It never ceases to amaze me how much of our family dysfunction has its roots with the first family in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were the first human parents ever, and some of the choices made by that first family have left a lasting imprint on all of our lives since they made them. I’d like to illustrate in today’s post one of the aspects of “human nature” that seems to trace its roots to the first two sons of Adam and Eve by going to a Psalm written by King David
Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. (Ps. 39:5, KJV)
The meaning of the word selah is a bit of a mystery. Some think it’s just inserted over 70 times in the Psalms to give musical instructions, or to indicate a pause in the music. Others think it has a deeper meaning related to the root word that it comes from, and that it means to pause to evaluate something and figure its real worth.
So if we pause to more fully evaluate this phrase, “Every man, at his best state is altogether vanity,” what can we draw from it’s deeper meaning?
“Adam” is “Abel”
The word “man” is translated from the Hebrew word adam (Strong’s #120), and is a generic term for humanity that is very closely related to the proper name of the first man “Adam” (Strong’s #121). So every member of mankind or humanity (ladies are included) at his or her “best state” — when we are at the very peak of our physical, political, social, and intellectual power and ability on this earth — is wholly and completely vanity!
The Hebrew word for “vanity” is what really peaked my interest in this verse, because the Hebrew word is hebel (Strong’s #1892). It is pronounced “abel,” and if you look up the proper name Abel (Strong’s #1893) found in Gen 4:2 in Strong’s Dictionary, it simply says, “the same as H1892: hebel, Abel, the son of Adam.
Thus, we have our title for today — Adam/Humanity is Abel/Vanity.
A “Lesser” Son
In Genesis 4:1, it tells us “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.'” I’ve heard several ministers over the years speak about what Eve meant by this, but Matt Henry sums it up this way …
“Many suppose that Eve had a conceit that this son was the promised seed (of Gen. 3:15), and that therefore she thus triumphed in him, as her words may be read, I have gotten a man, the Lord, God-man. If so, she was wretchedly mistaken, as Samuel, when he said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me, 1Sam. 16:6. When children are born, who can foresee what they will prove? He that was thought to be a man, the Lord, or at least a man from the Lord, and for his service as priest of the family, became an enemy to the Lord
In the next verse in Genesis, Eve “bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” Matthew Henry has this to say about Abel’s name.
“Abel signifies vanity. When she thought she had obtained the promised seed in Cain, she was so taken up with that possession that another son was as vanity to her.”
So, the first family was as dysfunctional as any since, with a highly favored son … and another who bore the name “vanity.” That never turns out well. We all know the story of Cain and Abel, and can perhaps identify with some of the human emotion, and the rivalry between them as they presented their offerings to God, who looked with favor upon the offering of the “lesser” son.
So all of the sons and daughters of Adam — humanity — carry about this stigma of Abel — vanity — in our physical nature, and we often see evidence of it in scripture in the lives of Biblical characters. Solomon wrote a whole book on the vanity of life, and came to the conclusion that there could be only one resolution to the human problem.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)
Even though his family didn’t seem to think much of him, Abel knew this truth which Solomon speaks of. Abel had caught a vision of life that the rest of his family to that point was unable to see.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. (Heb. 11:4)
I don’t get the impression here that Abel thought Cain was the promised seed. His focus was on God and his example, which pleased God, does still speak, especially to us today who have knowledge of the true promised Seed (Gal. 3:16), and to all who wish to offer to God a “more excellent sacrifice.” It comes down to a simple choice for all of us. Will I live the way of Cain, or will I live the way of Abel?
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom. 12:)
No matter how vain life might seem at times, we can all follow the example of Abel, and offer a better sacrifice as we follow the true Seed toward the Kingdom of God. If we follow God, our lives need not be wholly lived in vain no matter how little other people may value us. We have a high value in God’s eyes, and He notices the good that we are doing for Him.