Cain and Abel abide as the consummate ‘Good son—Bad son’ story. Two boys raised in the same environment who turn out so differently. Abel’s sacrifice accepted by God; Cain’s rejected. What was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice? Tragically, the specific answer to that question is one that lies beneath the dirt with its victim. The biggest clue lies in Cain’s attitude in the face of God’s warning. His anger had gotten the better of him. He was bent on avenging himself, because ‘my-brother-made-me-look-bad.’ God’s caution fell on deaf ears: “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen.4:7). The only thing that Cain wanted to be master of was his own evil intent against his brother—“Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Gen.4:8). Abel appears in the New Testament as a great man of faith in Hebrews 11. Cain’s name appears as a byword.
Jude pronounces a “Woe” upon those who have “gone in the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11). John uses Cain to describe the antithesis of “love for one another,” and as a murderer who was of the devil. “And for what reason did he slay him?” asks John, “Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous” (1Jn.3:11-12). If killing Abel was Cain’s attempt to wipe all memory of his brother’s name from the earth, it was an epic fail. Instead, Cain helped to exalt his brother’s name to a near martyr status. Here, millennia later, standing in Faith’s Hall of Fame, we find Abel honoured among the greatest of God’s faithful. And there in the explanatory notes is his brother serving both as commentary and reason for his brothers success: “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). Everyone else on that list was dead, too. Abel’s death is being used as a beacon of hope to the Christian who sacrifices the best of what he has—They can kill you, but your righteousness speaks on!