vv.1-16. The First Case of Murder by Cain
vv.17-26. The First Case of Bigamy and Manslaughter by Lamech
vv.1-16. The First Case of Murder by Cain
v.1. “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…”
Reflection: On Knowing
The word “knew” certainly deserves further elaboration. When Scripture speaks of one person knowing another person, it refers not as knowing as an acquaintance, but as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. In v.17, Cain knew his wife, and again, a son was born to him. Another example is found in Gen. 19:5, when the Sodomites were trying to rape the angels, they said to Lot, “Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” (Also, v.8, in Lot’s response, “Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man.”)
The fact that we are created as sexual beings points all the way back to the Creator. It is, as any other thing or feature ever created, for us to glorify Him and enjoy Him. Piper makes two simple but weighty points in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ: (1) sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully and (2) knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality. Or put them in a negative way, (1) all misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ, and (2) all misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ.
The second point that Piper made is conspicuous and beyond doubt. All misuses of our sexuality, or to take a step further, of any other blessing that God has created for our enjoyment, stems from a misunderstanding of the truth of God. For the unregenerate, without the knowledge of Christ, it is of their nature to, borrowing the language of Eph. 2:3, “live in the passions of [their] flesh”. But for the redeemed, such misuses may come from a not-yet fully renewed mind or from the strong pull of old habits. In either case, God’s grace is sufficient to transform that. However, let’s focus on the first point for now.
“And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (Jn. 17:3)
As mentioned before, knowing another person in the Bible is a splendid euphemism of having sex with this person. Therefore, knowing God, who is undoubtedly a Person, is no exception. As marriage being the ultimate reflection of Christ and the Church, and as sexuality being the defining bond of marriage, sexuality is therefore the ultimate reflection (though not the only one) of our spiritual worship of Him. Sexuality itself is an intimate relationship that includes passion, harmony and oneness. Hence, our relationship with God should likewise reflect these traits. Our worship of God should be in spirit (passion) and in truth (harmony), (Jn. 4:24). It ought to bring us to abide in Him (oneness) (Jn.15 4-6), while not abiding in Him means not having such intimacy (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
Dawson Troutman, in his signature sermon Born to Reproduce, preached the following words, “Only a few things will ever keep human beings from multiplying themselves in the physical realm. One is that they never marry. If they are not united, they will not reproduce. This is a truth which Christians need to grasp with reference to spiritual reproduction. When a person becomes a child of God, he should realize that he is to live in union with Jesus Christ if he is going to win others to the Savior. …” When Troutman said “they never marry” and “they are not united”, evidently it was also a euphemism. What he actually meant was “they never really had intimate relationship”, which is sex, for it goes without saying that a couple that never have sex will never have children. The implication is, in the spiritual realm, a person who never has intimate relationship with Christ will never bring people to Christ. This also shows that our relationship with God is, if you may not consider me blasphemous, a “sexual” one in the spiritual sense.
As Piper wrote, “God made us powerfully sexual so that He would be more deeply knowable. We were given the power to know each other sexually so that we might have some hint of what it will be like to know Christ supremely”, knowing God in Christ carries with it a subtle yet unequivocal sexual connotation; it is, spiritually speaking, to have a deep, intimate relationship with Him and Him alone.
“I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”
Reflection: As Acts 17:25 says, “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything”, God is the ultimate source and sovereign giver of life, both physically and spiritually. Jesus also says, I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Is it not futile exercise to forsake the true life-giver in order to seek for life elsewhere? For as it is written, he that seeks to save his life shall lose it; he that loses life for His sake shall save it.
v.2a. “And again, she bore his brother Abel…”
Observation: Exactly what was the length of time that had eclipsed between the birth of Cain and the birth of Abel is a “myth”, since no conclusion can be drawn from the verse. Some commentators even speculated that they were twins.
v.2b-5. “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.”
Reflection: In light of their respective sacrifices induced different responses from God in the passage, could we infer that “keeper of the sheep” is somehow more favorable in God’s eyes than “worker of the ground”? Apparently not. That is not the issue. MacArthur Study Bible note says, “Both occupations were respectable; in fact, most people subsisted through a combination of both. God’s focus was not on their vocation, but on the nature of their respective offerings.”
vv.3-4. “Cain brought… an offering of the fruit of the ground; Abel… the first born of his flock and of their fat portion.”
Observation: Even from the wording of the verses one can easily identify the different attitudes from the two. The “fruit of the ground” that Cain offered, was probably just casual and inadvertent. He didn’t seem to pay much attention to what he had to offer to God. Yet he did offer something, indicating that he must have some knowledge that offering to God is a right thing to do, or perhaps doing so comes with blessings. However, for Abel, “the first born of his flock”, presumably more costly and delicate, was offered. And it was as if that wasn’t clear enough, the verse added “of their fat portions”, making Abel’s heart of willing devotion all the more explicit.
vv.4-5. “And the Lord had regard for Abel… but for Cain… He had no regard.”
Reflection: Here any Bible student may reasonably ask why God favors one over another. It must be pointed out that the episode does not teach us that the work of a herdsman is elevated over that of farmers, as discussed before. Nor did it imply that animal sacrifices are preferable than plant offerings. In fact, both were required in the Levitical system: firstfruits of ground as a thanksgiving offering is prescribed in Deut. 26:2, and animal sacrifice as a peace offering is prescribed in Deut. 15:19-23.
Still the question remains. Why God favors Abel over Cain? To answer it, one must see that the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions of it signifies his heart of dedication. He was willing to give God the best of what he had. In contrast, Cain failed to do so: he probably offered random fruits, not the firstfruits of his produce, as commanded in Deut. 26:2. His heart was not right, and thus his deeds became improper. However, it must be pointed out, it is also possible that one may fulfill every prescription of the law in terms of offering, yet still have a wrong heart, as the apostate Israel in OT (Isa. 1:11-17) and the Pharisees in NT (Matt. 23:23) did. Offering is measured not by the price of the sacrifice, nor by the observance to the rituals, but by the willingness to obey the Will of God (1 Sam. 15:22).
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.”
v.5b. “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”
Reflection: Cain’s bad attitude was further manifested in his resentment towards his brother, as well as his uncooperative and harsh answer to God in v.9.
v.6b-7. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Reflection: The same Hebrew word for desire (Heb. teshuqah) is used in Gen. 3:16 (the only two places where the word is ever used) and in parallel speaks of domination rather than affection. “Sin’s desire is for you”, means “sin means to master you”. And in this specific context, where Cain’s anger is mentioned (v6b), clearly the sin spoken of here is murder (Matt. 5:21-22). God was challenging Cain to consider his own wrongdoings (“If you do well, will you not be accepted?”) and to subdue his malicious intention to kill his brother (“rule over it”), which Cain probably had already schemed at this point. As we all know, the story did not end with Cain overcoming sin. Tragically, the reverse was true: Cain was overcome by it and committed the first murder case in human history. Sin had successfully mastered Cain.
v.8. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”
Observation: The brevity of the record makes the sin all the more heinous. As NKJV note says, “The murder was stunning in its lack of precedent, its suddenness, and its finality.” Jesus made a reference to this crime in Matt. 23:35 (“the blood of innocent Abel”).
Reflection: The word “brother” appeared twice in the verse, as if to further magnify the heinousness of Cain’s murder. It wasn’t some stranger that he killed; it was his own brother. Cain was the first murderer in human history. And the devil, of course, is behind all this. (Jn. 8:44)
v.9. “Where is Abel your brother?”
(1) Did God need the information of Abel’s whereabouts? Certainly not. Why did He ask this question of Cain? The only possible explanation is that: He offered the murderer a chance to turn himself in, just as He had asked Adam and Eve for the sake of their benefits. God is offering pardon; all Cain should do is just ask. Can you imagine God is still stretching out His hand to Cain, hoping that he can come to repentance?
(2) It wasn’t Adam and Eve who first rose up to deal with Cain’s crime; it was God. Many will look into the world and say that if God is really what He says He is, if He is truly all good and all powerful, then where is He among all these injustices, all these sufferings and all these calamities in the world? But we must not forget about God’s righteousness (Zeph. 3:5), nor must we lose sight of the eternal (Ps. 73). His righteousness runs down like waters; and nothing in all creation shall escape the judgment of Him to whom all must give account.
“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Reflection: As the saying goes, like the father, like the son. Same as Adam missed the divine pardon, Cain also missed it. Not only did he miss it, but he showed absolutely no sign of remorse for committing such an atrocity. What kind of hatred towards his brother he must have harbored in his heart! Premeditated murder comes not from a flush of adrenalin, but from a continual incubation of malice in one’s mind. Scripture makes it clear that a sinful thought is as punishable as a culminated act (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, etc.). And we know such teaching is wholesome even from our vantage point, because the only way out is for us to break that chain reactions in our mind, for in so doing we’d be “ruling over it” before it overpowers us. The roaring lion is preying upon us; resisting him is difficult, but not impossible.
vv.10-12. “And now you are cursed from the ground…”
Reflection: The divine sentence for the first murder is increased hostility of the earth in an agrarian world. To a farmer like Cain, this would mean a much harder soil he was to till, and a much less produce of the land he was to harvest. He might have to lead a “wandering” life, at the mercy of what nature can bring. The second law of thermodynamics, which has already been in motion, might have been switched to a second gear. To me, nonetheless, and, I believe many as well, God was too merciful on Cain with such a lenient penalty.
v.13-14. “My punishment is greater than I can bear. …”
Reflection: Remorse over sin was still absent at this point. Cain did not confess, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight”, nor did he affirm, “that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest”. There was only self-pity and distress over the penalty he received. Six first-person pronouns were used in his short response, signifying the extreme selfishness of the convict. “My punishment is greater than I can bear”, simply means, “I wish it is less severe”, hinting that, if there is any fault whatsoever, it was God’s fault of over-punishing him. Immediately he became banished from the presence of the Lord and alienated from the rest of mankind. Cain is the prototype of the unrepentant transgressor.
v. 15. “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”
Reflection: Cain’s uninterrupted sin is drastically and diametrically contrasted with God’s unmerited grace. By all means Cain deserved only punishment. Yet God showed rich mercies to him. It wasn’t anything he could possibly earn. Some may say the God in the OT appears too severe, too stern, too harsh, too ready to punish, not like Jesus in the NT. Not so. The God in the OT is the same as the God in the NT. And therefore, His grace has always been manifested. Here we see Cain became a recipient of that grace. As the psalmist praises, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made” (Ps. 145:8-9).
“And the Lord put a mark on Cain…”
Reflection: Much speculation has been made, but no one knows exactly what this “mark” was. But it must be something visible, since is serves as a sign of divine protection against his avengers. It is all that can be said based on a single word from a single verse. A parallel is seen in Eze. 9:4.
v.16. “… settled in the land of Nod.”
Observation: “Nod” in Hebrew means “wandering”. Cain had led a wandering life thereafter.
vv.17-26. The First Case of Bigamy and Manslaughter by Lamech
v.17. “Cain knew his wife…”
Reflection: The reasonable assumption would be: Cain’s wife was one of Adam’s late daughters. Close marriages were common (and perhaps “necessary”) practices at such primitive time, and it remained culturally acceptable even at the time of the patriarchs (Sarah was Abraham’s sister). In the Mosaic Law, however, the practice of incest became spiritually abhorrent and morally forbidden (Lev. 18:6-18). From a pure biological standpoint, early human beings were probably less easily susceptible, or less severely affected, or both, to the curse of sin on human genome and procreation, and thus children born out of incestuous wedlock were less likely to suffer from various genetic disorders as we see today. Yet by Moses’ time, genetic decay might have become so devastating and reached the threshold that such practice would produce congenital defects to the offspring. That being speculated, the morality of incest is still largely unanswered (e.g. Should a man and a woman, being close relatives, proceed to get married if they are able to give birth to a perfectly healthy baby?). Nevertheless, Biblical teachings on incest since the time of Moses have always been that it is sinful and condemnable. In the NT, the apostle Paul, displaying an outburst of righteous indignation, wrote to instruct the Corinthian church to expel those among them who were involved in incest (1 Cor. 5:1). Therefore, it is better to view with caution such behavior before Levitical regulations were issued and understand its benignity here to be of historical “peculiarity”.
v.19. “And Lamech took two wives…”
Reflections: This was clearly the first case of bigamy in human history. Not long after that, as one may anticipate, polygamy appeared as well.
(1) It is of note that the Bible as a historical record simply documented what happened, mostly without making moral comments on whether it was right or not in the flow of the narratives. One must discern through the lens of relevant teaching passages throughout the Bible. Similar cases where such discretion should be applied include, e.g., Rahab’s lie to save the Israeli spies. Always remember to view narrative verses in light of didactic passages.
(2) Although no further detail was given as to why and how Lamech took his wives, God’s original design of one man and one woman being joint together in holy matrimony had been deliberately challenged, rebelled and shattered only at the 7th generation of humanity. Sin continued to grow exponentially and expansively in all shapes and forms, in all angles and directions, eating up every inch of the moral universe. However, at Calvary when Jesus said, “It is finished”, the curse of sin began to be overturned. And we know, one day, when Christ returns, sin will be completely and definitively exterminated. Christians who live in such a hope purify themselves and set their minds on things above.
v.23. “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me…”
Reflection: This case seemed more of a voluntary manslaughter (“… the killing of a human being in which the offender had no prior intent to kill and acted during ‘the heat of passion,’ under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.” Source from Wikipedia) rather than a premeditated murder (“… the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human.” Source from Wikipedia), as Cain did: Lamech killed the transgressor in self-defense (“for wounding me… for striking me”). Yet the moral vice lies in his boastful attitude for such killing, which was very much possibly out of proportion to the injury. Later in the Pentateuch, retributive justice was done by imposing penalty to the offender directly proportional to the damage inflicted (lex talionis), with a maximum of life for life (Ex. 21:23-25). And this is never meant to be applied in terms of personal vengeance (You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye”…).
Extrapolation/Application: When we face physical threat (robbers, etc.), should we defend ourselves by force? Yes, but only to the degree necessary to protect our own safety (and other victims who are present), as well as to stop the crime, for instance, disarming and confining the criminal. In situations where self-defense resulted in the death of the criminal, e.g. in dark environments where the defender does not see clearly, etc., it was not counted as bloodguilt (Ex. 22:2). That, however, does not give us reason for personal revenge, for example, when the transgressor was killed on spot and on purpose, the defender shall be charged with manslaughter (Ex. 22:3). In other words, the intent and motivation is always examined.
v.24. “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
Reflection: He was saying to his wives, should anyone harm them, he would repay them by violence in full. Lamech’s assertion of an independence from God by taking vengeance with his own hands betrayed his arrogant and prideful heart. In terms of the issue of personal vendetta, Jesus teaches seventy-sevenfold of forgiveness when we are wronged (Matt. 18:21-22).
v.25. “Seth… God has appointed me another offspring instead of Abel, …”
Reflection: The birth of Seth ensured the succession of the messianic line (Lk. 3:38), which alludes to the “offspring of the woman” in Gen. 3:15. Another interesting note was that immediately following his birth, public worship became common practice (“people began to call upon the name of the Lord” in v.26).