After leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve have their first two sons: “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain (קין; qayin), saying, ‘I have gotten (קניתי; qaniti) a man with the Lord. And again, she bore his brother Abel” (Gen 4:1-2a). Cain gets his name because it sounds like the Hebrew word for “to get” or “possess” (קנה; qanah). The astute reader might ask: Why does the Bible explain the rationale for Cain’s name, but not Abel’s? The reason is that the almost immediate death of Eve’s younger son will tell the reader why Abel gets his name.

In Hebrew, Abel (הבל; Hevel) means “vapor” or “breath” – something that is here today and gone tomorrow. According to Proverbs, “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor (הבל; hevel) and a snare of death” (Prov 21:6). Lamenting the brevity of a human life, the psalmist says to God, “My lifetime is nothing before you. Surely all humanity stands as a mere breath (הבל)” (Ps 39:5 cf. 39:11; 78:33; 94:11; 144:4). Similarly, Job states, “I loathe my life; I will not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are but a breath (הבל)” (Job 7:16).

In light of the meaning of Abel’s name, readers should not be shocked to see that a mere six verses after Abel’s birth, “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and murdered him” (Gen 4:8). Those who can read the Bible in its original language don’t need an explicit explanation for why Abel gets his name; when we hear that Eve has a son named הבל we know that, like a vapor, he won’t be around for long! Despite this tragedy, God’s love has the last word. Soon after Abel’s death, “Adam again knew his wife Eve and she bore a son and called his name Seth (שֵׁת; Shet), for she said, ‘God has substituted (שַׁת; shat) for me another offspring in place of Abel” (Gen 4:25-26). Although Abel leaves the world like a wisp at the hands of his brother Cain, God reinforces Adam and Eve’s family line by appointing Seth who, according to Jewish tradition, is one of the most virtuous people in all of biblical history.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

156 COMMENTS

  1. My question on this is why Jesus and Yeshua are the same person. I always thought that Jesus was for the greek side of his name but you have it here in Hebrew? My other question is how did Eve know that Abel was going to be killed by his brother?
    • Hi Sandra. Good questions. First, "Jesus" is the English translation for the Greek Yesoos and the Hebrew Yeshua; it's all the same person, it's just a matter of the language in which ones chooses to write his name. Second, the Bible doesn't narrate Eve's naming of Abel like it does with Cain (see Gen 4:1-2), so it's not that Eve "knew" that Abel would die and named him accordingly, it's that he ends up with a fitting name in light of his short stay within the biblical narrative.

      + More answers (7)
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
    • My question centers on the race of Jesus that is a start first anf foremost, so we u derstand why Bible characters were changed their ethnicity race

      + More answers (1)
    • My thoughts exactly! They must have changed persons named later in life, after some significant event, like untimely deaths?
    • Jesus - Yeshua. I've always taken them as being one and the same personage, the Son of God. In German, Yeshua used the J as the first letter because in German, the J has the Y sound. Jesus is pronounced as Yay-zus. One of the first translations was German.
  2. 1st - for Sandra - And the deeper meaning of HIS name, Yeshua is from the root of & with the meaning of Salvation! "You shall name HIM Yeshua because he will save HIS people...", 2nd again building on Sandra Lee's comments. Is there any way of knowing if Hevel was prophetically named at birth or was it given to him post his murder? I consulted the Chumsh - no help from there.
    • Thanks, Bruce. Abel's name wasn't given post-murder, since he's called Abel upon birth (Gen 4:2a). I know of no rabbinic comment that says Abel was prophetically named in anticipation of his quick death (but it may well be out there somewhere). I'll note that no one explicitly "names" Abel in the text; whereas Eve names Cain and explicates the reason for his name (Gen 4:1-2), the text just says "and she bore his brother Abel." So for me, instead of thinking in terms of a "prophetic naming," it's enough to say that the author of Genesis highlights the appropriateness of Abel's name in light of what happens to him in the narrative.
    • Thanks Bruce I will sometimes get confised over people some times I like to say Yeshua instead of Jesus, I know that they are both the same person. Thanks and to Dr. Schaser too, I feel that you are doing a great job here in tring to get us thinking on the right path. Excuse my spelling I am not a good speller even now that I am taking Hebrew for the third time. Plus when I went to colleage learning computer programing, we use to spell the word on perpus. (spelling againg). Just so you understand.
    • You can find the meaning of Hebrew roots at Abarim-publications.com. It provides a very good explanation of the Hebrew roots. The best way to access the meanings is by googling it like this: the amazing name Hevel (enter)
      Regards!
    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Raymond. I once heard a church sermon in which the Abel-hevel connection was mentioned, so some churches would be able to relate this kind of material to their congregations. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer seminaries require their graduates to learn the biblical languages (for various reasons), so many pastors come out of school unable to makes these kinds of connections. I think it's a problem with the seminary system more so than the Church. Thank you again for your response to the post!

      + More answers (5)
  3. The emphasis on males.How did these sons have children? Were they hermaphrodites? Why is one a Jew only through a female Jew?
    • Hi Winston. On the sons having children, we often assume that Adam's family was the only one around, which then leads to the question: if its only Cain and Abel, how are they reproducing? But the Bible explicates that there are other people around than the primordial family, since "Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bore Enoch" (Gen 4:17). So there's nothing in the biblical narrative that precludes other people being around, but the authors don't narrate their stories. Female (or matrilineal) descent for Jewishness is a rabbinic development; descent was patrilineal (male) in the the biblical period.

      + More answers (13)
  4. This is fascinating.. I wonder if Eve named him such because, in her mind, Cain was primary. Did she see him as the One spoken of to the serpent, the offspring, that would crush the serpent's head? I think the language is so interesting here: " ‘I have gotten (קניתי; qaniti) a man with the Lord." Wait, wasn't Adam part of the process? But no, she says she got a man "with the Lord." So, if she sees Cain as the One, then what is Able but a breath, an afterthought..
    • Thanks for your responses, Mary! So Adam is still part of the process in the birth of Cain: "Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived and bore Cain" (Gen 4:1). The sense of the Hebrew is that Eve got a son "with the help of" the Lord, as anyone who has a child does. Interesting thought about Cain being the foretold "seed" to crush the snake's head. It's ironic that the reader would make this logic conclusion, and then Cain ends up "crushing" his own brother, rather than the snake!

      + More answers (5)
  5. And again she bore Able ? Is not the text " And THEN she bore ABLE " Then and again have to compete different meaning ?
    • Hi Cal. Thanks for your question. The operative Hebrew verb comes from the root יסף (yasaph), which means "to do again" or "to add." So in English, it might best be translated: "And she did [it] again," i.e., she "conceived again" and she bore Abel.

      + More answers (5)
  6. Good day Sir thanx for your wonderful teachings I really enjoy it. One question that arise from so many people out of Gen 4:17. Cain had a wife and she bore him a son. Where is she comming from. Can you give me a little bit of clarity please. Thanx very much
    • Hi Louis. A great question, but unfortunately I can't give a whole lot of clarity because they Bible doesn't tell us :) What we often assume is that Adam's family constitutes the only humans on earth at the time of Genesis 4, but the Bible doesn't align with this thinking since, as you note, Gen 4:17 says that Cain "knew his wife" -- clearly, there are other people around other than just Adam's line. Where did they come from? The Bible doesn't tell us! Wish I could be more helpful on this one, but we just don't know.

      + More answers (11)
  7. Re the name Abel being prophetically given, I have experienced that God somehow brings His prophetic intents to pass by being intimately involved with mankind. As a Biblical example Abraham in KJV Gen 22:7-18, when asked "where is the sacrifice?" He responds "God will provide himself a sacrifice" which can mean either an animal or prophetically "Himself" as the sacrifice. Also if you take the first 10 names in Gen the 5 listing you get prophetically: Hebrew/English Adam/Man, Seth/ Appointed, Enosh/Mortal, Kenan /Sorrow, Mahalalel/The Blessed God, Jared/Shall come down, Enoch/Teaching, Methuselah/His death shall bring, Lamech/The Despairing, Noah/Rest or comfort.
    • Great point re God being "intimately involved" with humanity, Peeter. I definitely agree. Not quite sure if I'm following your thesis on Genesis 5 -- that is, I'm not sure what the names would say "prophetically." Just a quick translational note: Methuselah doesn't mean "his death shall bring." The "Meth" in the name doesn't come from מוֹת (mot; "death"), but rather מַת (mat; "a group of men," likely a diminutive of the plural מתים). The "selah" in the name comes from שׁלח (to send out). So rather than "his death shall bring," Methuselah means something like "men go out."
  8. Helpful Information! Thank you for making it available for all who are desirous to know what The Scriptures teach.
Load more comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your name here
Words left: 50
Please enter your comment!