Wednesday, July 27, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 41

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

The Faith of Abel

The Writer bypasses Adam and Eve and moves to their Abel as the first example of faith as the source of God's approval. This is appropriate. Abel was the first person with a nature like ours who demonstrated faith:

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4, NASB 95)

The Writer began this section by describing the result of faith: "For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 11:2)." With these words, we see right off that the writer is not using examples to prove his thesis. Rather the thesis is that by which he sees the men and women's actions in the Old Testament. In other words, the Writer does not use Abel's story as evidence that by faith "men of old gained approval." Rather he is using that thesis as the reason that Abel gained approval. Let's look at the original storyline:

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:3-5)

As you can see, there is not much to go on here. Indeed, from the text alone, one might more reasonably conclude that the quality of Abel's offering made the difference. There is no direct statement of faith.

So we see that the Writer is using the lenses of faith to make conclusions about past events. Why should we let him get away with this?

  • We, along with the Writer, have seen the difference faith makes in the lives of people. We have our own personal testimonies of faith and we have seen other lives changed by faith.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah has made possible the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles without the requirement of becoming Jews. This historical action has focused everyone's attention on the action of faith over obedience.
  • The Lord has already said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." So a sacrifice, is already known to be of secondary importance to the Writer

Which brings us to the question, "Why is it that Abel and Cain are bringing an offering to the Lord?" There is no record of a commandment. There is no record that Adam and Eve made offerings, although they may have. There is a clue in these verses:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

Adam and Eve had already clothed themselves with leaves--their clumsy attempt to deal with their shame and embarrassment. Their shame was real and it was permanent. What they had done could not be undone. They could never walk with the Lord in the garden in innocence. Indeed, they were under a sentence of death. The reason is simple, if you are willing to disobey a simple command, you will disobey any.

What does it mean that the Lord covered the man and woman with "garments of skin?" Perhaps it is better to ask, "Whose skin?" Adam and Eve deserved death, but the Lord killed an animal instead. This is the beginning of the offering, and gives meaning to all the offerings that were to follow--substitutionary atonement.

Abel brought a substitutionary sacrifice in order to draw near to God. Cain brought the works of his own hands and demanded acceptance on his terms. Abel came in faith, Cain did not.

Their is a humility in faith. It recognizes the great value of knowing God and our inability to approach him as we are. We come in our sin with thanksgiving that He has provided a covering. We come in faith, believing that He will accept us based on the substitute. From Abel to Christ, the substitute was insufficient to make substantive change. Jesus' offering is sufficient.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.


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