Genesis 4: Cain and Abel
Oh, pride! Is there any other sin that comes out more clearly in marriage than the ugly beast pride? When I feel my opinion is more valid, my voice should be heard more, or my feelings must be considered above my husband’s–well, in those moments, I am acting out of pride. Of course, all that is also selfishness. But what is selfishness but the manifestation of pride? Selfishness says, “I am worth more than you, therefore I should get my way, I should be listened to, etc., even at your expense.” If the spirit of Christ is humility, we have to kill that wretched part of ourselves that is full of pride and leave it at the cross. What, you may ask, has pride to do with getting “a manchild from the Lord”? Well, let’s see.
I Have Gotten a Manchild
Immediately after God drives Adam and his wife from the Garden, in Gen. 3:24, Moses (the human author of Genesis) tells us, “The man had relations with his wife Eve.” Eve? Who is Eve? Up until chapter 3 verse 20, the woman was called ‘Iyshshah (woman) because she was taken from ‘Iysh (man). But after they both had eaten the fruit and were given their respective curses, “now the man called his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20). In Hebrew, Eve is Chavvah. Doesn’t it just sound more bitter than ‘Iyshshah? In the bitterness of leaving Eden, Adam gives his wife a new name, which sounds sarcastic given its timing. But notice that in the brokenness of this recently screwed-up world, Adam knew his wife Eve. Although they could never again experience the perfect intimacy they knew in the Garden, they still “knew” one another in their brokenness. How are we as wives? Do we shut our husbands out when we are hurting? Or do we use even his (or our) fallen times as an opportunity to experience emotional and physical intimacy?
In this newly fallen world, “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.'” Did you notice “the help of” appears in italics? This is not an “emphasis added” moment. Interestingly, “the help of” is italicized in the NASB because it does not actually appear in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew reads: “I have gotten a man from or of the Lord.” Eve literally says, “I have gotten ‘iysh of the Lord,” a man of God. This manchild was a little Adam, a little ‘Iysh. Interestingly, the man, or ha-Adam, is most often referred to as Adam, but when he names the woman, he says that she shall be called ‘iyshshah for of ‘iysh she was taken, and it is ‘iysh who leaves his father and mother to cleave to his wife (Gen. 2:23-24). It is this name, this ‘iysh, that Eve says she has gotten, qayin, from the Lord.
Then again, she gave birth to his brother, Abel. Now, Abel’s name Habel or Hebel means a vapor or a breath. The Hebrew word is used 67 times in the Old Testament, 30 times in Ecclesiastes alone! Typically, the word is translated “futility” or “vanity,” and is often used to speak of the brevity of life.
Quick recap: Cain (qayin) is from the Hebrew word meaning “gotten,” and he is given Adam’s name in his mother’s phrase: “I have gotten a manchild from the Lord.” Abel (habel or hebel) is from the Hebrew word meaning, “vapor” or “breath.” Do you remember how God made Adam a human being? God breathed into Abel’s father Adam the breath of life, and man became a living being (Gen. 2:7).
Tiller of the Ground and Keeper of the Flock
In Gen. 4:2b, we read, “And Abel was a keeper of the flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” If we are seasoned Christians, we must not pass over phrases we’ve heard since we were children in Sunday School. New or veteran Christians, we must learn to pay attention to minute details in Scripture. Notice, Abel is mentioned first. The younger brother is described before the older. “Abel was a keeper of the flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” not “and Cain.”–“but Cain.” Therefore, this is a contradiction; this is an opposite. Picture this: Abel, the younger brother, keeps the flocks. From the flocks (or some kind of beast) the Lord had made garments for Adam and Eve when they sinned in the Garden. Abel is not involved in manual labor; of course, he would have to fend off predators. But for the most part, he guides the sheep to pasture and to find water and generally cares for them. But Cain is a tiller of the ground. We don’t know what kind of instruments man had already invented to work the ground, but there is no question that that was some serious manual labor. Cain was a man’s man. The ground, however, was what God had cursed because of Adam in Gen. 3:17-19: “Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Cain’s toil is not wrong; God said man would eat of the sweat of his brow, but let’s look at the next verse.
Regard (and lack thereof) for Two Offerings
“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground” (Gen. 4:3). Okay, now we just said that it was not wrong for Cain to work the ground, but here we find–this is big; don’t miss this–Cain is offering to the Lord that which the Lord had cursed.
“Abel on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering” (Gen. 4:4) Hit the pause button. Did we see God having regard for Cain and his offering in the previous verse? No, as we mentioned, Cain’s gift came from the ground which was cursed; Abel’s gift came from the firstlings of his flock. And in case we didn’t surmise that detail on our own, God spells it out for us in Gen. 4:5: “but for Cain and his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”
Now, this is going to be tough for some of you in our “‘E’ for effort” society. God is not a “grading on a curve” kind of God. He is a pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory kind of grader. Cain’s thing was fruits and vegetables. When he was a child, he was the Future Farmer of Just-Got-Kicked-Out-of-the-Garden-of-Eden. He knew the ground; he was good at tilling. That was what he wanted his gift to be. But God had set a standard. It may be hard to hear that God had regard for Abel and not for Cain, especially when we read that Cain’s countenance fell. But the truth is Cain knew the requirement.
“So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 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.'”
God was watching. He saw Cain’s countenance, and He knew Cain’s heart. Tenderly, He asked him, “Why do you feel this way?” Our questions as wives can draw from the deepest parts of our husbands souls, when asked gently and lovingly. God our Father does the same to us. When we are very angry at God and our despair is written on our faces, God asks us, “Why has your countenance fallen?” Then God asked a very telling question: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” This is how we know Cain knew what he needed to do to offer an acceptable sacrifice. And this is where pride comes in.
Cain did not want to offer from the ground; he decided that he knew the kind of offering God needed, even if God said otherwise. Now, I’m just going to warn you that I’m about to hit on some veeery sensitive topics. Feel free to comment, especially if this provokes strong feelings in you. But please pray that God will show Himself to you; I’m praying also.
God is Sovereign; He is in control. So wherever He has you in this moment is where He meant for you to be. When He says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” that is what is an acceptable sacrifice (1 Th. 5:17-19). During some of the years I wanted a husband and family (and God was saying no), I wasted so much time being bitter and angry. Like Cain had his tilling, I had people, especially little people. People are my thing; kids are my thing. I love children and helping them learn and explore. That was what I wanted to offer to the Lord. God had chosen for me to be single, but in my pride, I told the Lord how I wanted to worship Him, what I thought was an acceptable offering. And here’s what God was saying, just as He said to Cain, “I have told you what is acceptable: your body, a living and holy sacrifice–your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). Through “the mercies of God,” you can give thanks regardless of circumstance. But some of you may say, as I did, “I’ll choose the sacrifice. God, I want to worship You as a wife and mother. I want to worship by loving a husband and raising a family.” And God said, “No, you will worship me as a single woman because that is what I have made you today.” You may say, “No. I want to worship You as a mother, and You’ve kept that from me. You can’t tell me to love You and accept Your will when You won’t give me children.” And God says, “Today, worship me as a childless woman but as a spiritual mother to those I’ve sent to you.” You may say, “God, I want to worship You with children who are submissive and obedient. I can’t worship you with children who are disrespectful.” And God says, “Become who I have created you to be with the children I have chosen for you. Worship Me in spirit and truth.”
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Sisters, we don’t get to choose what is the acceptable sacrifice. Just as Cain did not get to choose what was the right offering. We don’t get to stay angry and have our countenance downcast because God is not adapting to our plan for our lives. Our place is to submit to our Creator and Sustainer and trust that He knows what we need and what is best for us and that He is capable of providing our every need and that He is WORTHY to receive glory and honor and praise REGARDLESS of where we find ourselves.
There are a million things in life that we don’t get to choose. We don’t choose where we were born. We don’t choose our race, our height, or our family. We don’t get to choose our husbands’ flaws or our own. We don’t choose our futures. But we can offer to God acceptable sacrifices because He has told us how we are to live and He has enabled us to offer Him a worthy offering.
Pray with me as David did in Psalm 51:
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. … O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, In burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.