Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Genesis 4

Genesis 4: Cain and Abel—the first murder


Adam and Eve, of course, bore children, and the first two children were Cain and Abel. When they grew up, “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (verse 2b).

Eventually both sons brought offerings to the LORD; Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil, and Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Which makes sense, since that’s what each did for a living. But the LORD “looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour.” (verses 4–5)

This made Cain angry, so he lured his brother out into the field, and killed him. And then, in verse 9, God again asks questions that He already knows the answers to:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Ouch. I’m thinking it might not be a good idea to mouth off to the LORD of all creation, but that’s just me.

Cain’s punishment is that the ground will no longer yield its crops for him, and that God’s presence will be hidden from him. Cain will become a “restless wanderer” (verse 12). Cain is afraid that he will be killed, since he no longer has God’s protection, so God puts a mark on Cain “so that no one who found him would kill him” (verse 15).

The rest of the chapter, from verse 17 on, is simply some extra genealogy, of Cain’s children, and some more of Adam and Eve’s children.


First off is the question of why the LORD accepted Abel’s offering, and not Cain’s. The most common answer—and, probably, the one that is correct—is that Abel’s sacrifice was a blood sacrifice, and Cain’s was not. And the only thing that bugs me about that idea is that grain offerings were acceptable by God, when He set out the laws for the Israelites later on. I would guess that it’s the type of offering being offered; grain offerings are probably acceptable for some things, and blood sacrifices for other things. For example, if they were giving the offerings as a sin offering, then it would have to be a blood offering. But I’m not an expert on the sacrificial system. However, despite the specifics, I think the main point is that Abel’s sacrifice cost him more than Cain’s sacrifice cost him. It’s called a “sacrifice” for a reason—the idea is that you are putting God, and God’s needs and desires, above your own. If you don’t give Him the best, because you want to keep it for yourself, then you haven’t really sacrificed at all.

This chapter is where we get the concept of the “mark of Cain” that people sometimes refer to, in slightly different ways. In the Bible, according to the text, the mark was simply used to indicate to others that Cain must not be killed. In verse 15 God says that “if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.”

Finally, keep in mind, when reading some of these chapters in Genesis, that the Bible doesn’t record every single son and daughter who were born. It’s clear, from Cain’s fear of being killed, that there are already a number of people in the world, by this time, not just Adam, Eve, and Cain.

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