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The Account of Cain, Abel and Seth: the Sons of Adam and Eve

Human history is a record of the battle of the ages. Typified by Cain and Abel, there have always been forces of good being opposed by forces of evil.

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Genesis 4:1-2a

Cain is translated from the Hebrew word, !yq (Qayin – kah’-yin). He was the first-born of Adam and Eve. He was named “Cain” (Qayin) because he was “brought forth” or “gotten” (the root word in Hebrew, Qanah – kaw-naw, means to get) “with the help of YHWH.” Cain means “possession” or “acquisition.”

When Cain was born, Eve said that she had gotten a man from the LORD. She may have called this newborn infant a man because she saw the human race renewed, which both she and her husband had marred by their sin. Since Eve said that this man was brought forth with the help of the LORD, she may have thought that Cain was the promised seed, the Messiah. But she was sadly mistaken.

Abel is translated from the Hebrew word lbh (Hebel – heh’-bel) and means “breath.” The Hebrew word “hebel” can also mean “vapor” or can be taken figuratively meaning “vanity.” A breath or a vapor is something that is brief and fleeting. Abel may have been a prophetic name indicating that his life would be cut short.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. Genesis 4:2b

Abel was a shepherd while Cain cultivated the soil and became a farmer.

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Genesis 4:3-5

The phrase, “in the course of time” (marginal note: “at the end of days” or understood as the end of the week) indicates that probably it was on the Sabbath that the two brothers presented their offerings to the LORD.

Some people have suggested that Cain’s offering was unacceptable because he offered plants while Abel offered animal sacrifices. Of course, without blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). While this passage foreshadows salvation by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and that we cannot be saved by our “works,” I don’t think that necessarily this is the reason that the Cain’s sacrifice was unacceptable. Although the grain offering was a bloodless sacrifice, God not only accepted grain offerings when the sacrificial system was instituted but in some cases required them. In fact there was a time in Israel’s history that because of the rebellious attitude of the people that animal sacrifices were meaningless in the eyes of the LORD.

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals, I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. Isaiah 1:11

The passage does give us some insight into what made their sacrifices pleasing to the LORD or not. It says that Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn. He not only offered the “firstfruits” of his flock, he also offered the choicest parts. Abel was clearly giving the best of what he had to God. Cain, on the other hand, brought some of the fruits of the soil, and not the firstfruits. The portion he offered may have been damaged or what Cain considered “leftover.” Abel’s and Cain’s actions were a reflection of their attitudes towards God. Was the LORD God worthy to receive their very best offering or not?

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:6-7

When Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by the LORD, he became angry. He looked sad, depressed and dejected. He was obsessed with self. The LORD responded by saying, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” In other words, Cain’s unacceptable offering was a reflection of his unacceptable hard heart. Cain was told what was necessary to be accepted – to do what is right. Cain also was warned that if his anger was not mastered that he would be consumed by it.

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Genesis 4:8

The downward spiral for following one’s own evil desires is explained in the letter by James:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:13-16

Due to pride and jealousy, Cain ended up murdering his brother by first harboring hatred in his heart.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9

Not only did Cain lie to the LORD about his sin of murder; he then replies sarcastically by saying, Am I my brother’s keeper? According to the Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, “Cain displayed a shameful tone of presumptuous impudence in his insulting reply to the LORD God.”

The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Genesis 4:10-12

When Adam sinned, the ground was cursed and it produced thorns and thistles. Instead of tending a garden, through painful toil man had to work to cultivate the plants of the field. Now after Cain defiled the land with the blood of Abel, he was no longer permitted to farm the land. He was to leave home and family and would become a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth.

Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Genesis 4:13-14

Cain is horrified with the notion that he was to spend the rest of his life as a degraded outcast in perpetual exile. His fear is ironic. Cain who murdered his brother now fears being murdered.

But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:15-16

The LORD is gracious to Cain. First, Cain is not put to death for the murder of his brother but is exiled. Second, Cain is also given a protective mark. The Hebrew word does not identify the exact nature of the mark God put on Cain. The English word, “mark” is translated from the Hebrew word, twa (owth) which is most often interpreted as a sign or token. Although the Scripture doesn’t identify the exact nature of Cain’s mark, it was a sign or indicator that Cain was not to be killed. Cain could have embraced God’s grace and repented but instead bemoaned his punishment as more than he could bear.

Cain finds himself as wanderer who has left the presence of God and become a fugitive. In fact, the LORD drives him from his home, just as years before He had driven his parents from their home. The LORD had placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life. Just as Adam and Eve were driven out from God’s presence to move east out of Eden because of their sin, Cain is driven from the presence of God because of sin and he moves east to live in the land of Nod.

Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. Genesis 4:17-20

Here we see the first mention of polygamy. God tells us in Genesis 2:24 that for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, in order that they will become one flesh. Notice that the word wife is used, not the word wives.

Initially man depended on God and on the food that came from the earth. Now that the earth had been cursed and farming was a sweaty toil, they began to raise cattle. They had to go where there was water and pasture. They did not have God, so their living depended on their own effort and struggle.

His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. Genesis 4:21

God had created man with a soul. One aspect of the soul was man’s emotions. When our emotions are impacted by our relationship with God we are joyful. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were filled with the joy of the LORD, because in His presence is the fullness of joy. Abel found contentment when he shepherded his flock. The flocks were not being raised for food, but to offer sacrifices to God. However, because the descendents of Cain did not have God, they were dissatisfied and they felt empty. Then they began to play flutes and harps, not for the worship of God, but created music to make themselves happy.

Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Genesis 4:22

Another group of Cain’s descendents created weapons of bronze and iron for defense. When wild beasts came, they could kill them. If enemies attacked, they were armed to fight against them. Why did they do this? The entrance of sin into the world brought death and destruction. Cain’s was cast from the LORD’s presence and so were his descendants. Cain was an unrepentant murderer and so were his offspring.

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” Genesis 4:23-24

The descendents of Cain became progressively increasingly wicked. Lamech is prideful of his evil doings. He mocks the mark of the LORD’s sign of protection that was given to Cain. While Jesus taught us to forgive seventy-seven times; Lamech boasts of being avenged seventy-seven times over.

Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD. Genesis 4:25-26

In order to discredit the book of Genesis as a true historical record, many of those who challenge the divine inspiration of Scripture have asked the question, “Where did Cain get his wife?” In fact, this question was discussed at the famous Scopes Trial and mentioned in the movie Inherit the Wind. Christians were mocked and the cause of evolution was furthered because no credible answer was given during the trial.

Cain was the first child of Adam and Eve recorded in Scripture. His brothers, Abel and Seth, were part of the first generation of children ever born on this earth. Even though only these three males are mentioned by name, Adam and Eve had other children.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Genesis 5:3-4

The Bible does not record when they were born. Many could have been born in the 130 years before Seth was born. During their lives, Adam and Eve had a number of male and female children. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that, “The number of Adam’s children, as says the old tradition, was thirty-three sons and twenty-three daughters.”

The Bible does not tell us how many children were born to Adam and Eve. However, considering their long life spans (Adam lived for 930 years), it would seem reasonable to suggest there were many. Remember, they were commanded to “Be fruitful, and multiply.”

At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD. Genesis 4:26b

The devil may have breathed a momentary sigh of relief when Abel fell dead to the ground – thinking that the seed that was to crush his head may have been snuffed out. But God’s plans are thwarted by no one. Eve called her new son “Seth,” the “appointed”, and recognized that it would be through this son that the promised seed of the woman would come and redeem mankind from the effects of sin’s curse.

“At that time,” there was a distinction being made between the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth.

Seth named his son, Enosh. This name means weak, faint, and frail. There was a great sense of human inadequacy at that time for those who were appalled at the wickedness of the children of Cain. The children of Seth began to “call upon the name of the Lord,” sensing the poverty sin had brought into the race. It was a sense of their weakness that provoked them to call out to God. They were asking for His involvement with them, His help and blessing. Thus they “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is viewed in comparison with Cain who “built a city,” thereby relying upon the things of this world and his own cunning instead upon God.