DIG: The LORD accepts both animal and grain sacrifices (Leviticus 6:14-30). Why do you think He rejects Cain’s sacrifice? After the murder of Abel, why do you think ADONAI approaches Cain as He does? Why not directly accuse Cain? Why delay punishment? Why protect Cain? Why was Cain punished as he was? Was Cain sorry for what he did, or sorry for getting caught? What’s the difference?
REFLECT: How do you handle anger? What might you call yourself: Vern Volcano? Suzy Suppression? Tina Tightlip? Dennis Denial? Or what? What would you like to do differently with your anger? Where might the LORD be looking on your life with favor? With disfavor? What are the warning signs that you are being enticed by your evil desires? What helps you master it? Are you your brother’s keeper?
Adam and Eve brought suffering on their children also. Death posed a constant threat to their attempts to be fruitful and multiply. The appetite of the grave knows no end. The pain of childbirth was not limited to the pain of labor. Now, instead of being the joyful event it should have been, the birth of a child eventually became the source of unavoidable pain for everyone. A broken child in a broken world. The parents suffer as well because they are helpless to shield their child from the heartache and fallen nature of the world.
The failure of Cain to master sin here illustrates its full growth cycle. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).
Now Adam lay with his wife Eve and she conceived and gave birth: Cain (4:1a). In this sentence, the direct object is birth, followed by the word Cain. The word “to” is not in the Hebrew text. This translation will be important in the second part of this verse. However, now there is a play on words between the Hebrew word for Cain (4:1a), kana, and the Hebrew word for gotten (4:1b), kaniti. The name Cain, or kana comes from the root word kanah, which means to acquire. But the word gotten comes from the root word kin, which means to fashion, to shape or to give form to (Psalm 139:13; Proverbs 8:22). Therefore, the play on words between Cain and gotten is not based upon similar root words, but solely on the sound in Hebrew. In other words, they sound alike. Once again, this points to the fact that the original language was Hebrew.
And she said: I have brought forth a man: the LORD (4:1b). The phrase “with the help of” (NIV), or “from” (NKJ), is not in the Hebrew text. In this sentence, the direct object is man, followed by the single Hebrew word, the LORD. Martin Luther translated this verse in the same way. This shows Eve’s understanding of 3:15. She believed that she would bear the Deliverer and that He would be the God-man. He would be the Seed of the woman (3:15) and Cain was her first born!But she made the assumption that Cain was the God-man. Obviously, she was wrong. It would be a long time until the Savior would come.
Later she gave birth to his brother: Abel (4:2a). The Hebrew word for Abel is hevel, which means vanity or futility. Literally, it means a mere breath, and emphasizes the shortness of human life (Job 7:16; Psalm 144:4). By naming their son Abel, this shows that the curse of the Fall had begun to make itself felt in the lives of Adam and Eve. By the time Abel was born, they realized that whoever he would be, he would be no God-man.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil (4:2b). Abel was a shepherd and because animals were not yet used for food, the sheep and goats were used for milk, clothing and sacrifice. Cain became a farmer to raise the food and basically followed his father’s profession (2:15; 3:17).
In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD (4:3). The phrase: in the course of time literally means at the end of days and points to a specifically appointed time. Therefore, this early in human history, there was a fixed time for a sacrifice to be offered to ADONAI. It may have been weekly, we don’t know, but it was an appointed time and place. The LORD had placed two cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life. These cherubim had a flaming sword flashing back and forth (3:24). There they remained, apparently until the Flood. And with the Flood, the garden disappeared. This would have been the logical place for them to bring their offering. The entrance to the garden of Eden was on the east side, and the entrance to the Tabernacle and the Temple was on the east side were the bronze altar stood (see my commentary on Exodus Fa – Build an Altar of Acacia Wood Overlaid with Bronze).
Cain was no infidel and believed in God. No doubt Adam and Eve had obediently taught their children how to make a proper offering to the LORD and up to then Cain had chosen to be obedient. But this time he brought some of the fruits of the soil as his sacrifice (4:3). And if we have no spiritual insight, there seems nothing wrong with what he did. He brought the best of what he had; however, it was bloodless. And because it was bloodless, it was unacceptable. In effect, his offering said he didn’t need a substitute. He was setting out to establish his own righteousness. In addition, Cain’s offering denied that he was separated from ADONAI. He acted like everything was all right. The world teaches that we are born sinless, and for an Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein to happen, something has to go horribly wrong. But everything was not all right. The Bible teaches that we are separated from God at birth because we are born with a terminal disease. We are born with a sin nature, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We have to be born again to be children of God (John 3:1-21). Cain refused to recognize that, as do most today.
In the dispensation of the Torah, the sin offering would be a mandatory atonement for specific unintentional sin, confessed sin, and forgiveness for sin where restitution was not required (see my commentary on Exodus Fc – The Sin Offering). The LORDwould accept the blood of the animal as payment for the specific sin of the worshiper. The blood averted God’s wrath on the sinner, and ultimately directed that wrath to the Suffering Servant where He became sin for us on the cross (Second Corinthians 5:21; First Peter 2:24). Abel’s sacrifice foreshadowed that sin offering.
But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock (4:4a). Leviticus 3:16 makes clear to us what both brothers had been told by their parents, that all the fat is the LORD’s. How do I know that? Because faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). ADONAI had told Adam and Eve and they told Cain and Abel to bring a blood offering, and by faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did (Hebrews 11:4a). Later, with the clearer light of the Renewed Covenant we learn that the sprinkled blood of Yeshua would far surpass the sacrifice of Abel, and speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24b). Abel’s sacrifice was, however, acceptable to ADONAI because it was offered in faith, but it had no atoning power – not even for Abel, much less for anyone else. Jesus’ blood, however, was sufficient to cleanse the sins of all mankind for all time, to make peace with ADONAI for whoever believes in, trusts in or has faith in His blood sacrifice (Colossians 1:20).79 Therefore, Abel’s sacrifice was a mere shadow of the reality of Messiah’s sacrifice that would come later. That is why the LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering (4:4b). The rabbis teach that fire descended from heaven and consumed it. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings (Hebrews 11:4b). So the issue here was a blood offering. Abel was obedient. But Cain’s attitude became evident when he refused to obey and bring a blood sacrifice.
But on Cain and his offering God did not look with favor (4:5a). His was an act of self-righteousness. He was offering the LORD the fruits of a cursed ground instead of submitting himself, in obedience, to what God had asked for. Make no mistake about it, this was outright rebellion and ADONAI did not accept his offering. Jude uses Cain as an example of rebellion in the end times before the Messiah returns to set up His Messianic Kingdom (see my commentary on Jude Aq – Woe to Them! They Have Taken the Way of Cain). Both Cain and Abel were sinners, both were born after the Fall outside the garden of Eden. The only difference between the two brothers was their offerings. They had the same parents, the same upbringing, the same knowledge and the same environment. Cain’s offering was not of faith, but Abel’s offering was an act of faith. This is still an important lesson for us today.
So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast (4:5b). His response to the LORD was anger, which is never good. He rejected God’s way, went his own way and was called on it. He had rejected ADONAI’s truth. Cain knew the LORD required a blood sacrifice, but instead of obeying he invented his own form of worship. His inappropriate offering revealed the irreverent blasphemy of his heart, as he rejected God’s revelation and operated by his own self-styled instinct and pride in what he had produced. Jude would call this the way of Cain (see my commentary on Jude Aq – Woe to Them! They Have Taken the Way of Cain). Cain was rebellious and disobedient, and when the LORD did not accept his offering, he responded in jealous anger. Consequently, He murdered his obedient brother.80
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast” (4:6)? These are rhetorical questions not requiring an answer because God already knew the answer. We never really hide anything from Him. Maybe up to this point in his life, Cain may have seemed outwardly obedient to God. But this incident finally revealed the resentment that had built up in his heart towards ADONAI and his brother Abel. The LORD, however, kept reaching out to Cain to do the right thing because mankind has the ability to choose (Genesis 2:16-17; Isaiah 1:18-20; Ezekiel 18; Jeremiah 36:3; John 7:17).
He said: If you do what is right, will you not be accepted (4:7a)? To do what was right in this context meant to offer a proper sacrifice. If he would obey God’s word, then his sacrifice would be accepted. If you will repent, your sin will be forgiven. Then the LORD adds: But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door: it desires to have you, but you must master it (4:7b). This is the first mention of sin in the Bible. The Hebrew word for desire here is teshukah and means desire to possess. Sin is pictured as an animal that desires to control and dominate Cain, but the LORD challenged Cain to rule over the unrestrained desire to sin. Eve had been talked into her sin, but Cain could not be talked out of his, even by ADONAI Himself.81
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” Cain lured Abel to a field, away from their parents’ presence. And while they were in the field, I am sure Abel, being God’s first prophet (Luke 11:49-51) urged repentance, while Cain accused the LORD of petty favoritism and his brother of self-righteousness until the argument became so bitter that Cain attacked his brother and killed him (4:8). And why did Cain murder his brother (see my commentary on Exodus Dp – You Shall Not Murder)? Because his offering was evil, and his brother’s was righteous (First John 3:12). The seed of the serpent was quickly striking at the Seed of the woman, corrupting her first son and killing her second, thus trying to prevent the fulfillment of Christ’s destiny with the cross.
Eve cried out in physical pain countless times as she gave birth. But the pain of childbirth was nothing compared to the pain she felt when her firstborn, Cain, murdered her second son, Abel. That pain inflected the world as the descendants of Adam and Eve lived out their fallen nature. As Paul would write: The wages of sin is death (Romans 5:8). Spiritual death had caused physical death.
The picture of sin in the Bible is like that of a swimmer in the rapids of a large river, miles upstream from a huge waterfall. The swimmer can easily get out of the water, but as the rapids get rougher and she gets closer to the falls, it becomes more and more difficult to be free of the currents and the force of the water. The safest and best time to resist temptation is before it is too strong or powerful to resist. The rising doubt or evil thought quickly becomes sin when we dwell on it and allow it to take up residence in our hearts.82
No sooner had he murdered his brother than ADONAI called Cain to account. He asks: Where is your brother Abel? This time Cain had not gone to the place of sacrifice seeking the LORD; the LORD had gone out to the field seeking Cain. Of course God knew where his brother was; He asked Abel the question to give him the opportunity of confessing and repenting. When Cain answered: I don’t know, he told the first lie. But in a sense, he really didn’t know where Abel was. Like all others who died in faith, not having received the promises, Abel was the first human inhabitant of Sheol, that place in the heart of the earth where the righteous of the TANAKH awaited the coming of the Savior of sinners to be taken up to heaven (Luke 16:19-31; Ephesians 4:7-10).83 Instead of responding in fear and humility, he compounded the problem by boldly questioning God’s right to ask such a question! Am I my brother’s keeper (4:9)? This is the first question raised by a human in the Bible. But by asking this question he really avoided answering the LORD’s question. Adam, when confronted with his sin, confessed and repented - but not Cain. This is what sin does. It hardens the heart and perverts the senses.
Then ADONAI said: What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground (4:10). On Mount Tziyon in modern Yerushalayim stands a museum that contains the remains of a few of the six million Jews who were brutally put to death by the Nazis during World War II. Included among the shocking exhibits are lampshades made of human skin and soap made from human fat. The museum itself is called the Chamber of Destruction, and the relics it contains are disquieting reminders of man’s inhumanity to man. Outside the building is a simple plaque inscribed with a brief quotation from this verse: Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out.84
This is the first mention of blood in the Bible. The Hebrew for blood is plural, meaning the blood of Abel and all his descendants. Abel spoke to the LORD after his death, asking that his murder be avenged. By faith, Abel still speaks, even though he is dead (Hebrews 11:4c). Like the souls underneath the altar who had been slain because of the Word of God (Revelation 6:9-10), Abel asked that ADONAI avenge his blood. But the primary way Abel still speaks is to remind of three things: people come to the LORD by faith, not by works; we must obey God’s revelation above our own reasoning and self-will; and sin is severely punished. We must never forget that the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4b; Romans 1:16-17; Hebrews 10:38a).85
Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand (4:11). The ground, from which Cain made a living, was now under a curse. This is profoundly prophetic because he was a farmer. His pride came from the ground. Now it would yield him nothing. The picture of the ground, opening its mouth, is found several times in Scripture (Numbers 16:30-35; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalm 106:17; Isaiah 5:14), always in a negative sense.
When you walk the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you (4:12a). Every time Cain’s feet touched the ground, it would be a reminder of his wicked deed. The earth, in effect, rejected Cain as he had rejected the LORD and his brother. In this way, Abel continued to speak to his brother.
You will be a restless wanderer on the earth (4:12b). The natural reading of this Scripture means that Cain was not to stay anywhere very long, continually anxious, running and on the move; he would have no home, and in that way he would be a fugitive and a restless wanderer. But Cain defied that curse by living in a city in the land of Nod, east of Eden (4:16-17).
Then Cain said to ADONAI: My punishment is more than I can bear (4:13). Sin always takes you further than you wanted to go, and costs you more than you wanted to pay. The word punishment literally means my iniquity, or sin. Adam did not complain about his being driven from the garden of Eden, but Cain, a greater sinner than his father, did object.
Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence. He knew he would be cut off from fellowship with the LORD. That’s what sin does to us. It separates us from God. I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me (4:14). On the surface, it might seem that Cain was sorry for what he had done. The fact that he uses the word punishment,which is usually translated sin, does show a certain amount of acknowledgment. But being sorry for being caught is very different than repentance. The fact that Cain, in the end, defiled the curse of God by living in a city (4:14) shows that he never truly repented. Nevertheless, ADONAI spared Cain’s life.
The LORD reserves the judgment on Cain to Himself. He doesn’t allow a relative of Abel to come and avenge his death. God is going to institute capital punishment in Genesis Chapter 9 with the Dispensation of Civil Government. But you can imagine Cain’s fear.Everyone on the earth was a relative! There was probably over a hundred thousand people on the earth at this time and the statement in 5:4 about Adam and Eve having other sons and daughters was well underway.In ADONAI’s response to Cain’s concern that whoever found him would kill him, ADONAI said: Not so; whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over (4:15a). The rabbis interpreted this to mean that Cain could not be killed until seven generations had passed. What we see here is the grace of the LORD because Cain obtained divine protection.
Then ADONAI put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him (4:15b). The Hebrew word oth, means a sign rather than a mark. So a better translation would be: Then the Lord placed a sign on Cain. Whatever the sign was we do not know, but it was obviously visible. The same word is used in Exodus 12:13 and 23 of the visible Passover blood, and in Joshua 2:12 of the visible scarlet thread. The rabbis have four different views of what this sign was. First, some believe that God engraved the four letters of His name, YHWH, on his forehead. Second, some believe that since Cain then feared the wild beasts, God restored their natural fear of man. Third, that ADONAI provided him with a dog for guidance; wherever the dog directed him, he would be safe. And fourth, some believe that it was a horn on his head to fight off any attacker. It was evidently some kind of sign to assure him of his protection. But we can be assured it did not give him peace. For all who came in contact with him, he would be a continual reminder of God’s judgment of sin.