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

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
“And unto thee shall be his desire”; or "its desire,” as those who render it as “SIN lying at the door,” whose desire was to get in and tempt and persuade him to do that which was evil, and overcome “and rule over him.” But, since it refers to Abel the meaning is that even though his offering was accepted by God, and not his brother Cain's, this should not alienate his affections from him, or cause him to refuse subjection to him; but he should still love him as his brother, and be subject to him as his elder brother, and not seek to get the birthright from him, or think that that belonged to him, because his brother had forfeited it by his sin; and therefore Cain had no reason to be angry with his brother, or envious of him, since the effect of their offerings would not alter their civil affairs or relationship as brothers. “And thou shall rule over him,” as you have been, since you are the firstborn—which shows the privileges and authority belonging to the first-born in patriarchal times. The great distinction conferred by priority of birth is described in Genesis 27:29: “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” It was Cain's conviction, that this honor had been withdrawn from him, by the rejection of his sacrifice, and conferred on his younger brother—that thought kindled the secret flame of jealousy, which grew into a solid hatred and descended into revenge.

This sentence, “And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him,” has all the stringency and familiarity of a proverb. It has been employed before, to describe part of the tribulation the woman brought upon herself by disobedience, namely, the forced subjection of her will to that of her husband in the fallen state of humanity—“He told the woman, “I’ll greatly increase the pain of your labor during childbirth. It will be painful for you to bear children, “since your trust is turning toward your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16). It is accordingly, expressive of the condition of a slave under the hard bondage and arbitrary whim of a master and a tyrant. Cain is evidently the master. The question is, who is the slave? To whom do the pronouns "his" and "him" refer? Obviously, they refer either to sin or to Abel. If to sin, then the meaning of the sentence is, the desire, the entire submission and service of sin will be granted to you, and you will in fact make yourself master of it. Your condition will no longer be that of careless ignorance, and subsequent dereliction of duty, but a willful overmastering of all that comes from sin, and an unavoidable going on from sin to sin, from inward to outward sin, or, in specific terms, from wrath to murder, and from disappointment to defiance, and so from unrighteousness to ungodliness. This is an awful picture of his fatal end, if he does not instantly repent. But it is necessary to deal plainly with this strong-willed, vindictive spirit, if he is to have any hope of being brought to a right mind. But, if the pronouns refer to Abel, the meaning will be pretty much the same thing. The desire, the forced compliance, of your brother will be conceded to thee, and you wilt rule over him with a severity and a violence that will terminate in his murder. In violating the image of God by shedding the blood of your brother, you will be defying your Maker, and fiercely rushing on to your own hell. As a result, in either case, the dark doom of unrenounced and unforgiven sin looms fearfully in the distance.

The above statement of the Lord to Cain, is fraught with the most powerful motives that can bear on the mind of man. It holds out acceptance to the wrong-doer, if he will come before God with a broken heart and a corresponding expression of repentance, in the full faith that he can and will secure the mercy of God. At the same time it points out, the insidious nature of sin, the inclination of a selfish heart to sin, the tendency of one who persists in sin day-after-day, to eventually produce a crime which ends in the everlasting destruction of the soul. These words must have come from the mouth of the Almighty to the ear of Cain with all the evidence and force they were capable of receiving.

Note: We prevent sin from ruling over us by allowing God to master us first. Without God as our master, we will be slaves to sin.

8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother:
We are not told the nature or subject of the conversation between Can and Able, though one opinion says it pertained to the subject matter of the previous verse. On the other hand, another opinion argues that it is psychologically very improbable that Cain would have related a warning to his brother which produced such a little impression upon his own mind; and it certainly relieves us from the necessity of adding to the moral depravity of the unhappy fratricide by depicting him as deliberately planning his younger brother's murder, of him watching for an opportunity and at last accomplishing his shameful act by means of treachery. Without a doubt the historian intends to describe a crime rather suddenly conceived and hurriedly performed than one deliberately planned and treacherously executed. However, there is a sense here that Cain planned to catch Abel by surprise, lulling him with pleasant conversation. This shows that Cain may have committed premeditated murder, and therefore clearly ignored God’s way of escape.

There is nothing thus far to indicate that Cain changed his offering to God, either internally in regard to how he felt about it or externally, as to its form. Though one speak to him from heaven he will not hear. The divine objection failed to change his heart; perhaps it only increased his irritation.

and it came to pass, when they were in the field,
They were probably alone and at a distance from their parents, or from any town or city, if any were built at that time, as some think there were, and out of the sight of any person that might come and interfere and rescue Able.

that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
One thing we can say for certain is that Cain did not act on Divine counsel. “Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” in a violent manner, without any provocation, and took his life. He could have struck him with some agricultural tool, which might be in the field where they were, or with a stone. The deed is done and it cannot be recalled. The motives which caused it were diverse; selfishness, wounded pride, jealousy, and a guilty conscience were all at work—“Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). The sacrifice which he offered, though it was not evil in itself, was offered with an evil mind, and with an hypocritical heart, and without faith in the sacrifice of Christ, and so was unacceptable to God; whereas, on the other hand, the sacrifice his brother brought was offered up in faith that Christ would come, by which he obtained a testimony that he was righteous, and that the work he did was a righteous work, being done in faith, and so was acceptable to God; when Cain recognized this, he was filled with envy, and this put the thought in his mind to kill Abel. Then sin is followed by worse sin, proving the truth of the warning given in the merciful patience of God.

We may rightly conclude that the first murder committed in the world was the consequence of a religious dispute; but since then, millions have been murdered due to prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance. Here, certainly, originated the many-headed monster, religious persecution; the spirit of the wicked one in his followers impels them to afflict and destroy all those who are partakers of the Spirit of God. Every persecutor is a legitimate son of the old murderer. This is the first triumph of Satan; it is not merely a death that he has introduced, but a violent one, as the first-fruits of sin. It is not the death of an ordinary person, but of the most holy man then in being; it is not brought about by the providence of God, or by a gradual failure and destruction of the earthly creation, but by a violent separation of body and soul; it is not done by a common enemy, from whom nothing better could be expected, but by the hand of a brother, and for no other reason but because the object of his envy was more righteous than himself. Alas! How exceeding sinful does sin appear in its first manifestation! No human had ever died or been killed before, but Cain saw how animals were killed for sacrifice. He extinguished Abel’s life in the same way. The downward course of sin has progressed quickly. Now the hoped-for redeemer is a murderer, and the second son is the victim of murder. Sin wasn’t “nipped in the bud,” and it could not be contained.

Now the sin of Adam had grown into fratricide in his son. The writer intentionally repeats again and again the words "his brother," to clearly point out the horror of the sin. Cain was the first man who let sin reign in him; he was "of the wicked one" (1 John 3:12). In him the seed of the woman had already become the seed of the serpent; and in his deed the real nature of the wicked one, who was "a murderer from the beginning," had come to light: so that already there had sprung up that contrast of two distinct seeds within the human race, which runs through the entire history of humanity.

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