Most people know Cain as the first murderer. But beyond that how much do we really know about this legendary man? What more is there to learn about him?
Cain’s parents are probably the most famous couple in the history of the world. Adam and Eve were the first humans that walked the planet and made their home in the paradise we know as the Garden of Eden. They had it made, but one mistake and act of disobedience resulted in them being banished from the Garden forever.
It was the new and hostile world that welcomed Cain into the world as the first child born (Genesis 4:1). The new parents had another child that they named Abel. The older child chose the life of working of the soil. He spent his life trying to call forth produce from the land to feed the family. It was not near as easy as it had been for his father in the garden. Cain worked hard and took his body to the extremes to cut into the soil, nurture the plants, and reap the harvest.
Abel chose to be the caretaker of the livestock. He watched over the sheep and cattle. He tended to the animals that gave them the clothes they wore and the milk they drank.
Not Such an Easy Life
It is at this time in the narrative that we realize that there is more to all this than the words let on. The style of writing the Bible generates was not the same style that we are currently used to in our bestselling novels. The description of every scene, action, and emotion is not revealed. The bare boned facts are given. The information needed for the moment is revealed. Nothing more. Nothing less.
How these brothers got along we have no idea. We do not know how obedient they were, successful in their jobs, or what they enjoyed most in the world they lived in. What we can gather from what happened next, there was some unsettling things going on that are just revealed at the climax of the story.
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” (Genesis 4:3–4 NIV) In stopping here, what can we see in these few words? Here is where we learn that paying close attention to words can make a big difference in how a sentence is read. Notice that Cain brought “some” of the fruits of his labor. The phrasing of the sentence leads us to believe that Cain did not spend much time over the choosing of his offering. He picked up some of the vegetables and fruits without seeing if they were good enough to give in an offering. They might have had blemishes. He might have had a bad attitude and just picked up the first ones he saw. He might have tossed the fruit to the ground at the altar or even have been really thinking of getting back to the fields instead of worshiping his God. We don’t know what was happening, but the author specifically points out that Cain only brought “some” of the fruits and not the best.
Abel on the other hand is pointed out in a different light. It is noted to us that he did not just pick “some” of the flock as an offering. He made sure that the firstborn was chosen as well as giving the choicest parts of the animal to give to the Lord. He was deliberate in choosing his gift. He was particular in what he gave.
You have heard how it is the thought that counts. That is very true here. Both gave from their labors. Both worshipped God. But that is where the similarities stop. One chose carefully. One just gave. Since God is omnipotent, He was very aware of how their offerings were chosen and given. He could look into the heart where none of us can. He saw the truth. He saw what really mattered. As a result, “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Gen 4:4b-5 NIV)
Typical of any of us, Cain did not take the rejection well. He became angry and it was very evident on his face that joy was not in his heart. He was upset and angry from the top of his head to the tips of his tops. Cain was no different than many of us when we are not chosen as the favorite or the best at something. We get upset and it usually shows on our face and in our actions. Cain did the same thing.
At this point, God turns and addresses Cain personally. It is also here that we get a glimpse further into Cain’s offering and why it was rejected by God. “Why are you angry? and why is your expression downcast?” God noticed that Cain was angry. He was not trying to hide his feelings. He was pretty open about it. But God saw further and said, “Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” (Genesis 4:6–7 NET)
Here we get the confirmation that Cain’s offering was not right. His heart was not on the right path, therefore he was rejected. His heart was not pure. His actions were not right. God saw this and as any smart Father can do, He saw what was around the corner for this young man. If he continued on this path, sin which was already dogging his feet would actually embrace him and control his steps. God gave Cain a warning of what would happen if he did not adjust his attitude — nothing good.
Like most people, Cain ignored the wise warning of a parent. He actually invites his brother out to the fields. In his anger, Cain lashes out at his brother with the result being the blood of his own sibling pouring into the earth as his life left him. The first murder had occurred. Was it premeditated? Sounds like it was. Did Cain realize what he was doing and the end result? Probably not. All he saw was the emotion within him and his brother as the embodiment of that anger. The emotion had to have a release and Cain chose to aim the valve at Abel.
Did Cain regret his actions? We don’t know if he did at first. We do know that he did what most of us would do and tried to hide his actions. Considering that the population of the world was not quite enough to hide a missing person, it almost seems ludicrous that Cain would even try to hide the action. God confronts Cain and eventually lets him know that God knew all that had taken place between the two brothers.
He punishes Cain by sending away from the fertile grounds that he had been tending and sends him to areas where the ground was hard to cultivate and crops were hard to come by. It is at this point that Cain realizes what happens when murder is on the agenda. He panics and says that as he traveled the land, that someone would find him and get revenge for Abel’s death. Why continue on? God answers him with a mark that protected him.
Cain left the fertile land and went on further east to a land known as Nod. Here is where a little more is learned of Cain and those around him.
From Cain’s comment about someone revenging Abel’s death, we realize that there might be other people who lived in the area. Now, we have no indication that God made other families. He might have. We also have no indication that Adam and Eve had other children by this time. We were given only Cain and Abel’s names because they were the only ones that were important to the narrative at hand. Is it important who these other people were? Not really. They were more than likely other brothers and sisters or even nieces and nephews. The point was that Cain feared for his life and God protected him from revenge which is only for the Lord.
This debated topic also continues in Genesis 4:17 where it states that Cain had an intimate physical moment with his wife which resulted in the birth of his son, Enoch. Where did Cain’s wife come from? How long was he married? We have no idea of this. For years many people have surmised that Cain found his wife after he left his mother and father. But where do we get this? It only mentioned her for the first time and in this verse and does not point out that she came from the land of Nod. We cannot from an historical or scholarly stand assume that she was from Nod. They might have been married before the murder. If that was the case we still are not told where she came from. Most researchers purpose that Cain married one of his sisters. This sounds horrible to us in today’s society, but in the beginning there were very few people and the gene pool could only have been completely pure. It was not uncommon in Old Testament times for a man to marry his sister. Abraham married his own half-sister, Sarah (Genesis 20:12).
Are We So Different?
Cain was able to contribute to the population of the world but it came at a horrible price. Work became true labor. Banishment from his family his daily torture. He became the poster boy for what happens when we let our emotions rule our actions.
Over the centuries, Cain has been talked about and condemned by many people including scholars of the scriptures. But what many do not realize is that Cain could be our mirror image. We let our emotions of anger, hurt, lust, or pride rule our actions. He let sin rule him and then had to face the harsh consequences of his actions. The same thing that happens in our lives daily.
Cain is a man to be studied instead of condemned. It is only then that we can see where we imitate him. Sin is looking to conquer us as well. Cain is not the only conquest it is looking for.