Cain seems to have been the first child born on earth. The coming of the first baby is always an important event in a home, but the birth of the first child in the human family was an event of peculiar importance. Mothers have many dreams and hopes for their babies, and the first mother was no exception. She seems to have been expecting that her firstborn son would be the “Seed of the Woman” that had been referred to in the promise of the bruising of the serpent’s head (chapter 3:15). When she saw her beautiful new-born child, she said joyfully, “I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah!” O how sad it is to think how this first mother’s dreams were disappointed! Instead of becoming a good man and an honor to his parents, he proved to be a wicked man who brought sorrow to his home.
Cain and his younger brother Abel differed in their life’s occupations, and they also differed radically in moral character. Cain was the kind of man that we often see, even today – the one who wins the world’s honors, grows rich, is enterprising, becomes powerful, and rules over his fellows. Abel, on the other hand, was the type of man described in the Beatitudes – poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, a peacemaker, unresisting, bearing wrong without complaint, and not striving for mastery. Abel was a foreshadow of that perfect Man Who conquered by love – the true Seed of the Woman, Whose heel was bruised by the serpent, but Who crushed the serpent’s head.
We are told that the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering; but unto Cain and his offering, He had no respect. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we are told that it was Abel’s faith that made his sacrifice more excellent than his brother’s. Cain grew “very wroth.” Why? Because Abel enjoyed the favor of God – that alone made Cain hate him. He was angry with Abel because he was good.
We notice, too, the fearful growth of the evil feeling in Cain’s heart. It was only a thought at first, but it was admitted into his heart and cherished there. Then it grew until it caused a terrible crime. This is true of all sin that is treasured in the heart. It may lie quiet for a long time, apparently harmless; but it is a wild beast sleeping. We never know to what terrible maturity a “little” sin may grow. It was the Apostle of love who said, “He that hateth his brother is a murderer.” Hatred is a seed which, when it grows into its full strength, is murder.
The Lord called Cain to account for his brother. We are all our “brother’s keepers,” in a certain sense. In families, the members are each other’s keepers. Parents are their children’s keepers. Older brothers and sisters are the keepers of the younger. Brothers are their sisters’ keepers, and should be their protectors and benefactors. Sisters are their brothers’ keepers, and should throw around them all the pure, gentle, and holy influences of love. Each one of us, in some degree or another, is a keeper of all who come under our influence. We are certainly each other’s keepers in the sense that we are not to kill each other or harm each other in any way. We have no right to injure anyone, and we are under obligation to do as much good as possible to all around us.
After Cain had committed his crime, he thought of its enormity and found its burden too great for him to bear. Sin is always a fearful burden. It may seem pleasant at the moment; but afterward, the bitterness is intolerable. Cain would have given all he had to undo the crime he had committed, but he could not. He could not bring back the life he had destroyed. Sin is indeed a heavy burden, but it will not be until the sinner gets to the next world that he will know all the intolerable burden of his sin and its punishment. And then there will be no escape from the awful load. In this world, though, there is always a way of escape from sin’s punishment. Christ bore our sins, and all who flee to Him will have that terrible load lifted off their shoulders!
Before we conclude our study of this chapter, we should answer the question of the identity of Cain’s wife (verse 17); for this point is one that is often used by critics against the accuracy and authority of the Bible. Genesis 5:4 informs us that Adam and Eve had “sons and daughters,” and so Cain’s wife was either a sister or another close female relative. In the time of Moses, God outlawed such relationships; but in the beginning, they were allowed and even necessary for the preservation of the human race until the earth’s population had grown, as long as the relationship was one man and one woman for life. So Cain’s wife was not from some other so-called “race” of people that were not a part of Adam and Eve’s family, as some people falsely claim.
We should also take note of the fact that early Man was not the stupid, primitive brute that a secular worldview portrays him to be. Indeed, as the latter portion of this chapter illustrates, he was brilliant in the ways of civilization – carrying out the responsibilities of farming, enjoying the beauty of music, and instructing one another in the skills of “advanced” metalworking!
O Lord! Do we not see, in Abel, a picture of our blessed Jesus? Was He not hated and eventually murdered by His brethren, when – as the great Shepherd of His Father’s sheep – He came to seek and save that which was lost? But O how infinitely short Abel falls, in comparison of Jesus! The blood of Abel cries for vengeance, but the blood of Jesus pleads for mercy. Dearest Lord, may we – like Abel – offer all our poor offerings in faith, with an eye to Your blood and righteousness; for then our heavenly Father will accept them. Amen.
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illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1906