A few things to highlight in these two chapters!
2. The relationship between Cain and Abel
3. The sacrifices
5. The mark on Cain
6. Cain’s lineage, the Kenites
7. “The name of the LORD”
8. Enoch (chapter 5)
In chapter 4v.1, “…Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Paul Blackham renders a more faithful Hebrew interpretation, which is “I have brought forth the LORD-man” (pg. 29 Genesis book-by-book). John Calvin notes this interpretation which many have made before, and he admits to the possibility that Eve has mistaken her first son to be the Redeemer. Yet, much like the long wilderness which the Israelites had to suffer in the Exodus, the 400 years in Egypt, the 400 years of silence before incarnation of the Anointed One as Messiah… Eve has to look to the far future, in faith, for the Messiah to redeem her.
2. The relationship between Cain and Abel
Now Calvin here notes that Cain and Abel may be twins – what I find interesting however is that this story mirrors that of Jacob and Esau. Again, Esau, the first-born should be given the rights of inheritance and lineage, yet it is Jacob whom the Lord appointed as the one through whom the Messiah will be born as man. The pattern is shown firstly here, the Lord blessing the younger, just as he blessed Esau, just as he blessed Joseph within the book of Genesis. This speaks much truth in showing how physical lineage has nothing to do with salvation – it is only by faith that one is saved. v. 3-5 states, “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard”. Cain was not deprived of the relationship with God just because Abel was favoured – Cain, too, could have gained the LORD’s favour by offering more than just corn from the cob.
3. The sacrifices
Just as Esau wanted the inheritance more than Jacob, here Abel displays his faith by honouring God with with the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. The funny thing is, the Mosaic law has not even been enforced! Why would Abel know about blood sacrifices? Some have said that this is a primitive form of sacrificing that the human mind has conjured from the blue. I have heard others say that God was not pleased with Cain’s offering because it wasn’t the firstfruits of his vegetable, that had he provided the firstfruits of his vegetable then it would be fine.
The problem with those assumptions is that they find no biblical support, save an a priori interpretation that God firstly worked differently because the Mosaic law was not in place; secondly an a priori interpretation that Cain and Abel had no idea what the Messiah’s saving work would be like.
Hebrews 11v.4-6 states it quite clearly:
“4By faith(D) Abel offered to God(E) a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And(F) through his faith, though he died, he(G) still speaks.”
Now, my question is, how does the writer of Hebrews interpret this word “faith”? Now there is no real dispute as to the theology behind the letter as that of Paul’s (though it may or may not be written by him), and seeing that the authorship of Hebrews is later than Romans, how was “faith” defined in Romans?
“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”,
whereupon Paul then quotes David’s Psalm 32:1,2, whereby the King spoke also of how blessed is the man whose lawless deeds are forgiven. Our faith which emulates that of David and Abraham (spoken of in Romans 4), is no different from the faith of David and Abraham which emulates that of Abel. This is manifestly shown not through theological implication, but directly by Abel’s sacrifice. We saw that Adam and Eve were struck by the sacrifice of animals, the first physical death and blood which they witnessed and which the LORD had provided for them. This act in itself has displayed the core truth of the gospel – that the LORD will provide the animal sacrifice to save man. No surprise then to see that Eve made the mistake of thinking her son to be the LORD-man, but her anticipation is overturned by her over-enthusiasm (and perhaps impatience) for the LORD-man to redeem her and Adam.
The revelation lies in the blood. So while some have said that it is about sacrificing from the heart, the Lord isn’t merely pleased by our wholesome worship. Our worship must conform with his standards, not conform to our own. How often I have heard people attempting to worship God, without an ounce of repentance for their sexual sins, their pride, their self-centeredness? Are we to worship God only by our particular laws, and expect God to stoop down and accept our subjective forms of worship? No – faith is defined by faith in Christ alone, not by any other standard. Even for Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, their faith is defined by faith in Christ alone. They did not believe in a generic God – Adam and Eve knew better. They knew that God would save them through their son, whom the Lord will provide. It is impliedly shown that Eve believed this son to be the “LORD-son”, the Chalcedonian definition of the son of God. Thus far, it is quite fair to say that Adam and Eve had a working (though probably not in the Nicene Creedal manner) knowledge of the Father, providing the Son as their Redeemer and mediator, whose work is manifestly shown in the animal sacrifice.
I think this is where Abel gets his knowledge of the animal sacrifice. Not through pagan culture. Not through human conjuring. Not through the convenience of his job (as sheep keeper). No – God’s standard, his laws, have been from alpha to omega the same! It is BLOOD which is needed for the covenant to be fulfilled. Hebrews 9:18, “Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated(AO) without blood.” I have said that the covenant between God and man had been established before creation in the last post, and the first covenant and the new covenant only occurred chronologically in terms of fulfillment, rather than revelation. This means that the old covenant, the law, was established to display God’s character; yet the new covenant, the gospel, was ALSO already established when the LORD provided Christ as mediator from the beginning of creation. Adam and Eve saw the display of God’s law through the sacrifice and blood – that is the Old Covenant displayed; and they had their faith in the God-son, the true God-son – and in that way, he already believed in the New Covenant. Yet, although the Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood, the first men and women already had faith in Christ, the mediator of the great gospel. The only difference between their faith and ours, is that they looked forward to the fulfillment of the New Covenant which they were already aware of; whereas we look back to the New Covenant which has already been fulfilled, and now look forward to new creation of heaven and earth to which even Moses and others also looked forward to.
Now, of course, Abel knows that this animal blood is insufficient! Why? Because he himself is not the God-son, and neither is Cain. They, like Adam and Eve, still look forward to that Seed (Gen 3:15) – but their works are merely foretellings of what that Seed will do. This BLOOD is the lifeblood through which life is sacrificed for another life. These are merely copies of heavenly things, as Hebrews 9 states:
“23Thus it was necessary for(AU) the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ has entered, not into holy places(AV) made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God(AW) on our behalf. 25Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as(AX) the high priest enters(AY) the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is,(AZ) he has appeared(BA) once for all(BB) at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as(BC) it is appointed for man to die once, and(BD) after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once(BE) to bear the sins of(BF) many, will appear(BG) a second time,(BH) not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly(BI) waiting for him.”
I think it is extremely important to see that without blood, no covenant could be represented. This theme is repeated continuously in Leviticus, and also in Exodus prior to the Mosaic law, as well as shown in the circumcision of the 8-year-old boys starting from Abraham’s days. This theme of blood did not only begin with Abraham, shown more clearly at Moses – the theme of BLOOD being the currency for life-giving is shown right when animals were sacrificed for Adam and Eve, and animal again was sacrificed to display Abel’s faith.
5. The mark on Cain
One can not only see Cain’s inability to see the truth of the gospel, but he has failed to respond to God’s favour and grace. God disciplines Cain by looking over his inability to provide an animal sacrifice; but Cain responds in hardened rebellion by killing Abel, whom he is meant to be the keeper of. What a dire situation of family politics! Again, this theme is repeated in the story of Moses vs. the Pharoah, whereupon God the graceful has been patient with the Pharoah prior to the hardening of his heart. Pharoah was blessed with the God-given responsibility to be the keeper of the Hebrews by the grace of Joseph’s influence on the Egyptian Empire in the latter chapters of Genesis; hereby, Cain was blessed with the God-given responsibility, as a family member to be his “brother’s keeper”. Here, we see the true form of Cain – he has taken on the form of Satan, who also turned on his role as the man’s keeper as the “guardian cherub” (Ezekiel 28), and decided to rebel and harden himself against God. Yet, it is again a mark of God’s grace that Cain is protected from others.
6. Cain’s lineage, the Kenites
The problem now is Lamech, one of Cain’s descendants, self-proclamation of divine protection. v. 24 states, “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Really? The LORD has been silent during Lamech’s proclamation; it seems like Lamech has taken grace cheaply, and the Kenites have followed the tradition of their father’s sin while they settle in the land of Nod, east of Eden. What is peculiar here is the constant refrain of Cain’s son being a “father of those who…” dwell in tents and have livestock; play the lyre and piper; forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. It is not short to say that if this is literal historical ancestry, then it is in direct clash with evolutionary thoughts of the ‘bronze’ and ‘iron’ age – yet time is not accounted for here, and it is very possible that since the early humans lived up to 1000 years old, that this lineage could very well have encompassed many hundreds to thousands of years (but not more). Yet, in spite of all these physical gifts and blessings does Cain historical lineage end in the same pattern of human sin that is inescapable for all the glories of Cain’s history in this part of chapter 4.
7. “The name of the LORD”
In v. 26 we have people who “began to call upon the name of the LORD”. Here, I’m quite happy to say that those who think the ‘name of the LORD’ Jehovah has not been pronounced prior to Moses is quite mistaken. We see here that they have already begun worshipping God, after being banished from Eden, in faith of the Seed and in practice of the unofficial sacrificial system. The Mosaic law will indeed come along to display the fuller and more horrifying extent of their sins, sure – but the essence of the faith lies in the gospel of Christ’s blood sacrifice, not in the magnitude of their sin (though that is already displayed through the murderous tendencies of Lamech, and again later shown by the Noahic flood).
While there is a lot to say concerning Seth and descendants, what is noted is that for all their longevity, all of them face the inevitability of death. This is the curse pronounced on all men – yet why was Enoch not found (e.g. taken up, like Elijah)? v. 24 says that God took him, but why?
I think the story here has a two-fold meaning. One, is the emphasis on death and a fulfillment of God’s proclamation of death on all ‘adam in Genesis 3. Secondly, is the story taught by Enoch. We hear about him twice more in the NT, the book of Jude and Hebrews:
14It was also about these that Enoch,(AL) the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying,(AM) “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15(AN) to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have(AO) committed in such an ungodly way, and of all(AP) the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” 16These are grumblers, malcontents,(AQ) following their own sinful desires;(AR) they are loud-mouthed boasters,(AS) showing favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 14-16)
And again, in Hebrews 11:5-6:
5By faith(H) Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God(I) must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The Pauline theology seems to imply that Enoch was taken up BECAUSE he had faith in God. Again, Enoch, the 7th from Adam, is prophesied to have clarity of how judgment is executed on all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness. Those who follow their own sinful desires. Again, I ask, that without the law being given – how would Enoch be aware of God’s standards? If anything, Enoch seems to display an amount of faith that rivals even those Christians today who have the entire Scripture, New and Old Testament allegedly written in their hearts.
I think what is important to note here, however, is the silence on Cain’s wife, the silence on the land of Nod and those who would persecute Cain, the silence on the rest of Cain’s family, the silence on a lot of the biographies of these people. I think it is a literary vehicle through which God is asking us to focus on the important aspects of what is being preached, rather than being obsessed with the insignificant and possibly unedifying details of these people’s lives – the fact that certain names are not mentioned, that certain things are unexplained tend to lead to two conclusions. One, is the a priori skepticism which plagues so many non-Christian and Christian mindsets – leading to some seriously questionable leaps of interpretations (such as denying the coherence of Scripture because of a lack of autobiographical accounting of Cain’s wife, a common non-Christian argument especially in the Tennessee Evolution case) or even that Enoch, as in the view of some Jews and Muslims, was simply so righteous by his own standards that the Lord decided to whisk him up because he was better than the rest. These silences indeed allow the human mind and wander but lead to their own interpretation. What we can say, however, is that these a priori interpretations start on the wrong footing, because it fails to take into account the continuation of the covenant; continuation of the blood; continuation of the Trinity. If Jesus is the alpha and the omega, if he says Scripture is all about him (John 5:39), then surely in every bit of Scripture, we see marks of the gospel portrayed in these ancient people’s lives.
Furthermore, these wrong-footed interpretations also make several exegetical fallacies, from failing to understand the purpose of the book of Genesis as a book of salvation history, rather than verbatim autobiographical history; to failing to see that just because names are not mentioned does not mean they do not exist (e.g. Adam and Eve may have had several more other descendants, but it is the heads of the families which are mentioned). Just as the Israelite population had expanded to hundreds of thousands between the period of Genesis and Exodus, can one therefore charge the two books to be contradictory to be one another, or do we have the humility to accept that there can be safe theological implications that there is more which happened than that is written? Perhaps in this way, we won’t discredit nor disrespect our Father in heaven by asking for verbatim Scriptural support for every theological truth (though there are moments when that is necessary), when theological implications are just as important and necessary to understand the Trinitarian soundings of the Old Testament.