Tamara is a Bible student who loves mining the treasures in God's Word and sharing its teachings and applications with others.
The "Beginning" narratives of Genesis contain the genetic code that finds its expression and fruit development in the rest of Scripture and throughout the history of human experience.
These early chapters are the template for the subsequent events detailing God's relational advancement with fallen humankind. Every chronicle will echo these beginning accounts and will reveal applicable facets drawn from the episodes that occur in the first chapters of the Bible.
It's a messy story, to say the least, but that's just the backside of the tapestry view. As we follow the common threads through the fabric of these Biblical accounts, a much bigger picture comes into view. We shall see how the genius of God beautifully weaves His eternal plan through the warp of rebellious humanity who resists Him at every turn.
This article will detail Cain and Abel's rendition of the story.
The key story recorded in Genesis chapter three chronicles the treasonous affair committed by God's first humans. The calamitous event occurred when Eve obeyed her desire to eat at the table of an alternative forbidden tree called "knowing good and evil." Adam was sure to follow.
Perhaps Adam and Eve imagined that God wouldn't mind sharing the subjects of His love with another whose intent was to "steal, kill, and destroy them. (John 10:10)
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? . . .
— I Corinthians 10:21
They ultimately broke covenant with the One who not only created them but walked and talked with them in an expressly fashioned and designated sacred space. The garden was a venue for fellowship and satisfaction that included unlimited provisions. They lacked nothing
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat . . .
— Genesis 2:16
They, instead, chose to lend their ear and allegiance to a foreign character clothed in the garments of a sneaky, snaky "beast of the field" and thereby shook hands with the darkness.
. . . she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
— Genesis 3:6
With fair warning, they got what they desired, but it wasn't without cost. Adam and Eve paid for their experience with their lives. Consequently, the covenant meal of fruit from the forbidden tree sealed a deal with death and eternal separation from God. (Romans 1:18-25)
. . . but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
— Genesis 2:17
Adam and Eve were stripped of their royal priestly robe of God's glory and Spirit.
Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin
— Isaiah 30:1
They were, next, exiled to the east of Eden outside the sacred garden space. In keeping with the Biblical pattern, moving east is the direction of all subsequent exiles. This direction most obviously and directly moves away from the presence of God.
. . . the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken . . . He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden. and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
— Genesis 1:23
The soil from which they were derived would now stake its claim to them.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.
— Genesis 3:19
However, the show is not over. According to the prophet Isaiah, God's merciful Old Testament plan of a coming Messiah promises to break humanity's covenant with death.
Therefore thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation . . . Your covenant with death will be annulled, And your agreement with Sheol will not stand . . .
— Isaiah 28:16-18
The first prophetic mention of the Messiah is discovered in Genesis chapter three. At the end of each guilty party's consequential confrontation, God promised a savior/Messiah to rescue humankind from their self-created disaster. He addresses the Messianic prophecy directly to the serpent.
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring/seed and her offspring/seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
— Genesis 3:15
The language used in the above prophecy is poetic and purposely cryptic.
. . . we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
— I Corinthians 2:6-8
God has a plan of bringing a serpent-head-crushing deliverer to humanity's rescue. It was an undercover assignment that required humans' cooperation through faith. In each developing scene, God's Messianic project is confronted with hostility and resistance. As we shall discover in the up-and-coming narratives, humankind will continue stumbling over itself while evil continues its attempted hijack of God's mission.
The following narrative will demonstrate both the digression of humanity and the progression of God's plan of salvation despite humanity's resistance.
Cain and Abel—Messiah/Anti-Messiah
Humankind has no more than been driven from the sacred garden space when a repetition of the fall and an exile occur in humanity's succeeding generation.
Immediately following Adam and Eve's banishment from the garden, Genesis chapter four develops the first expression of the seed of humanity's desire in opposition to God. Sin now sown in the soil of humankind's now corrupted epigenome finds its expression in the Cain and Abel narrative.
The two "offspring/seed" in Genesis chapter four connects with the prophecy in Genesis chapter three about a future Messiah through a seed. The foretelling included the woman's seed (lineage of the Messiah) and the serpent's seed (a type of anti-Messiah). The serpent offspring/seed in opposition to the Messianic offspring/seed continues with Cain and Abel's saga.
In the original Hebrew text, the following portion of Scripture reveals that Eve quite possibly thought that she had given birth to the "serpent-head-crusher" Messiah through her firstborn son based on the promise of the One that would come from her seed.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” (Literally, I have acquired a man, the LORD/Yahweh). Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel.
— Genesis 4:1-2
Eve's hope, however, was premature, and humanity would need to continue its course development before it was ripe for a Savior.
The text continues by noting the occupation of the two mentioned offspring of Adam and Eve. Significantly, the younger of the two and his occupation is noted first.
. . . Now Abel was a keeper (guardian) of sheep, but Cain was a tiller (servant) of the ground.
— Genesis 4:2
The terms "keep" and "serve" are now carried over from the garden event. Adam and Eve were supposed to protect (keep) and serve the sacred space. Now, their sons are depicted as keeping sheep and serving the ground. Both of these could be seen as priestly duties that valued a relational investment with God.
Also, the Biblical Pattern of the youngest brother being the progenitor of the messianic lineage (spirit) over the oldest, who presents as a type of anti-messiah (flesh), is a prevalent thread throughout the Old Testament. We see this pattern with Isaac (youngest-spirit) and Ishmael (oldest-flesh), Jacob (youngest-spirit) and Esau (oldest-flesh), Ephraim (youngest-spirit), and Manasseh (oldest-flesh). This fits messianically with the New Testament Christ called the last Adam (Spirit), who superseded the first Adam (flesh).
And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
— I Corinthians 15:45
The brother's careers also establish the Messiah/anti-Messiah motif in shepherd depictions of Messiah types contrasted with hunter-gatherer depictions of anti-Messiah types. Shepherd/savior types include but are not limited to Jacob, Moses, and David. Hunter-gatherer/anti-Messiah types include Cain, Esau, and Nimrod.
Good and Evil Revisited
Humankind, now autonomous from God and driven by their own passions, will advance in their subjective interpretations and definitions of good and evil through the filter of their intoxicated self-focused unbridled desires.
The prophet Isaiah expounds on this scene in a prophetic confrontation with God's people. He connects "woes" with the mixing of interpretations of good and evil based on intoxicating selfish inclinations rather than "the law of the Lord of hosts—the word of the Holy One of Israel— the "Tree of Life."
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
And prudent (intelligent) in their own sight! . . .
Isaiah exposes the rebellion in Adam and Eve's decision by including in his discourse the desire to be autonomously wise and intelligent in their own eyes rather than trusting in God's Word and wisdom.
. . . when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.
— Genesis 3:6
Isaiah continues with the intoxicating aspect involved in their partaking.
. . . Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,
Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink . . .
The results in both presentations are death defined as deconstruction, decomposition, and disorder—the opposite of life, development, and functional organization.
. . . as the fire devours the stubble,
And the flame consumes the chaff,
So their root will be as rottenness,
And their blossom will ascend like dust;
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
— Isaiah 5:20-24
These now subjectified views of "good and evil" concepts transfer from the garden scene to the Cain and Abel event. The fall of Adam and Eve was the root. The Cain and Abel scene was the fruit.1
The Acceptable and the Unacceptable
In Adam and Eve's case, loyalty-exposing decisions centered around obedience concerning God's command about one forbidden tree. With Cain and Abel, offerings and their presentation were the faith-revealing factors. Only one of them is acceptable (good). The other is unacceptable (evil).
And from the end of days it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord looked upon Abel and his offering (good), but He did not look upon Cain and his offering (evil). And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
— Genesis 4:3-5
Why God "looked upon" Abel's offering and not Cains is not explicitly mentioned in this account, but there are notable differences between the two that point to some potential considerations.
The text is clear that Abel's offering was of the firstborn of his flock and included the fat. The firstborn and fat were later noted in the Levitical instructions for sacrifices, all of which pointed to the coming Messiah/Savior. Cain's offering lacks any remarkable qualities. It simply states that he brought some "fruit of the ground."
Of all your gifts you shall offer up every heave offering due to the Lord, from all the best of them, the consecrated part of them.’ . . .
— Numbers 18:29
According to the above verse, Cain seems to have greedily withheld the best for himself, unlike Abel, who offered his first and fattest.
Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
— Jude 1:11
The Biblical text hints at the idea of rebellion with Cain, as his name is mentioned thirteen times.
Cain and Abel most likely heard and understood the protocols of a Messiah-based faith-filled approach to God post-garden.
By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice . . .
— Hebrews 11:4
In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing God's Word.
. . . faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
— Romans 10:17
The Pulpit Commentary agrees.
It (Abel's offering) was offered in obedience to divine prescription. The universal prevalence of sacrifice points to divine prescription rather than to man's invention as its proper source.
The required approach was always to remain in view of its fulfillment in Christ, as are all of the sacrificial elements in the Old Testament. Humility in respect to what the offering meant was the most important part of its being offered. A Psalm of David records this proper motivation and represents an offering that looks like Abel's offering.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
— Psalm 51
God states a contrasting case through the prophet Isaiah that more closely resembles Cain's flippant offering and why it was so unacceptable.
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
— Isaiah 1:11-17
Malachi's Rendition of Cain's Sacrifice
The prophet Malachi, like Isaiah, expands God's perspective and Cain's potential behind-the-scenes deliberations concerning his unacceptable offering. Cain's half-hearted offering reveals his hard-hearted decisions and double-minded motives.
“A son honors his father,
And a servant his master.
If then I am the Father,
Where is My honor?
And if I am a Master,
Where is My reverence?
Says the Lord of hosts
To you priests who despise My name.
Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’
“You offer defiled food on My altar,
‘In what way have we defiled You?’
‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’
And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice,
Is it not evil?
And when you offer the lame and sick,
Is it not evil?
Offer it then to your governor!
Would he be pleased with you?
Would he accept you favorably?”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“But now entreat God’s favor,
That He may be gracious to us.
While this is being done by your hands,
Will He accept you favorably?”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“Who is there even among you who would shut the doors,
So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain?
I have no pleasure in you,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“Nor will I accept an offering from your hands.
For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“But you profane it,
In that you say,
‘The table of the Lord is defiled;
And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’
You also say,
‘Oh, what a weariness!’
And you sneer at it,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick;
Thus you bring an offering!
Should I accept this from your hand?”
Says the Lord.
“But cursed be the deceiver
Who has in his flock a male,
And takes a vow,
But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—
For I am a great King,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“And My name is to be feared among the nations.
— Malachi 1
Skipping over to chapter three, Malachi connects the unacceptable offering with evil deeds in the accusation against Cain. He begins his poem with a sharp focus aimed at a coming Messiah, which should be the central motive of any faithful offering.
“Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
— Malachi 3:1
The next portion of the poem reveals a necessary cleansing and purging required to secure an acceptable/righteous offering.
“But who can endure the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like launderers’ soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;
He will purify the sons of Levi,
And purge them as gold and silver,
That they may offer to the Lord
An offering in righteousness.
“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem
Will be pleasant to the Lord,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.
— Malachi 3:2-4
Is it possible Cain was unwilling to humble himself to participate in this process?
. . . if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
— I John 1:7-10
It is clear that just going through faithless religious rituals while practicing self-inclined evil will inevitably end in judgment. Only sincere, wholehearted worship is acceptable.
And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien—
Because they do not fear Me,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
— Malachi 3:5
The Lamb of God Who Takes Away Sin
In this section, we will take another look at the following text with a thought toward the concept of salvation.
. . . from the end of days, it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit(s) of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord looked upon (יִּשַׁע- same as the word for salvation) Abel and his offering, but He did not look upon (שָׁעָה-contains the root of the word for salvation) Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
— Genesis 4:3-5
The Hebrew words translated as " look and looked upon, "yashah"-יִּשַׁע and שָׁעָה-"sha'ah," are related to a family of words having to do with the idea of salvation. When connecting both definitions, It is a possible consideration that God also had an eye toward the offering that expressed humble faith in the only prescribed plan of salvation through a future "Lamb of God" who would take away the sin of the world. Abel's offering appears to fit the typology throughout the rest of Scripture.
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
— John 1:29
According to this view, one brother humbly brings an offering that accepts, values, and looks forward in faith to a coming savior. His offering exhibited reciprocal gratitude and understanding that God would give us His very best First/One and Only Son/Seed as a sacrifice for sin.
By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice . . .
— Hebrews 11:4
The other brother is unmindful of such a necessity and will pridefully offer his accomplishments with an implied sense of entitlement and expectation of acceptance. God seemed to be a footnote or an afterthought. Cain's offering was a statement of faith in himself based on his own desire and not in a future savior.
For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire,
And the greedy man curses and spurns the Lord.
— Psalm 10:3
The Pulpit Commentary concludes the following.
Cain . . . in presenting them (fruits of the ground) virtually proclaimed his disbelief in God's promise and repudiation of God's way of salvation.3
Scofield's notes on this chapter capture the essence of this scene.
His (Cain's) religion was destitute of any adequate sense of sin or need of atonement. This religious type is described in 2 Peter chapter 2. Seven things are said of him.
- worships in self-will
- is angry with God
- refuses to bring a sin offering
- murders his brother
- lies to God
- becomes a wanderer
- and is nevertheless, the object of the divine solicitude
. . . a lamb fitly symbolizes the unresisting innocency and harmlessness of the Lord Jesus. This type is brought into prominence by contrast with Cain's bloodless offering of the fruit of the ground and proclaims in the very infancy of the race, the primal truth that without shedding of blood is no remission. Cain acknowledged God as source of all-natural good but rejected His revealed way of worship. Abel in conformity with that revelation, brought a blood sacrifice thus confessing himself a sinner. In Cain began all false religion, the essence of which is man's coming to God in his own way.8
The plant offering versus animal sacrifice of Cain and Abel is also another revisit from Genesis chapter three. In both cases, the animal was an adequate sufficient covering, and the man-made plant-based one is not.
. . . they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves (plant) together and made themselves coverings . . . for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin (animal sacrifice), and clothed them.
— Genesis 3:6, 21
The Hypocrisy of It All
The Classic Bible Commentary connects Cain's offering with the hypocrisy of the New Testament religious rulers' self-righteous claims.
Cain Conducted himself as hypocrites are accustomed to do, namely, that he wished to appease God as one discharging a debt, by external sacrifices without the least intention of dedicating himself to God.5
J. Vernon McGee picks up on Cain's "going through the motions" heart attitude.
Cain gave out of formalism (It was time and custom to give)6
Peter's first epistle makes a comparative speech about faith in redemption through the Lamb. The comparison explains Abel's offering of faith in the priceless redemption and the aimless, thoughtless conduct of acquiring God's grace and blessing through the heartless ritual of Cain.
. . . knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers (Cain), but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. (Abel)
— I Peter 1:18-20
A Resurrection In the Story
It is also a relevant note that the Cain and Abel account contains the concept of resurrection. Just like with Jesus (the offering provided by the Father), resurrection followed His death.
When God confronts Cain, He asks Cain four questions. "If you do (be) well (good), will you not be accepted (lifted or raised up)"? is the third of the four questions. The number three in Scripture is undeniably linked with the idea of resurrection. It is the pivotal event of the entire concept of redemption.
Without the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, there would be no resurrection.
. . . if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!
— I Corinthians 15:17
Without our identification with God's lamb in the form of death, to self (self-denial), there will be no resurrection. This is quite possibly the explanation of God's question to Cain about being raised up. Paul expounds on this concept in his letter to the Philippians.
I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
— Philippians 3:8-11
Cain's name means acquisition. Perhaps, much like his parents, His acquisition goals did not include God. He quite possibly presumed that he could serve both his greed and God at the same time. Cain's second-generation expression of the desire to acquire favor, success, and promotion (lifting up himself) without a savior was reflected in his offering.
. . . Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil.
— I John 3:11
Dual loyalties were not acceptable even in the New Testament. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus confronts the Cain-like religious hypocrites. They seemed to want the appearance of holiness apart from a relationship with God through Christ. In His discussion with them, Jesus describes Abel as being murdered because he was a righteous prophet. He indirectly likens the hypocrites to Cain, who are attempting to kill Him for the same reason.
Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
— Matthew 23:34-35
In the book of Acts, Stephen confronts the religious rulers of his time concerning their Cain-like mindsets and behaviors. Try reading the following through the eyes of the Cain and Abel story.
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
Abel's righteousness, like Abraham's, wasn't his own. His righteousness was accounted to him by faith in a promised seed, not because he was better than Cain.
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
— Romans 4:1-4
Much Like the Eden depiction of tree choices, Cain is offered the opportunity to be/do "good" concerning his offering or not to be/do "good." Although "evil" is not explicitly mentioned, it is implied in the "not doing/being good statement."
So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do (be) well (good), will you not be accepted (lifted or raised up)? And if you do not do (be) well (good), sin lies (crouches like a wild animal) at the door. And its desire is for you . . .”
— Genesis 4:6-7
The original language text expresses a state of being rather than of doing. It's as if to say that our "being" connects with our doing. "Doing good" reveals a meaningful understanding of the act rather than simply fulfilling a requirement represented by the not accepted sacrifice of Cain.
The Snake and the Crouching Animal
In the Garden, evil comes camouflaged with deception and trickery. It takes on the form of a sneaky snake, a beast of the field.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.
— Genesis 3:1
In Cain's case, sin is animated by a crouching wild animal lying secretly in wait for its coveted prey.2
. . . sin lies at the door . . .
— Genesis 4:7
Peake's Bible Commentary offers a unique insight and application into this scene. In the Garden, it was the Serpent that should have been mastered but now it is the self.
Sin crouches in the subconscious thickets of his (Cain's) thoughts intent upon leaping into action the moment the door of opportunity is open . . . if he does not master himself.7
In the Genesis chapter three event, the serpent resided in the forbidden tree. In Cain's case, sin sits at the door of perhaps his heart and seeking to enter him.
To open the door and be intimate with sin, letting it in produces fruit "after its own kind."
. . . each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
— James 1:14-15
This is the first time that sin is mentioned in Scripture. It moves the scene of the crime from an external tree to an internal condition of the heart.
. . . out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
— Matthew 15:19
The second time the word "sin" occurs is in the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative where we see sin's fruit development infiltrate an entire culture.
The intimate internal connection is made a chapter earlier with Eve in the following statement.
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
— Genesis 3:16
The language of desire and conception in terms of human reproduction connected with Eve now become linked with the concepts of desire and the conception of sin with Cain.
. . . its (sin) desire is for you . . .
— Genesis 4:7
Intimacy and Exile
Although God's mercy towards his fallen family is undeniable in these beginning stories, He is also very clear to express that there is a type of divorce that happens with these occasions. Something was desperately broken by decisions made by His lavishly provided for people when they embraced their sin-producing evil desires.
He drove out (Hebrew word for divorce: גָּרַשׁ gârash) the man, and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
— Genesis 3:24
And so it is with Cain.
Surely You have driven me out (Hebrew word for divorce: גָּרַשׁ gârash) this day from the face of the ground . . .
— Genesis 4:14
An intimate theme in both accounts is communicated in terms of exposure. In the first story, it is expressed by consequential nakedness and being driven outside the sacred space of the Garden yet still in Eden's court.
. . . they knew that they were naked . . . the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden
In the second, Cain is exposed to the wild world's outer elements beyond the entire structure and outside of God's protection.
. . . A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth; I shall be hidden from Your face . . . ”
— Genesis 4:12
At the end of the day, both Eve and Cain were confronted with the same question that exposes their deeds.
What have you done?
— Genesis 3:13, 4:10
The New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews links nakedness with revealing the hidden motives of our heart for good or for bad.
. . . all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
— Hebrews 4:13
A Global Disconnect
As was noted earlier, Adam's assigned mission was to loyally serve and protect the sacred garden territory where he would walk and talk with God.
Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend (serve) and keep (protect) it.
— Genesis 2:15
This scene bears the image of cultivating and guarding a precious and protected relationship and the designated space for that development. Adam, instead, deserts his post and passively, in conjunction with his wife, allies with an infiltrating force that aborts the development of God's plan through him.
The disconnect with God inevitably translates into a disconnect in human relationships and is further developed in the Cain and Abel story. God asked Adam, "Where are you?" God asked Cain, "Where is your brother?"
The link occurs with the phrase "keep" in both events. In response to God's asking Cain where his brother Abel is, Cain defensively deflects from any obligation to his relationship with his brother.
Am I my brother’s keeper (guardian/protector)?
— Genesis 4:9
Just like Adam neglected his duty to protect the relational space with God, so Cain neglects his obligation to protect his relationship with his brother. Twice in the text, Abels is intentionally identified as Cain's brother.
Cain was noted to be angry. John makes it clear that the murder of Abel began long before the actual event as Cain allowed himself to be permeated by hatred for him first. He also reveals that death in eternal life, like with Adam and Eve, was a part of that package.
“He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
— I John 3:11-18
Jesus also addresses this topic and perhaps implies that Cain was angry with his brother for no great reason except envy before the offering took place.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
— Matthew 5:21-24
The Bible Knowledge Commentary connects this envy with Cain's lack of faith.
The way of Cain is a lack of faith which shows itself in Envy of God's dealings with the righteous, in murderous acts, in denial of responsibility, and in refusal to accept God's punishment.4
A Grand Total Chiastic Interpretation
Genesis chapters one through five are arranged in chiastic form and significantly pull together the total interpretation of this narrative. If you are not familiar with them, Chiasms are literary tools aiming at a bullseye of text surrounded by parallel details on each side of the central message.
A) Generations of heaven and earth. (Genesis 1-2:1)
B) Man's responsibility to keep the sacred space and relationship (Genesis 2)
Bullseye - human's decision to choose another (Genesis 3)
B) Man's responsibility to his brother (Genesis 4)
A) The generations of Adam. (Genesis 5)
Genesis chapter one through chapter two verse one records the generations of the heavens and the earth.
Genesis chapter five records the generations of Adam.
Genesis chapter two discusses man's responsibility to "keep" his relationship with God and the space God created for that.
Genesis chapter four addresses man's responsibility to "keep" and tend to his relationship with his brother.
At the center of all these topics, Genesis chapter three records the great adultery/divorce, which ultimately defiled the relationships between God and one's fellow man.
The Continuing Story
Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel is a composite of beginning and end. Human history begins with a taste of forbidden fruit and a sentence of death and ends with the murder of faithful Messiah followers. Jesus reveals this in His discourse concerning the "end of the age."
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake . . . you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.
— Luke 21:12-17
God's instruction to Cain reveals what Adam ought to have done with the serpent.
. . . but you should rule over it.
— Genesis 4:
Adam failed his mandate and mission to take dominion and rule over the beast of the field.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
— Genesis 1:26
Where Adam failed, and Cain also stumbles. Christ perfectly fulfills this mission in His death and resurrection on our behalf and taking authority over the crouching beasts that laid claim to our soul through sin.
. . . in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power . . . He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
— Colossians 2
His mission has not changed. Jesus commands His followers everywhere to continue the commission to expand His Kingdom in all places throughout the whole earth.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
— Matthew 28:18-20
This is not without resistance either. The Cain Anti-Messiah battle still rages. The end of Cain's story depicts an unfinished city that he builds. It follows with a description of the cultural developments of his time and people. The first recorded act of polygamy and justification for murder occurs here. Cain's world generationally develops into something God cannot save and consequently is destroyed by a flood.
This story points forward to another after-flood account much like it. It is at the Tower of Babel where humans will again attempt to create their own Godless society. Today the city of Cain and the Tower of Babel is at the height of their development. In all accounts, the plan gets interrupted. God's eternal plan prevails.
. . . knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
— Romans 13:11-14
1Quoted by Skip Heitzig
2The Beast That Crouches At The Door" by Rabbi David Fohrman. The publisher is Hoffberger Foundation for Torah. Copyright 2007
3The Pulpit Commentary
4The Bible Knowledge Commentary
5The Classic Bible Commentary edited by Owen Colliins
6Thru the Bible Commentary by J. Vernon McGee
7Peake's Bible Commentary
8Scofield Reference Bible notes
© 2021 Tamarajo
Tamarajo (author) on May 25, 2021:
Thank you KC. Seeing all Biblical narratives through the lens of its first chapters has been an eye opening experience for me. I'm glad the presentation was useful.
KC McGee from Where I belong on May 25, 2021:
This is the second article I have read in the past two days regarding Cain and Able. You bring out an interesting perspective I have not thought of before. Thank you for revealing something that I have not looked at before. Great job on this one.