The rejection of Cain’s offering presents a dilemma for those who see a partiality on the side of God. God’s judgment and approval lie in the roles that he designs for each individual in his master plan. Ultimately, the sin of Adam and Eve and that of Cain was the same, a rejection against one’s God-Given role in the divine community. God’s warning to Cain in 4:7 is the crux of the theme and is rightly placed at the center of the passage.
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New American Standard Bible (NASB)
4 Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” 2 Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.
16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
The Theme Explained
Before continuing, read the passage above and slowly let the images soak in. Each image is someone’s personal expression of the theme. Discover how the images reveal the theme from the passage.
The rejection of Cain’s offering presents a dilemma for those who see a partiality on the side of God. God’s judgment and approval lie in the roles that he designs for each individual in his master plan.
Clarity in God’s justice is found within the opening parallel between Cain and Abel and the ensuing scenes as they reveal the direction of God’s focus. The first four verses of chapter four are a distinct comparison between Cain and Abel. While Cain was proclaimed at birth, Abel was silent. Abel’s role as keeper of sheep is given sequential priority over Cain’s farming occupation. Cain offered from his yield while Abel gave of his firstfruits. Abel’s offering was respected, and Cain’s was not. In each comparison, alternating emphasis is given to each sibling. The concluding respect given by God leads one to indicate that it was not their birth order or what they could offer, but their role that is praised by God.
This coincides with God’s seemingly rhetorical argument back to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” That is not to say that all farmers are not performing their role, but God’s surprise over Cain’s dissatisfaction and his response indicate that Cain was not performing his God-given role.
Furthering this concept, Cain, the elder brother and protector of the family, lured his younger brother away. The manner of the entrapment was not of importance, only that the elder brother and protector was his brother’s murderer. The repeated usage of “his brother” as well as the silence and complete compliance of Abel emphasizes this fact.
A comparison of the fall of Adam and Eve with the fall of their son, Cain, adds to this concept of God-Given roles. Adam and Eve violated the divine order that had been set. In 3:17, God’s indictment over Adam emphasizes this. In the same way, the rhetorical warning given to Cain in 4:6 as well as the challenge to the role of elder brother in 4:9, highlight Cain’s defiance to his role.
Ultimately, the sin of Adam and Eve and that of Cain was the same, a rejection against one’s God-Given role in the divine community. God’s warning to Cain in 4:7 is the crux of the theme and is rightly placed at the center of the passage.