In Genesis 4, Cain, tiller of the earth, offers fruit to the LORD and murders his brother Abel. This act comes hot on the heels of Adam and Eve’s lost paradise, where Satan too had offered fruit to God’s people and ushered in a reign of death across the earth. Just as He had done with Cain’s parents, God meets Cain with a question: Where is your brother Abel? Cain’s reply shows he too is hiding.
Abel is earth’s first recorded shepherd, the first whisper of a Coming Christ in human flesh that God lovingly offers, so soon after Adam. Abel’s name likewise carries a message, its meaning “vapour” or “breath.” And God says that when Cain cut down his brother, Abel’s blood seeped into the mouth of the earth and closed off the earth’s strength from Cain. Indeed, Abel’s blood cries out to Me, God laments (Heb. 11:4). The Creator of the universe had breathed life into those He had made, and like Satan, Cain had snuffed it out (Genesis 2:7).
But God would not leave his people breathless, and in the time of Noah, He gathered together “by twos all flesh in which was the breath of life” (Genesis 7:15). As the waters of judgement and salvation rose, God began to reverse what the serpent had conspired, carrying above the water a remnant, as all those left on the dry land, “all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died” (Genesis 7:22).
Still, life on earth, even for those God loves, would remain but a breath, a vapour. God reminds us of this at the death of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, who breathed their last (Genesis 25:8, etc.), a sign that earth and heaven were still apart. Perhaps Job says it best, David also.
And even we who live in the power of the Resurrection, what is our life? We are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:13-15). Jesus our Saviour has conquered death, His last breath a cry to heaven like the blood of Abel (Mark 15:37), His next recorded breath the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe (John 20:22). But though we have this Heavenly Breath, still our lungs fail. Still we die.
Like most people, I’ve been thinking alot about breath lately, which took me to the story of Abel and beyond. But as I read the Bible more, the more I find hope pulling me not just to Jesus’s death and resurrection but rather to the Bible’s center of gravity, like a planet in orbit around the Sun. That place where heaven’s canopy meets the earth. Where once again, the garden breathes out fragrance, and the fragrance of our breath is like apples, our mouths like the best wine (Song of Songs 4:16, 7:8).