(Note: This is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here.)
Cain and Abel
One reason I began this journey was to try to understand the nature of God. That’s kind of silly, considering I haven’t even begun to understand the nature of women. At least God comes with an instruction manual called the Bible. Even if women came with instructions, they would just keep changing the rules.
So, even though this might be an overwhelming quest, what has Genesis 1-3 told me about God so far? He is spirit, but alludes to appearing in a physical form. We are made in his image. He is a creator. He establishes rules and enforces them. He is stern, but merciful. Mostly, he is like a concerned parent. In Genesis 4, we see God again take on the role of father to the loved and lost race of humanity, and we see this relationship take a new, and darker twist.
Genesis 4 offers several first, in addition to the Bible’s well know first murder. It is the first mention of sacrifices to God, which invites the question: Why does God demand sacrifices? I mean, he is the creator of ALL the universe, so what does a little animal fat mean to him? For that matter, why does God need to be worshiped at all? I mean, humans are so insignificant in the great, grand scheme of things what value does our adulation mean to an entity that came up with the idea of black holes? I don’t know, but I’m going to attempt a guess by the time my journey into Genesis 4 is over.
Let’s get started.
4 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
Now Adam and Eve get busy and begin obeying God’s first decree, to be fruitful and multiply. Cain was the oldest and followed in his father’s sandals as a farmer. Abel, however, became a shepherd. This is another first.
This is the first mention of animal husbandry in the Bible, but there is no mention of Clan Adam adapting a meat-based diet to this point. When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden there was no mention of them eating meat, so I don’t know if the family had made the leap to animal-based protein yet. I am thinking these are sheep based on the use of the word “flock.”Abel assesses great value in the animal fat, therefore I deduce they might be eating sheep.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Now we come to the point where God accepts Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Cain naturally brings portions of his harvest because he is a farmer like his father. Abel, his younger brother, brings fat from a lamb. There are a few points I want to make about this passage before I get to the tragedy at the heart of the story.
NOT WHAT I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL: I was taught God rejected Cain’s offering because it wasn’t an animal sacrifice like Abel’s. I could never understand why God would not look favorably on plants when Adam’s job in the Garden of Eden was essentially a gardener. Reading it again with fresh eyes, a phrase popped out at me: “on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”
I deduced that it wasn’t the type of offering, but the conduct of the person who offered it that offended God. At no time did God mention the unsuitability of Cain’s sacrifice, he alludes to the unsuitability of Cain’s behavior with this statement: “7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”
It sounds to me like Cain had been doing wrong in God’s eyes. God, however, instructs Cain that if he does right, God will accept him. He gives Cain a way to remedy the situation. Reading this, I imagine Cain as a young man or maybe a teenager, with a heart raging with conflicting emotions. What kind of life had Cain lived up to that point? How much trouble can one boy get into when the world is so empty? Whatever he was up to, God wasn’t pleased.
The most important takeaway I get from this passage is God’s portrayal as a caring father. Is God physically there with Cain? I don’t think so based on what I have read so far, but I think God maintained a close, audible presence with Clan Adam for an important and simple reason – Adam and Eve had no idea how to be good parents. They had no example, as they had no earthly parents.
I imagine God, peering into the hearts of Clan Adam, and offering counsel to all the family members from time-to-time. As we are about to see, not all that advice was taken to heart.
God’s advice to Cain is at the heart of Genesis 4: “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
This is the first use of the word “sin” in the Bible. Webster’s dictionary says sin is “transgression against divine law.” Genesis 4 paints sin as a crouching beast just beyond the door, waiting for you to let it in so it can tear your life apart. From Genesis 1-3, we can deduce disobeying God’s direct edicts is a sin, but what formal edicts has Cain violated to this point?
God directly addresses Cain’s anger and jealousy against his younger brother Abel. This is envy. Envy festered just outside the door to Cain’s heart. This sin tainted all Cain did, included his sacrifice to God. God gave Cain the path to redemption, but it was ignored.
Instead, Cain finally let the beast in, and death followed.
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Cain ignores God’s counsel and murders Abel. Unlike the Garden, there is no serpent whispering in Cain’s ear. Satan isn’t mentioned or implied in this passage. There is only Cain and his dark emotions, God’s counsel, and a tragic human decision.
I must ask some uncomfortable questions: Did God’s rejection of Cain actually lead to Abel’s death? To put it bluntly, did God fail? I will discuss these questions, and the consequences of the First Murder in Part Two of my journey through Genesis 4.
Brian Braden is the author the book THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books.