Cain and Abel

This lesson explores the series of events leading up to the first murder.
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In our last lesson we finished the section of Genesis that explained the fall of man.

  1. God set forth His command: obey and live, disobey and die.
  2. Man disobeyed and suffered the various consequences of death: sorrow, pain, alienation from his environment (that is why he had to work), final decomposition of his body and separation from his soul.
  3. God offers a glimpse of the salvation to come and we see Adam and Eve respond to this hope.
    • They begin to have children which is a sign that they believe God's promise that salvation will come through a human form in the future.
    • They are removed from the garden to live out their lives away from the presence of God.

The next section describes the beginning of the fall of the world now inhabited by sinful man.

The Murder of Abel – 4:1-8

As we discussed earlier, the fact that Eve had children despite the suffering is a sign that she (along with Adam) believed the promise of God to send a savior through her seed. We will see, however, that Satan's initial attempt to control the woman and dominate her seed will continue to the next generation and result in the poisoning of one child and the death of another.

The "seed" of Satan will murder the "seed" of woman in an attempt to continue to dominate but God will continue the "seed" with other children. Yet another image of the ultimate scenario of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord."
- Genesis 4:1

Some versions use the word "knew" as a euphemism for sexual intimacy and transparency in marital love. The name "Cain" means gotten in reference to the fact that Eve was joyful that she was able to "beget" or bear a child – God's promise fulfilled. It is significant to note that the first human created was a man, the first human conceived was a man, and the first human resurrected to eternal life was in a man's body.

Eve's joy may have also been based on the fact that she thought that this person (Cain) might be the deliverer.

Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
- Genesis 4:2

It is interesting to note that Abel's name means "vapor" or "vanity". Some reasons for this:

  • Eve began to experience the results of sin in her life and saw what God meant by the curse.
  • Cain began to demonstrate sinful tendencies and Eve recognized the vanity or shortness of a life with death as its natural end.
  • She could have been predicting the shortness of Abel's life.

In chapter 5:4, it says that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters (after all, their role was to populate the earth) and so they continued to have children who themselves had children, etc. This becomes forbidden later on in history because of social and physical reasons, but in this situation it was neither dangerous nor against God's will. This was how Cain and others began families. The Bible mentions the occupations of each.

Abel was a shepherd since sheep were needed to provide two things at least:

  1. Clothing (skins for clothing).
  2. Sacrifice

We have no direct instructions but obviously animal sacrifice was being practiced and the example of sacrificial death was established by God when He provided for Adam and Eve's coverings when they left the Garden. It was the primary form of worship from the very beginning.

Cain was a farmer like his father Adam. This was necessary because until this time the produce from the ground was the only form of food authorized. Only in Genesis 9:3 did God authorize the use of animals for food. Before this, He authorized only the use of fruits and vegetables (Genesis 1:29; Genesis 2:16; Genesis 3:19).

We do not have a timeframe here for the events that take place. Centuries could have gone by as the population grew and society developed.

Statisticians tell us that if people were healthy and had normal amounts of children for extended periods (which they did back then) then the population would be approximately 150,000 in Cain's lifetime.

The Bible only traces the life of key persons at the beginning of time, not all individuals. It only makes passing references to the development of society. In this section, it describes key events and moments in the lives of Cain and Abel without reference to time or social development.

3So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
- Genesis 4:3-5

There could be various ways of interpreting these verses:

  1. The first time they offered a sacrifice, one did with fruit of the ground, the other with animals.
  2. Originally only animal sacrifices were offered by everyone but one day Cain decided to offer something different.
  3. These kinds of sacrifices were always offered but something in Cain's attitude changed.

Either way you look at it, the end result is the same: God was pleased with one and displeased with the other.

I used to think that God was displeased with Cain's attitude only and others thought God disliked the offering only but a close look shows that God had "no respect" for both Cain and his sacrifice. There are other places in the Bible that comment on this passage and shed light on why God rejected Cain's offering and was pleased with Abel's.

so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
- Matthew 23:35

This passage says that Abel was a righteous man and his was innocent blood shed, he did not deserve to die.

49For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, 50so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.'
- Luke 11:49-51

Abel was a prophet, he spoke God's word.

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
- Hebrews 11:4

Abel's sacrifice was better than Cain's because it was offered in faith.

  • The fact that he was righteous and faithful suggests that what and how he was offering sacrifice was in accordance to the will and direction of God.
  • This also may indicate the reason why Cain's offering was rejected: he was not a righteous man, his sacrifice not in accordance with God's will.

God informs Cain and Abel about their respective sacrifices (maybe Abel, as a prophet, was charged to tell his brother about his sacrifice and attitude).

There is no description of Abel's reaction but Cain becomes angry. His countenance or "glance" had been high or proud, now it falls and with it comes anger and resentment. This anger and resentment become directed at Abel because he represents all the things lacking in his own life: righteousness, faith, peace and joy with God.

6Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."
- Genesis 4:6-7

Abel has tried to warn him and now God warns Cain about the danger ahead.

1. Face the problem

You are angry, depressed. There is a reason for this. Do not just dwell and simmer in the emotion, find out why you feel this way.

2. Acknowledge your fault

The reason he was angry was because God had rejected his sacrifice but the reason for that was because he had not done well (disobeyed, done it the wrong way, had the wrong attitude). Face the real issue, not the one you have made up (it was God's fault, God was not fair, my brother thinks he is better than me, etc.)

not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous.
- I John 3:12

This was the real issue.

3. Deal with sin

Not only had he messed up but he was about to make a larger mistake because of it. If he did not "rule" over sin, then sin would rule over him.

You cannot eliminate sin from your life experience (always tempted, affected by, fall into it) but you can contain it. If you do not, it contains you. How to deal with this? Face the sin issues in your life. Acknowledge them. Deal with them. Ask for forgiveness, change your ways. Seek help to minimize the occurrence.

You cannot just ignore sin.

Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
- Genesis 4:8

What do you think that they spoke about in the field? Accusations by Cain; encouragement to repent by Abel.

Some ancient texts add a sentence that suggests that Cain drew Abel out into the field (where no one would see him) in order to kill him. In any event the sequence of disobedience, unfaithfulness, jealousy, anger, resentment finally leads to murder just like Jesus says that it does in Matthew 5:22.

So we see the pollution of the created world and society begin with the murder of Abel. Innocent blood is spilled into the ground. Satan's attack, begun with the woman, continues as the first seed to have the promise of salvation is killed.

  • Cain's descendants, we will see, will not call upon God. They will multiply sin.
  • God, however, will furnish another son to Eve and this line will begin calling upon God and eventually produce the Savior.

Final lessons

  1. Sin is in the world and we have to deal with it or it overtakes us.
  2. God provides us with resources and opportunities to deal with sin. (He offered to take Cain back if he did right). We fight Him off because we are mad, afraid, ashamed, etc.
  3. Satan cannot destroy the plan of God. He killed Abel but God raised up another "seed". He will kill our bodies but God will raise us up a new seed in Christ.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the events of Genesis 4:1-8.
  2. Describe how the punishment of Cain relates to the concept that God's plan continues even when we, through our sin, work against it and the implications for us.
  3. What are some reasons Cain sinned and the implication for us?
  4. Read Genesis 4:6-7, Ephesians 4:26-27, and Matthew 5:22 and answer the following questions:
    1. What is the danger of harboring anger?
    2. What are some potential actions we cannot take if we harbor anger?
    3. Describe situations where anger is appropriate.
  5. Discuss the following statements on how to deal with sin:
    1. Face the problem.
    2. Acknowledge your fault.
    3. Deal with the sin.
  6. Summarize what Jesus teaches us about dealing with a sin between fellow believers from Matthew 18:15-17.
  7. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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