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Cain and Abel

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Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:1-16

1.      This narrative is very closely tied to the preceding chapter.  This chapter comprises the last few paragraphs of the this section of the book of Genesis.

2.      “Toledot” formula used to divide book into ten sections and a prologue.

3.      In this first section we see repeated references to location.  This narrative demonstrates for us the spiritual meaning of those references.

4.      Man has moved geographically further and further away from Eden in this section and in this chapter Cain’s actions demonstrate how far away from God man has moved spiritually.

5.      [4:1-2] The command to procreate was given in the Garden, but the narrator explains that no fruit came of it until they were outside.

6.      The firstborn is named “Cain” which means “here he is” or “he is here.”

7.      Each word of this sentence is not only difficult but odd.  It is odd for a mother to say the she has “gotten” [“acquired”] a child from the Lord.

8.      It is odd for one to use this particular word “man” in reference to a newborn baby.

9.      But the most odd thing of all is the expression that she got the man from the Lord; that is, with the help of the Lord.

10.  As strange as that expression is, that is the only way to translate it so that it even makes a little sense.

11.  The second son is born and his name is called “Abel.”  No explanation is given for his name but it sounds suspiciously like the word that means “breath” or “futility.”

12.  We can probably take this name as an indication of what is to follow.

13.  Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer.  This is the beginning of the division of mankind.  This division will result in grave consequences.

14.  These different vocations have different perspectives and thus different attitudes toward life.  We don’t at first realize how profound this division is.

15.  It will lead to two altars and will result in the shattering of man’s unity and brotherhood, but we have yet to realize the significance of the division.

16.  These first two verses have laid the groundwork and the story begins in 4:3.

17.  [4:3-5] Both of these sons of Adam will now offer sacrifice.  Moses is not concerned about the cultic details of the sacrifice so he does not explain why they sacrificed, how they sacrificed, or what kind of sacrifice they offered.

18.  What Moses wants us to know is what they sacrifice and he wants us to understand that they each honored God separately from the other.

19.  This whole episode is supposed to be disquieting and uncomfortable for us, the reader.

20.  You ask, “Why should this make us uncomfortable?  Wouldn’t you expect a shepherd to sacrifice from his flock and a farmer from his produce?”

21.  Yes, that is what you might expect, but these sacrifices demonstrate the difference in the lives of these two men.

22.  The difference is not something external, but is so deep that it demonstrates itself in two distinct religious practices.

23.  Cult belongs intimately to culture and every culture gives birth to its own particular cult.

24.  That’s why there were two altars in Genesis 4 and that is why there are many altars now.

25.  Moses goes on to tell us that God did not honor both sacrifices, only Abel’s.

26.  Many have searched diligently in an attempt to find a reason for this preference, but you cannot find it in the ritual and you cannot find it in Cain’s attitude.

27.  The only indication given in the narrative is that the sacrifice of blood was more pleasing to Yahweh.

28.  Don’t miss the significance of this: Moses wants us to understand that the acceptance of the sacrifice is not in the actions or the attitudes of man, but in the free will and good pleasure of God.

29.  Moses demonstrates to us that the decision for Cain and against Abel is not logically comprehensible.

30.  Exodus 33:19 – “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

31.  Moses doesn’t leave any room for us to insert our own suppositions here; he doesn’t even tell us how Cain found out about his judgment.

32.  In the culture of the day one would find out why a sacrifice was accepted or rejected by examining the sacrifice itself and Moses knows that we will do the same thing here.

33.  Cain becomes very angry with his brother and resents Abel because of God’s pleasure in him.  This resentment distorts his body so that his anger is evident.

34.  [4:6-7] God warns Cain about this change of his heart (his being).  This address is given in grace; God is giving Cain a way out before it is too late.

35.  Cain was not rejected even though his sacrifice was rejected.  The sacrifice was symptomatic of his inner condition.

36.  God appeals to Cain at the beginning of 4:7.  Cain will be able to lift up his face once he has been reconciled to his brother and thus his God.

37.  Even though 4:7b does not explicitly speak of an inner emotion, sin is expressed as something that is always lying in wait, ready to take control of your actins as it already has control of your heart.

38.  Yahweh expresses that there is only a short distance from the inner emotion to the act (4:7b).

39.  Man should control his inner emotion but is unable to because of the fall.  He is held in bondage to the lusts of his own flesh and the pride of his own heart.

40.  This in no way removes any of man’s responsibility; instead, it confirms that all the responsibility lies with man.

41.  These words in 4:7b correspond exactly to 3:16b, where the context is different.

42.  [4:8-10] We are not told what Cain said to Abel in 4:8.  Moses states it varies matter-of-factly and thus gives no detail.

43.  Just as in Chapter 3, God is on the scene as soon as the deed is done.  This time, however, the question is not “Where are you?” but “Where is your brother?”

44.  This question is a social question, not a personal one.  God is establishing that responsibility toward God entails responsibility toward your neighbor.

45.  God is being gracious in asking Cain this.  He is giving to Cain an opportunity to confess his wicked deed.

46.  But Cain sloughs it off “with an impertinent witticism” (von Rad, 106).  He asks in essence, “Am I supposed to shepherd the shepherd?”

47.  Notice the regression.  At least Adam and Eve were ashamed when they were confronted with their sin, but Cain lies straight to God’s face.

48.  God asks Cain, “What have you done?”  He asks this not because He is ignorant of the actions, but to express in human terms the horror of this first murder.

49.  Blood and life belong to God alone.  This blood, from the lifeless corpse of his dead brother cried out to the God of heaven to rectify this wrong.

50.  When man takes life, he takes a possession that belongs to God, the Creator.  You can shovel it under the ground, but the sound of its crying will not escape God’s hearing.

51.  We shudder when we think of the heinous crimes man commits against man, but one who is mature in the faith will look to God as the protector and guardian of life.

52.  [4:11-12] God’s judgment here is more terrible than the punishment on Adam and Eve in Chapter 3.  This was something that could not be made good again.

53.  The earth is the basis of life and thus is referred to as the “mother” of life.  This motif is found throughout the Paradise story.  The earth is considered the foundation of human existence.

54.  Cain had tilled the soil, ate the fruit of the soil, offered the produce of the soil, and caused the soil to drink the blood of his brother.

55.  The blood complained of him from that soil and so now the soil will deny him its fruit and its presence as a home; he is banned from it.

56.  The punishment then is that Cain is banished from the land, the same land on which he spilled his brother’s blood.  Now the earth (the mother) will have no home for him.  He will live the life of a fugitive.

57.  [4:13-14] Cain is crushed under the weight of this curse, but he is not crushed by remorse.  The weight that Cain is talking about is the punishment.

58.  Cain cries out in horror at the prospect of living such a life of unrest and harassment with no peace.

59.  Cain realizes that a life lived far from God is a life of despair.  Once God has withdrawn His hand from him, there is no protection and no hope.

60.  [4:15-16] The narrative doesn’t end there, however.  In fact, we have yet to realize the most important point of this story.

61.  Cain does not have the last word in this story, but God.  God graciously places Cain under His divine protection.

62.  Yahweh places a mark on Cain’s body to establish a visible sign of His protection.

63.  This sign is not to disgrace Cain, but to mark visibly the protective relationship that he experiences with God.

64.  The conclusion of the story is a riddle: Cain is cursed by separation from God and yet is guarded by God’s own protection.

65.  Even Cain’s life belongs to God and Cain must not abandon it.  But he will live in the land of “Nod,” which means fugitive.  He lives in the land of restlessness, a land that we all find ourselves in


66.  Augustine prayed that His soul would find no peace, until it found its rest in God.  Man has long desired to make his own way in the world, with little regard for the plans of man.

67.  God, however, will not have his plans thwarted.  He provides a son for Eve yet again in 4:25, and this son, Seth (“appointed”) will be the one through whom the promised seed will come.

68.  In the days of this son, Seth, men will call upon the name of God.  And God, whose ears are always open to the cry of the righteous, will hear, and will reveal Himself once again in grace, and in power and majesty.

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