Cain and Abel - the Story of Every Man Part 1

by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)

Cain and Abel - the Story of Every Man

Genesis 4:1-4:12
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8 And 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.
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

The Bible story of Adam and Eve, our first parents, while they were in the garden before their Fall, shows the perfect life of happiness and fulfillment that could have been theirs. But it wasn’t to be. It ends with the guilty pair being driven out, with cherubim and a flaming sword guarding the way back. It’s to the Bible that we must look to gain an insight into why this world is in the situation it’s in and how it operates. This world of ours is in a conflict between God and the devil and the forces of good and evil. The apostle Paul writes: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph 6:12). That’s the Bible’s ultimate explanation of the whole of human history.But God hasn’t finished with His damaged creation. He allows life to continue in the fallen world because His objective is to renew and restore. He won’t accept that His divine purposes are to be thwarted by evil.

The author of Genesis turns to the second generation and here we see a picture of life after Eden. It sets the scene for humanity in a way that we can see our own world and ourselves. On the positive side, there’s the beginning of community life with the expanding population developing into the occupations of agriculture and farming. The early humans were conscious of spiritual life, for the inbuilt desire for worship was there. Men and women still bear the image of God, although it is grossly distorted.

All this is good but underlying this progress is the problem of the human predicament. The sins of the first parents are embedded in the character of the children. Yet, God hasn’t abandoned His creation. Here in the world, which has been turned topsy-turvy by the entrance of sin, God is still revealing Himself and looking for a response from each person, for all of us are answerable to Him. This is clearly seen in the life and times of Cain and Abel, the first of the many case histories that the Bible gives for our understanding.

The illustration provided by these two brothers presents truth in the form of their different personalities. These two sons of Adam and Eve are representatives of every man, and I could add every woman. Abel is the man who pleased God, while Cain didn’t. In this world there’s "Abel", and there’s "Cain". Let’s see what we can learn from them, for in ourselves also, perhaps there’s "Abel" and there’s "Cain". It’s important that we know which of these men we are more similar to.


Cain was the firstborn, followed by Abel. They had the same parents but soon developed into different characters. There’s nothing wrong with that because God has made us as individuals; each of us is a unique person. We can see that in our children; my son Mike is very different from my daughter Mary. I believe we raised both of them the same way, but they were different even as little children. I bet you would say the same thing about your children.

Today, science wants to get involved with creation.The present talk of cloning human beings is quite alien to God’s creation. We must pray that this evil will be thwarted.

Let’s get back to Cain and Abel. Cain was in crop agriculture while Abel was in animal farming. Already the pattern of social life on earth is seen. On the face of it, this was good, because God’s will for human beings, even in their fallen state, was to work for their living. The trouble lies when they fail to work together in a community relationship. When they cease to act as neighbors, having mutual respect for each other, it’s then that destructive forces are unleashed, with disastrous consequences for society.

People’s names in the Old Testament are often significant and indicate their characters. Experts in language tell us that "Cain" points to self-sufficiency, to strength, to the first-born with first rights to everything, for power and self-assertion. By contrast, "Abel" means nothingness and frailty. This paints a picture of two brothers who have completely different attitudes toward life. Cain is the dominant of the two. He needs to be at the center of things and life revolves around him. He will use others for his own purposes. Abel, on the other hand, is the "also-ran", the weakling.In modern language, he would be called "wet behind the ears". That’s the background to the point being made about the conduct of Cain and Abel, because the storyteller focuses on:


When we look at the world around us there are so many things that are unfair. Few of us can remain untouched when the "Christian Aid" appeal is made, telling of the huge gap between the "have" and the "have-not" nations. And at the level of individuals, why are some struck down with terrible diseases or are the victims of terror or accident? Life is unfair! The biblical writers struggle with these questions. The psalmist asked why did the wicked triumph and the people of God suffer? (Psalm 73).

Faith has to live with what seems to us as unfairness, and leave some uncertainties unresolved. We need to acknowledge that sometimes we meet a barrier to our understanding. We have to fall back on the mystery of God’s gracious providence.

The account of Cain and Abel is telling us that life must be seen from God’s perspective. From any other aspect, it’s all wrong and unfair. It’s essential that we understand that God is free to act as He wills without asking our permission. Cain has no rights over God - and that’s true of each one of us. No one has rights over God. Only God is in a position to say why things are as they are, that is, apparently fair or unfair. In His sovereign wisdom, He chose Abel, just as in His sovereign wisdom He chose the Hebrews to be His people, not because of anything they had done, but simply because He loves them (Deut 7:7). And why did He cause you and me to be born or live here in this good and pleasant land and have the opportunity to hear the gospel, when there are millions in far less pleasant circumstances?

Someone looking outwardly at Cain and Abel would have found that they had much in common. They were brothers and they both had honorable vocations. We read that "Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground." But that’s only half the story, for the storyteller quickly goes on to say: "The Lord had regard for Abel … but for Cain … he had no regard." This seems very puzzling and hard to take in. Why was this? We find a clue to this as we think of the following:


The picture we have here is of two men worshipping God. Cain was as much a worshipper as Abel and yet he was rejected by God. The apostle Paul made a profound statement when he wrote: "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (Rom 9:6). This is something that needs to be delved into.

In the story of Cain and Abel, there’s a fundamental separation, of the false and the true. It’s a principle that’s seen right through life. Both men had the desire to worship God, so how did they go about it? Was it out of duty or was it motivated by devotion? That’s going to be the key to finding out why one was rejected and the other accepted. The great chapter in the Letter to the Hebrews on the heroes of faith makes an important statement on their approach to worship: "By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did" (Heb 11:4). There are only two ways of worshipping God - either through self or by faith. It makes all the difference.

Abel worshipped God by faith; Cain did not. So how did Cain fail? Did he bring the wrong offering? There’s evidence in the history of Israel that God could and did accept cereal offerings. So what’s the problem? The words used by the storyteller hint that Cain, it would seem, just brought what was nearest at hand, probably without thinking much about it. Was there casualness in his approach to God?

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