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Even though Adam and Eve had sinned and been driven out of the garden, there were moments of joy. Eve conceived and bore Cain. She said, "I have gotten a man from the Lord" ( Gen_4:1 ). Her statement shows she recognized God as the source of her blessing ( Psa_127:3-5 ). She also bore Abel, Seth and other children (4:2, 25 and 5:4).
They Both Offered
When Cain and Abel reached manhood, Cain became a farmer. Abel was a shepherd.
They both brought sacrifices to God as an offering. Cain was not guilty of idolatry. Neither did he fail to work. One could not successfully accuse him of failing to worship. So, we might ask why God had respect for Abel's sacrifice and not Cain's (4:3-5). The only difference in these two sacrifices is that Abel offered by his sacrifice by faith ( Heb_11:4 ). Obviously, it was a working faith since the text says he "offered" ( Jam_1:22 ; Jam_2:17 ).
The Hebrew writer lets us know God witnessed Abel's sacrifice and its righteousness.
The words "witness" and "testifying" come from the same Greek word meaning to give a good report of. John tells us Abel's works were righteous and Cain's evil ( 1Jn_3:11-12 ). The word "righteous" tells us that Abel had followed the divine law. God had apparently given some directions as to the sacrifice to be made, though we have no record of that command ( Rom_10:17 ).
God's Will Or Man's?
It may be God had commanded them to offer animal sacrifices. Or, it may be God had instructed them to give the first and the best. Remember, in the Genesis account we learn that Cain offered of the "fruit of the ground." There is no comment as to the quality of the fruit offered. However, concerning Abel's sacrifice it is said he offered "firstlings of his flock" and "of the fat thereof."
Certainly, we know that God wanted obedience and not just sacrifice. When King Saul spared the best of the flocks and King Agag, Samuel had to tell him what God thought. "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams" ( 1Sa_15:22 ). We can be assured God will see our gifts just as surely as he did theirs. He will reward us if we are faithful in the doing of his will ( Mat_6:1-6 ; Mat_6:16-18 ).
Cain did as he willed, but Abel did as God willed. Cain was angry and had resentment because his sacrifice had been rejected. God let him know he was ready to take him back (4:5-7). If Cain did what was right, God would know. Further, Cain would be able to rule over sin. If he did not gain control, sin was at the door of his life ready to take over and rule him. Cain did not repent, but murdered his brother (4:8). The next verse tells of God coming to Cain, perhaps to give him a chance to repent, but he would not. Instead, he lied.
He Yet Speaks!
Abel is dead, but he still speaks ( Heb_11:4 ). His blood calls for vengeance, thus speaking ( Heb_12:24 ; Gen_4:10 ). However, it seems he speaks more clearly through his example of obedient faith. God caused Moses to record that faith for all time in the pages of his inspired word. His example tells us God's favor is always upon those who obey his will ( Mat_7:21 ).
In stark contrast, we see God's punishment for Cain. Cain said it was more than he could bear ( Gen_4:12-13 ). He was cursed and condemned to be a fugitive. God would not allow anyone to kill him. He placed a mark on him to warn others (4:14-15).
Sin Grows Worse
Cain went to live in the land of Nod with his wife. Many have wondered where he found a wife. While the text does not tell us specifically, we do know Adam named the woman Eve because she is the mother of all living ( Gen_3:20 ).
Lamech, a descendant of Cain, is the first polygamist and the second recorded murderer (4:19-24). There can be little doubt that sin has grown worse. Lamech sinned and then boasted about his evil works. He even boasted of the greater punishment he deserved for them.
The Promised Seed
The promised seed might have come through Abel, but he was dead. Man might have seen that as an end to the plan of salvation. After all, the one righteous man had been killed by a self-willed man. Thankfully, God is not so easily deterred. He caused Eve to bear another son, Seth. Eve said, "For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed" (4:25-26).
This chapter should teach us the importance of worshipping in God's prescribed way. He is only pleased with sacrifices offered in accord with his direction. Also, it can be seen that God will reward the faithful and punish the disobedient. Those who would be rewarded of God should fervently seek to do his will.
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Genesis 4". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany