Genesis 3 was a disappointment. The first sin, separation from God, curses upon the serpent, woman and man, and exile from the garden. After the glory of creation and the beauty of life in the garden, we as people are disappointed in our ability to ruin perfect things. But at the same time, we are also not perplexed by this turn of events because we are familiar with failure. We can never live perfect lives, but we can make the best of things. Although there is not a lot to be positive about in this chapter, there are valuable things to learn about how we should approach and serve God.
Genesis 4 introduces us to the sins and corruption of selfishness, jealousy and murder.
Verses 1-15: Cain & Abel
Adam and Eve procreate and God gives them their first child, Cain. Adam gives God the credit for Cain saying, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” Soon after, Abel is born. We have no reason not to assume that these two are not the first two natural-born people. True to the guidelines set forth by God in chapter 3, Eve bears the children and they are forced to work. Abel kept sheep while Cain farmed.
Genesis does not give us an account of how sacrificial worship began, but each brother brought an offering to God from their particular vocation: Cain brought fruit while Abel brought a sheep. God respects Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Abel’s offering was of a higher value, being a more meaningful and deeper sacrifice. It was living and it also was of a higher quality in comparison with the rest of his flock, being “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.”
Cain’s mistakes compound. His sacrifice was inferior, but his attitude makes the situation worse: “Cain was very angry and his countenance fell.” Even though it was so very early in the history of man, God expected a rightly prepared heart from man. Cain was given the opportunity by God to amend his attitude, but he did not receive instruction from God that would have put him on the road back to approval: “So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.””
Cain’s negative reaction reflective of a poor attitude led to him killing his brother in a field, presumably the same field in which he tilled the earth. Jealousy can be such a powerful motivator, and its influence can corrupt any relationship. Had Cain only heeded God’s words of advice, things might have turned out differently. The wisdom of humbly listening to and taking advice is valuable and the consequences of not doing so can be surprisingly deep. Proverbs 8:32-33: “Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it.”
God knew what had happened to Abel, but was testing Cain when He asked him where Abel went. Cain’s answer to God about Abel’s whereabouts, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” is memorable because it is an example of how not to think about our family members, neighbors and fellow Christians. As a result of his abhorrent action, Cain is cursed by God to be a fugitive and a vagabond. God sets a mark on him so that no one that finds him will kill him. This ensures Cain’s punishment and suffering as he wanders in exile.
Verses 16-26: Cain’s family and Seth
Cain most likely found a wife among Adam and Eve’s other children, although we cannot say for sure as the text does not reveal her origins to us. What we do know, however, is that Cain’s family was war-like and deviant from the plan of God.
Cain has a son with his wife, and his name was Enoch. Cain names the city he builds after his son – Enoch. Then a brief lineage of Cain is given: Cain bears Enoch, who bore Irad, who bore Mehujael, who bore Methushael, who bore Lamech. Lamech goes outside of the original pattern established by God and takes two wives instead of one: Adah and Zillah.
Adah bears Jabal and Jubal. Jabal was “the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” Jubal was “the father of all those who play the harp and flute.” Zillah bears Tubal-Cain, an “instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron” and also Naamah, a daughter.
After this, we read Lamech’s speech to his wives. He was a violent man who lived and thought as an adversary, seekings to defeat and avenge rather than live peaceably with his fellow man and God. How much of Lamech’s course was determined by God’s curse on Cain and how much was due to Lamech’s own proclivities cannot be discerned, but Lamech nevertheless stands out as an example of what not to do.
At the end of the chapter, we return to Adam and Eve. Eve bears another son by Adam named Seth, who appears to be a replacement of sorts for the losses of Cain and Abel. Eve says in verse 25: “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” With Seth and his progeny Enosh, mankind seems to be taking a turn for the better as the chapter concludes with men beginning to call on the name of the Lord. This is interpreted as prayer, supplication, reliance on God, respect and allegiance.
God wants us to love, honor, respect and obey Him. He makes it so very easy for us to do this. If we can only see past ourselves and past our petty desires (which seem so crucial in the moment, but are very small in the big picture), we can glimpse God’s plan for us and live for Him, the way that He has designed: in righteousness, assurance and faith.