1. These verses open a section of Genesis which shows the impact of Eve's and Adam's rebellion against God. In rebelling, they invite sin into the human experience and its effects worsen the condition of the human soul. Sin brings a deterioration to God's good creation.
2. There is a false impression that the Old and New Testaments of the Bible present two different versions of God. The Old, it's said, shows God to be a vengeful judge while the New shows Him as the gracious Savior. This distinction is not true. In both segments of the Bible, God is seen as both just and charitable.
An early demonstration of the presence of both these elements is seen in Genesis 3:22-24. God is just and so the sin of Adam and Eve will have its consequences. They must be banished from Eden.
But God is also charitable. He makes it impossible for them to reenter the garden, where they might take a bite from the fruit of the tree of life and so, live forever in sin and alienation from God.
3. In this section, we're told that Adam "knew" his wife and later Cain, Adam's and Eve's son, "knew" his wife. This, of course, is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. But it's more than that. In knowing one another, the two couples have intimacy. The souls of the marriage partners are transparent to each another.
4. While the name of Cain is like a Hebrew word meaning get or produce, it's also likely related to a word meaning spear. Given the violence that Cain will perpetrate, this may also be meant by the name.
5. Abel's name--hebel in Hebrew--has a two-pronged and interrelated meaning: breath or futility.
You may remember from my earlier Genesis post that we talked about ruach, that Hebrew word that can mean wind, spirit, or breath. God's ruach moved over primordial chaos in Genesis 1 and life came about. God's ruach was breathed into the nostrils of the dust that became the first man and man came to life. In that case, breath was something strong and enduring, the life or Spirit of God.
But hebel is a vulnerable wisp, here today and gone tomorrow, hinting at the vulnerable and short life of Adam's and Eve's second son.
6. The German Biblical scholar, Gerhard von Rad, says that the separate functions of Adam's and Eve's sons--Cain is a farmer and Abel a shepherd--show one consequence of sin: Humanity divides itself by functions with their own world views. The fact that each son makes separate offerings to God is further evidence of this division.
7. Why was God pleased with Abel's offering and not that of Cain? Apparently, scholars are divided or stymied by this question. It may be a product of my simplicity, but I'm not baffled by this.
Cain gave God the leftovers from his crops. Abel gave God the cream off the top of his flocks, his "firstlings."
We cannot earn God's love, forgiveness, or blessings. But what we give to God is a measure of our faith. When we give to God off the top, we're saying that we trust Him to take care of us with the rest of His blessings to us. Cain may in fact, have given God more than Abel did; we don't know. But we do know, it seems to me, that he only gave to God after he was sure he'd taken care of himself.
8. But it's Cain, not God, who becomes angry. He resents the positive regard God has for Abel's gifts. Yet God pulls Cain aside and says, "You need to watch out, Cain. Sin is just outside your door, waiting to pounce on you. You have got to be vigilant about fending it off."
It's interesting that God's words to Cain speak of sin as something outside of Cain, something that might invade his psyche and cause him to do wrong. In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther summarizes the fuller understanding of sin that one discerns when taking the entire Bible into consideration: sin resides in "the devil, the world, and our sinful selves." Von Rad speculates that the exteriority of sin in this passage (Genesis 4:7) has something to do with the freshness of sin in the human experience, that it has not become fully incorporated into human beings, although it has a foothold that will cause it to grow.
9. The ensuing scene--Genesis 4:8--shows how unsuccessful Cain has been at defending himself from the temptation to sin. With forethought, he invites his unsuspecting brother into the field to kill him. Humanity has sunk another level.
10. Immediately after Eve and Adam rebelled, God showed up and asked Adam, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). Now, after Cain's sin, God shows up again and asks a different question: "Where is your brother?" (Genesis 4:9) Of course, both are rhetorical questions. But each present the questioned men the opportunity to own up to their sins, to repent, and to be forgiven.
11. When Adam was questioned by God, he tries to fudge a little on his answer, but eventually comes clean. Not so Cain. Cain begins with a flippant response (Genesis 4:9) that could, I'm told, more literally be translated, "Am I a shepherd to the shepherd?" In this response, Cain shows unrepentant cold-heartedness and even contempt for God. The answer of course, is that, "Yes, we are our brothers' and our sisters' keepers." (Which is why I support The ONE Campaign. Our government spends less than 1% of the annual federal budget on foreign aid. We can help our brothers and sisters by bumping that up a percentage point and forgiving foreign governments' debts to our government. End of editorial.)
12. God says that Abel's blood is crying out from the ground, the very ground that Cain was charged with tilling as a farmer.
13. The Biblical view of blood is not so different from ours, I suppose. The Bible sees it as conveying life itself.
This is why at the Passover, the blood of a lamb was smeared on the doorposts of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt: Its life fended off the angel of death.
It's also why at the annual Day of Atonement in Jerusalem, the blod of the perfect, unblemished sacrificial lamb was sprinkled on the people: The lamb was the surrogate for a people who recognized that their sins warranted death and its blood covered them with the renewed life God was now giving them.
By pouring out His blood on the cross, Jesus, the "Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world" was offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin for all who believe in Him, "once and for all."
Today, Christians all over the world receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, being re-membered, re-newed in their life with Christ, through the bread and the wine, simultaneously the body and blood of Jesus.
For the ancient Hebrew, the life force in the blood was almost palpable. They would have readily understood how Abel's blood would cry out to God. Perhaps we can understand it too.
14. Cain, who became the founding father of the Kenites, is consigned to a world of wandering. The name of the land to which he's sent, Nod, literally means fugitive. I like Eugene Peterson's rendering of the name, No Man's Land. The Kenites, in fact, were worshipers of Yahweh, the God of the Bible, before the Hebrews. But they were a wandering people who always lived on the fringes and were removed from God and the soil, just like their ancestor, Cain. It was as though just as Cain and they were rootless, they never put roots down in God.
15. Cain's response to God's condemnation is filled with self-absorption. There isn't a hint of repentance.
16. But God is gracious, creating the possibility of repentance and renewal for Cain, protecting him from being murdered himself.
17. Who were these other people who concerned Cain and where did they come from? I don't know and I don't know.
18. Lamech shows that the brazen sinfulness, including unrepentance for murder, is even worse in him than in his forbear, Cain. Arrogant, unrepentant parents taught Lamech, probably more by example than anything else, how to be haughty, selfish, impudent, and such.
19. Another line of descendants comes from Adam and Eve when they have another child, Seth. From his line, eventually, comes Noah and his family.
20. Of particular note in the geneaology found in Genesis 5 is Enoch, the only one not said to have died.
Finally, I was asked this evening, what a good study Bible might be. Several points:
1. We need to make a distinction between versions, translations, or paraphrases, on the one hand, and editions, on the other.
2. A translation is the work of a group of scholars, who approach their work prayerfully and carefully, who have looked at the ancient manuscripts. A paraphrase is, to varying degrees, a version of the Scriptures in modern vernacular. The word version can be applied to translations or paraphrases.
3. My favorite translations, both because of accuracy and ease of understanding, are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), The New International Version (TNIV), and Today's English Version (TEV, also called the Good News Bible).
4. My favorite paraphrase is Eugene Peterson's The Message.
5. I like The Student Bible, the Oxford Study Bible, and the Life Application Bible, each of which have helpful study notes, footnotes, maps, and tables. Each can be purchased in NRSV and TNIV editions.
6. There is nothing wrong with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, although it is not as accurate a translation and it's certainly not as accessible to the modern reader as other translations.