Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cain and Abel

Cain came as a godsend. Eve's jubilation reminds us of Adam's reception of his bride (Gen 4:1, cf. Gen 2:23).[1] She probably thought he would crush the serpent's head (Gen 3:15). But that wasn't to be.

God Requires mercy not sacrifice (Gen 4:2-7; Hos 6:6; Matt 9:13: 12:7)

Eve also born Abel, who "kept flocks" while Cain "worked the soil" (Gen 4:2). One day, each brought an offering from his labor (Gen 4:3-4). God favored Abel and his offering, but not so with Cain and his (Gen 4:4-5). Why? Each brought an "offering" (Heb. minkhah), which was often a grain or drink offering. So Cain's problem wasn't a lack of blood sacrifice for sin. The text gives us three indications of what went wrong:
  1. God accepts or rejects gifts as he accepts of rejects the giver. He fabored Abel but not Cain (Gen 4:4-5), so he accepted Abel's offering but not Cain's.
  2. Abel offered a sincere gift, but Cain just went through the motions. Abel brought his best, "fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock." But Cain just brought "some of the fruits of the soil" (Gen 4:3-4), neither the best nor the firstfruits.
  3. The New Testament makes Cain out to be like an unthinking animal that brings on his own destruction. Someone who makes a travesty of worship (Jude 10-12). Like a profane man who hates righteousness (1 John 3:11-12). 
Selfish unbelief led Cain into an empty ritual and on to murderous fury. Belief le Abel into the presence of God, at his altar on earth, and at his death.

Cain and Abel, by Titian
Cain grew "very angry" at God (Gen 4:5). So God put two options to him, which foreshadow our own spiritual choices.
  1. Continue to do wrong, and sin will seize you (Gen 4:7). Peter raised a similar alarm (1 Pet 5:8). God told Cain, "master" your sin (Gen 4:7), but Cain didn't.
  2. Do right, and I'll receive you (Gen 4:6). This prefigured the promise, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Thanks be to God, the command to find victory over our sin and receive the offer of salvation found fulfillment when Jesus Christ conquered sin and death.

People have a responsibility for each other (Gen 4:8-12)

Angry Cain didn't even answer God; instead, he turned on his brother and murdered him (Gen 4:8). Instead of crushing the serpent's head, Cain crushed his brother's head. Fury often comes as a prelude to homicide, so Jesus went right to the root of the matter when he condemned anger as the sinful source of murder (Matt 5:21-22).

God's call "Where is your brother?" (Gen 4:9) sounds like his callt o Cain's sinful parents (Gen 3:9). As he had with Cain's parents, God sought confession not information. Cain's parents had offered excuses; now their son offered lies and impudence (Gen 4:9). So God confronted Cain, "Listen! Your brother blood cries out to me from the ground (Gen 4:10). Murder is like attacking God himself, because it attacks his image and likeness. When David killed Uriah, he confessed, "Against you--you above all--I have sinned" (Ps 51:4 NET). Hughes concludes, "Our own hatreds... are spiritual homicides ultimately directed against God--however private they may seem to be."[2]

Vengeance belongs to the LORD (Gen 4:13-16)

When Abel's blood cried out, God listened. The LORD pronounced a twofold sentence:
  1. God aggravated the agricultural curse. The LORD God had consigned Adam to sweaty toil for limited productivity (Gen 3:18). Now he told Cain, "When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you" (Gen 4:12).
  2. God intensified exile from his presence. God had exiled Cain's parents from the garden. Now God made Cain "a homeless wanderer" (Gen 4:12), banish from human settlement. Cain moved east, further yet from Eden (Gen 4:16). This foreshadowed Israel's exile from the land, the church's judgment of excommunicatin (Matt 18:17-19; 1 Cor 5), and eternal banishment in the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-18).
Cain responded not with repentant grief but with whining self-pity. "My punishment (Heb. 'awon) is more than I can bear (Heb. nasa') (Gen 4:13).[3] But true repentance doesn't whine over the severity of divine judgment; rather, it laments the severity of the offense against God and neighbor. Cain pitied himself rather than his bereaved parents. Rather than worrying about his brother's death, Cain worried about his own (Gen 4:14).

But God said, "Not so," and gave Cain a protective mark (Gen 4:15). Cain wasn't righteous, but God put him under his protection anyway. The Bible provides plentiful parallels of God's mark of protection. We see if typificed in the the bloody doorposts on Passover night in Egypt (Exod 12; Heb 11:28). In both the Old and New Testaments, we see it symbolized in prophetic visions of God marking the righteous before destruction comes (Ezek 9; Rev 7:1-8; 9:5). And we see its fulfillment in the seal of the Spirit that God places on the elect (John 3:33; 1 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30),[4] and in the heavenly new name (Rev 2:17; 3:12, see Isa 62:2).

As we look ahead to the new year, let's forgo any claim to vengeance against those who have done us wrong. Let's renew our confidence in the Lord as our avenger and protector. Indeed, let us love our neighbor--or brother--as ourselves so that we can offer up true sacrifices of praise.

1. The Hebrew phrasing of Gen 4:1 is ambiguous, as the various translations show: (1) "I have created a man just as the LORD did" (NET). Understood this way, Eve says something like, "I, a woman ('ishah), was produced from man ('ish); now I, woman, have in turn produced a man." (2) "I have received a man, even the LORD." This translation implies that Eve saw Cain as fulfillment of the messianic promise of Gen 3:15. But Gen 3:15 itself gives no hint that the seed of the woman was to be divine. In the fullness of time, we have come to realize that the incarnate God fulfilled the promise of Gen 3:15, but Eve wouldn't have been expecting that.. (3) "I have received a man from the LORD," or "with the LORD's help." This  is the most common take on it in English translation.

2. R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 105; citing Matt 5:21-25.

3. The term 'awon can mean either "sin" or its "penalty." And the term nasa' can mean either "bear" or "forgive." So Cain's response could mean either "my sin is too great for you to forgive (LXX, Targums), or "my punishment is to great for me to bear." The rest of Cain's complaint makes it clear that he lamented his punishment rather than his sin.

4. Note that the mark of the beast symbolizes a pretentious and ineffectual counterfeit of the divine mark of protection (Rev 13:17; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).


  1. I pray you realize the connection between cain and esau.

    1. How do you define the "connection between Cain and Esau"? It's an intriguing suggestion worth consideration with some more detail.