Genesis 4-6 introduces Cain and Abel, Noah, and Noah’s family tree back to Adam. These are the firsts we find in Genesis 4-6:
- The first live birth of a human child (Cain – 4:1)
- The first sacrifice/offering (4:3-4)
- The first murder (4:8)
- The first city (4:17)
- The first job specialization (4:19-22)
- The first family tree(s) (4:17-26 (Cain’s), 5:1-32 (Seth’s))
This brings up some interesting points:
- Cain was the firstborn, Abel was the middle child, Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve.
- The names mentioned in chapter 4 belong to Cain’s family.
- The names mentioned in chapter 5 belong to Seth’s family.
- Beyond chapter 4, Cain has no significant place in the Bible – besides to serve as a warning for others (Hebrews 11:4, 1 John 3:12, Jude 1:11).
- God’s promise to Abraham comes by way of Adam’s third-born son, Seth. Ancestry as follows: Adam, Seth, … , Noah, … , Abraham.
This makes me wonder. What, then, is the significance of Cain and Abel in chapter 4? Why include a storyline that dies after one chapter? Unless it is meant to serve as a warning to others. Or unless the first murder was such a shocking event that it deserved recognition.
Some observations regarding Cain and Abel
Regarding the sacrifices:
- Both men brought sacrifices to worship the Lord (both tithed – which is more than can be said of many Christians).
- God accepted Abel’s, but rejected Cain’s – why? (The Law had not yet been given stipulating which sacrifices were appropriate and which were not – also, even after the Law was given, both grain offerings and animal sacrifices were appropriate).
- Cain got indignant when God rejected his offering – he was arrogant and angry and did not accept the Lord’s judgement – as if God owed him something.
- Abel, on the other hand, approached God as a sinner, in faith, and with a humble heart (Hebrews 11:4).
- It is appropriate to give back to God what He’s given us (tithe), but God is more concerned with the heart than the sacrifice.
Regarding the murder:
- God warned Cain about his attitude and told him to change it before he did something worse (4:7).
- Cain ignored God’s warning, and did something worse (he murdered his brother).
- I’m (Aaron) not fully convinced that the murder was completely premeditated – perhaps Cain only wanted to give Abel a strong beating, and accidentally beat him to death – but it is very clear that Cain putting the hurt on Abel was premeditated (4:8).
- After the murder, Cain hid the evidence – out of guilt, or shame, or just plain not wanting to be found out.
- When God asked about it, Cain replied flippantly and arrogantly (and therefore makes the “premeditated murder” argument more plausible).
- Because of Cain’s response, God cursed him (perhaps if he’d answered humbly and admitted his sin, God would have forgiven him more quickly).
Regarding the curse:
- God cursed the ground under Cain’s feet further (than Adam’s curse) – so Cain, as a farmer, would have an incredibly hard time working the land.
- God cursed Cain to be a “restless wanderer on the earth” (4:12).
- Cain either a) whines about his curse, OR b) repents of his sin (4:13-14).
- God’s response to Cain’s reply gives evidence that Cain had repented of his sin and not merely whined about his curse (4:15). Besides that, the Hebrew word for “sin” is the same as that for “punishment.” Perhaps verse 14 would be better to read, “My sin is more than I can bear.” – This would give further evidence that Cain repented.
- God marked Cain as His own, to protect him (the first tattoo?).
Regarding the aftermath:
- Cain moves farther east (“east of Eden” can also be thought of as “farther from God”).
- Cain, though cursed, got married.
- Cain, though cursed, had a son.
- Cain, though cursed to be a restless wanderer, started building a city that he named after his son (4:17).
- Cain’s great, great grandson Lamech was worse than Cain, bragging about his hot temper, his own vengeance, and putting himself in the place of God (4:24). He said, “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” The difference is that God had promised to avenge Cain, but Lamech was boasting about avenging himself to a greater degree than God would avenge Cain. Arrogant and hot-tempered.
- A revival spread through the land as “men began to call on the name of the LORD.” (4:26).
Lessons from Cain and Abel
Actually, we are all Cain, and none of us is Abel. We are all sinful (Romans 3:23), and we have more to do with Cain than Abel. Abel was not a perfect or righteous man, he just approached God with the right heart. Cain was not necessarily a terrible or unrighteous man, we just have a picture of the worst day of his life – and few focus on God’s provision for Cain and Cain’s repentance, even after his sin.
Mark Driscoll relates Abel to Jesus, and humanity to Cain. Really, the Bible is not a book about good guys and bad guys, but all bad guys and Jesus (the only true good guy). We would do well to stop thinking so much of how Abel-like we are when we are sinned against, but rather how Cain-like we are when we entertain arrogant thoughts of our own Abel-likeness. And additionally, we would do well to think about how often we are Cain to someone else.
And yet, God still forgives the sinner Cain and puts a mark of protection on him, and blesses him with a wife, a family, and a city. So, there is hope for us in Cain’s story. That even when we are sinners, if we repent and draw near to God, he will forgive us (James 4:8, also Romans 5:8).