Cain And Abel, The Biblical Story

Cain and Abel are types of men. These are not historical figures but their story is our story.

The well-known and oft repeated story of Cain and Abel has initiated a flurry of questions throughout the ages. Where did Cain get his wife? Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd; does the story have something to say about God's preference between the two? Why was Cain's grain offering of less value than the fat meat offered by Abel? "Am I my brother's keeper?" This last is a question we can ask ourselves daily. Are any of these questions relevant to the story?

For the uninitiated, here's the story: Cain and Abel were the first two sons of Adam and Eve. No doubt, their parents had informed them of Paradise lost. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. They each sacrificed the products of their labor to God. The Bible mentions that Abel brought the firstborn of his flocks and the fat. It only mentions that Cain offered what he grew. Somehow, it was plain to them that God was very pleased with Abel's offering. Cain was jealous and angry and finally killed Abel in a premeditated act. The first murder.

Did this really happen? Are Cain and Abel historical figures, the sons of Adam and Eve? It is quite doubtful that there were ever two individuals named Adam and Eve. The same applies to their offspring, of which Cain and Abel are only the first two. Genesis chapter 5 tells us that Adam had other sons and daughters, but only Seth is named. Genesis 5 is a genealogy; Cain and Abel are both ignored and not officially part of the human family tree.

If the Bible is to be believed as historically accurate, then there are a few problems with the timing of events. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden. In chapter four, Cain and Abel are born and grow to become young men before the older brother kills the younger. Somehow, the world is already populated enough that: Cain finds a wife (vs.17), is afraid of being found and killed (vs.14) and built a city (v.17). It doesn't follow that if Adam and Eve were first, and Cain and Abel were third and fourth, that the world is already populated enough to supply wives and inhabitants for a city.

So, why is this story in the Bible? We have to remember that the Bible is not a history book, nor a scientific document. Although many of the later events in the book are historically correct, the first few chapters must be considered as a prologue. The Bible is a book of theology. It deals with man's inherent nature to do bad things (lie, cheat, steal, envy etc.) and God's dealings with mankind regarding our natural bent towards sin.

Many Christian teachers try to lay significance on the fact that Abel's sacrifice was a blood offering, Cain's wasn't and therefore Cain's wasn't acceptable. When the Law came into being, Moses was instructed to offer the best animals in the flock. Animals were slain as a sin offering, so it follows that grain sacrifices didn't measure up to blood. The New Testament book of Hebrews says this about it: "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain". The value of the sacrifice lay in Abel's attitude towards it. Abel was thankfully offering while Cain was in competition to see who could please God more.



If nothing else, this tale reinforces the teaching of Genesis 1 - 3. Things are speeding up and heating up. Whereas Adam disobeyed a simple command of God not to eat the fruit of a certain tree, Cain has committed murder. God created the world "and it was good". Adam started "The Fall" down the slope of self- willed disobedience and now Cain, the new Adam, is going even further. If Cain was the hope of a new beginning for humanity, the hope was short lived.

Cain is a type of man and can represent any of us and all of us. He resented the success or good fortune of his brother. Life is not fair as far as Cain is concerned and he lets that feeling seethe and develop into hatred. In verse 7 God speaks to Cain and tells him that if he does well he will be accepted. God tells him that sin is at his door and he should rule over it. In the next verse, Cain murders his brother.

God asks Cain: "Where is Abel your brother?" The rest of it really applies to all of us since Cain is a type of man. "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" The story of human history, with its slavery, war and exploitation has benefited many of us. Our hands are not clean and we can recite the same question as Cain. We are responsible for each other but we don't want to be. We wish we weren't our brothers' keepers.

And so Cain, as a representative of the human race, is punished. The ground is cursed for this poor farmer and "A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth". Cain complains that the punishment is more than he can bear. God takes pity on Cain and gives him a mark of protection vowing a sevenfold vengeance on anyone who harms him.

What is the point of all this? From a theological point of view it is both discouraging and encouraging. Discouraging because inside of only two generations, mankind has messed up, been driven from Eden and committed murder. We look hopeless. It is discouraging because we can see the universal truth in it. It is encouraging because God is still working with us. Adam fails, so we get a second chance with Cain. Cain fails but God still protects him with a "mark" instead of letting him suffer at the hands of others in the world. God keeps working with humanity right through the Bible.

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