Genesis 4:1-2 “The Birth of Cain and Abel”

Posted on September 6, 2008. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Saturday, September 6, 2008–Wellllll…..the goal of this Sunday School lesson was to cover the first 16-17 verses of Genesis 4. After working all day on this passage, from 1030 this morning to 1030 tonight (alright I took a couple of hours off to grill some chicken breasts and hot dogs and make a fantastic tossed salad) I only got through the first two verses. There is so much good stuff in these 2 verses! So here is the lesson for Sunday:

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis: Finding Answers to Life’s Crucial Questions

Semester 2: Genesis 4-11 “Sin and its Effects”

Sunday, September 7, 2008 Genesis 4:1-2 “The Birth of Cain and Abel”

Bryan E. Walker, teacher

Read Genesis 4:1-17


Introduction: The 1902 Novel by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, scandalized Victorian England with its brutal depiction of the effects of European colonization in the Belgian Congo of King Leopold II. The novel shows how thin is the veneer of civilization upon the darkness of man’s evil heart. In attempting to civilize the natives of the Congo, the Europeans end up abusing them for the profitable ivory trade. The river itself represents the serpent from Genesis 3 as Marlowe journeys deeper and deeper into the Dark Continent looking for Kurtz. Kurtz’s final words upon his deathbed, “The Horror! The Horror!” reveals the darkness of his deeds.


In Genesis 4 we have the story of the first family and the descent of man from the Garden into the darkness of deepening sin. In the story of Cain and Abel we see the archetypal criminal and the first martyr. It is the story of a man consumed by sin and destroyed. Look at all the sins that occur here: envy, jealousy, pride, lack of faith, trusting in works instead of God, offering God second best, sibling rivalry, domestic violence, murder, lying to God, covering up a crime, lack of repentance upon being caught, fear of consequences instead of repentance. This chapter builds upon ch.3 in answering the Crucial Question: Why are things not the way they are supposed to be? Why are we so sinful?


Literary Structure: The Bible is a beautifully written book and Genesis is a masterpiece. I know that most folks don’t really get into all the details of the literary structure of the books of the Bible, but I think we ought to at least get a glimpse of it so that we can see more of the inner beauty of the book which reveals not just the skill of the author, Moses in this case, but also the beauty of the Lord, for he is the ultimate author.


Ch.4 reveals some patterns that we will find all throughout Genesis. Verse 1 begins with what amounts to the start of a genealogy that goes al the way to Lamech in vs.18; but it is interrupted by the story of Cain and Abel. The story of Noah has a similar pattern- look at 5:28, but then from 5:32-9:28 you have the long story of the flood. The Genesis pattern for describing a man’s descendents is to name the 2-3 sons (Adam- Cain, Abel, Seth; Noah-Shem, Ham and Japheth; Abraham- Ishmael, Isaac; Isaac-Esau and Jacob; Jacob- the 10 sons then Joseph and Benjamin) and then give a few details of the older son first, but then focus on the younger son whom God seems to always bless. The genealogies of Japheth and Ham are given before Shem’s; Ishmael’s is before Isaac’s; Esau’s comes before Jacob; and the acts of the 10 brothers are given before the long story of Joseph. So too, in ch. 4 we see a lot about Cain, but not much about Seth who carries on the godly line. Ch.4 can be divided into three sections: vss.1-16 Cain and Abel; 17-24 Cain’s line; and 25-26 Seth’s line.


Last semester I tried to show the class how Moses played off of the literature, myths and religions of his day. So, we see some of that here in Gen.4.Part of God’s judgment upon Cain was that he would be a wanderer, a nomad; according to the Bible then, nomadism is a judgment for sin while in the Sumerian flood story it is a plight the gods rescued man from. City building is praised in Sumerian literature but is done by judged Cain’s son, Enoch here and is therefore tainted with sin.


There are some parallels between ch.4 and ch.3 that are interesting. The central scene in each chapter is a brief description of the sin (3:6 they ate the forbidden fruit and in 4:8 Cain kills Abel.) After the sin there is a confrontation (3:9 Where are you and in 4:9 Where is Abel?) There is a cursing (3:17 cursed is the ground because of you and 4:11 you are cursed from the ground). Adam and Eve are clothed by God in 3:21 to protect them from the elements but Cain is marked in 4:17 to protect him from other people. Both stories conclude with the sinners being forced out of God’s presence in 3:24 and 4:16. Compare 4:7 “Its desire is for you but you must rule over it” with 3:16 “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” In 3:9-10 God asks “Where are you?” and Adam says, “I heard the sound of you…” but in 4:9-10 God asks, “Where is Abel?” and then “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me”


But the dissimilarities are also important. In ch.3 Eve has to be beguiled into sin but in ch.4 Cain comes up with murder all by himself. In ch.3 when Adam and Eve are confronted with their sin, though they point the finger elsewhere at first, when their sentence is read there is no protest while Cain immediately protests his sentence. The point is to show that sin is getting more entrenched, more violent and more difficult with greater consequences.

 (See WBC vol.1 Genesis 1-15 by Gordon J. Wenham, Word Books, 1987, pp.96-100).


I. Vss.1-2 Adam Knew His Wife

The story begins with Adam and Eve having marital relations. The first question that arises from the text is whether the sexual relationship of Adam and Eve began prior to the Fall or afterwards. In other words, is sex a result of sin, was it in fact the cause of the fall, or was it part of God’s intensions and blessings prior to sin?


While the term “Adam knew Eve” is a euphemism for sexual relations, the implication is intimacy, deep knowledge of each other, not merely a biological act. Victor P. Hamilton, in NICOT vol.1 Genesis 1-17, Eerdmans, 1990, p.220, writes, “It is not without significance that often the sexual relationship described in the Bible is one in which the partners fully know each other. One partner does not exploit the other. Rather than being an end in itself, cohabitation is a means to an end, and that end is a deeper, more intimate knowledge of each other. In other words, expressing oneself sexually is not just a glandular function.”


When we see that in 1:27-28 the man and the woman are both created in the image of God, and in the context of blessing them, God commands that they be fruitful and multiply, then we see that sex was part of the creation that God said was “very good” in  vs. 31. Furthermore, in ch.2 we see that God created Eve with the purpose of complementing, fulfilling Adam, thus marriage was to be a companionship that included the mental, emotional, spiritual as well as the physical elements. In the poem of 2:23 we see Adam exulting in his new wife with great joy; and vs. 25 shows that there was no shame in their nakedness.


Was Cain conceived prior to the Fall or afterwards, and why would it possibly matter? Whether Cain was conceived prior to the fall or not is not clearly stated. However, due to the fact that Cain obviously had a sin nature, I tend to think that he was conceived after the Fall. Had he been conceived prior to the Fall, I am not sure if he would have had a sin nature.


Here are some Bible texts on human sexuality and sexual ethics- Prov. 5:18-19; Song of Solomon; 1Tim.4:1-5; 1Cor.6:12-15; 7:3ff. The Scriptures prohibit various other forms of sexuality- 1Cor.6:13-18; Eph.5:3; 1Thess.4:3; Ex.20:14; Rom.1:26-27.


The next question is: How has the Church taught human sexuality through the ages?


D.H. Field, writing in The New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair Ferguson, David F. Wright and J.I. Packer, IVP, 1988, pp.637-639 “The history of the church betrays a far less positive attitude to sexuality than the Bible’s. In its earliest days, the church was confronted by a powerful philosophical dualism which taught…the superiority of the mind and spirit over the body. Theologically, this was identified as heresy and vigorously resisted. Its influence on Christian thinking about sexuality, however, was far more insidious, and it was not long before ascetic idealism gained a strong grip on Christian behavior.”


“With very few exceptions, patristic and medieval writers condemned the sensual pleasure of intercourse as sinful. Their attitude to marriage, too, was at best ambivalent. They certainly regarded celibacy as preferable- and mandatory for clergy.”


“Attitudes to women at this time reveal a similarly negative approach. There was a strong tendency to blame Eve for man’s fall into sin.”


“The Reformers did much to redress the balance. With their Bibles open, they condemned compulsory celibacy for the clergy and upheld marriage as a gift of God confirmed by His word….”


N. Hoggard-Creegan, writing in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, by Baker, ed. by Walter A. Elwell, 2001, pp. 1096-98, “The legacy inherited in the Western tradition from Augustine to Aquinas was almost universally negative on issues of sexuality; women are blamed for the sin of Adam, and the female’s bodily reproductive capacity is equated with a lower level of spirituality than the male’s. Aquinas, arguing on the basis of natural law, decreed that even in marriage the sexual act is tolerated as a necessary evil, intended only for procreation.”


“The Eastern Orthodox tradition, however, where priestly celibacy was never mandated, maintained a high view of sexuality within marriage, as a sacramental symbol of our eschatological union with Christ; marriage is a high pilgrimage following Christ into death and resurrection- a kind of martyrdom, in which the human union is placed in the wider context of the gathering communion of saints.”


What are the various attitudes towards sex and marriage that are current in our society? Include pagans, liberal churches, Fundamentalist LDS and Muslims in your answers.


Vs.1 therefore, is simply describing normal marital relations and the resulting blessing of a birth, the first birth. But Moses tells the story in a way that allows the artistry of the Hebrew language to come out. Here is some of the literary nature of this verse.


Kenneth Matthews in the NAC, p.264, B&H 1996 “By a play on the sound of the verb ‘brought forth’ (qaniti), Eve names her eldest ‘Cain’ (qayin). The verb has two different meanings that are reflected in the English versions: (1) the more common meaning of obtain, as ‘acquired’ (NJB), ‘gotten’ (AV, NASB), or ‘gained’ (NJPS); and (2) the infrequent sense of create, as ‘brought forth’ (NIV, REB) or ‘produced’ (NAB, NRSV). When used as ‘create’, God is its subject, but here we have the woman, Eve. Ugaritic qny, meaning ‘create’ or ‘make’ as in ‘procreate,’ argues for ‘brought forth’. Also the context of creation and procreation supports this understanding. The unexpected use of ‘man’ (‘is) to identify Cain, which is not used elsewhere for a child, rather than the routine term ‘son,’ points up another allusion to chaps. 2-3. Eve is given the childbearing function (3:16, 20) in subduing the earth while Adam is ordained to work the ‘ground’ whence he came (2:7, 15; 3:17). As the ‘ground’ (‘adama) with the help of the Lord has produced the ‘man’ (‘adam), so Eve the woman (‘issa, 2:23) with divine help produced the ‘man’ (‘is), Cain. She sees in creating Cain the realization of her divinely assigned role.”


“This first birth recorded in the Bible is consonant with all of remaining Scripture, which invariably attributes conception and life to the unique work of God and as evidence of his blessing (e.g., Pss 127:3-5; 139:13). From the outset of God’s plan for the human family, procreation is the divine-human means whereby the man and woman might achieve the dominion that God has envisioned for them (1:28). This motif of children (‘seed’) dominates Genesis and was critical to later Israel’s understanding of its own destiny as it interpreted the life of the patriarchs (e.g., 12:7).”


See also Mark 10:13-16 for Jesus blessing the little children, and the entire Incarnation of Christ- coming as a baby born to the Virgin Mary.


Now with the theology of children being a blessing from God presented here in the text, can anyone think of anything in the news this past week that might just possibly relate to this text? (Sarah Palin, the choice for Vice President by Sen. John McCain, running for President as a Republican. Gov. Palin is 44 yrs. old and she and her husband just had their 5th child back in April of 2008; they knew the child would be a Down’s Syndrome baby but chose to have the baby anyway. Furthermore, in her acceptance speech at the GOP convention, she alluded to her daughter, 17 and unmarried, who is also expecting a child, by saying that many of a family’s challenges are also joys, thus again, affirming life).


The second question from the text is, what does Eve’s statement mean? “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” The normal way of translating and interpreting these words by Eve are positive- she is acknowledging God’s help in bringing forth her firstborn and some would say that she may even be expressing faith that THIS child is the one promised back in 3:15. It is translated “gotten” or “obtained”, stressing God’s role. But the verb can also be translated “brought forth” as Matthews wrote which is a creative act that would normally be used of God alone, its use here is most unusual. Used in that sense her words could be taken to be a proud and boastful statement according to John Sailhamer (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p.60), “I have created a man equally with the LORD. (He quotes from Cassuto, p.60). “Within the immediate context it would be difficult to decide between two such diverse readings of the passage….First, throughout the narratives that make up the book of Genesis, a recurring theme is that of the attempt and failure of human effort in obtaining a blessing that only God can give. God continuously promised man a blessing, and man pushed it aside in favor of his own attempts at the blessing. …In particular, Eve’s situation brings to mind that of Sarah’s attempt to achieve the blessing through her handmaiden Hagar. Just as Sarah had tried to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promised ‘seed’ (16:1-4) on her own, so also Eve’s words give expression to her confidence in her own ability to fulfill the promise of 3:15.”


“The second consideration is Eve’s later words about the birth of Seth (God has granted me another child [zera’ literally seed] in place of Abel,’ v.25), which shed a great deal of light on her words in verse 1. The contrast between her words at the beginning of the narrative and at the close is striking and revealing.” She said “I have brought forth” then, “God has granted me…” Moreover, Eve did not say that Seth was given to replace Cain, but he was to replace Abel. This suggests that within the story Eve had not placed her hope in Cain but in Abel. True to the plot of the remaining narratives in Genesis, Cain, the older son, did not stand to inherit the blessing, but rather the younger son….Also true to the plot of the remaining narratives; it was God himself who provided the other ‘seed’ (zera)…”


Once again, leave it to Dr. Sailhamer to stir things up! I have to admit I like his interpretation because it fits in so well with the broader picture of Genesis. With this interpretation you get a much more in depth character development of Eve as well- she progresses from sinful pride to humble gratitude.


II. Vs.2 Farming vs. Ranching


Vs.2- Abel means breath, vapor, or vanity, thus alluding to Abel’s fate, his life is but a breath, then it is gone. “It is commonly used as a metaphor for something insubstantial, worthless, and quickly gone. Translated ‘vanity’ it is Ecclesiastes favorite word. We have it too in Job 7:16, “my days are a breath’, and in Ps. 39:5 ‘Surely every man stands as a mere breath.’ There is no doubt that this name is in the story to underline the shortness and vanity of human life in general, and of Abel’s own life in particular, cut off in its prime by his brother’s hand.” (John C.L. Gibson, Daily Study Bible-Genesis vol.1, Westminster Press, 1981, p.144.)


Abel is a keeper of sheep and Cain a worker of the ground. Cain, the eldest follows in his father’s footsteps and is a farmer, tending the Garden if you will. But throughout Scripture there is a Shepherd motif that reveals God’s grace. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all shepherds. Moses and David were shepherds. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd in John 10 and in 1Peter 2:25 Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.


Now this brings up another weird question: Did they eat meat at this point? Many people point toward 9:3 as the time when man became a meat eater.  Keil & Delitzsch (p. 68-69) take the side that says animal husbandry at this point was only for obtaining wool and leather for clothes and for making offerings to the Lord, not for food.  John H. Walton writing in the NIV Application Commentary, Genesis, Zondervan, 2001, pp. 342-343, says that ch.9:3 is referring to wild animals and that man had always been allowed to eat the herd animals he raised, i.e. Abel’s sheep could be eaten.


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