Genesis 4-6 (Bible-365.2): Rethinking Cain

Genesis 4-6 (Bible-365.2): Rethinking Cain

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:

  1. The first live birth of a human child (Cain – 4:1)
  2. The first sacrifice/offering (4:3-4)
  3. The first murder (4:8)
  4. The first city (4:17)
  5. The first job specialization (4:19-22)
  6. 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:

  1. Both men brought sacrifices to worship the Lord (both tithed – which is more than can be said of many Christians).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. Abel, on the other hand, approached God as a sinner, in faith, and with a humble heart (Hebrews 11:4).
  5. 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:

  1. God warned Cain about his attitude and told him to change it before he did something worse (4:7).
  2. Cain ignored God’s warning, and did something worse (he murdered his brother).
  3. 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).
  4. After the murder, Cain hid the evidence – out of guilt, or shame, or just plain not wanting to be found out.
  5. When God asked about it, Cain replied flippantly and arrogantly (and therefore makes the “premeditated murder” argument more plausible).
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. God cursed Cain to be a “restless wanderer on the earth” (4:12).
  3. Cain either a) whines about his curse, OR b) repents of his sin (4:13-14).
  4. 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.
  5. God marked Cain as His own, to protect him (the first tattoo?). 

Regarding the aftermath:

  1. Cain moves farther east (“east of Eden” can also be thought of as “farther from God”).
  2. Cain, though cursed, got married.
  3. Cain, though cursed, had a son.
  4. Cain, though cursed to be a restless wanderer, started building a city that he named after his son (4:17).
  5. 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.
  6. 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).


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