Gleanings In Genesis

7. Cain and Abel

Genesis 4

There is a very close connection between Genesis 3 and 4. In the former we see the beginning of sin in man, in the latter we read of its progress and fruits; in the one it was sin in the individual, in the other, sin in the family. Like leprosy, sin contaminates, spreads and issues in death. In Genesis 3 the sin was against God, in Genesis 4 it is against a fellow-man. The order here is ever the same; the one who has no fear of God before his eyes, has no genuine respect for the rights of his neighbor. Again, in Genesis 4 we see the local fulfillment of Genesis 3:15- the enmity between the two seeds- the wicked and the righteous, Cain and Abel. Further; we are shown, even more clearly than by the coats of skins in the previous chapter, that the guilty sinner can only approach God by means of a sacrifice. We propose now to study briefly the contents of Genesis 4 from three viewpoints, namely; the historical, the typical and the dispensational.

I. Cain and Abel Considered Historically

The record of Genesis 4 is exceedingly terse and much is gathered up which scarcely appears on the surface. The central truth of the chapter is that God is to be worshipped, that He is to be worshipped through sacrifice, that He is to be worshipped by means of a sacrifice which is appropriated by faith (cf. Heb. 11:4). Three things are to be carefully noted in regard to the worship of Cain and Abel. First, that there was a place where God was to be worshipped. This is indicated in the third verse: "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord." That is, he brought his offering to some particular place. This supposition seems to be supported by the language of verse 16- "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord." A further corroboration may be discovered in the mention of "the fat" which Abel brought (v. 4). "The firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof" suggests an altar upon which the victim should be offered and upon which the fat should be burned. Where this place of worship was located perhaps we cannot say for certain, but there is ground for believing that it was at the east of the Garden of Eden. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, in their commentary on Genesis, translate the last verse of Genesis 3 as follows: "And He (God) dwelt at the east of the Garden of Eden between the Cherubim, as a Shekinah (a fire-tongue or fire-sword) to keep open the way to the tree of life."[1] The same thought is presented in the Jerusalem Targum. If the grammatical construction of the Hebrew will warrant this translation, then Genesis 3:24 would seem to signify that, having expelled man from the garden, God established a mercy-seat protected by the Cherubim, the fire-tongue or sword being the symbol of the Divine presence, and whoever would worship God must approach this mercy-seat by way of sacrifice. We commend this suggestion to the prayerful consideration of our readers. To say the least, Genesis 4 seems to imply that there was some definite place to which Cain and Abel brought their offerings, a place which they entered and from which they went out.

Second: Not only does there appear to have been a definite place of worship, but there seems also to have been an appointed time for worship. The marginal reading of Genesis 4:3 gives, "And at the end of days it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord." May not this signify, at the end of the week? In other words, does not this expression appear to point to the Sabbath day as the time when God was to be formally worshipped? A third thing implied is a prescribed means of worship. God could be approached and worshipped only by means of sacrifice. This incident then seems to intimate that the children of Adam and Eve had been definitely instructed that there was a place where God could be found, that there was a time in which to come before Him, and that appointed means of approach had been established. Neither Cain nor Abel would have known anything about sacrifices unless sacrifices had been definitely appointed. From Hebrews 11:4 we learn that it was "By faith Abel offered" his sacrifice, and in Romans 10:17 we are told that "Faith cometh by hearing." It was by faith and not by fancy that Abel brought his offering to God. He had heard that God required a sacrifice, he believed, and he evidenced his faith by a compliance with God revealed will.

The nature of the offerings which Cain and Abel brought unto the Lord, and God's rejection of the one and acceptance of the other, point us to the most important truth in the chapter. Attention should be fixed not so much on the two men themselves, as upon the difference between their offerings. So far as the record goes there is nothing to intimate that up to this time Cain was the worst man of the two, that is, considered from a natural and moral standpoint. Cain was no infidel or atheist. He was ready to acknowledge the existence of God, he was prepared to worship Him after his own fashion. He "brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord." But mark three things. First, his offering was a bloodless one, and "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). Second, his offering consisted of the fruit of his own toil, it was the product of his own labors, in a word, it was the works of his own hands. Third, he brought of "the fruit of the ground," thus ignoring the Divine sentence recorded in Genesis 3:17, "Cursed is the ground." Abel "brought of the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof," and to secure this, sacrifice had to be made, life had to be taken, blood had to be shed. The comment of the Holy Spirit upon this incident is, that "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Heb. 11:4). He does not state that Abel was more excellent, but that the offering which be presented was more pleasing and acceptable to his Maker.

Next we learn that "The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering," or, as Hebrews 11:4 expresses it, "God testifying of his gifts." By comparing later Scriptures we may justly infer that the manner in which Jehovah showed His acceptance of the offering was by fire coming down from heaven and consuming the sacrifice (see Lev. 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 7:1). "But unto Cain and his offering He had not respect.'' No doubt Cain's offering was a very beautiful one. No doubt he selected the very choicest fruits that could be found. No doubt his offering cost him considerable toil and labor, and probably it was with no little self-satisfaction that he came before the Lord. But Jehovah had no respect unto his gift; there was no visible token of the Divine approval; no fire came down from heaven to consume it in proof of God's acceptance. And Cain's countenance fell. He was furious that all his labors should stand for nothing. He was angry at the thought that he could not approach and worship God according to the dictates of his own mind. And, as we shall see later, he was filled with wrath as he contemplated the exaltation of Abel above him. So it is today. Unless the darkened understanding of man be illumined by the Holy Spirit and the enmity of the carnal mind be subdued, the human heart rebels against the idea of the impossibility of approaching God save through a bloody sacrifice. The natural man in his pride and self-righteousness hates the truths of substitution and expiation worse than he hates the Devil.

"And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?" The condition of Cain's heart was clearly revealed by his anger at God's refusal to receive his offering. His worship, like that of multitudes in our day, was merely "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5), that is, destitute of any genuineness or reality. Had Cain's offering been presented in the right spirit there would have been no "wroth" when Jehovah refused to accept it, but instead, a humble desire to learn God's will.

"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door; and unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him" (Gen. 4:7). This verse has always been a difficult one to expositors and commentators, and we have never yet seen any explanation of it that fully satisfied us. The interpretation most widely received is as follows: Why art thou wroth, Cain? If thou doest well if you will present the proper and specified offering it will be accepted; and if thou doest not well- if the offering you brought has been rejected the remedy is simple "sin lieth at the door," i.e., a suitable and meet offering, a sin offering is right to your hand, and if you present this you shall "have the excellency'' (margin), that is, you shall retain the right of the firstborn and have the precedence over Abel your younger brother. The Hebrew word here translated sin, is in other passages sometimes rendered sin-offering- the one Hebrew word doing duty for our two English expressions. Though many of the ablest Bible students have accepted this translation and interpretation, we feel obliged to humbly dissent from it. And for this reason. Apart from this one doubtful case (Gen. 4:7), doubtful, as to whether or not the Hebrew word should be translated sin or sin-offering- there in no other reference in Scripture of any Sin offering before the giving of the Law at Sinai. We do read of the patriarch's presenting burnt and meat offerings, but never of sin offerings. In the light of Romans 3:20 we firmly believe that there was no sin offering before Moses. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin." The Law was given in order that sin might be recognized as sin. It was the Law which convicted men of sin and of their need of a sin offering. Hence we submit that there was no sin offering before the Law was given. Job 1:5 supports this contention, "And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all, for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts"- had they sinned after the Law was given a sin offering, not a burnt offering, would have been needed. What then is the significance of Genesis 4:7?

Undoubtedly the words "If thou doest well" have reference to the bringing of a proper offering to the Lord. In case Cain was willing to do this Jehovah asks, "Shalt thou not have the excellency" (margin), which means, Shalt thou not retain the right of primogeniture over Abel? "And if thou doest not well sin lieth at the door," which we understand to mean, If you refuse to bring the required offering, sin lieth (Hebrew, is crouching) at the door, and like a wild beast is ready to spring upon you and devour you. The remainder of the verse referring back to the matter of Cain's rights by virtue of his seniority.

The use of the word "And" all through the passage and the word "Also" in verse 4 seem to show that Cain and Abel came together to present their offerings unto the Lord. Abel's offering was accepted, Cain's was rejected. Probably, Cain reasoned from this that there would likely be a change in the order of primogeniture and that his younger brother should become his ruler. Hence his "wroth" and readiness to kill Abel rather than submit to him. In a word Cain intended to be first at all costs. Believing that he had lost the place and privilege of the firstborn- for only upon his bringing of the stipulated offering could he continue to rule over his brother- and refusing to sacrifice according to God's requirements, and fearing that Abel would now be his ruler, he decided that rather than submit to this, he would kill his brother. Such we believe to be the real explanation, the motive, the cause of the first murder. The first word of verse 8 which recounts the deed bears this out, linking it as it does with the previous verse.

To summarize our suggested interpretation of verse 7: Cain's offering having been refused, anger filled his heart. Jehovah asks him why he is wroth, and tells him there is no just cause for his displeasure, and that if he will bring the required offering it would he accepted and Cain would then retain the rights of the firstborn. At the same time God faithfully and solemnly warns him of the consequences which will follow his refusal to bring the specified sacrifice. If his sin is not removed by an expiatory offering, it will spring upon and devour him. Cain refused to comply with Jehovah's demands and the Divine threat was carried out. What an illustration of James 1:15! "When lust (desire, passion) hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin when it is finished (consummated), bringeth forth death." This was the precise order in Cain's case: first- lust, anger- then, sin- lying at the door,- then, death- Abel murdered.

"And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not. Am I my brother's keeper? And He said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." Sin cannot be hid. There may have been no human witness to Cain's crime, but the eye of God had seen it. Solemn is the lesson taught here. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked." "Be sure your sin will find you out." "For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known," are only so many ways of stating the same truth. To Jehovah's pointed inquiry, Cain replied, "I know not." How this brings out the inveterate evil of the human heart! There was no contrition, no confessing of sin, but instead, a repudiation and covering of it. So it was with our first parents in Eden, and so it ever is with all their descendants until God's grace works effectually in us. It is to be noted that we have here the first mention of "blood" in Scripture, and like all first mentionings therein, it expresses what is primary and fundamental, hinting also at the amplifications of subsequent teaching. The blood here was innocent blood, blood shed by wicked hands, blood which cried aloud to God. How deeply significant! How it speaks to us of the precious blood of Christ!

After the Divine inquisition comes the Divine sentence upon the guilty one telling of God's holiness and righteousness which will not for an instant tolerate sin, "And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth." No matter where he should go in the world the ground should be against him, the ground that held the blood of his brother, the blood of his victim. The remembrance of his murder should pursue him, so that he would not be able to content himself long in any one place.

"And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear." Cain now realizes something of what he has done, though his mind is occupied more with his punishment than with the sin which had caused it. "My punishment is greater than I can bear" will be the language of the lost in the Lake of Fire. The awful lot of the unsaved will be unbearable, and yet it will have to be endured and endured for ever. "From Thy face shall I be hid" cried Cain. Though the sinner knows it not, this will be the most terrible feature of his punishment- eternally banished from God. "Depart from Me ye cursed" will be the fearful sentence passed upon the wicked in the day of judgment. "And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod." Nod means "wandering"- there is no peace or rest for the wicked: in this world they are like the troubled waves of the sea; in the world to come, they shall be like wandering stars, lost in the blackness of darkness for ever. My reader, if you reject the Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, Cain's doom shall be your doom. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."


[1] We may say that the Hebrew word shaken, which in Genesis 3:24 is translated “placed” is defined in Young's Concordance “to tabernacle,” etc. Nowhere else in the Old Testament is shaken translated “placed” but eighty-three times it is rendered “to dwell.” It is the same Hebrew word which is given as “to dwell” in Exodus 25:8

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