Genesis 4:1-17 The First Worship War

Posted on September 13, 2008. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Saturday, September 13, 2008– Here is the Sunday School lesson for the Genesis Class at Redeemer Church tomorrow morning.

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis: Finding Answers to Life’s Crucial Questions

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

Sunday, September 14, 2008 Genesis 4:1-17 “The First Worship War”

Bryan E. Walker, teacher


Read Genesis 4:1-17


Introduction: Last week we began studying ch.4 of Genesis and we didn’t get past verse 1. But that’s OK, we will just continue to plug along. By way of review, however, we did spend considerable time last week looking at several of the ways ch.4 related to the whole of Genesis and to ch. 3 in particular. Moses wrote this book in a very beautiful and intricate manner thus revealing more of God to us. One thing I did not mention about this chapter that is again very similar to some things we saw last semester in chapters1-3 is the use of numbers, or more specifically, the repeated use of words a particular number of times to emphasize the points.


“Within verses 1-17, the name ‘Abel’ and the important designation ‘brother’ each occur 7 times. ‘Cain’ occurs 14 times. And whereas in 1:1-2:3 (the first toledot) the name ‘God’ (Elohim) occurred 35 times, from 2:4 to the end of chapter 4 (the second toledot) the words ‘God’, ‘the LORD’, or ‘the LORD God’ occur a total of 35 times. The careful Hebrew scholar Gordon Wenham observes: ‘The last verse of chapter 4, ‘At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD,’ thus contains the seventieth mention of deity in Genesis.’ Conclusion: There is vast intentionality in this narrative as it instructs us about the essential nature of all mankind. The story of Cain and Abel calls for us to observe well and to take its instruction to heart.” (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word commentaries, Genesis: Beginning & Blessing. Crossway Books: Wheaton, Ill. 2004, p.102).


Then we started tackling verse 1 and the sensitive issue of human sexuality because the chapter begins with, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” The main point there is that the Bible teaches that the physical relationship between a husband and wife is a good thing that God blessed us with prior to the fall. Sex was not the cause of the fall, nor a result of the fall. We agree with the Reformers that sex is not just for procreation but is a gift of God to bind our hearts to our spouses. Other religions and even within Christianity in different eras have taught some wrong things about sex. The Catholic Church still believes that priests should be unmarried and celibate; but that has led to many moral problems. We briefly discussed that Islam allows for men having multiple wives and that women are the ones punished if there is a sexual crime because women are the source of temptation and that in much of Islam they practice the sexual mutilation of adolescent females in an effort to control their sexuality. I don’t believe we mentioned last time that Islam promises its men 72 virgins for heaven for the man to indulge in sex forever. Jesus however, says that we will be like the angels in heaven and not given in marriage. Our delights will be in the Lord alone forever and ever. I don’t think we talked much about our culture’s view of sex, but I don’t think that was really necessary. We all know that our society promotes an unbiblical and unhealthy view of sex in everything from sex ed in the schools to the overwhelming amount of pornography produced and used in America.


Then we talked about the blessing and command of being fruitful and multiplying. We looked at the question of when was Cain conceived and found that the Bible really does not address that but through reason we can infer that since Cain was born a sinner, he must have had sinners for parents, which means he was probably conceived after Adam and Eve sinned and that he inherited his sinful nature from them. We also briefly touched on how our culture views children and we took a news article from the past week, the story about Sarah Palin’s 5th child, Trig, who is a Dawns Syndrome baby, and we demonstrated that a Christian world view of children is substantially different from the world’s. Our pro-life view is rooted in the ideas from Genesis 1-2 where God tells us that we are created male and female in the image and likeness of God and that being fruitful and multiplying is a command within the context of a blessing.

We also spoke briefly last week about the language of vs. 1 and how there is a wordplay on the name of Cain within the text. The name Cain sounds similar to what is translated, “I have gotten”. That word for gotten has a couple of different ways of being translated: I have acquired or I have produced. Most of the translations, including the ESV go with I have gotten or acquired. But there is strong evidence that it should be I have produced or brought forth. The significance of this is that one emphasizes God and the other may emphasize Eve. That is about where we left off so I want to pick up with that thought now.


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.



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.)  So when you take the two names of the sons of Adam you get the idea that life is gotten from the Lord, but life is short and uncertain. We would do well to understand that. Our life, the lives of all people, is a gift from God but because of sin, life is short.


II. Vs.2 Farming vs. Ranching


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.


Notice that the idea of work is here in vs.2. Both sons had jobs to do. Is work a result of the Fall? No, because God had given Adam work to do before he sinned- tending the garden, naming the animals, exercising dominion over the earth. But God did curse the ground due to Adam’s fall. The ground would not be as productive; he would have to fight thorns and thistles, and by the sweat of his brow he would eat bread. But we can take joy in working our jobs for the glory of God; we can work as unto the Lord, not just to punch a time clock. For the Christian to be workin’ for the weekend is a sin. We need a theology for work and we need to witness of our faith in how we do our work. The world needs to look at our job performance and realize, “Those Christians make the best employees!”


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.


With the portrayal of one son farming and the other being a shepherd, as well as the murder, we get another theme that is demonstrated throughout Genesis: sibling rivalry. Can anyone point to some other characters in Genesis who experienced sibling rivalry? Has anyone here ever experienced any extreme sibling rivalry? When I was pastoring, one of the older founding members came to me after her mother died with an extreme case of sibling rivalry. Her brother basically took over all the mom’s assets and did not abide by the will. She responded in a pretty positive and godly way to that struggle.


III, Two Ways of Worship vss.3-5


Has anyone heard the term “Worship Wars” and can you tell me what it means? Has anyone personally experienced a worship war? In these verses we see the first worship service and we see the first worship war.


In verses 3-5 we see that Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions. There have been several ways of interpreting why the Lord had regard for Abel’s offering but not for Cain’s. We will examine the various interpretations and see which one is best and try to apply what we learn to our contemporary worship.


1) God prefers shepherds to farmers. This cultural interpretation would be rooted in the pastoral occupations of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. But the original command to Adam in 2:15 was to tend the Garden.

2) Animal offerings are more acceptable to God than grain offerings. The Law teaches that both types of offerings had their place. But Heb.9:22 does state “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin”.

3) God’s preference for Abel’s offering over Cain’s lies in the inscrutable mysteries of God’s electing grace. Throughout Genesis God chooses the younger over the older time an again.

4) Heb.11:4 “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.” This shows that Cain and Abel had different motives in their offerings.

5) The textual interpretation says that Cain offered only “the fruit of ground”, as in some of the fruit of the ground while Abel offered “the firstborn of the flock and of their fat portions”. There is a qualitative difference in the offerings that is significant. The text does not specifically say of Cain that he brought the Firstfruits like it does say for Abel.


I would say that there is some truth in all of the approaches except in approach #1 what we see is simply descriptive, not prescriptive. It IS true that a lot of the heroes of the OT were shepherds and not farmers. To derive from that that God prefers shepherds to farmers is ridiculous. For #2 I would say that in Leviticus the animal offerings precede the grain offerings. Atonement for sin depends upon a blood sacrifice which will clearly present the animal as the substitute for the human. However, in this text atonement is nowhere mentioned; by all appearances this is a thanksgiving offering of some kind, and in Leviticus both blood offerings and grain offerings were appropriate for this. #3 is valid but is again merely descriptive; in Genesis God does seem to choose the second born over the firstborn most of the time. In #4 I think we get to the root of the issue as we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Clearly God recognized that Abel came to Him in faith and Cain did not. #5 is also valid and probably proves #4. The text points out that Abel specifically brought the firstborn but leaves that out in reference to Cain. Cain did not bring the firstfruits. Ex. 23:15-19. As we have found throughout our study of Genesis, Moses puts everything in for a reason and it is reasonable to presume that he leaves things out for a reason.


Of these two offerings, Clyde Francisco (Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 1, rev. “Genesis”, Broadman Press: Nashville, TN. 1973, p. 133) writes, “the passage obviously implies that in contrast to Abel’s best, Cain simply brought God something. It was not that it was poor quality; it was not his best. Cain was grateful to God for a successful year of farming; he wanted to thank him for his help; so he brought him a present. Abel in giving God his best, as men would later do before human rulers, witnessed to his total dependence upon God, his indebtedness to him. Cain thanked God for serving him. Abel confessed himself to be a servant of God.”


Martin Luther writes, (Luther’s Works: Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1-5, Jaroslav Pelikan, ed., Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, MO. 1958, p.251) “the verdict of the Epistle to the Hebrews…declares that because of his faith Abel brought the more excellent offering….And so the fault lay not in the materials which were offered but in the person who brought the offering. The faith of the individual was the weight which added value to Abel’s offering, but Cain spoiled his offering. Abel believes that God is good and merciful. For this reason his sacrifice is pleasing to God. Cain, on the contrary, puts his trust in the prestige of his primogeniture; but he despises his brother as an insignificant and worthless being.”


It must be noted, as Luther explains so eloquently in this chapter, that Abel was not accepted because of his offering of a lamb, rather, his offering was accepted because of his faith. The just are saved by faith, not because of the quality of their offerings. Similarly, Cain was rejected not because of an inadequate offering, though there may have been problems with his offering, but rather, the quality of the offering reflected the lack of faith. So from the 4th chapter of Genesis we can see the beginnings of the doctrine of justification by faith alone thanks to the author of Hebrews.


John Calvin writes, (Genesis, The Geneva Commentary Series, Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, PA 1965, p.194-) “he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offerer; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favour except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him. And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Sam.xvi.7;) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart….Therefore, in the first place, we must hold, that all works done before faith, whatever splendour of righteousness may appear in them, were nothing but mere sins, (being defiled from their root,) and were offensive to the Lord, whom nothing can please without inward purity of heart.”  


What is Moses’ purpose in this part of the story? What is God teaching us here? John Sailhamer writes (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2, “Genesis” Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1990, p. 61) “The author’s purpose seems to be to use the narrative of Cain and Abel to teach a lesson on the kind of worship that is pleasing to God. Worship that pleases God springs from a pure heart. How does the narrative teach a lesson about a pure heart? It does so by allowing the reader to see, behind the scenes, the response of Cain to God’s rejection. In his response we see the heart that lay behind the unaccepted offering. Cain’s worship was not acceptable, whereas Abel’s worship was….”


Application: There Are Two Ways To Worship

In this rejection of Cain’s offering and the acceptance of Abel’s, with the interpretation from Heb.11, what we can do is to evaluate our own worship and the worship of other world religions. Here are the principles: 1) Worship apart from a genuine saving faith is always a false worship of works. 2) People apart from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ cannot worship God in any true sense of the word. 3) A Works first approach to religion only brings the wrath of God. Works must proceed from faith to be pleasing to God. 4) Within a local church there will be Cain’s and Abel’s mixed as in the parable of the wheat and tares. 5) Generally speaking, those whose worship is based on works and not faith will persecute those who do have faith.


1) Other world religions that do not worship Jesus as Lord, have a works based religion and worship. Islam has the 5 Pillars- (1) Confess that there is no god but allah and muhammed is his prophet; (2) pray 5 times a day toward Mecca; (3) give alms to the poor; (4) fast during Ramadan; and (5) make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life.


Mormonism teaches that you do all the works you can and trust Jesus for the rest. (Of course the main problem is the definition of Jesus). Likewise, the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a salvation by works.


The Catholic Church’s 7 Sacraments amount to a salvation of works: (1) baptism; (2) confirmation; (3) Eucharist; (4) Confession, penance, reconciliation; (5) Extreme unction; (6) Marriage; (7) Holy orders.


Isaiah 64:6


But, in what way do we as Protestants, Baptists even, sometimes have a works oriented religion?


2) John 4:24 we must worship God in spirit and truth.

3) James 2:14ff


4) Lk. 6:43ff a tree and its fruit; mark 4 and the parable of the sower; Matt. 13:24ff the parable of the weeds.


5) Heb.11


James Montgomery Boice (Genesis vol.1, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1982, p.201) writes, “The offering of Cain represents all the beautiful things of this world that God has given to us and which you and I would like to offer back to Him. It is possible for us to offer these to God, but only if we have first come to Him on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ. If Cain had first presented the animal sacrifice, thereby confessing that he was a sinner, that sin requires death, that he was thankful to God for having shown that a substitute could die in his place and that he was coming on that basis- if he had done that and then also presented his offering of fruit, saying, in effect, ‘God, I love you so much that I just wanted you to have this extra offering too’ God would have accepted the fruit without question….But when Cain refused to come with the blood offering, God was obliged to reject both him and anything else he might offer.”


Do we offer to God our sacrifices of praise with clean hearts in faith? Do we give God our firstfruits or our leftovers in worship? Are living and worshipping in faith or are we trying to earn our way? Is our worship all about us or is it Christ centered?


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    This blog exists to study the bi-vocational ministry, explore the Bible & Theology, and look at current events, history and other world religions through scripture, and have fun doing it!


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