Genesis 4:1-15: Eve, Cain, and the Messiah

Luther’s translation of the German Bible rushes in where other translations fear to tread.  We see that in the first verse of our Old Testament reading for today.  There are two basic ways to understand that verse.  The most common is what I read to you a few minutes ago: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”  The other is this: “I have gotten a man–the Lord!”

One translation recognizes that Eve realizes that she had given birth to her first son, “with the help of the Lord.”  The other has Eve saying that she had given birth to the Messiah.  That’s a colossal difference, isn’t it?

Most translators look at the Hebrew text and say, “It can’t mean what the Hebrew literally says.  It can’t possibly mean that Eve thought her son was the Lord Himself.”  That makes no sense.  So they change the passage to make sense.  But why shouldn’t it make sense?  That’s what the Hebrew text literally says.  And Eve believed God’s promise.

We find the Scriptures don’t even leave Eden before God promises a Savior who will defeat the evil serpent, the devil.  Genesis 3:15 tells us of God promising to save us through someone who would make right what Adam had made wrong.  God told the serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed.  He [that is, the Messiah to come] will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

What a remarkable prophecy from God.  It’s strong in imagery, using our Fall into sin to describe our salvation.  God tells us that a descendant of Eve will destroy the serpent.  But God also says that, when this descendant crushes the serpent, he will die, vividly described as being bitten by a venomous viper.

So there is Eve, pregnant with her first child.  She knew this child would have to be unique if he were to undo what she and Adam had done to the world.  By committing the world first sin, they had started a chain of events that no regular person could ever contain.  All their descendants would inherit this sinful condition and die because of it.  It was impossible for any regular person to do anything without the infection of sin ruining his actions in one way or another.

Eve knew this.  Although she had only lived this life of sin for a short time, she already knew heartache and pain.  She wistfully longed for the time before she had disobeyed God.  She remembered the perfect peace and joy that had filled each day.  She remembered a life without anguish and remorse.

And now, Eve was experiencing morning sickness, swollen ankles, and a painful back.  The final hours of her pregnancy reminded her so vividly of God’s earlier words to her.  They rang in her ears as she gave birth to Cain: “I will intensify your pains of childbirth; in pain you will bear children.”

But now, with the birth of Cain, Eve is experiencing something new.  She is experiencing the first blush of motherhood.  Although God Himself was the first father, having begotten His Son from eternity, Eve is the first mother.  And such joy as she breastfeeds Cain and he coos with delight in being fed.

In Eve’s joy, she remembers God’s promise.  One of her descendants will crush the serpent’s head.  One of her descendants will free the human race from sin and death.  And so in this moment of sheer joy, Eve cries out the faith that is within her: “I have gotten a man–the Lord!”  She believes the newborn baby moving in her lap is the Messiah God Himself had prophesied.  Oh, how she wants that to be!

But Eve’s joy won’t last long.  We know what’s coming.  As Cain grows up, Eve will soon see that Cain is a sinner, just like she is.  She will then realize that God’s timing is different from her timing.  She will then realize that her joy was premature.

Indeed, God had promised a Messiah.  But He never said it would be Eve’s first child–or even one of Eve’s children.  Genesis 5:3 tells us that children are conceived in the image of their father.  This means for a child to be the Messiah, he would have to have God as His Father!

This is something that Eve didn’t consider as she cried out, “I have gotten a man–the Lord!”  Cain’s name comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to get.”  Cain’s name shows the hope she had.  Eve believed that she had given birth to the one whom God had promised would win salvation for her.  But as she realizes that Cain is not the promised Messiah, her hope fades.

When Eve gives birth to her next son, she names him “Abel.”  This name means “vanity” or “emptiness.”  She doesn’t believe that Abel will be the Messiah.  Eve realizes that her timing is off.  The name “Abel” shows that.

Yet, Eve didn’t know how different the faith of her sons would be.  She didn’t know that her son, Abel, would more faithfully point forward to the Messiah than Cain would.  For when the time came for Eve’s sons to give the Lord an offering, only Abel realized that, without sacrificed blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.

Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, sacrifices it, and offers the choicest cuts of meat to God.  Abel knows that blood is necessary: A life for a life.  Abel knows that when his parents fell into iniquity, God Himself killed an animal and clothed them with its skin.

But Cain thinks he can do better.  Instead of asking Abel for an animal to sacrifice, Cain offered grain.  He offered the crop that he sweated and toiled to harvest.  Cain believed that God would reward the work of his hands to make everything right.  But God didn’t look with favor on Cain’s offering.  Genesis describes how Cain felt when God asked him, “Why are you angry?  And why are you downcast?”

Then we find Cain murdering his brother.  Cain kills Abel, not because he’s angry with him, but because he’s angry at God.  He’s angry because he sees God’s rejection of his sacrifice as a rejection of him.  He’s angry because, in his eyes, his offering was just as valuable as Abel’s.  But Cain was wrong.

We don’t get to choose how we come to God or how He comes to us.  We don’t get to make the rules with God.  God does that.  And God says it’s Blood for blood and Life for life.  For our sin is so serious that a grain offering simply won’t do.  That’s because sin kills.  We have to see–with our own eyes–that our sin can only lead to death.  We have to see, in the death of an innocent sacrifice, what sin does.  It kills!

In some twisted way, Cain understood this as he murdered his brother.  He knew that sin leads to death.  As Abel’s blood cried out from the ground, Cain knew his bloodied hands would always remind him of what he knew he had deserved all along–death!  In his own way, Cain pointed forward to the day when another innocent man would die in the place of another.

Cain was the world’s first murderer. Just as his mother was the first to experience childbirth, Cain was the first to end a human life by his own hands.  But God was merciful to Cain, just as he was merciful to Cain’s parents.  Adam and Eve had earned instant death by their sin in the garden, but God had mercy on them.  He is slow to wrath and abounding in steadfast love.  Adam and Eve both lived long, fulfilling lives.

And so, God also shows mercy to Cain, the first man to take the life of another.  He shows him mercy, so he, too, might come to believe and trust in God for salvation.

Abel was innocent.  His death cried out to the Lord for vengeance–but God showed mercy instead!  Many years later, another death would come, a death that was innocent in a way Abel’s could have never been.  This was the death of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t have to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  He was holy, innocent, and pure.  He didn’t have to offer the blood of a sacrifice to earn forgiveness for Himself–that’s because He had no sin.

But when Jesus brought His offering to His father, it was His own life that He offered on the cross.  And the Father looked with favor on Jesus’ offering.  And because of Jesus’ innocent suffering and death, the Father forgave Cain, Abel, Adam, and Eve.  Through that same sacrifice, God the Father also forgives you and me.

Because God looked favorably on His Son’s sacrifice, today, a sacrifice to forgive sins is no longer needed.  Because God looked favorably on Jesus’ sacrifice, you are forgiven and free.  Because of Jesus’ blood, you can delight in these words from the book of Hebrews, which describes what takes place during worship:

You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to countless angels in a festival gathering, to the Church of the Firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.  You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks better than Abel’s blood. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

Jesus has earned your salvation by shedding His blood, which sprinkled the ground.  And in a few minutes, Jesus will give you that blood of forgiveness in His supper.  So come now to drink in that forgiveness.  Come now to drink in that eternal freedom.  For, indeed, Jesus’ blood in the New Covenant can do what Abel’s blood could never do.  That’s why you have eternal life.  Come now to drink in Jesus.  Amen.