Genesis 4 (NRSV)
I love to go back to the great foundational stories of our faith — Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, and Joseph. Let’s go to Genesis! I encourage you to read the accounts of these Bible characters with new eyes, looking for the goodness of God, the presence of Christ, and the working of the Holy Spirit. And let’s also praise the Lord for the examples which stir our faith within this “cloud of witnesses.”
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Cain Murders Abel
Now the man knew his wife Eve,
This is the first specific mention of sex in the Bible. The term “knew” or “to know” is a polite way of saying they had sexual relations and the term is used often in the Bible in this sense (Genesis 4:17, 4:25, 38:26, Judges 11:39, 1 Samuel 1:19).
There is power in this way of referring to sex. It shows the high, interpersonal terms in which the Bible sees the sexual relationship. Most terms and phrases people use for sex today are either coarse or violent, but the Bible sees sex as a means of knowing one another in a committed relationship. “Knew” indicates an act that contributes to the bond of unity and the building up of a one-flesh relationship.
We have no reason to believe Adam and Eve did not have sex before this. Adam and Eve were certainly capable of sexual relations before the fall, because there is nothing inherently impure or unclean in sex.
and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” 2Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.
3In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
The Hebrew verb translated as “must master” (verse 7) means more than any one English translation is able to show. This verb may also be translated “can master,” “shall master,” or “must master.” Thus, God’s statement to Cain about mastering sin is a command, an invitation, and a promise.
–Linda B. Hinton
8Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
9Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
10And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
1 John 2:11 (New International Version)
Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
13Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
15Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. 16Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Hebrews 11:4 (Contemporary English Version)
Because Abel had faith, he offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. God was pleased with him and his gift, and even though Abel is now dead, his faith still speaks for him.
The story of Cain and Abel shows us that our relationships with one another affect our relationship to God. We cannot be false to each other without also being false to God.
–Linda B. Hinton
And back to high school English class: In the classic Old English poem Beowulf, the monstrous Grendel and his mother are believed to be descended from Cain.
“Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as ‘our brother’s keepers,’ possessed of one of the oldest and possible one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts. It will not let us go.”
–Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
HERE is “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” recorded by Neil Diamond.
Beginnings of Civilization
17Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. 18To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech.
19Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock.
21His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe.
22Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools.
The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
23Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
25Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.” 26To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.