Abel [Ā’bĕl]—meadow, vanity or vapor. The second son of Adam and Eve slain by his brother Cain (Gen. 4:1-15; Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4; 12:24).
Abel’s name, meaning breath or vapor, is associated with the shortness of his life. What was his life but a vapor? (Ps. 90:6; Jas. 4:14) Abel was a shepherd and a possessor of flocks and herds; Cain was a tiller of the ground. It was not occupation, however, that parted these first two brothers in the world, but their conception of what was pleasing and acceptable to God. Abel feared God and because he did, he offered to God the best of his flock. His was a sacrifice of blood and represented the surrender of a heart to God. Cain brought what he had gathered from the earth, an offering representing his own effort. Because God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s, the angry brother slew Abel in the field. But Abel’s blood cried from the ground for punishment. Abel’s blood is placed alongside Christ’s shed blood (Heb. 12:24), which is better than Abel’s in that his blood cried out for vengeance but the blood of Christ cries out for mercy. Abel’s blood, although the blood of a righteous man (Matt. 23:35), cannot atone, but Christ’s blood is ever efficacious (1 John 1:7). Abel is unique among Bible men in a fourfold direction:
He was the first one of the human race to die.
He was the first person on the earth to be murdered.
He was the first man to be associated with Christ.
He was the first saint to present an offering acceptable to God.
Abel is also the name given to geographical locations (1 Sam. 6:18; 2 Sam. 20:14).