"Yahweh had respect unto Abel and to his offering" Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden to commence a life of toil and suffering under sentence of death. But God, in His mercy, had opened up a way of salvation through sacrifice. In the provision of 'coats of skins', the principle was acknowledged that "without shedding of blood is no remission" of sins (Heb. 9:22). The animal slain, and all animals later offered in sacrifice pointed forward to the one great sacrifice God would provide in the offering of the Lord Jesus.The aim of this lesson is to show that God desires men to worship Him in the way that He has appointed—we must worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). Genesis 4 CAIN AND ABEL (Gen. 4:1-4).
Following their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Eve conceived and bare Cain, meaning "gotten or acquired", for, said Eve, "I have gotten a man from the Lord".
Eve's second son was called Abel meaning "vanity". This is the same word used in Ecclesiastes to express the utter futility of all human endeavour (1:2), and it appears that Abel came to appreciate this for he sought to worship God in the way which He had laid down.
Cain and Abel pursued different occupations: "Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground" (v.2). The difference between the brothers became apparent when they came before God in worship: "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof" (vv.3-4). God had made it abundantly clear that He required an offering which involved the shedding of blood. Apart from verbal instruction which may have been given by Adam and perhaps the Elohim, the fact that God required such an offering was plain from His rejection of the fig-leaf covering and the provision of coats of skins to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve.
Abel acted on the basis of what he understood and knew to be right: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh" (Heb. 11:4). Because he acted in faith, according to knowledge, “God had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” Cain failed to act upon what he knew to be right and well-pleasing in God's eyes.
CAIN'S JEALOUSY (Gen. 4:5-7).
Cain was the firstborn, and he became upset when his offering was rejected. Perhaps it seemed to him that the rights and privileges of the firstborn (Deut. 21:15-17) were threatened. He became jealous of his brother and sullen with God. But needlessly so, for God desired his worship. He had to respect the principles to be observed by sinners in approaching Him. Note God's rebuke in v.7, where the word "sin" is more properly rendered "sin offering" (i.e. a Lamb). God reminded Cain that he must take and offer the lamb which even then was lying at the door. If he submitted to God he would, as the elder son, continue to have dominion over Abel, his younger brother. In this way, the mercy of God was extended to the sullen Cain.
MURDER! (Gen. 4:8-12).
Instead of repressing his anger and acknowledging that God was right and just, Cain brooded over his lot. The more he brooded, the more angry and resentful he became. He discussed the matter with Abel, who probably argued from God's viewpoint, and called upon his brother to submit to Him. This was more than Cain could accept, so he killed his brother (v.8).
When questioned by God in relation to his brother's whereabouts, he evaded the point (v.9). But he had murdered his brother, and he was charged accordingly (v.10). His punishment is stated in v.12:—
The earth would no longer yield to him its full increase.
He must wander in the earth as a fugitive and vagabond.
GOD'S MERCY STILL EXTENDED (Gen. 4:13-16).
Cain was thus driven from the face of God (i.e. the place of His presence) to the land of Nod (which means 'exile'). Cain sensed his tragic loss, saying, "From thy face shall I be hid" (v.14). He had not been prepared to submit to God in the way appointed, and was now cut off from access to God. It is still true that the man who will not turn to God, at last finds that he cannot turn, his failure becoming ingrained and indelible. When that happens, there is no point in his continuing in God's presence — and it is a mercy to remove him. So it was with Cain.
But though driven from God's presence, and thus deprived of direct access to God, God still shows His concern for Cain. The fact that he had killed his brother did not give others license to kill him. To prevent this, God set a mark upon Cain, and declared that any slaying either him or his posterity would be punished "sevenfold" (i.e. completely).
But what of Abel? God raised another son to Adam called Seth who took Abel's place (v.25). He worshipped God in truth, in contrast with the elder Cain. Thus commenced two manner of people; the true worshippers of God and the false—the descendants of Cain, and the followers of Seth. These represent two opposite and antagonistic classes of men — the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Genesis 4:16-24 records the deeds and godlessness of Cain's descendants, while Genesis 5 lists the descendants of Seth, the seed of the woman.
THE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED.
(1) At the Personal Level.
Both Cain and Abel were worshippers of God. Both their offerings are stated to have been sacrifices. But Cain's offering was not accepted. Why? The answer is that in Cain's offering, worship and sacrifice, there was present the element of human self-will. He wanted things his own way, and stubbornly rejected any argument that required him to conform to God's way (1 John 3:12).
In Hebrews 11:4 we read, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain..." Clearly Abel had heard and noted God's requirements. When the time for sacrifice came he acted "by faith", in accordance with what he knew God desired. On the other hand, Cain knew what God had stipulated, but did not believe that what God had requested, He really wanted. He therefore chose to vary the commandment of God, and his offering was refused.
It is not enough that men should recognize that God exists, but that they should worship Him in truth and in the right spirit (John 4:23; 17:3). A person may DESIRE to worship God but he must do so in the right way. This Cain did not do. He thought God should be pleased merely because he worshipped Him.
This raises a first principle of the doctrine of man's reconciliation to God: that God's law must be upheld before pardon can be extended (see Rom. 3:26). Without God's will being honoured, there was no way in which Cain's offering could be accepted. But the same standard applied to Abel's offering and meant that God's ways had been acknowledged, and mercy could be extended to him.
There is a need at all times to remember the exalted position of God, and our need to be humble within His presence, ever leaning upon Him, and deferring to what He has laid down as truth.
Thus we must study God's Word, that we might know what He wishes us to believe and do.
(2) At The National Level.
The jealousy and hatred which Cain showed toward Abel was, at a later time, repeated in the attitude of the Jews towards the Lord Jesus Christ. They hated Jesus "without a cause" (Ps. 69:4), refusing to listen to him. Their hatred turned to thoughts of murder and they killed him, as Cain had done to Abel. Jesus himself drew attention to this parallel in John 8:44 (cp. Matt. 23:33-36).
Cain's punishment involved being sent away from the presence of Yahweh to become a vagabond or wanderer in the earth. The Jewish nation experienced a similar punishment when they murdered God's son. They were taken away from the Land and scattered throughout all the earth. Until recently the Jew has been a wanderer among the nations, homeless and living in fear of what others might do to him, just as Cain lived in fear that others, finding him, would kill him (Gen. 4:14). To protect Cain, God set a mark on him and threatened with vengeance any who should touch him (v.15).
In the case of the Jews, God has made them a distinctive people and, though they have suffered at the hands of their enemies, He has preserved them so that they have survived nineteen hundred years of persecution. True to the parallel with Cain, and true to His promise to Abraham, God has cursed those who have cursed the Jews (12:3).
Seth replaced Abel, so the line of righteous descendants was preserved. Eve called his name Seth (which means "appointed") because God had appointed her "another seed instead of Abel" (4:25). The death of Abel and his replacement by Seth foreshadow the murder of Jesus by his brethren and his resurrection to life again.
LESSONS FOR US:
• It is not enough merely to worship God: we must worship Him correctly.
• Only when we honour God's way, will He extend mercy to us.
• The enmity aroused between Cain and Abel because one worshipped God correctly and the other did not, illustrates that "enmity" which God said would exist between the "seed of the woman" and the "seed of the serpent". The antagonism exists today between those who follow God's way, and those who follow the flesh.
• The killing of Abel by Cain and the raising up of Seth point forward to the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of wicked men and his subsequent resurrection.
"Elpis Israel" (J. Thomas)—Pages 115-120
"The Story of the Bible" (H. P. Mansfield)—Vol. 1, Pages 54-60
PARAGRAPH QUESTIONS: Why was Cain's sacrifice rejected and Abel's accepted by God?
Upon what basis is our worship acceptable to God?
In what way has Cain's treatment of Abel, and his subsequent punishment, been repeated in the experience of others?
ESSAY QUESTIONS: Outline the story of Cain and Abel. What lesson do we learn from it concerning our worship of God?
Hebrews 11:4 reads: "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous..." Explain.