When we think of the story of Cain and Abel, we often think of it as the story of Cain. Abel is frequently overlooked. There is a good reason for this. We don’t know much about Abel, and Scripture itself focuses on Cain.
Abel’s name is the Hebrew word Hebel, which we find throughout the book of Ecclesiastes translated as “meaningless” or “vanity.” Hebel means vapor or mist. In Ecclesiastes, Hebel represents the difficulty in grasping something enigmatic, like a mist that’s here for a moment and then gone.
Abel does everything right, as far as this story goes. He works with the flocks and offers a sacrifice to God that consists of the firstborn and fat portions. It is a pleasing sacrifice to God.
What is vital to grasp from Abel’s story is that his faithfulness does not save him from terrible circumstances. The Lord’s favor is on Abel, but it does not keep him away from death. This truth fits how Ecclesiastes uses the word Hebel to say that even when we do what we are supposed to, our circumstances can be tragic, understanding may be elusive, and death is inevitable.
Our obedience is not a way to manipulate God into giving us favorable circumstances. God’s favor is our reward—not the avoidance of pain or discomfort. Abel’s great legacy is that he does what is right. He exercises godly character and receives God’s favor. Hebrews chapter 11 includes Abel as an example of faithfulness in the Bible’s “Hall of Faith.”
We cannot control outcomes, but we can rule the choices that shape our character. We can choose to trust God, to listen to what He says, to love one another, and to follow the ways of wisdom. Doing so may not create desirable circumstances. But the wisdom and favor of God are great rewards.