When we sin we often do so with the futile hope that we shall obtain the maximum amount of pleasure at the minimum penalty. It seldom works that way, however.
I once heard the story of a man and his wife who decided to go to a drive-in movie. They thought the price was too high and plotted to put one over on the management of the theater. When they were within a short distance of the drive-in, the husband climbed into the trunk of the car. The arrangement was that his wife would let him out after she was inside the theater.
All went off as planned, at least as far as getting past the ticket seller was concerned. But when the wife got to the back of the car to let her husband out of the trunk, she discovered that he had the trunk keys in his pocket. In desperation she had to call the manager, the police, and the rescue squad. Neither saw the movie and the trunk had to be cut open. Such is the path of sin. The ride is short and the price is high.
At first glance, the taking of the forbidden fruit and eating of it seemed like a trivial matter, a mere misdemeanor. But Genesis chapter three makes it clear that it was a matter of gravity. Man had chosen to believe Satan rather than God. Adam and Eve had concluded that God was unduly harsh and severe. They decided to seek the path of self-fulfillment as opposed to servanthood .
The serpent had suggested, indeed, he had boldly asserted, that no harmful effects would be experienced in disobedience to God, only a higher level of existence. But in this fourth chapter of Genesis we quickly see that Satan’s promises were blatant lies. Here the real wages of sin begin to appear.
The sexual union of Adam and Eve produced a first child, a son whom Eve named Cain. This name is probably to be understood as a play on words. It sounds similar to the Hebrew word, Qanah, which means ‘to get’ or ‘to acquire.’ In today’s vernacular this son would probably have been named ‘Got.’60
The significance of the name is that it reflects Eve’s faith, for she said, “I have gotten (Qaniti, from Qanah) a manchild with the help of the Lord” (Genesis 4:1).
While there is some discussion among Bible scholars as to the precise meaning of this statement,61 Eve acknowledged the activity of God in the gift of her son. I believe that Eve understood from the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 that one of her offspring would bring about her redemption. Perhaps she looked upon Cain as her redeemer. If so she was destined for disappointment.
While she may have been mistaken in her hopes for a speedy victory over the serpent by her firstborn child, she was correct in looking for God’s deliverance through her seed. She was, therefore, correct in general but mistaken in particular.
Eve’s optimism seems to have waned by the time of the birth of her second son, Abel. His name meant ‘vanity,’ ‘breath,’ or ‘vapor.’ Perhaps Eve had learned by this time that the consequences of sin were not to be quickly done away with. Life would involve struggle and a good measure of seemingly futile effort. Cain was the symbol of Eve’s hope; Abel, of her despair.
Abel was a keeper of flocks, while Cain was a tiller of the soil. Nowhere does Moses imply that one of these occupations is inferior to the other. Neither is this account some kind of predecessor to the television shows which have worn thin the theme of the struggle between the dirt farmers and the cattlemen.
Cain’s problem is not to be found in his means of livelihood, but in the man himself:
So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, 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; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard … (Genesis 4:3-5a).
The Israelites who first read these words of Moses would have little difficulty in grasping the problem with the sacrifice of Cain. They received this as a part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. As such, they understood that man could not approach God without the shedding of sacrificial blood. While there were non-bloody sacrifices,62 man could only have access to God through shed blood. Cain’s offering fell short of God’s requirements of the Law.
“But Cain did not have such revelation!” someone may object. Quite true. But then we must all admit that none of us knows what revelation he did have. Any speculation on the subject is just that—mere conjecture.
Having said this, I must point out that it is not necessary for Moses to have told us. His contemporaries had more than sufficient basis to grasp the significance of shed blood, because of the meticulous prescriptions of the Law regarding sacrifices and worship Christians of our own time have the advantage of seeing the matter much more clearly in the light of the cross, and from the realization that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
While we do not know what God revealed to Adam or to his sons, we are assured that they knew what they were to do. This is clear from God’s words to Cain:
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If 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).
God’s question clearly implies that Cain’s anger was ill-founded. While we do not know the specifics of what ‘doing well’ involved, Cain did. Cain’s problem was not one of lack of instruction, but of insurrection and rebellion against God.
Cain, like so many people today, wanted to come to God, but he wanted to do it his way. This may work at the hamburger stand. They may let you do it ‘your way’ as the commercial says, but God will not. As a friend of mine says, ‘You can go to heaven God’s way, or you can go to hell any way you please.’
Notice that Cain was not an irreligious person. He believed in God, and he wanted God’s approval. But he wanted to come to God on his terms, not on God’s. Hell, as I have said before, will be populated with religious people.
Cain did not want to approach God through shed blood. Cain preferred to offer God the fruit of his labors. He had a green thumb, and bloodstained hands had no appeal to him. Men today differ little. Many are those who, like the demons (cf. James 2:19), believe in God, and who acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. But they refuse to submit to Him as Lord. They refuse His sacrificial and substitutionary death upon the cross as the payment for their sins. They wish to come to God on their own terms. The message of the gospel is very clear: there is no approach to God except through that which Christ has earned through the death of the cross.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (John 14:6).
… And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
… And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness ( Hebrews 9:22).
How gracious God was to seek out Cain and to gently confront him with his sinful anger. How clear was the message of restoration and the warning concerning the danger he faced. But the counsel of God was rejected.
This week a friend of mine pointed out to me the wisdom of God’s rebuke. How easy it would have been for God to have corrected Cain by comparing him with Abel. That is the way we parents often handle the discipline of our children. But God did not say “Why don’t you worship me like your brother Abel does?” God pointed Cain to the standard which He had set, not to the example of his brother. Nevertheless, Cain made the connection. Cain’s offering was not accepted; Abel’s was. God gently admonished Cain and instructed him that the way to win His approval was to submit to the divine pattern of approach to God. Cain concluded that the solution was to eliminate his competition—to murder his brother.
One thing must be clear. It was not just the sacrifice that was the problem. Much more, it was the person who sought to present the offering. Moses tells us,
And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard (verse 4b,5a).
The source of the problem was Cain, and the symptom was the sacrifice.
Verse 7 is pregnant with implications:
If 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 4:7).
The way to get over his depression was to change his performance. He would feel better as he did better. In one sense Cain was right in being angry with himself. He was wrong in his animosity toward his brother and his God.
If Cain chose to ignore God’s gentle prodding, let him be fully aware of the dangers ahead. Sin lay waiting for him like a crouching animal. It wanted to master him, but he must master it.63 Cain is faced with a decision and held accountable for his choice. He need not succumb to sin, just as we should not, because God always gives sufficient grace to resist temptation (cf. I Corinthians 10:13).
When the two men were in the open field (seemingly where there could be no witness, cf. Deuteronomy 22:25-27), Cain killed his brother. God now came to Cain in judgment.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Genesis 4:9).
Cain’s insolence is incredible. Not only does he lie in denying any knowledge of Abel’s whereabouts, he seems to rebuke God for the question. There may even be a sarcastic play on words to the effect, “I don’t know. Shall I shepherd the shepherd?”64
The ground was cursed on account of Adam and Eve (3:17). Now the earth has been stained with the blood of man, and that spilled by his brother. That blood now cries out to God for justice (4:10). God, therefore, confronts Cain with his sin. The time for repentance has passed and now the sentence is passed on Cain by the Judge of the earth.
It is not the ground which is cursed again, but it is Cain.
And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth (Genesis 4:11-12).
Cain had been blessed with a ‘green thumb.’ He had attempted to approach God through the fruits of his labor. Now God cursed him in the area of his strength and sin. Never again will Cain be able to sustain himself by tilling the soil. While Adam had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow (3:19), Cain could not survive by farming. For him the curse of chapter three had been intensified. For Adam farming was difficult; for Cain it was disastrous.
Cain’s response to the first rebuke of God had been sullenness and silence, followed by sin. Cain is no longer silent once his sentence has been pronounced, but there is no indication of repentance, only regret.
And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, Thou hast driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me’ ( Genesis 4:13-14).
Cain’s words have a familiar ring to any parent. At times a child is truly sorry for his disobedience. At other times he is only sorry that he was caught, and bitterly bemoans the severity of punishment he is to receive. All Cain does is to repeat his sentence bitterly, and express his fear that men will treat him as he did his brother.
God assured Cain that while human life meant little to him, He valued it highly. He would not even allow Cain’s blood to be shed at this time.65 We cannot be sure about the exact nature of the sign that was appointed for Cain. It could have been a visible mark, but it seems more likely that it may have been some kind of event that confirmed to Cain that God would not allow him to be killed.66
Verse 15 has a two-fold purpose. The first is to assure Cain that he would not die a violent death at the hand of man. The second is a clear warning to anyone who should consider taking his life. Notice the words, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold” (Genesis 4:15), are not spoken to Cain, but of Cain. God did not say, “Whoever kills you,” but “Whoever kills Cain.”
A partial genealogy is given of the line of Cain. Moses employed this, I believe, to evidence the ungodliness of Cain (and the sinfulness of man commenced at the Fall) in his descendants, and to serve as a contrast to the genealogy of Adam through Seth in chapter 5.
Cain settled in the land of Nod. After the birth of his son, Enoch, Cain established a city named after his child. It would seem that the founding of this city was an act of rebellion against God, who had said he would be a vagrant and a wanderer (4:12).
Lamech manifests mankind at his lowest point of descent.
And Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah. And Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. And his brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron, and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. And Lamech said to his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’ (Genesis 4:19-24).
Lamech appears to be the first to have departed from the divine ideal for marriage as described in chapter two. One wife was not sufficient for him so he took two, Adah and Zillah.
We would expect Moses to have only condemning words for Lamech. Surely nothing good could come from such a man. And yet, it is from his offspring that great cultural and scientific contributions come. One son became the father of nomadic herdsmen, another was the first of a line of musicians, and another was the first of the great metal workers.
We must pause to observe that even man at his worst is not without the ability to produce that which is deemed beneficial to mankind. We should also hasten to say that man’s contributions can quickly and easily be adapted to the ruin of men. Music can entice and allure men into sin. The skills of the metal worker can be used to produce implements of sin (e.g. idols, cf. Exodus 32:1ff.).
To the ungodly, the line of Cain was the source of much that was praiseworthy. But the real fruits of sin are revealed in the words of Lamech to his wives. Adam and Eve had sinned, but repentance and faith are implied after their sentence was pronounced. Cain murdered his brother Abel, and while he never fully repented, neither could he defend his actions.
Lamech brings us to the point in the history of man where sin is not only committed boldly, but boastfully. He bragged to his wives of his murder. More than this he boasted that his sin was committed against a mere youngster who had only struck him. This murder was brutal, bold, and volatile. Worst of all, Lamech shows a disdain and disregard for God’s word: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:24).
God had spoken these words to assure Cain that he would not be killed by the hand of man. He also warned men of the seriousness of such an act. These words were spoken to reveal the fact that God valued human life. Lamech twisted and distorted them as a boast to his violence and aggressive hostility toward man and God. Here man has quickly plummeted to the bottom of the barrel!
In Romans chapter 5 the apostle Paul has much to say about the fall of man in the book of Genesis. But in this same chapter we find these words of hope: “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
Sin surely abounded in the line of Cain, but the chapter will not end without a glimmer of the grace of God.
And Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, ‘God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel; for Cain killed him.’ And to Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:25-26).
Eve had hoped for salvation through her first son, Cain. It would surely not come from him or from his descendants. Neither could it come from Abel. But another son was given whose name, Seth, means “appointed.” Not only was he a substitute for Abel (verse 25), he was the seed through whom the Savior would be born.
Seth, too, had a son, Enosh. It began to become clear that the deliverance Adam and Eve hoped for was not to be soon, but it was nevertheless certain. And so it was that in those days men began ‘to call upon the name of the Lord’ (verse 26). I understand this to be the commencement of corporate worship.67 In the midst of a perverse and crooked generation there was a believing remnant that trusted in God and hoped for His salvation.
The New Testament is by far our best commentary on this chapter and informs us of its principles and practical applications.
This account is not simply the record of two men who lived in the long ago and the far away. My Bible informs me that it is the description of two ways, the way of Abel and the way of Cain.
Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah! (Jude 11).
Jude warns his readers of those who are spiritual counterfeits (verse 4). They are not saved, but they endeavor to pass as believers and to pervert the true faith and to divert men from experiencing the grace of God. In verse 11 these men are described as being like Cain. They are like him in that they are rebels who hide under the banner of religion.
Let me simply say that the world is full of religion today, and hell will be full of religionists. There is a substantial difference, however, between those who are righteous and those who are religious. Those who are truly saved are those who, like Abel, approach God as a sinner, and who grasp the fact that only through the shed blood of the perfect Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, are they saved. All others attempt to win God’s approval by offering up the works of their hands. The ‘way of Cain’ is an ever increasing line of those who want to get to heaven ‘their way’ and not His way.
The irony of the way of Cain is that it is clearly marked. While they appear to offer good works to God, their hearts are corrupt.
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 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 3:11-12).
Those who are evil cannot stand those who are truly righteous. They proclaim brotherly love but they fail to practice it. It is no wonder, then, that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Him and put him to death with the help of the Gentiles. This is what John explained in his gospel.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it.… There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (John 1:4-5; 9-11).
For those who would walk in the way of Cain there is little reason for hope. There may be the illusory gains of culture or technology, but they must ultimately suffer the fate of Cain. They must spend their days away from the presence of God and they will find their days on earth full of sorrow and regret ultimately.
We can rejoice that there is another better way, and that is the way of Abel.
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).
In order that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yet, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation (Luke 11:50-51).
And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24).
That which made the difference between Cain and Abel was faith. Abel trusted not in himself, but in God. His sacrifice was a better sacrifice because it evidenced his faith and it reflected that the object of his faith was God. No doubt he also had some grasp of the value of the shed blood of an innocent victim.
But Abel was more than an example of an early believer, he was, according to our Lord, a prophet. Perhaps by his lips, but surely by his works, he proclaimed to his brother the way of access to God. He was also a prophet in that he predicted in his death the fate of many who would come later with a word from God to unbelieving men.
While God valued the blood of Abel that was shed for his faith, it is not to be compared with that better blood that was shed by Jesus Christ. Abel’s blood was a testimony to his faith. Christ’s blood is the cleansing agent by which men are purged of their sins and delivered from the penalty of eternal separation from God. Have you come to trust in the blood of Christ as God’s provision, His only provision for your sin? Why not do so today.
61 Literally Eve replied, “I have gotten a son, the Lord.” Does she believe that she has begotten the Savior? This is possible, of course. Perhaps more likely she has acknowledged that God has enabled her to bear a child, a child through whom her deliverance may soon come.
62 “The offering here is a minha, which in human affairs was a gift of homage or allegiance and, as a ritual term, could describe either animal or more often cereal offerings (e.g. I Sa. 2:l7; Lu. 2:1).” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p. 75.
63 These words are nearly identical with those in verse 16 of chapter three: “Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Is God here suggesting that the same temptation (or at least the same tempter) which Eve and Adam failed to resist is now facing Cain?
65 It is not until chapter nine that God instituted capital punishment. It would seem that the greater punishment for Cain was a ‘life sentence’ as a vagabond and wanderer, than to have put him to death.
67 “Since this calling out by the use of the name definitely implies public worship, we have here the first record of regular public worship. Private worship is presupposed as preceding. The great importance of public worship, both as a matter of personal necessity as well as a matter of public confession, is beautifully set forth by this brief record.” Leupold, p. 228.