Genesis is a book of firsts. In the opening chapters we find the origins of our universe, as well as the beginning point of the great themes of Scripture. In it we find the first human couple, the first
covenant, and the seeds of the gospel of Christ. Sadly, it also contains the record of the first sin, the first punishment, and the first villain. It also records the first murder.
Almost nothing is known of Cain and Abel apart from what the text of Genesis 4 records. We know that Abel offered a sacrifice pleasing to God while Cain did not. Enflamed with anger after God rejects his sacrifice, Cain takes his brother out into a field and kills him. The text does not record the content of the brothers’ conversation. In fact, Abel never speaks. Cain’s motivations are left
unstated; his rationale is unknown. We may assume that since Cain could not vent his anger toward the God who had rejected him, he did so to the next accessible target.
To no one’s surprise, the Lord confronts Cain about his crime. The conversation between the two is almost something akin to a courtroom scene. God brings an accusation against Cain, while his brother’s blood serves as a kind of eerie, personified postmortem witness. The Lord asks Cain what he has done, echoing the same question asked of Eve in the garden paradise in Eden (Genesis 3:13) – like mother, like son. Each tries to evade the accusation of the Lord. Eve blames the serpent. Her son denies having responsibility. Both attempts areequally unsuccessful.
Despite the tragedy of Abel’s untimely demise, we find an important expectation found in the Lord’s accusation against Cain. He confronts Cain by saying, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). From this statement we learn a vital truth about God: He is a God of justice. He hears the voice of the victim and takes action against the perpetrator. He is not a God who allows injustice to go unpunished.
The Bible’s view of justice is a breath of fresh air in a world full of competing ethical systems—some of which are also highly self-contradictory and relatively unethical. In a world without God, no transcendent ethical standard can exist. By nature, every ethical system ever invented by man is purely subjective, regardless of how loudly their proponents claim that these systems should be normative for others. From Mahatma Gandhi’s dedication to radical peace to Friedrich Nietzsche’s will to power, each one is imbued with the qualities their creators deem valuable. All of these systems find their point of origin in man, and can only be of limited value.
Regardless of how complete or objective human system of ethics may attempt to be, each one requires the detection of offenders and the fair and impartial enforcement of the law. This system is fraught with uncertainty, and in some cases, partiality. Neither can be found in the character of God. His omniscience guarantees that no foul deed can go undetected. His righteousness takes umbrage at every sin, without any hint of favoritism or bias. His perfection ensures that every offense will be punished appropriately. God is a witness to every crime, regardless of the efforts of the offender to perfect it.
In the book of Hebrews, Abel is the prototype of the faithful believer who suffers opposition for his faith. Jesus points to him as an example of righteousness (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51). His was a faith so great, in fact, that in a sense he continues to speak through his example even from the grave (Hebrews 11:4). If Abraham is the father of the faithful, we could almost consider Abel to be the primeval father of faith.
The writer of Hebrews alludes to Genesis 4:10, referring to Jesus as “the mediator of a new covenant” and to “the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). While Abel’s blood utters a haunting cry for justice, the blood of Christ whispers a sweet message of forgiveness. As comforting as it is to know that God will ensure that every wrong is righted and every injustice is avenged, it is even more comforting to know that there remains a sacrifice for the penitent regardless of time, place, or the magnitude of the offense.
Believers can be caught in the trap of self-abasement, thinking that they have committed sin so grievous that even God cannot forgive them. While this mindset correctly recognizes the gravity of sin, it is actually quite arrogant. There is no sin committed by a believer that Christ’s blood cannot cleanse as long as the individual is repentant. If His blood could speak today as Abel’s did, it might tell us, “I see your contrition. Go on your way. Do better now, my child.”