The book of Genesis is not arranged by chapters but by the phrase “the generations of…” This phrase gives a list of descendents, or offspring, of a certain individual. It is first used in Genesis 2:4 to literally introduce “the descendents of the heavens and the earth.” Adam was a descendent of heaven and earth because the earth-dust functioned as his mother, and God breath was his heavenly Father. For this reason Adam was a created son of God (Luke 3:38) and thus a descendent of the heavens and the earth.
This phrase is used a second time in Gen. 5:1 regarding the “the descendents of Adam”, which means the entire story of Cain and Abel is also within the “genealogy” or “offspring” of the heavens and the earth. As Jim Jordan summarily points out, the marital union between the heavens and earth produces different types of righteous trees and cursed thorns. In Genesis 4 we will see Abel as a type of righteous tree and Cain as a cursed thorn. The following is a translation of Genesis 4:1
And the man ('adam)knew Eve, his woman. And she conceived, and she bore Cain (Qayin). And she said, "I have acquired (qanithi) a man ('ish) with Yahweh." And she continued to bear his brother Abel (Hebel). And Abel became one tending flock; and Cain became one serving ground ('adamah) (Genesis 4:1-2).
I. Great Expectations
Adam and Eve had every right to expect great things from God since He had just promised and performed a lot of grace in their lives. God promised to destroy Satan through Eve’s child, He promised to multiply her conception, and He restored their marriage with her desire and Adam’s rule. God also said Adam would be baptized with the water of his own sweat so that he was have the blessing of bread, and then return to his mother-dust implying a resurrection life to come as Job also anticipated (Job 19:25). In addition to all these merciful judgments God clothed them with a royal tunic – signifying that they were not only forgiven but also had to grow up quickly, move out of the garden, and take on the responsibilities of subduing the world. Of course, they were sinful, the world was cursed, and their task was much more difficult. Nevertheless they had God’s promises, forgiveness, and a great commission of their merciful heavenly Father to subdue the world.
Therefore after Cain is born, Eve says “I have acquired a man from the LORD”, or “…a man with the LORD”. The last time Eve spoke she used the generic name for God (Elohim) (3:3). This time she uses the covenantal and personal name for God (Yahweh). Since God re-established His relationship with her, she knows that Cain’s birth is not merely a natural event. Like with many other women in the Bible, Eve’s womb would have been dead and barren had it not been for God’s promise of “multiplying your conception” (3:16) and intervening in her life. This man is a gift from the Lord, and in accordance with His promise that “your seed” will crush Satan’s head. Therefore, many commentators say that Eve had every reason to assume that Cain would have been the chosen-seed, the Messiah. She had great expectations because Cain was a gift from the Lord, as all children are. Also, notice the poetic detail between Eve saying “I have acquired” (qanithi) and the name “Cain” (Qayin). His name refers to the fact that he is a gift. Yet as with all gifts from God, Satan seeks to pervert them.
II. The New Man
There are different Hebrew words for “man”. The word ‘adam (man) is used for a representative head of mankind, or for mankind in general. The word ‘ish (man) is used for the male gender, or for a type of husband in a relationship. Concerning this issue Jim Jordan makes the following observations:
Eve's statement that she has brought forth an 'ish with Yahweh also points to God's continuing work in bringing human beings into the world. Adam could "know" his wife all he wanted, but unless God acts, there will be no image-of-God brought forth into the world. God continues to be active in sending His breath to the soil of humanity to make new human beings.
There is another hint in Eve's statement. As we wrote above, the word 'ish often connotes "husband." God had told Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would be a new Adam, a savior. Accordingly, this son of Eve would be a replacement for her fallen husband. Eve naturally would think that her first son would be this person. It is interesting to consider that when Moses' wife Zipporah circumcised her son, she called him a "bloody bridegroom" because of the circumcision (Exodus 4:20). Here is the same thought that the son will act in significant (non-sexual) ways as a husband for the mother, whose husband has fallen. We see this also in that the Church is considered both the mother of the Messiah and His bride (as in Revelation 12 & 21).
Eve, of course, is doomed to be disappointed in the performance of her son. He is not going to be the messianic husband she hopes for. Quite the opposite. Cain is the anti-messiah, who murders rather than guards the younger "sheep" of God's household. (Trees and Thorns, pg. 177)
III. Cain and Abel
Cain’s name (Qayin) means “smith” or “metal-worker”, and his name reoccurs in Tabul-Cain who was an “instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron” (4:22). Thus, Cain connotes strength, especially working the hard earth and ground. Commenting on this Jordan says:
Metal is but hard ground, and so Cain as one who serves the ground is also one who forges metal. Digging up the ground so as to plant crops is close to digging up the ground to find ore to forge into metal. "Cain," thus, is a name that connotes strength. Adam was set to serve the ground (2:15, "to serve and guard" the garden)…. Eve names her son "Cain" to say that he is the new Adam, who will with strength carry on Adam's work, and perhaps be the promised redeemer.
Abel’s name (Hebel) means “vapor” or “breath” and thus connotes the exact opposite of Cain’s strong name. It is the same word used for “vanity” in the book of Ecclesiastes. (It is better to translate this word in Ecclesiastes as “vapor” because that is the meaning and context of the book, same as James 4:14. Ecclesiastes shows us Solomon’s godly faith within a vaporous world that takes revenge upon the plans and goals of humanity. Much faith is required for one to work hard, earn a living, raise a family, and at the same time admit that his or her life is a Vapor/Abel, soon returning to dust.) Jordan continues in the following quote:
As we have seen, Genesis 4 once again tracks the sequence of Genesis 1 and of Genesis 2. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Now Adam has two sons: one earthy and one heavenly (vaporous). If Adam and Eve did call their second son Abel, they were not thinking of a short and evanescent life, but of a new heaven to go with their new earth (Trees & Thorns, pg. 177).
Since Cain’s name means “smith”, “metal worker”, or even “sword” in some contexts, it is easy to notice his association with earth. Let me further substantiate Jordan’s point that Abel should be identified as a type of heaven.
We can see that Cain and Abel were named after their “grandparents”. Cain was named after the earth-dust, which was a type of mother for Adam’s original creation. Since Abel means “vapor” or “breath”, we see that he was named after God’s heavenly breath, which was a type of Father toward Adam. Abel is named have his Grandfather (God’s breath), whereas Cain is named after his grandmother (earth).
In our next study we will see why Eve would have in this order named her first two children after earth, and then heaven.
Abel’s Better Offering
I. Victorious Abel vs. Vaporous Abel I would like to begin by offering an alternative explanation of Genesis 4:1, which I think fits the context and biblical theme more appropriately.
I do not think that Eve was expecting Cain to be the messiah when she said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.” In this phrase she praised God for multiplying her conception (3:16). Now that she conceives by the grace of God, she has reason to expect her second-born to be the redeemer – the one who will crush the head of the serpent as God promised in 3:15. The following is my argument for this interpretation.
By this point Eve already knew a lot. She knew that her husband failed to protect her and to kill the serpent. She knew that the coming redeemer would function as a better husband, replacing her fallen husband, and arising to crush the serpent’s head. She also knew that the serpent would strike the redeemer’s “heel” – which literally means replacement (3:15). In summary, she knew that the promised child would replace Adam, and he would even be struck on his own replacement (heel). Eve would have put one and one together understanding the poetic point: the redeemer to come will be a replacer, signified by the fact that his replacement (heel) would be struck by Satan.
So then Eve could easily realize that a Replacing Redeemer was a role for the second-born, not the first-born. She named her first-born “Cain” after the earth (Adam’s mother), since that name means “metal worker” (Gen.4:22) or “sword”. She expected him to make things from the earth.
Yet, she named her second-born “Abel” after God’s heavenly breath (Adam’s Father), since that name means “breath” or “vapor”. Eve was expecting Abel to be the Replacing Redeemer, functioning like the breath of God, bringing new life to humanity and conquering the serpent. Just as Paul said the Lord will consume his enemies “with the breath of His mouth” (II Thess. 2:8), and the victorious sword comes from the Lord’s mouth (Rev.19:15), even so Eve expected Abel to destroy Satan as the mighty breath of God. Of course after Abel’s murder, ironically, Eve would see that Abel’s name was more fitting as a temporal vapor rather than a permanent victory.
Later in his commentary Jim Jordan suggests that Cain would have known that his younger brother was to replace him, but in addition to this I am also suggesting that Eve would have also known this same truth and named them accordingly.
“Throughout Genesis, it is the younger son who replaces the firstborn and saves the firstborn. The messianic promise in Genesis 3 implied this, for it tells us that a later Adam must come to restore the first Adam. Since Cain could understand that he stood in the place of the first Adam, as his direct heir so to speak, he could figure out that Abel might stand in the place of the new Adam, the savior.” Trees & Thorns, pg. 181.
(For additional collaboration of Eve expecting a victorious-Abel, and naming him after God’s breath, see how Mike Bull utilized this suggestion here:
II. Abel’s Faith & Abel’s Form Why did God reject Cain’s offering and accept Abel’s? The answer boils down to two reasons which go hand in hand. First, Cain did not make his offering with faith in God. Hebrews 11:4 says the following:
“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice that Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.”
First, this verse teaches us that Abel had faith, and implies that Cain did not. This is certainly applicable and understandable because if we offer anything to God without faith in Him, then He will reject our offerings. Without faith and trust in God our offerings become a type of paganism. Instead of being a means of thanksgiving to God, a faithless-offering becomes a way of trying to coerce and bribe God into doing what we want Him to do. Therefore, Cain was an apostate, rejected the hopeful promises of God, and made a faithless-offering.
Second, this verse also teaches that Abel approached God in the right form or manner. Not only did God notice the inward faith of Abel, but God was also “testifying of his gifts”. This means the way in which Abel worshipped God was better than Cain. Abel’s form of worship, in the offering of his gifts, was far superior to Cain’s. To understand this we have to go back to the details of Genesis 4.
Essentially Abel offered a blood offering and Cain offered a grain offering. One critical problem for Cain’s offering was that it was “fruit of the ground”, and the ground bore the curses of God, even prosecuting God’s curses against a sinful humanity. Grain offerings and first-fruit offerings were to be offered after a blood offering. Leviticus 1 prescribes the animal burnt offering, then Leviticus 2 prescribes the grain offering. Concerning the first-fruit offering, Leviticus 23:12-13 prescribes that the animal was to be sacrificed first. In the following quote Jordan further explains why Cain’s offering was displeasing to God:
Another dimension of this story is that if Cain had wanted to bring a proper tribute, he would have had to obtain an animal from Abel. He would have had to go through Abel to get to God, in a sense. He would have had to see Abel as some kind of intermediary to bring him to God. Several lines of evidence confirm that Cain should have understood this, and acted in terms of it.
First, we have seen that Cain is the "earthy" brother and Abel (Vapor) the "heavenly" brother. Thus, the very names of these men, as found in the text, imply Abel's position as mediator between God and Cain.
Second, Cain is the new Adam, the offspring of Adam. As firstborn, he is a new Adam, and since Adam is fallen, he is like Adam in that respect as well. Throughout Genesis, it is the younger son who replaces the firstborn and saves the firstborn. The messianic promise in Genesis 3 implied this, for it tells us that a later Adam must come to restore the first Adam. Since Cain could understand that he stood in the place of the first Adam, as his direct heir so to speak, he could figure out that Abel might stand in the place of the new Adam, the savior.
Third, as we saw earlier, our relationship with the ground and with plants is in a sense more fundamental than our relationship with animals. God's goal is to restore us to a right relationship with the ground, so that Adam is redeemed. But this can only happen by redemption, accomplished by the shedding of blood, signified by the death of an animal. We may say, then, that animals are the way back to plants, as redemption is the way back to creation. And from this we can see that Abel's work with animals is the way back to Cain's work with plants.
All three of these lines of reasoning were available to Cain. He had all the information necessary to figure this out, and he had plenty of time to think about it and to ask his parents about it.
(Trees & Thorns, pg. 181)
From all of this we see that the form or manner of our worship is important. Yes, we are to worship with faith in God, and that faith takes on a proper form. Cain’s faithless worship caused him to use an unlawful form and manner of worship. This is not just on Old Testament teaching, but pervasive through the scripture.
Today when Roman Catholic, Eastern and Russian Orthodox churches use idols and icons to worship God they violate the 2nd commandment and approach God in a bad form. When some protestant denominations cause their congregations to partake of the Lord’s Supper by kneeling before those sacramental elements it is also a form of worship violating the principles of the 2nd commandment. When the church in Corinth partook of the Lord’s Supper in a manner that was disruptive to the church body, then God put some of them to death. When liberal denominations promote women to be preachers of the word and administers the sacraments it is a form of worship that displays an abominable lesbian relationship between God and His church-bride.
There are other lesser degrees of unbiblical forms of worship which we would do well to think about: forbidding the use of wine at communion (Luke 22:18, ICor.11:21), neglecting the singing of Psalms from scripture (Col.3:16), neglecting the covenant meal during the weekly worship service (Acts 20:7), or even neglecting the physical act of kneeling before God while confessing our sins (Ps.95:6). I am not mandating all these patterns of worship upon our church; I am simply pointing out that God even forgives us where our form of worship is less than biblical.
III. The Timing of Abel’s Blood
Genesis 4:3 in the NKJV says “And in the process of time”; but literally it says “And it was the cutting off of days…” In his commentary Jordan points out that this would have been during autumn around the same time of what would later be the Day of Atonement, when people offered their first-fruits to the Lord.
We know Adam and Woman sinned on the 7th day, and that God multiplied her conception. Therefore Cain would have been born during the first year of creation. Also, we know that God provided Seth to replace Abel when Adam was 130 years old (5:25). This means at least two things: Eve continued to have children for at least 130 years (5:4 “sons and daughters”), and Abel was murdered in the recent years prior to Seth’s birth. The following is a chronological outline of generations, assuming another generation was born at least every 20 years. We should also notice that sibling incest was lawful during this time until God’s covenant Law forbade it 2,513 years later in Leviticus 20:17.
Cain would have been 129 years old when Seth was born.
He would have been well over 125 yrs. old when he killed Abel, while having at least a 4th great-grandchild.
Cain (2nd generation) would have been born during the first year.