Cain and Abel: Part 2 of 6 (series: Lessons of Genesis)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

2And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

And she again bare his brother Abel.
Eve gave birth Cain (or Hebel) and now to a second son, “His brother Abel.” Abel means "breath, vanity." Does a sense of the vanity (pride) of earthly things grow in the minds of our first parents? Has the mother found her sorrow multiplied? Has she had many daughters between the births of these sons? Is there something delicate and fragile in the appearance of Abel? Has Cain disappointed a mother's hopes? There is something extraordinary in the phrase "his brother Abel." It evidently points with touching simplicity to the coming outrage that was to destroy the peace and purity of the first home, and that notion receives emphasis from the frequent (seven times repeated) and almost pathetic mention of the fact that Abel was Cain s brother. The name Eve gave to her first child was an expression of her faith in Jehovah, and in naming her second child she may have desired to preserve a monument of the miseries of human life, of which, perhaps, she had been forcibly reminded by her own maternal sorrows. Perhaps by a spirit of prophecy Eve foresaw what would happen to her second son, that he would be deprived of his life very early and in a violent manner. Some of all these thoughts may have prompted her to give him this name. There are some noted commentators who are of the opinion that the peculiar phraseology of this clause suggests that Abel was Cain's twin brother, though this is not necessarily implied in the text.

There are at least two opinion regarding the time of Abel’s birth; one says he was not born immediately after Cain, but perhaps the following year; though another opinion reasons that because no mention is made of her conceiving again, that she gave birth to Abel at the same time she did Cain, or that the birth of the one was immediately followed by that of the other. And it is the common opinion of the Jews that along with both Abel and Cain, was born a twin sister, whom the Arabic writers call Lebuda.

And Abel was a keeper of sheep,
In this place the term “sheep” also includes goats: “And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats…” (Lev. 1.10). “Keeper of sheep” was a calling which he either chose himself, or his father assigned it to him to, since it was a necessary line of work; and though he and his brother were born to a large estate, being the heirs of Adam, the lord of the whole earth, yet they were not brought up in idleness, but in useful and taxing occupations. Abel chose that employment which provided the most time for contemplation and devotion, which is seen as one of the advantage of a pastoral life. Moses and David kept sheep, and in their times solitude conversed with God.

The two main occupations of primitive men were in agriculture and the pastoral vocation of shepherds or herdsmen. Here is the second mention of some use which was made of animals soon after the fall. Coats of skin were provided for the first pair; and now we have Abel shepherding sheep. In the Garden of Eden, man dined exclusively on vegetables and fruit and he was designed to thrive on that diet. We are not informed how long this continued after the fall, but it is certain that man had dominion over the whole animal kingdom. It can hardly be doubted that the outer coverings of animals were used for clothing. Animals would soon be used for sacrifice. It is not beyond the bounds of probability that animals were used for food before the flood, since it is hard to imagine that a vegetable only diet could sustain the human frame in its primeval stamina and strength.

Man in his primitive state, then, was not a mere gatherer of acorns, a hunter, or a nomad. Adam and his descendants did not spend tens of thousands of years living as hunter-gatherer cave dwellers. He began with gardening and farming, the highest form of rural life. After the fall he resorted to the cultivation of the field and the tending of cattle; but still he had a home, and a stable method of living. It is only by a third step that he degenerates to the wandering and barbarous state of existence. And only by the predominance of might over right, the selfish lust for power, and rampant ambition, does a form of society evolve into the highest state of barbaric civilization and the lowest depth of bondage and misery.

but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
Cain was a tiller of the ground, the same occupation as his father, since he was probably brought up to follow in his father’s footsteps. These occupations were indirectly suggested by God when He gave the command to till the ground and by the gift of the clothes made from animal skins. Both were undoubtedly practiced by the first man, who would have taught them to his sons. It is neither justifiable nor necessary to ascribe to the young men a difference of moral character because of their different callings which they selected, though their choices were probably determined by their talents and their tastes. Abel is often seen as a figure of Christ "in his occupation of shepherd, and in his sacrificing and martyrdom."

3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

And in process of time it came to pass,
“In process of time” is rendered by some, “at the end of days,” which may denote the end of the week, of the year, or of some longer period. Others think the anniversary of the creation is what is intended; it is more probable that it means the Sabbath, on which Adam and his family undoubtedly offered religious offerings to God, because the worship of God was definitely instituted, and there is no doubt the Sabbath was observed in that family. This worship was, in its original form, very simple. It appears to have consisted of two parts:
1. Giving thanks to God as the origin and dispenser of all the bounties of nature, and performing religious exercises suggestive of that gratitude.
2. Offering sacrifices to pay homage to His justice and holiness, implying recognition of their own sinfulness, confession of transgressions, and faith in the promised Deliverer. If we consider the passage here along with the apostle's allusion to it in Hebrews 11:4, we can discover the reason to form this conclusion—“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). The superior excellence of Abel's sacrifice compared to Cain's, lay both in the substance, and in the manner of it; the one was offered wholeheartedly to the Lord, the other only in show; the one was offered in faith, the other not; Abel looked through his sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ, but Cain did not. Abel's sacrifice was a lamb, a type of Christ, the Lamb of God; a firstling, a figure of Him who is the firstborn of every creature; one of the fattest of his flock, expressive of the excellency of Christ; and this was offered up at the end of days, as Christ at the end of the world; and the superior excellency of the sacrifice of the one to that of the other, appears from God's regard for the one, and not for the other, from which it may be concluded, that sacrifices were instituted by God, and were very early types of Christ; and that there always were two sorts of worshippers, spiritual and carnal ones, whom God can distinguish, for he seeth not as man seeth; that the acceptance of persons depends upon them being in Christ, and occurs prior to their offerings; that whatsoever works do not spring from faith are unacceptable to God; that no dependence is to be had on birth privileges, or outward actions; and that electing and distinguishing grace appeared very early on the earth.

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