Abel

ABEL (ā'bĕl, Heb. hevel). A Hebrew word of this spelling means “breath,” “vapor,” that which is “insubstantial”; but more likely the name should be linked with an Accadian word meaning “son.” He was Adam and Eve’s second son, who was murdered by his brother Cain (Gen.4.1-Gen.4.26). “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (Gen.4.2). The problem that caused disaffection between the brothers arose when Cain brought a vegetable offering to the Lord, and Abel brought a lamb from the flock. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Gen.4.4-Gen.4.5). What this precisely means the Bible does not make clear. The Lord had previously made his will known that man must approach him with blood-sacrifice (possibly the revelation was made at Gen.3.21); or possibly with this incident between Cain and Abel the Lord revealed that he required animal sacrifice. Two things tend to suggest an earlier revelation of this requirement: first, the Genesis account has “Abel and his offering,” “Cain and his offering,” in each case putting the person first and suggesting that the one came in a correct spirit whereas the other did not. Second, the Book of Hebrews suggests the same view: “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did” (Heb.11.4). How could he have acted in faith if there had not been a prior word from the Lord for him to believe and obey? Cain, by contrast, came in a defiant spirit, as is revealed in his hurt refusal of the Lord’s reminder that the right way was open to him and in his resentful murder of his brother. Thus Abel became the first exemplar of the way of righteousness through faith (Matt.23.35; 1John.3.12).——JAM


ABEL (ā'bĕl, Heb. ’āvēl, a meadow)

The name of a city involved in the rebellion of Sheba (2Sam.20.14, 2Sam.20.18); the same as Abel Beth Maacah (2Sam.20.15).In 1Sam.6.18, KJV has “the great stone of Abel,” but NIV has “the large rock.”


ABEL ā’ bəl (הֶ֨בֶל, LXX ̓Αβελ, etymology uncertain; breath, vanity, fragility, vapor or son have been suggested). The second son of Adam and Eve and the brother or possibly the twin of his jealous murderer, Cain.

Since the Heb. etymology and meaning seems to be strange for a personal name, many have turned to Akkad. ablu/aplu, and Sumer. ibila, “son.” The language spoken at this time is unknown, so the problem remains.

Abel was a shepherd while Cain his brother was a “tiller of the ground.” Many point to the ancient Near E literary motif of a traditional rivalry between the nomad and the farmer. This could hardly be the interpretation of the Cain and Abel story since: (1) farming is not disparaged in this account but rather is assumed as the natural occupation of Adam in the Garden of Eden; (2) the punishment is not upon the occupation but upon Cain himself; and (3) the comparative evaluation of the two brothers is not on their vocations, but rather upon the men themselves and their offerings. (See Sarna’s work.)

The sacrifice of Abel is accepted because God first inspected the man, and then regarded the offering—note how emphatic the order and repetition of the words is in the Heb. text. Hebrews 11:4 notes that it was “by faith” that Abel offered a better sacrifice. The object or content of that faith is variously stated: Crawford holds that it had reference to the previously revealed promise of a Redeemer for our fallen race; Leupold points to the “firstlings” and the “fat pieces”; others hold the merit was in the blood.

Abel’s blood is contrasted with Christ’s in Hebrews 12:24. (See also Matt 23:35; 1 John 3:12.)

Bibliography

T. Crawford, The Doctrine of the Atonement (1874), 173-182; H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, I (1942), 188-214; N. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (1966), 28-35.

ABEL ā’ bəl (אָבֵ֣ל, meadow). A name frequently found in compounds and used to describe the nature of a site or its surroundings. In 2 Samuel 20:14, Abel is the shortened form of Abel (of) Beth-maacah. In 1 Samuel 6:18 the Heb. text reads “the great meadow,” whereas the LXX reads “the great stone,” reading אֶ֫בֶן, H74, for אָבֵ֣ל, and the KJV harmonizes as “the great stone of Abel.”

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The second son of Adam and Eve. The absence of the verb harah (Ge 4:2; compare Ge 4:1) has been taken to imply, perhaps truly, that Cain and Abel were twins.

1. A Shepherd: "Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground," thus representing the two fundamental pursuits of civilized life, the two earliest subdivisions of the human race. On the Hebrew tradition of the superiority of the pastoral over agricultural and city life, see The Expositor T, V, 351 ff. The narrative may possibly bear witness to the primitive idea that pastoral life was more pleasing to Yahweh than husbandry.

2. A Worshipper: "In process of time," the two brothers came in a solemn manner to sacrifice unto Yahweh, in order to express their gratitude to Him whose tenants they were in the land (Ge 4:3,4. See SACRIFICE).

How Yahweh signified His acceptance of the one offering and rejection of the other, we are not told. That it was due to the difference in the material of the sacrifice or in their manner of offering was probably the belief among the early Israelites, who regarded animal offerings as superior to cereal offerings. Both kinds, however, were fully in accord with Hebrew law and custom. It has been suggested that the Septuagint rendering of Ge 4:7 makes Cain’s offense a ritual one, the offering not being "correctly" made or rightly divided, and hence rejected as irregular. "If thou makest a proper offering, but dost not cut in pieces rightly, art thou not in fault? Be still!" The Septuagint evidently took the rebuke to turn upon Cain’s neglect to prepare his offering according to strict ceremonial requirements. dieles (Septuagint in the place cited.), however, implies nathach (nattach), and would only apply to animal sacrifices. Compare Ex 29:17; Le 8:20; Jud 19:29; 1Ki 18:23; and see Couch.

3. A Righteous Man: The true reason for the Divine preference is doubtless to be found in the disposition of the brothers (see Cain). Well-doing consisted not in the outward offering (Ge 4:7) but in the right state of mind and feeling. The acceptability depends on the inner motives and moral characters of the offerers. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent (abundant, pleiona) sacrifice than Cain" (Heb 11:4). The "more abundant sacrifice," Westcott thinks, "suggests the deeper gratitude of Abel, and shows a fuller sense of the claims of God" to the best. Cain’s "works (the collective expression of his inner life) were evil, and his brother’s righteous" (1Joh 3:12). "It would be an outrage if the gods looked to gifts and sacrifices and not to the soul" (Alcibiades II.149E.150A). Cain’s heart was no longer pure; it had a criminal propensity, springing from envy and jealousy, which rendered both his offering and person unacceptable. His evil works and hatred of his brother culminated in the act of murder, specifically evoked by the opposite character of Abel’s works and the acceptance of his offering. The evil man cannot endure the sight of goodness in another.

4. A Martyr: Abel ranks as the first martyr (Mt 23:35), whose blood cried for vengeance (Ge 4:10; compare Re 6:9,10) and brought despair (Ge 4:13), whereas that of Jesus appeals to God for forgiveness and speaks peace (Heb 12:24) and is preferred before Abel’s.

5. A Type: The first two brothers in history stand as the types and representatives of the two main and enduring divisions of mankind, and bear witness to the absolute antithesis and eternal enmity between good and evil.


A word used in several compound names of places. It appears by itself as the name of a city concerned in the rebellion of Sheba (2Sa 20:14; compare 1Sa 6:18), though it is there probably an abridgment of the name Abel-beth-maacah. In 1Sa 6:18, where the Hebrew has "the great meadow," and the Greek "the great stone," the King James Version translates "the great stone of Abel."