In this study we look at the world's first two children, their mom, and God. The children are an interesting and significant pair, representing the mold from which we all have come. They are the originals, and in many ways still affect and reflect all of mankind, aptly presenting the twofold division of humanity. Their names are Cain and Abel, and the choices they represent are presented to every person, even today
- Abel chose to follow God's way.
- Cain chose his own way to God, believing one way was as good as another.
Before we look at Genesis 4, let's look at its context.
Chapter 1 contains the account of the creation, with God as the primary figure: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Chapter one is God's show, His display of power in creating everything. He did this by calling into existence that which had no previous existence—"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..."
Chapter 2 is the restatement of creation, with man being the key figure. In this chapter, the first humans are mentioned last, not because they are last in importance but because man is the apex of God's creation.
Chapter 3 introduces the intrusion of other principles, those of sin and death. Here is the story of man's fall and its consequences, God's response to man's sin, and the prophecy of a Redeemer who will come and undo the effects of the fall—3:14-15.
After Eve tries to explain why she has eaten of the forbidden fruit of the garden, God addresses the one who had deceived her and Adam. Gen. 3:14—"So the LORD God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. (Apparently Satan used the serpent as a vehicle to speak through.)
15] And I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he (the offspring of Eve) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
When you read this passage for the first time, it's easy to wonder what it is all about. What does this crushing of heads and striking of heals mean? Hold those questions for a moment.
Chapter 4 is the story of Cain and Abel, which so vividly presents man's deplorable circumstances resulting from the fall/the sin of Adam and Eve. But we also see God's power and ability to set things right, to redeem.
As we look at the first verse of chapter 4, a baby enters a family. There must have been a great deal of rejoicing and awe for Adam and Eve. Can you imagine what it was like to have the first child ever born?
- Think of the questions. " Hey, Adam, look at this. How come Cain has a bellybutton and we don't?"
- There was no doctor for the delivery, so Adam must have been stressed. He had no idea what to expect as he became the first person to assist in the delivery of a baby.
- There was no mother for Eve to call or manual to read about how to raise a child.
- There were no grandparents to babysit and to buy the clothes.
The first child ever born was named Cain.
Genesis 4:1—"Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man."
Cain is an interesting name. Quayin in Hebrew means "acquired, or brought forth." This verse is a play on words, literally "I have acquired a man, that is, the Lord." The American Standard Version says, "I acquired a man, the Lord." Many scholars and translators agree this is the way it ought to be translated. The meaning of Cain's name helps us to see Adam's and Eve's expectation for the child.
Here we begin to see the character and hope of Eve.
Why would Eve say she had acquired the Lord? It appears that Eve felt the child born was the Lord Himself. Why? Look back at 3:14-15—"So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15] And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [Or seed] and hers; he will crush [Or strike] your head, and you will strike his heel."
As you read this passage, think how it appeared to Eve without the benefit of Scripture, especially the New Testament. She probably interpreted this statement to mean that her child/offspring would be God born as a baby, or at least the one who would set things right. Today we understand this as a prophecy concerning the war between Satan and God, but at the time, Eve thought only of her immediate application.
Then Eve had another child.
The second child is named Abel. 4:2—"Later she gave birth to his brother Abel..." She was disillusioned and disappointed. How do we know how she felt? Abel means "vanity or emptiness, vapor"—Rom. 8:20. This is not a name a child likes to be called ("Hey Vapor, or Empty Vanity, come here"). What happened was the beginning of a trend in which parents would name their child to describe what was happening in their lives at the time, or how they felt at the time the child was born.
By looking at the names of Eve's two children, we understand what she was thinking and feeling. She and Adam had been kicked out of the garden; she had felt the great pain of childbirth; the ground had been cursed; and now the birth of her children had not met her expectation. When Abel was born, most likely Eve realized she had brought into the world another son like Cain, who was not the Redeemer nor the solution to the problem of the fall. Therefore, there seems to be no hope in her!
Eve's experience reminds us that all children are just little sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who rather than being the Savior, need the Savior. All of us who are parents are eventually made aware of this. We feel our children will be different, that they may change the world. But what we discover is what our parents found out about us: we are all a part of the problem and need a Savior.
Parents (especially first-generation Christian parents), I want you to pick up on this. Just because your children are attending church or observing religious tradition, it doesn't mean they have a vital relationship with God. Even if they are doing much better than you did as a child or young person, they still need to have their own relationship with Him. Your children, nieces and nephews, etc. desperately need a Savior like you did. Don't forget that!
Today many parents spend an enormous amount of time and money making sure their children get the right a) lessons, b) sports, c) entertainment, and d) school experiences. That's good! Looking from the outside, however, knowing that what we value most is where we pay the most attention, then the question becomes,
to God, the church, and spiritual things?
If you do not consistently show—through the activities you and they pursue—that your children's spiritual lives are your priority, the enemy of our souls will seek to rip them off in that vacuum. Their need of a Savior will become painfully obvious soon.
Don't be disillusioned like Eve appears to be when you see behavior demonstrating their sinful, selfish and rebellious nature. Remember the promise Adam and Eve received: The offspring of Eve "...will crush Satan's head"—Gen. 3:15b. Satan will come off the worse in the battle. Even though Genesis 3:14-15 is a judgment against Satan, it is also a promise to everyone.
This passage traditionally has been seen by Jews and Christians as the first hint of a Savior for mankind. In fact, it is often called "the first gospel." Allusions to it are made in the New Testament in Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14; and Rev. 12. (See also Gen. 22:18.) So it is notable that the first judgment of sin in Genesis is permeated with hope. We see this throughout Scripture!
Summary: Whether our children are young or older, understand: there is a contest going on for their souls that started in the garden. Parents, we need to be aware of it and pray that Satan's influence in their nature and our culture will be crushed.
- Pray to that end with all your might.
- Don't be discouraged or disillusioned when you see the influence of Adam and Eve.
- Hold on to the hope and promise.
- Make sure your child's spiritual life is your absolute chief priority and that it is reflected in your schedule and theirs.
I love the scene. First we set up the P.A. system for each of the adults and children to share how they became Christians and why they want to be baptized. Often the children read their testimonies because it is a bit too intimidating for them to ad lib. They make a public profession of their faith, that they love God with their whole heart and now want to illustrate their salvation through baptism. Then we move to the lake shore for the baptism, where a couple of hundred people sing songs of praise as each baptismal candidate is prayed for and baptized. I especially love to see our kids baptized. It's not uncommon to see parents, grandparents, and friends with tears in their eyes as they view these very special moments. One dad after the last baptism told me that the experience of baptizing his son was like the Super Bowl for him. That's so true.
The baptism of a child who has made a sincere commitment to Jesus should be one of the biggest days in the life of a parent and child, really a grand day of victory as both get a chance to see Satan defeated. It is a grand moment when we get a foretaste of what it will be like to see Satan's head crushed for eternity! Moms and dads, let's pray to that end for our children each day of their lives. Don't give up, even if you have moments when you are discouraged and disappointed!
With that in mind, let's look back at Cain and Abel. I want us to focus on a character study of these two men.
Abel was a keeper of the flocks. v. 2b—"Now Abel kept flocks..." He probably provided clothing for the family through the wool and the skins. He might also have provided for the sacrifices to God (see Gen. 3:21).
The instructions the Lord gave to Adam and Eve concerning their sacrifices are not recorded, but the idea that sin was covered through the blood sacrifices of an animal is already seen in Gen. 3:21—"The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." We call this, From Fig Trees to Fur Coats, and it represents the first animal/blood sacrifice because of Adam and Eve's initial sin. Keep God's action in mind as we now look at Cain's vocation.
Cain was a servant of the ground. v. 2c—"..and Cain worked the soil." He quickly came to realize, by his occupation, the results of the fall. vv. 17b-19a—"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18] It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19] By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground..." With a lot of sweat, Cain worked the soil and provided food. It is obvious this is a very important task. By the way, it is apparent that both occupations were acceptable to God.
In verse 3, however, we see a critical experience in the lives of these men, as both offered sacrifices to God. At this point we get an initial look at the characters of Cain and Abel.
vv. 3-5a—"In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4] But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5] but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor."
At the time of Abel's sacrifice, he did not have the Scriptural instruction of Lev. 3:16 (the specific instruction regarding what was to be sacrificed and how it was to be offered). As we have already stated, however, it is certainly possible he was orally instructed about appropriate sacrifice. Also, this was probably not the first sacrifice offered to God; Adam, their father, had most likely offered sacrifices many times. That's just a guess.
What was right with Abel's and wrong with Cain's sacrifice? v. 5—"...on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor..." Some have suggested that the problem with Cain's sacrifice was that he brought a bloodless offering, while Abel brought a blood sacrifice. But from the passage, it appears something was wrong with Cain, which made it necessary to reject the offering; likewise, there was something right with Abel that allowed his offering to be accepted.
In other words, it was the man who was disapproved or approved of by God. "...but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor." It is obvious, then, the sacrifices were just an extension of their hearts.
So what pleases God, and what displeases God? We find the answer by looking into the New Testament, where the hearts of Cain and Abel are revealed for us.
I John 3:12—Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.
Heb. 11:4,6—4] By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. 6] And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
From these passages, we see that faith pleases God and unbelief displeases Him. Abel's sacrifice was offered in faith, in dependence upon God, in a spirit of abandonment to God. Cain's sacrifice was rejected because his heart was wrong. (See also II Cor. 8:21; 9:7.)
What are the principles that emerge from these sacrifices?
Principle #1: What we offer to God is directly related to what is in our hearts and our commitment to Him.
Do we love God? We know the answer to that by what by what we give to Him. "No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends"—John 15:13. "For God so loved the world that He gave..."—John 3:16.
We know we love God like He loves us by what we offer as a sacrifice.
If you want to weigh your commitment to God, look at what you have given to Him (e.g., time, life, finances, service, love, etc.), Sadly, some of us have given Him only our sins. We can know if our sacrifices are acceptable to God like Abel's was, by determining if they are motivated by and mixed with faith. Our sacrifices symbolize how we offer our lives to God.
Another way we know we love God is by what we give to others.
Principle #2: What we offer to our brothers and sisters is directly related to our commitment to and love for them.
I John 4:7—Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
We can't say we love God or our brothers unless we match it with a faith-filled, giving heart. Every time we lovingly give of our time in ministry to another person, it is a sacrifice pleasing to God. Likewise, every time we give a financial offering motivated by love, it is a sacrifice pleasing to God.
This leads us to the next principle.
Principle #3: Symbols have meaning only as they are backed up with vital content—i.e., if reality underlies them. For example, in Cain's case, I believe his sacrifice was rejected mostly because his heart was wrong. It also may have been rejected because it was improper, not done as the Lord commanded.
Are you committed to God? Show Him with sacrifices filled with the vital content of faith and love.
I am so pleased by what I see at Hillcrest Chapel at this point. Our finances are at an all-time high, and we are finally meeting our faith budget. Also, our service is at an unprecedented level. What pleases me most, however, is that these sacrifices are not just empty forms, but that you all really love God and this church, and you have faith that He is working in and through you.
So with that affirmation in mind, let's look back at our text.
v. 5b—So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Cain was angry. The Hebrew word for angry means "to burn." In other words, Cain was burned up, hostile, resentful. What did this anger lead to?
Cain was downcast. First Cain was angry, and that led to his depression. In this case we could probably call it "frozen rage." Certainly depression isn't always because of sin, but it usually is a sign that something needs to change, or that change is taking place.
- Many are the sources of a downcast and depressed spirit, including:
- physical problems
- Satanic attacks
- unresolved conflicts
We have now switched to a character study of Cain and God, wherein we see a beautiful picture of the Lord's response to Cain's failure. This should help us to understand what the Lord does when we fail, and begin to give us another picture of our Lord's character. Here again we see how God lovingly and patiently seeks to restore us.
We see in this study of God's character the same qualities He lovingly and specifically displays in his ministry to both Elijah and Jonah in their dispirited and down conditions—(see I Kings 19 and Jonah 4). These two studies, along with Genesis 4, could easily be tied together for some wonderful snapshots of God's love for us, how He specifically ministers to us when we are discouraged, dispirited, depressed, and disobedient. In fact, almost every time we do a character study of a human, we are looking at a simultaneous study of God.
How does God approach Cain? vv. 6-7—"Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7] 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."
First, before God acknowledges Cain's sin, He asks him a question.
- Does this sound familiar?
- Didn't He do the same thing with Elijah and Jonah?
- As I have pointed out so many times, God begins with a question, not a statement. In this case, however, He doesn't give Cain a chance to speak, because Cain is already smoldering with anger. God quickly moves to the next step.
Third, God promises Cain acceptance and restoration of fellowship. v. 7b—"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted"? This reminds us of 1 John 1:7 and Rom. 15:7.
I John 1:7—But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Rom. 15:7—Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
What a wonderful promise God offers to those who have sinned against Him...He offers acceptance. This is one of the key words for Hillcrest Chapel. We believe a healing community is made possible by love, acceptance, forgiveness and belonging. This is what the Lord desires to do for each of us...to bring us to acceptance and to lift us from being down...some, literally, from being downcast and depressed.
This offer of acceptance, however, is not the last step in God's restoration of Cain.
Fourth, God shares with Cain what will be the continued consequences of his sin. v. 7—"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."
Do you get the picture? Here sin and Satan are seen as an animal seeking to devour and destroy if we don't master it. In other words, Satan needs to be fought and our sin nature redeemed. I want you to think about this in relationship to your own life. Do you see the animal crouching at the front door of your life? v. 7c—"...sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."
So often our attitude is: "I'll just maintain the present level of sin, because it's enjoyable and not too frustrating." But in the middle of this example, where God desires to bring acceptance and restoration, He gives a very strong word, which for some sounds very much like a "turn or burn" approach. v. 7b—"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." Sometimes the consequences need to be stated very succinctly, or we may forget what will happen to us.
We are learning a number of principles from this incident.
Principle #1: We can't maintain our present level of sin. Sooner or later it will overpower us and master our lives. It will eventually destroy us. "(Sin)...desires to have you..."
Principle #2: Sin must either be ruled, or it will rule—Rom. 6:11-14,16. No peaceful coexistence with sin should be tolerated.
Principle #3: Man was made to be mastered, and he will either be a slave of his passions and desires (a slave of sin), or he will be the servant of God.
In the opening page of history, God tells Cain there are really only two alternatives in life: We will either master sin, or it will master us. There is no middle ground.
- If we allow sin to master us, it will take us further and further away from obedience to God, and we will actually do things we never intended to do. (Baal worship is a good example.)
- If we repent (go back to the place of disobedience and face that issue by judging it and putting it away), there is the lifting up, restoration, acceptance, and fellowship with God that is promised.
Let's summarize what we have seen.
These verses prompt us to ask some very strong things of you who are parents.
Have you made your child's spiritual life your first priority?
- Is this seen in their schedule? In yours?
- How much time and prayer did you devote to their spiritual life this week? How many activities with their Christian friends or this church did you help facilitate?
- Have your children, if they've come to know Christ personally, been baptized?
- Have they been discipled?
- Are they attending church and liking it?
Are you are disappointed with what is happening in your child's spiritual life?
- If you are, don't lose hope.
- This passage gives us great hope—Jesus will crush Satan's head. Satan struck at Jesus, and even mortally wounded Him, but Jesus rose and became the complete sacrifice for our sin, offering a better sacrifice than even Abel could offer. He sacrificed Himself for our lives, for our children. Because of that, there is always hope for our kids, even if they seem to be in the clutches of the enemy of their souls right now.
- Let this passage call you to enter the battle and begin to pray like crazy for the defeat of sin and Satan in their lives.
- A vital relationship with God must be our goal and our top priority. That includes water baptism, discipleship, Christian peers, and regular church attendance as a priority.
- Remember to prepare them for their lives as Christians, and not be placated by their involvement in Christian activities that may be void of any vital content.
- Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.
- The only way you will master sin and defeat the enemy at your door is by becoming a slave—a servant of God.
- It is only when He is your master, that you will master sin. I encourage you to meditate on these verses in Romans 6:18-23. Make the truth of these your prayer and your lifestyle.
The story continues…Cain, Abel, Eve, and God: Part Two
- Solomon: How the Mighty Have Fallen
- Samson: The Man Who Brought the House Down on Himself
- Timothy: A Minister in the Making
- Daniel: Another Look at the Lions' Den
- Judas: A Person God Could Not Use
- Paul: Becoming a Basket Case
- Nebuchadnezzar: Grass-Eating 101
- Cain, Abel, Eve and God
- The Book of Jonah
- Jacob: Made Weak to Win
- Moses—The Law of God