrifice of Abel was of more value to God than that of Cain.

Great debate exists as to why God accepted Abel’s offering but not that of Cain. Some say that because Abel offered a blood sacrifice, it was a better sacrifice. But the text never makes that claim. Others argue that both offerings were acceptable based on the acceptable offerings found in Leviticus. Though true, that is, unfortunately, putting the cart before the horse.

Leviticus was written long after the time of Cain and Abel. This type of logic can result in faulty analyses of passages, and it also mixes dispensations. It’s like trying to place a square peg in a round hole. Based on the account itself, it cannot actually be determined if the type of sacrifice was right or wrong.

Rather, and simply stated, Hebrews says that “by faith Abel offered to God.” That is all that is necessary to determine why God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Abel’s offering was one which was accompanied by faith. The logical question is, “Did these sacrifices restore them to God or was it faith in what they symbolized that did?” Hebrews has already shown that the sacrifices and offerings of past times only look forward to Christ. Such is the case here. Abel believed in God, and he believed God. His offering to God reflected that.

In his act of faith, “he obtained witness that he was righteous.” Again, this set of words confirms what was just deduced about why Abel’s sacrifice was considered acceptable. The author had just said in verse 10:38 that “the just shall live by faith.” His words now in Chapter 11 are given in connection with that thought, building upon it through example. Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous” because he lived in faith and made his offering based upon that faith. This is testified to by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:35, where Abel is called “righteous.” In response, we read the author’s next words, “God testifying of his gifts.”

To understand this, think of two people who do good things. We will call one “Bill,” and the other “Franklin.” Bill gives billions of dollars to AIDS research, but he doesn’t believe in God, nor does he make his gifts in honor of God. Franklin, however, offers himself and his time, ability, and effort in helping people in the name of Jesus Christ. He believes in Christ, he highlights Christ in his giving, and he leads people to Christ through his efforts. Which is offering in faith? And to which will God testify of his gifts? The answer is obvious. No reward for Bill; full reward for Franklin for all deeds done in faith.

Finally, the author finishes with, “and through it he being dead still speaks.” This builds upon the thought of verse 10:2. The author said that by faith “the elders obtained a good testimony.” A good testimony is a favorable notion about someone. There is a favorable consideration of Abel because, through his offering of faith which is now recorded in Scripture, his actions still speak to us today.

Life application: Abel’s offering included faith whereas Cain’s didn’t. Abel’s faith resulted in what is considered a more excellent sacrifice. This led to his commendation. The lesson of Cain and Abel comes from real people that really did what was recorded. Not everything that occurred in history is in the Bible, but everything we need to know to live our lives in a manner pleasing to God is. He has left no gaps, nothing necessary has gone unrecorded, and nothing confused – or which will cause confusion in the believer’s walk before Him – is found in His word. Error in bad analysis lies with us and our failure to spend the time, reflection, and prayer needed to properly understand the context of what is written. The record on Abel stands for us today – by faith He was known as a man who pleased God. Reflect on this. The apostle Peter says that our faith is “much more precious than gold.” Have faith in God, and stand on His word at all times.

Lord God, help us to continue on in the faith we first possessed when we heard of Christ Jesus. At that moment, we believed, and we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. We were found pleasing in Your sight by simple faith. Help us to not ruin our walk now by attempting to be justified through our own righteousness, but to continue on in faith in all that we do. May our righteousness come from faith alone. Amen.

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