Scripture Text – Genesis 4
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. – Genesis 4:2-5.
The subject of chapter 4 is the spread of godless society. Here is man in rebellion against God—man who did not obey and who destroyed the godly and denied his responsibility and culpability for it. The ungodly here are portrayed as living on in the world (with a protective mark of grace, verse 15) without being saved. Their sense of guilt was eased by their cultural development and their geographical expansion.
Under Moses’ leadership Israel would move into a world of cultures. Civilizations with music, art, industry, and enterprise would be on every side. These would be antagonistic to Israel, and would help cause God’s people to reject the sacrifices and live as cursed people. Israel needed to be warned against such arrogant opposition.
In the story of Cain and Abel, as you might recall, the seed of the woman met the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Cain fell to the prey of the crouching evil and eventually went out to form a godless society, rejecting God’s way. The “way of Cain” (Jude 11), then, is a lack of faith which shows itself in envy of God’s dealings with the righteous, in murderous acts, in denial of responsibility, and in refusal to accept God’s punishment.
In the ensuing events, Cain and Abel were played off against each other, reversing the subjects in sharp contrast to one another. In fact, the entire chapter contrasts them: Cain is mentioned 13 times in verses 1–16. Seven times Abel is mentioned, and three other times “brother” is substituted. Rightly the Apostle John saw murder as a sin against one’s brother (1 John 3:12, 15).
The nature of rebellious man unfolds in the person of Cain who seemed to have had an optimistic beginning as the child of hope. But the narrative lines him up with the curse; he worked the soil (see Genesis 3:17). Abel, however, seems to be lined up with man’s original purpose, to have dominion over life (compare Genesis 1:28); he kept flocks. These coincidental descriptions are enhanced with their actions in worship. Abel went out of his way to please God (which demonstrated he had faith in God, Hebrews 11:6), whereas Cain seemed to simply be discharging a duty. Abel’s actions were righteous, whereas Cain’s were evil (1 John 3:12). These two types of people are still present in our world today.
Cain’s lack of faith shows up in his response to God’s rejection of his offering of fruit. Rather than being concerned about remedying the situation and pleasing God, he became very angry.
Cain was so angry he would not be talked out of his sin—even by God. In contrast, as you remember, Eve, however, had to be talked into her sin by Satan; but Cain “was of the wicked one.” – 1 John 3:12. It is as if he could not wait to destroy his brother—a natural man’s solution to his own failure.
God’s advice was that if Cain would please God by doing what is right, all would be well. But if not sin would be crouching (the Hebrew word used here brings to mind the figure of a crouching animal) at his door, ready to overcome him. Sin desires to have Cain (these words mirror the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 3:16), but Cain could have had the mastery over it. Here is the perpetual struggle between good and evil. Anyone filled with envy and strife is prey for the evil one.
To Be Continued