Hebrew – Abel




In stark contrast to Cain, whom we studied yesterday, there was his brother Abel, whose name also tells us much. The Hebrew is Heḇel (H1893), which is identical to heḇel (H1892; ) and has an interesting etymology. It literally means “wind, breath, or vapor,” while another form speaks of vanity or emptiness, as is true thirty-eight times in Ecclesiastes alone (e.g., “vanity of vanities; all is vanity,”), showing the total emptiness and utter futility of life without God (Rom_8:20-22).


While this word at first seems odd when applied to Abel, it in reality is quite appropriate. Why that name? One commentator offers this reason: “By the time of Abel’s birth, Eve had become thoroughly impressed with the impact of God’s curse on the world. God had indeed made the creation ‘subject to vanity.’” Abel’s existence itself was a vapor, that is, short-lived in comparison with the life spans of the day. Adam, for example, lived 930 years (Gen_5:5). By the evil of his own brother, however, Abel’s life was cut short. As vapor is present one moment and gone the next, so it was with Abel.


The application of this word to each of us is challenging. James writes on this very subject: “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil” (Jas_4:13-16). Compared with the long life spans of people in Genesis, each of us is on this earth for a very short time. In light of eternity, it truly is only a vapor. How, then, should we live? Should we live a life of arrogance and self-determination? Or should our life be one that seeks God at every turn, whether it be in business decisions, personal living, or family life? To believe truly in the sovereignty of God is to believe He is in control of all things and that we are to bring ourselves into conformity to His will.


Scriptures for Study: Read what Job writes about the fleeting nature of life (Job_7:6-7; Job_9:25-26; Job_14:1-2). What wonderful encouragement do Peter and John give us (1Pe_1:24-25; 1Jn_2:17)?





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