Menu Close

“The First Generations”

Genesis 4:1-24
Bob DeGray
October 2, 2005

Key Sentence

The first sins violate the greatest commandments.


I. Faithless worship (Genesis 4:1-7)
II. Hating and hurting (Genesis 4:8-10)
III. Further separation (Genesis 4:11-16)
IV. And it only gets worse from there. (Genesis 4:17-24)


        It’s one of the most famous incidents in the Gospels: Jesus is being tested by the religious leaders of Israel. The Sadducees ask him a question and he disarms them with his answer. The Pharisees decide they can do better, so one of them asks “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus responds not just with one, but with two, Matthew 22:37 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Love God, love others: the two greatest commandments summarize all that God taught in the law and all that God defended in the prophets. They summarize all that Jesus taught and all that Paul taught. It should come as no surprise that these two concerns - the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with others - show up early in Scripture. In fact, Genesis chapter 4, the first chapter after sin, shows clearly that God’s concern is for right worship and right relationships. The first sins committed by the children of Adam violate these two great commands. So what do we need to be concerned about in our lives? A faithful love for God and an active love for others. That’s the message of Cain; that’s the voice of Abel. Let’s listen.

I. Faithless worship (Genesis 4:1-7)

        Genesis 4:1-7 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man." 2Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

        I know it seems a long time, but just two weeks ago we studied Genesis 3 and saw the first sin and its consequences, not only the cursing of the ground and the introduction of disease and blight, but also Adam and Eve’s shame and the separation sin caused from God and from each other, a separation that has since characterized every sinner: every sin violates God’s commands to love him or to love others, or both.

        Adam lay with his wife, literally ‘knew’ her. This is a common biblical metaphor for a sexual relationship, and it emphasizes that such a relationship is not just physical, but mental, emotional and spiritual: it is a one flesh relationship.

        It’s also obedience: God had said be fruitful and multiply, and Adam and Eve could have rebelled against that command; God had promised pain in childbirth, and Eve could have avoided that pain. But God had also promised that from her seed would come Satan’s downfall, so in faith they obeyed, looking for God to keep his promise.

        Eve became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, whose name sounds like the Hebrew for ‘brought forth’ or ‘gotten’, the word Eve used when she said ‘with the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man!’ Eve understood from God’s promise that one of her offspring would bring her redemption, and she may have hoped that she had now brought forth the Savior. If so she was to be disappointed: many generations would pass before that deliverance. In fact, by the time her second son was born Eve’s optimism seems to have waned. Abel’s name meant ‘vanity,’ ‘breath,’ or ‘vapor.’ Perhaps Eve had learned by this time that the consequences of sin were not to be quickly done away with. Life would involve struggle and waiting. Or possibly she foresaw that Abel’s life would be only a breath compared to others.

        These brothers, probably growing up among many younger brothers and sisters, chose two different professions. Abel kept flocks, Cain worked the soil. Flocks were probably kept not for food, but for clothing and sacrifice. Remember, God had already slain animals to provide covering - literally atonement - for Adam and Eve. It’s possible he explained how shed blood covers sin. But Cain, he was a farmer, and there is nothing in Moses’ words that allow us to view that as a lesser calling: in fact, it was Adam’s calling, both before and after the fall. So, in the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. ‘In the course of time’ is literally ‘at the end of days’, which may indicate quite a long time had passed: Cain and Abel were no longer boys. It may also indicate that bringing offerings to the Lord was a regular event. The word for offering is a fairly general word, though used more often with grain offerings than it is with sacrifices.

        Even so, verse 4 tells us that ‘The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.’ Why? There are at least three theories. First, some say that Abel offered the first fruits of the flock - the best - whereas Cain offered only ‘some’ of the fruit of the ground. But there is no real evidence that this is what distinguished the two. Second, many say the Lord wanted a blood sacrifice, not a grain offering. God had already implied that sacrifice atoned for sin, Yet even in the Mosaic law he also accepted and approved grain offerings. I don’t think this was the sole reason for God’s choice, though it is likely that Cain’s outward disobedience came when he rejected sacrificial offerings.

        The third explanation goes beyond this and identifies Cain’s problem as a heart issue. True worship, and all love for God has always been a heart issue. The greatest command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.

        David teaches that the sacrifices of God are a broken - rather than proud - spirit; and that “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Cain’s heart was proud, not broken. So his worship was unacceptable. Isaiah saw the same problem in the people of Israel. Isaiah 29:13 “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Lip service and ritual offering don’t mean a thing to God - he looks for a heart of brokenness and trust. David says in Psalm 4, “Offer right sacrifices and trust - or have faith - in the Lord.” And Hebrews chapter 11, the roll call of faith, makes it clear that this was the distinction between Cain and Abel. Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.”

        Cain’s offering was rejected because his heart was not right with God: proud rather than broken, self sufficient rather than trusting. Isn’t this what we see when we turn back to Genesis 4? After his offering was not met with favor, Scripture says “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” Then the Lord came alongside Cain to warn him of his danger: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

        It’s extremely gracious of God to warn Cain of his sin - this is God’s fatherly love coming out; he doesn’t want anyone to go astray. He says ‘if you do good’, you will be accepted. The word good is often a character quality in the Old Testament: ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Or Psalm 25:8 “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.” That’s what he’s doing here. And his instruction is very practical: if your heart isn’t right then you should know that sin is crouching at your door, and it wants to have you. What a great picture, and what a familiar feeling. If I’m not careful sin jumps up and gets me. Its like a lion; Peter will later say that Satan goes around like a roaring lion, looking for those he might devour. Sin sought Eve; sin sought Cain; sin continues to seek those it may devour.

        So Cain was vulnerable because he did not love the Lord his God with all his heart. In his pride and lack of faith he refused both the outward obedience of right sacrifices and the inward obedience of contrition and trust. God graciously warned him about the dangers of such a condition, but Cain wouldn’t listen. How about you? Are you in danger of gross sin against your loved ones because your vertical relationship with God is a mess? Are you approaching God with pride, with an ‘I can do it my way’ attitude, with a self-focus rather than brokenness and trust in him? Is your love toward him cold and your worship external? And does that show up in a distracted and distracting attitude here, during worship? Is God’s warning toward Cain is his word for you? ‘Sin is crouching at your door.’

II. Hating and hurting (Genesis 4:8-10)

        In Cain’s case, as in so many lives since then, the failure of his love relationship with God soon turned to hatred in his relationship with others. You can not truly love others without loving God. Genesis 4:8-10 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" 10The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.

        Jesus places Abel among the prophet-martyrs of the Old Testament, and it may be that the conversation that led to his murder was one in which Abel was confronting Cain’s sin and call him to repentance. Cain may have responded to that rebuke with this invitation to go out to the field, possibly pre-meditating Abel’s death. We don’t need to know a lot about human nature to see that Cain resented God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering, an anger made worse if Abel tried to correct his brother. The result was rage and murder. If the sin in the Garden isn’t obviously catastrophic, this second sin in the field is - it is the sin of man against man, loved one against loved one, and the prototype of all the sins of hatred, revenge and anger that have followed. And notice now that the sin of Cain’s heart against God has escalated, first into disobedience about the offerings and now into sin against others. This is always the way it is with the greatest commandments - they are interlocked: failure to keep one will inevitably make it harder to keep the other.

        But God offers Cain undeserved mercy. He seeks Cain out to ask “Where is your brother Abel?” As in the garden, it’s not that God didn’t know; it’s that he wanted to give Cain the opportunity to confess. But Cain’s famous response shows his heart, insolent toward God and uncaring toward others: "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Those who have seen the original Spiderman movie will remember the scene in which Peter Parker, using his newly discovered powers, defeats a wrestler and thinks he’s earned a large cash prize. But the promoter gives him almost nothing. Parker says “I need that money”, the promoter says “I missed the part where that’s my problem.” As Parker leaves the promoter is robbed, and Parker lets the robber go. The promoter says “What’s the matter with you! You could have taken that guy apart. . . . I missed the part where that’s my problem.” But Parker discovers it is his problem, because the robber goes on to kill Parker’s beloved uncle. And Cain discovers that it is his problem, because the blood of his innocent victim cries out for justice. Verse 10 “The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.”

        This turns out to be the moment other Biblical authors are most intrigued by. 1 John 3:11-12 “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.” The connection doesn’t get any clearer: the opposite of love for each other is illustrated by the sin of Cain - his lack of love becomes hatred and murder.

        But later Scriptures take this moment in other ways as well. Jesus uses it as an illustration of innocent blood shed by hypocrites, and he tells the Pharisees that upon their generation “will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah.” They were held responsible because they added to those murders the murder of Jesus. The author of Hebrews compares Abel’s blood to the blood of Jesus. He says, Hebrews 12:23 “You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood cried out for God’s justice due to his innocence, but the blood of Jesus cries out for God’s mercy because in its innocence it pays for our guilt. His blood is a sacrifice to cover our sin. As John says ‘the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin.’

III. Further separation (Genesis 4:11-16)

        So Cain violated the greatest commandment in his false hearted approach to worship. He violated the second in his murder of Abel. How will God respond? Verses 11-16 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth." 13Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is more than I can bear. 14Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." 15But the Lord said, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

        Cain had been blessed with a ‘green thumb’, but he had attempted to approach God through the fruits of his own labor. Now God cursed him in the area of his strength. Never again will Cain be able to sustain himself by tilling the soil. While Adam had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow, Cain could not survive that way: for him the curse of chapter three had been intensified. Therefore Cain would become the first nomad, wandering the earth in search of sustenance.

        Cain’s response to God’s warning had been sullen silence, followed by sin. Now he breaks his silence, but he does not really show repentance, only regret: ‘My punishment is more than I can bear.” Cain’s words sound familiar to any parent. At times a child is truly sorry for his disobedience, but often he is only sorry he was caught, and bitterly bemoans the severity of punishment he is to receive. But Cain does recognize a key truth - that in becoming a wanderer he would also be driven from the presence of the Lord. Remember last week we said that the fruit of sin, even before judgement, was shame and separation. Adam and Eve recognized this immediately, and it was confirmed when they were driven out of Eden. Now Cain will be even further separated from God. This is the inevitable consequence of sin.

        He also fears that men will treat him as he had his brother, God assures him that while human life meant little to Cain, God valued it highly. Partly in mercy, partly to assure that Cain would be a continual testimony, God promised Cain he would protect him against execution, on penalty of a sevenfold vengeance. He even gave Cain a sign to assure him of this protection. We can’t be sure of the exact nature of the sign: it could have been a visible mark, but it seems more likely that God simply made it known that he would not allow Cain to be killed. Now skeptics will ask ‘who was he worried about? There were only four people in the world and he’d just killed one of them.’ In verse 17 skeptics will ask ‘where did he get his wife?’ The answer is found in the fact that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters. All marriages in those early years had to be with close kin. And since there were no flaws in the genetics of these children, no genetic harm resulted. Many generations later, during the time of Moses, God decreed that the practice of in-family marriage needed to be stopped, but even as late as Abraham we find a man marrying his half-sister, the daughter of his father but not his mother.

        By the time of Cain’s judgment and later marriage, there could have been quite a large population. Henry Morris explains this clearly in The Genesis Record: “Since, according to the record in Genesis 5, each named patriarch lived many hundreds of years, it is reasonable and conservative to assume each family had, on the average, at least six children - three sons and three daughters. If it is further assumed that, on the average, these children grew up, married, and began to have their own children by the time their parents were eighty years old, and that the parents lived through an average of five such generations, or four hundred years, it can be easily calculated that the earth had acquired in its first eight hundred years, a population of at least 120,000.” I checked Morris’ calculations, and they give you populations in the hundreds by the time Cain needs a wife.

IV. And it only gets worse from there. (Genesis 4:17-24)

        So what have we said? Cain violated the two great commandments. He failed to love God in his worship, and he failed to love his brother. The judgment on Cain was further separation from God and alienation from others. In the rest of the chapter we find a brief genealogy of Cain’s descendants, and we see that it just got worse. 17Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. 19Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. 22Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah. 23Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."

        This is an interesting text, one of the few snapshots we have of the pre-flood world. In it Cain builds the first city. This was probably evidence of further rebellion against God. He couldn’t make the land grow food, so he chose to urbanize and create an environment where he didn’t have to, himself, and could avoid God’s sentence of wandering. We don’t get any more detail for four generations - Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, and Methushael, but when we come to Lamech we get a clear picture of both the developing technology of the pre-flood world and of the ongoing pride and rebellion. Verse 19: ‘Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.’ This is the first instance of polygamy, evidence of further rebellion against God, who had after all created one wife for Adam and established that as the model.

        Verse 20: Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. Cain had avoided, physically though not spiritually, the punishment of being a wanderer. But his great-great-great grandson voluntarily took the nomadic life. He pioneered tents as shelter, and added other livestock to the sheep Abel had raised. He may also have been among the first to eat the meat of the animals, which would be a direct violation of God’s commands to Adam and Eve. Adah’s other son was Jubal, ‘the father of all who play the harp and flute.’ Thus was music invented on the earth, and Jubal and his offspring perfected a number of musical instruments.

        Verse 22: Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. He was the father of metal working, and undoubtedly contributed to the first arms race - the clan that perfected metal weapons would be the superpower of the pre-flood world. Notice that a fairly high level of civilization is implied here. These people are gathering into cities, where they develop the technology to create metal tools, and have the leisure to create music and musical instruments. Despite the philosophy of evolutionism which so permeates our culture, you and I should not think of these early generations as primitive - they were extremely bright and developed their culture very rapidly, even if it was not always in godly ways.

        An example is Lamech’s poetry. Verse 23 “Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” This is the most obvious development of Cain’s sin in this text. Lamech was not only guilty of polygamy, but also of violating with even less conscience than Cain the two commands to love God and love others. Hatred of others is shown in his history of returning greater harm to those who harmed him. If his opponent hurt him, he killed him. The rebellion against God is shown, not only in the attitude of this claim, but in the fact that Lamech took vengeance upon himself. Whereas God had promised to bring sevenfold retribution on anyone who killed Cain, Lamech boasts that he will bring seventy-seven fold on anyone who even hurt him. The sins of Cain are multiplied and boasted of in the life of Lamech.
        So it’s a downward spiral - civilization is getting more organized and technical, but people are getting more blatantly sinful, at least in the line of Cain. And these first sins clearly violate what would become known as God’s greatest commandments, love for God and love for others. So let me ask: is sin crouching at your door? Are you repeating the sins of Cain, the sins of Lamech? How are you doing at loving God and loving those around you. Is your heart wholly devoted to God as you come this morning to communion? Do your loved ones have something to fear when you return home? Scripture doesn’t make this too complicated: if you honestly examine your life for love of God and love of others, and then turn to him for help in these areas you can, though only with his help, substantially avoid the sins of Cain.