Summary: Cain and Abel
September 19, 2010
We’re back in our study of Genesis; last time we witnessed the fall of man and Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden.
Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD." 2Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground (Genesis 4:1-2, NASB).
These verses set up the story which shows just how far and how fast sin has destroyed the “good” earth which God had created.
Adam and Eve have been blessed by God with two sons. There’s Cain who tills the ground; he grows up to be a farmer. Then there’s Abel who keeps flocks; he’s a shepherd.
We’re not told of the requirements of the offerings, but it’s clear that these two men knew; they knew to make an offering and they knew whether or not their offerings would please God.
3So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. 4Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
So, the two men each bring an offering but God refuses Cain’s. Perhaps it was rejected because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice or because it wasn’t from his first fruits or maybe because it was given with a poor attitude—whatever the reason, it was rejected.
And that’s not fair to Cain, that Abel’s offering was accepted and his wasn’t, so he gets angry. His countenance fell, that is, that he began to sulk and frown. And he became angry enough to premeditate the murder of his only brother.
But let’s look at this objectively: why is he angry? He’s mad at Abel because Abel did what was right and was commended by God while he himself was rejected for wrongdoing. The whole episode is over an offering to the Lord—one man did what was right and the other did what he wanted. Both looked religious, but only one was acceptable to God.
And so Cain gets angry and God confronts him:
6Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7"If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."
Here the Lord asks the first of three rhetorical questions to shine the light on Cain’s sin: “Why are you angry and your face downcast?”
“Cain, if you’d done what I asked you wouldn’t be pouting right now. You’d be out in the field whistling while you work. But sin is crouching at the door and it’s poised to strike. It wants to have you, Cain. You must master it.”
Here we see for the first time sin personified. It has a will and a desire. And that desire is to dominate men. Paul says that sin sprang to life and took opportunity through the commandment to deceive men and cause their deaths (Rom. 7:8-11).
And this is how sin operates even today; it’s a cruel and brutal master who forces his subjects to submission. No man can master it, so what God asks of Cain is impossible. The only way Cain could master sin was through an acceptable offering. But Cain rejects this, and so:
8Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Other translations make this verse more clear by saying something like, “And Cain told his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’” The idea is that Cain lured Abel out to the field with the express purpose of drawing him away from witnesses so he could kill him. This wasn’t a moment of rage or an accident—Cain planned it and went through with it.
Isn’t it interesting that no verses separate seven and eight? In verse seven we read God’s remedy for Cain’s problem, and verse eight shows Cain walking into immediate and decided rebellion to God’s counsel. There doesn’t seem to be even a moment’s reflection before inviting his brother to the field to take his life.
9Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?"
Now we come to the second rhetorical question of the three: “Where is Abel your brother?”