Abel was a forerunner of Messiah since he was a shepherd who was counted as a righteous prophet (Luke 8:50-51). He was also slain despite his innocence and was obedient unto God. Yeshua (Jesus) is the good Shepherd, the Shepherd of our souls (John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:25) and the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Abel foreshadows Messiah who in addition to being the Prophet like Moses, was sinless and obedient unto the Father’s will, even unto death. Through His sacrifice Messiah made atonement for sin.
Abel the Shepherd
The Jewish historian Josephus who was captured by the Romans at Masada notes that Cain signified acquisition whilst Abel signified sorrow.[i] Isaiah 53:3 describes the Messiah as a Man of sorrows, frequently acquainted with grief. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:6).
Remember that Abel was by occupation a shepherd. Jesus not only described Himself as the good Shepherd but explained that the good Shepherd gives His life for his sheep (John 10:1). He is described in Revelation 5:6 as “the lamb who was slain.” Hebrews 12:24 ties those two thoughts together perfectly as “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than Abel.”
The sacrifice and blood of Abel
Abel brought an offering of the firstborn of his flock and of the fat whilst Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. The Lord respected Abel and his offering though He did not respect Cain and his offering. Abel’s offering and death are a picture of the redeeming work of Messiah.
Noticeably many of the patriarchs were shepherds and David is a tremendous example of one trusting God whilst tending his sheep and was subsequently exalted to the throne. He epitomised the role of the shepherd-king. Furthermore, he offered his people protection, provided for their needs, led by example and was the forerunner of his greater Son.[ii]
The theme continues throughout Scripture where sin offerings were provided whereby blood was sprinkled on the ground. Abel offered a lamb from his own flock, but the lamb of God offered Himself to make atonement for sin. Interestingly, Abel offered the firstborn of his flock and the fat which is a practise that would long afterward be incorporated into the Mosaic law of the peace offering, “all the fat is the Lord’s” (Leviticus 3:16).[iii]
Ferguson writes, “This is the first mention of blood in Scripture and how tragic that it must be a brother’s blood, shed in hatred! Blood shed cries to God for vengeance. Cain has given his brother’s blood to the ground to drink, but even from the ground it cries for justice, for it was the blood of righteous Abel” (Matthew 23:35)…How reassuring to read of One whose blood “speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).[iv]
Abel’s blood speaks from the ground
Leviticus 17:11 tells us that it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. Abel was the first to offer a blood sacrifice and that was prior to the giving of the law through Moses. Abel’s blood was described as “speaking from the ground” (Genesis 4:11). Blood is the only means of atonement and peace with God. However Messiah has provided His blood that can bring someone to the presence of God, and it is only through His blood that it is possible to have the means to be accepted by and to approach God.[v] Moreover, while Abel’s blood speaks continually on earth, Messiah’s blood speaks continually from Heaven.[vi]
Abel’s blood spoke from the earth and cried for justice, while Messiah’s blood speaks from heaven and announces mercy for sinners. Abel’s blood rightly aroused feelings of guilt for Cain and drove him to despair but Messiah’s blood frees us from guilt and has enabled access into God’s presence.[vii]
[i] William Whiston (Translation) & Paul Maier (Commentary) The New Complete Works of Josephus Jewish Antiquities 1:52
[ii] J.W. Ferguson Ritchie Old Testament Commentaries Genesis What the Bible Teaches (John Ritchie Ltd, 2000; Kilmarnock),p49
[iii] Henry Morris The Genesis Record (Baker Book House, 1976; Grand Rapids), p137
[v] Arnold G. Fructenbaum Ariel’s Bible Commentary The Messianic Jewish Epistles Hebrews-James-I & II Peter-Jude Exposition from a Messianic Jewish Perspective (Ariel Ministries, 2005; Tustin), p183
[vi] Ibid, 183
[vii] Warren W. Wiersbe A New Testament Study-Hebrews Be Confident Live by faith, not by sight (Victor, 2004; Eastbourne), p143