Cain brought an offering from the “fruit of the ground” in Genesis 4:3. Then the next verse adds, “…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering.” First, notice that Abel brought of the “firstborn.” We learn in Scripture that the firstborn belongs to God. In verse Exodus 13:2, God says, “Consecrate every firstborn male to me, the firstborn from every womb among the Israelites, both man and domestic animal; it is mine.” I realize that Moses laid this down thousands of years later as he was leading the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. It’s not unreasonable to understand that this practice had been handed down from God to Adam and Eve and then to Cain and Abel. The practice existed before it became written down in the law of Moses. When Jesus confronts the religious leaders in his day about their not believing in him, they argue that they believe in Moses. Jesus replied that if they believed in Moses, they would believe Him because Moses wrote about Him. Jesus was the firstborn of God, His only begotten Son, and was the only one to satisfy the requirement of an acceptable offering. Since Jesus argues that the Old Testament is about himself, it seems we must see Jesus even in the offering that Abel made in Genesis 4. It must look forward to Jesus.

Next, not only was it the “firstborn,” but it was the “fat portions.” According to Reyburn, “…it (fat portions) refers to the highly prized parts of the animal that were offered as a sacrifice.” He then suggests that the French Common Language Translation says it well: “Abel for his part brought as sacrifice some first born lambs from his flock; from these he offered the Lord the best parts.” All of this makes it clear that as with the animal skins taken to clothe Adam and Eve, this animal “…must first be killed before anything can be offered. “He killed them and gave the best parts of them as a sacrifice.”[1] What is essential in the sacrificial system is that life is taken. We read in the New Testament that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. Paul tells us also that the wages of sin is death. This was required of the animal to clothe Adam and Eve and was therefore established as the appropriate sacrifice. In Genesis 22, we’ll read about God’s call for Abraham to bring the most precious thing (the fat portions of his life) to Mount Mariah and offer him on the altar as a burnt offering. But God will provide another lamb as a substitute. It’s all about Jesus.

Finally, God had “regard” for Abel as well as for his offering. Boice suggests that the way we see God accepting the sacrifice is like what happened when Elijah held his context with the prophets of Baal. He writes, “God then received Abel’s offering, perhaps by sending down fire on his altar, as he did on Elijah’s altar on Mount Carmel.” I’m not sure we need to see this happening, but Boice is correct when he continues his discussion and says, “Abel’s sacrifice involved blood and therefore testified to the death of a substitute. He was coming to God as God had shown he must be approached. When God killed animals in the Garden of Eden and then clothed Adam and Eve with their skins, God showed that, because sin means death, innocent victims must die so that sinners might be pardoned. The sacrifices pointed forward to Christ. When Abel came with the offering of blood, he was believing God and was looking forward to the provision of the deliverer.”[2]

[1] Reyburn, William David, and Euan McG. Fry. 1998. A Handbook on Genesis. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Boice, James Montgomery. 1998. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.