Practical Application of the Word of God
I’ve thought and reflected a lot throughout my life about Genesis 4. In fact, I usually think about it in some form or fashion every day. There are a lot of lessons to be gleaned.
The overarching lesson is what life for humanity looked like after choosing to lean to our understanding and being wise in our own eyes. There is every bit of evidence that the Lord (the one who became Jesus Christ) was still actively involved with Adam and Eve and their children. There is even evidence that Eve, at least, recognized her sin and repented and realized her complete dependence on the Lord. There is evidence that they and the two children (and we can assume the rest of their children) were still receiving face-to-face instruction from the Lord, including the knowledge that sacrifice was required for sin. I can guarantee that one of the things the Lord communicated to them was the knowledge that the physical sacrifices they were offering pointed to the Sacrifice that would cover all of humanity’s sins.
There, surprisingly, is an unspoken, but obvious hope in Genesis 4. Adam and Eve finally got to work doing what the Lord had told them to do in Genesis 2 and began to multiply and fill the earth. Had there not been hope, would they have been willing to bring children into the somewhat dismal picture of what the Lord told them their lives would be like in Genesis 3?
There is evidence of reconciliation with the Lord. We see that in Abel. He clearly knew, understood, and agreed with what the Lord expected. He had a relationship with the Lord that pleased the Lord.
Cain, on the other hand, even though it is clear that the Lord also had a very interactive relationship with him, didn’t buy it. I’ve often wondered how much time they all must have spent face-to-face with the Lord. The Lord knew them all well and they all knew Him well, so it had to have been quite a bit.
There are two attitudes clearly defined in this chapter. And they both are complex in how they manifest themselves.
I have heard that difference in the types of sacrifices offered by Abel and Cain was what made Abel’s acceptable and Cain’s unacceptable to the Lord. We are not really given enough information to know whether that is a legitimate conclusion. However, having said that, we see a blood offering for sin (when the Lord killed animals to make clothes from their skins for Adam and Eve) in Genesis 3, and we know from the entirety of the Bible from the Old Testament sacrifices which foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ, that blood is always required in a sin offering. However, many of the other offerings were grain and oil offerings, so I don’t completely buy the wrong type of offering conclusion.
We don’t know whether these were firstfruit offerings, which they could be based on the limited information we’re given, and which we see commanded by the Lord in the first five books of the Bible. If so, then we know what the Lord required as far as quality of the firstfruit offerings, so this could conceivably be the difference between Abel’s and Cain’s offerings, and this may actually be more of the problem, as we look at Cain’s attitude and actions throughout Genesis 4. Hebrews 11:4 says “By faith Abel offered to the Lord a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, the Lord testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” (NKJV) This could definitely support the quality aspect of the sacrifice.
It is clear that Abel took his relationship with the Lord seriously – we see him referred to as “righteous Abel” by Christ Himself in Matthew 23:35: “ 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.” – and that his sacrifice was acceptable to the Lord. Why? We can only really discern that by looking at Cain and his attitude to see the opposite of that, which would have been Abel’s attitude.
It appears, in spite of the Lord’s very interactive role in the lives of Adam and Eve and their children, that Cain had a very casual attitude toward the things of the Lord. It is clear that his focus was on himself and not anyone else.
He clearly felt entitled. Perhaps that is because he was Adam and Eve’s first child – and only child, perhaps, for a couple of years – and they doted on him, fostering his sense of entitlement (much like we see the Gen X parents doing with their children). It is entirely conceivable that he felt like the Lord should accept anything he offered just because he offered it. His heart and soul were clearly not into the offering and what it signified in his relationship with the Lord– the “why” of the offering.
There is also evidence of sibling rivalry between Abel and him. Since Abel was younger, it may have been that Cain resented him, because for a period of time he was the center of his parents’ attention, and then when Abel was born, he was no longer the center of their attention, and he probably resented Abel – and any other children who were born in the intervening years. He likely let that resentment grow into a lifelong grudge against his brother (I can see this implicitly in The Lord’s conversation with him when he was so upset in vs. 4-7) that turned into hate, which culminated in murder.
Since the Lord was the one who became Jesus Christ, I wonder if this event in human history was specifically on His mind when he said in Matthew 5:21-24: “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.”
The Lord’s conversation with Cain was likely a lengthy discussion and a personal attempt by the Lord to bring Cain to repentance. But Cain’s attitude is further revealed when we see that his solution was not to change himself, but to blame Abel (implicitly) and to get rid of what he believed was his obstacle to gaining the Lord’s favor (and perhaps returning to be the center of his parents’ attention).
Here’s some very faulty reasoning, but it is reasoning we can all be guilty of at times. The first fork is that if the Lord didn’t have anything to compare his offering to, then Cain’s would be “good enough.” “Good enough” probably was the way Cain approached his entire life. But the Lord required “best,” and Cain simply didn’t value and respect his Lord enough to meet His requirement.
The second fork of this reasoning is incredulous by any objective standard, but Cain is so wrapped up emotionally in his solution that he cannot see that his parents will be broken-hearted by the death of Abel. He simply sees Abel as his obstacle to being the center of his parents’ world. It is a wholly self-absorbed, self-centered, selfish way of thinking. And being, because this doesn’t change even after he kills Abel. Everything’s still all about him.
We can clearly see his self-centeredness, and his attitude toward Abel, in vs. 9 when the Lordasks him where his brother is: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
When the Lord pronounces sentence on Cain, the first thing Cain says – and this is another piece of his attitude toward the Lord and toward life – “You are not being fair with me.” (vs. 13-14)
The Lord then says no one can take vengeance on Cain. But even that didn’t move Cain, because we see in vs. 16 that he purposely and willingly goes out from the presence of the Lord. In all this that followed Abel’s death, there was time and opportunity for repentance, but, in the end, Cain never believed that he had done anything wrong and instead of, as his parents did, repenting and fostering a changed relationship with the Lord, Cain chose to walk away.
And his example set a precedence for humanity from then on. Notice Lamech using Cain’s example to exonerate himself and seek protection from his own murder of someone (and he seems to believe he’s justified in taking the young man’s life).
It is no surprise that we see the state of humanity’s thinking being nothing but evil by the time we get to Genesis 6.