Genesis 4:1-16: Whose Begetting What?

After giving birth to Cain, Eve lays her firstborn son to sleep. The mother of humanity experiences something new: the first blush of motherhood. Such joy as she breast-feeds Cain, and he coos with delight in being fed. In her elation, she ponders on God’s promise.

After Adam’s fall, God alerted the serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. Your head, he will crush, but you will crush his heel” (Genesis 3:15). So, a descendant will smash the serpent’s head, freeing people from sin and death.

In sheer bliss, Eve stirs with optimism, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” So our Bible version says. Most translations insert “with the help of” since this makes little sense without those extra words. Let’s remove them and strip away the verse to its purest, literal, and wooden form, “I have gotten a man: the Lord.”

Such a profound gladness fills the air as Eve beholds her newborn son, whom she believes is the Messiah God prophesied. To understand her, we must become more aware and tune our ears to her words, swirling with wordplay. The baby wriggling in her lap is Cain, meaning “acquire” or “take possession.” In heartfelt elation, she trills, “Cain, I have gotten,” sounding forth in Hebrew as Qayin and qaniti. The one who will take possession, I have birthed!

To Eve, Cain is this expected Seed, who will destroy the deceiving serpent and usher in salvation from their sinful ruin. Aren’t those ridiculous assumptions if he’s not?

Contrast his brother, Abel, who receives no such welcoming words. No, his name bespeaks something different, “vanity” or “emptiness,” implying worthlessness or a thing cast aside. The divergence in names uncovers the thoughts of their parents.

The fall of our first parents is steep, affecting their children in ways beyond measure. From the start, did the lofty hopes foisted on Cain foster a conceit within him, unmasked later? More probable—his selfish pride came from his inherited sin.

So, Adam and Eve bear two sons, not inside idyllic Eden, but expelled in exile from the garden. One brother, Abel, tended sheep; the other, Cain, tilled the soil. Both worked well in their vocations, God blessed them in their toils, and everything appeared fine.

A shepherd, Abel, offers to God the best and firstborn of his flock. In stark distinction, the tiller of the ground, Cain, brings a grain offering born of earthly land and loam. The contrast between their offerings isn’t in their outward forms, but if the prophecy of God’s Sin-Slayer lay behind them. The older Cain relies on his position and status as the first child among his siblings. Not Abel, who trusts in the predicted promise!

Of course, God welcomes grain sacrifices—based on His direction, not the one making the sacrifice. This truth remains the same. Later, Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, die during Israel’s ancient wanderings because they dare to bring unauthorized fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-3). More years pass, and Uzzah perishes for touching the Ark of the Covenant, which God only allowed His priests to handle (1 Chronicles 13:8-10).

In a display of arrogance and hubris, Cain brought his offering, acting as if he called the shots with God. Isn’t this unbelief hiding in disguise? Yes! So, God’s response differs between these two sons, accepting Abel’s gift but rejecting Cain’s.

Overcome with outrage, Cain’s countenance falls. Not missing this, God gives him sound fatherly advice—whether you do well or if you don’t, sin still crouches at the door. Toward you is its longing, which you must master.

Did Cain heed God? No, bitterness and fury congested his heart, hungry to devour him. Unseen, the lurking evil creeps and crawls until satisfying its hunger. So soon, Cain veers and directs himself to a different sacrifice, luring his oblivious brother into a field and swooping upon him. In doing so, Cain bears the vile fruit Satan planted as a seed inside our human nature.

“Against his brother, Cain arose and killed him,” venting his anger by staining the earth red with kindred blood. To top this off, he suffered no regret or remorse, killing without care. Later, Cain only recoils over his punishment, not from murdering Abel! The first psychopath in history—in the second generation!

In the meantime, the world’s first murderer tries to hide his crime. After God queries Cain on Abel’s whereabouts, he bristles and turns defensive. “Hey, what do you want from me? Am I my brother’s keeper?” No matter, Cain’s wickedness doesn’t diminish or deter God’s fatherhood, who responds to discipline this wayward son. Banished, he’s now a fugitive, branded by a mark, so others don’t slay him.

Later, Hebrews 4 tells us more. The belief in Abel brought God to esteem his offering as righteous. By trusting in the Gospel promise, Abel offered a sacrifice pleasing to God. Oh, not to appease the vengeful Almighty, but to express his faith in Him who forgave his sins through the Promised Savior (Genesis 3:15).

Not for Cain. Without believing in Christ, no one can please God. So, God rejects his offering. The son, Abel, whom his parents thought useless, trusted in God and received His favor. Not so for Eve’s mistaken messiah, Cain, whose heart belonged elsewhere.

Such pain and disillusionment course through Eve and her husband, Adam, when they discover Cain’s bloody deed. So confronted, they must confront the curse of their original sin passing onto their children. The son, they thought, born to redeem their lives, became the stealer of life instead.

In Genesis 5:3, we learn that a child bears the image of his father. So the real Messiah shall only come if God is His Father, not a mortal, fallen creature! Thank God the unwavering pledge still holds true, assuring us of victory over the satanic deceiver.

Do not doubt. Described in poetic metaphor, Satan, the serpent behind our fall into sin, will sustain a fatal head injury. How? In Hebrew, through words with a hissing sound, Genesis expresses that the woman’s offspring will [sss-stomp] on his head as the snake [sss-strikes] His heel. The foretold Savior will come, who will trample the devil underfoot—but Cain isn’t him.

Bloodthirsty and warlike, sinful humanity continued to spread and splinter. The wicked seed persisted, wending its way to their grandchildren and forthcoming generations. No person escapes the blight unscathed, including you and me.

“By one man’s disobedience, the many became sinners,” Romans 5:19 announces. Each individual born is Adam’s descendant, inheriting the same inclination to sin, which slithered in Cain’s heart. Later, God’s Son will mince no words, saying in Matthew 5, we’re as guilty of murder as Cain. Why? To burn with anger against your brother is akin to murdering him. The one who belittles and calls him a fool will face the condemnation Cain did: banishment from God.

Every person ever born is an enormous failure at keeping the Holy commandments. Our offerings don’t always flow with faithful and joyful hearts, but from grudging compulsion. In our relationships with friends and family, we can sometimes harbor anger and envy. Why, we’re not our brother’s keeper, responsible for the well-being of others. No, you and I concern ourselves more with ourselves. Yes, as God’s dear children, we devastatingly fall short of His expectations.

So wrong, our first parents, since their son, Cain, didn’t turn out to be this world’s Savior. Oh, this Sin-Conqueror will still be a son of Adam—a human male—but God’s Son, too, a divine Being! So, our God of love and life entered our bleak landscape of hatred and savagery. From the moment of His arrival, the spiritual heirs of Cain sought to kill Him. Later, others will grow resentful and angry as He lives His life as a perfect offering to God. After 30 years, they succeed, spilling His blood.

“A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay,” we sing from the hymn, “My Song Is Love Unknown.” For Cain and every killer since, whether in thought or deed, the Lord and Life-Bestower let His creation slaughter Him so we might gain eternal life.

In another, “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies, but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries.” “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground,” God forewarned Cain. The lifeblood of Abel cried out for justice.

Again, from Hebrews, “[We] come… to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant, to the sprinkled blood, which speaks a better word than Abel’s” (Hebrews 12:22, 24). Not requiring blood for bloodshed from Cain, God, instead, sends him into exile. Not so for Jesus, whose blood will spill for the entire world. The foretold Sin-Crusher journeyed forth and became our slain brother to shield us from everlasting death.

Ponder the unblemished Lamb, Jesus Christ. In our inhumanity, we bruised, battered, and murdered Him in a twisted reenactment of Cain killing Abel. By becoming sinfulness for us, Jesus became the victim of our hate, the abused wife, beaten child, and bullied kid on the playground. This, and more, He will endure because our lives, and your life, matter.

The true Son of Adam, Jesus, bled and suffered to cleanse our corrupted beings. God accepted His sacred sacrifice, so He washes our murderous hearts clean and makes us His children. “By one man’s trespass [Adam], death reigned. How much more will those who receive God’s overflowing grace and gift of righteousness rule through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17)? In His wounds are your healing.

Remember, because of Jesus, you aren’t a sad disappointment to your heavenly Father. In your Baptism, adopted into His holy family, He gazes upon you with approval and love: “Here is My son or daughter, with whom I am well-pleased.” Amen.

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