Genesis 4 includes the story of Cain and Abel, the man who killed his brother. But there is a lot more going on in this passage than meets the eye. For starters, it is where we first start to really see the beginnings of faith in the human race.
Yes, Adam and Eve were supposed to have faith in God’s commands and goodness back in the garden. But they didn’t. We also saw a little of Adam’s faith in the previous chapter when he named his wife Eve, in response to the Promise of God [See: Where do we go from here?].
But in chapter 4, faith is beginning to spring up all over the place:
It is so encouraging to see that Adam and Eve were not “lost causes”. They had learnt, over time, to turn back to God. In fact, they raised their children to follow God, even though they themselves had disobeyed Him.
As Chapter 4 opens, and closes, the faith of Eve is very much on display in the birth of her sons.
“With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man…God has granted me another child in the place of Abel” (vv 1 & 25)
I believe that one of the reasons she thanks God for both Cain and Seth, is because she believes that through one of these children God will provide the Promised One (3:15).
There are many explanations for why Abel’s offering was accepted whilst Cain’s wasn’t. One of the most convincing ones is rooted in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.”
His offering was accepted because of his faith. A faith that still speaks today! (Heb 11:4b)
Cain’s Lack of Faith
Another reason to explain why Cain’s offering was not accepted was because of his lack of faith. We assume this because of the despair that emerges when his offering isn’t accepted.
When we fall short of God’s standards, It is faith that moves us to turn back to God. If however, we don’t live by faith, falling short will result in despair. We will groan that we are not good enough and not valuable to God. (In fact we are not good enough). But faith allows us to put our trust in God and receive His righteousness.
Cain’s lack of faith is seen his response to having his sacrifice rejected. But it is also seen in what happens next. When God punishes him for murdering his brother, Cain again falls into despair. “My punishment is more than I can bear”.
Even despite this, God continues to lavish grace and protection on Cain.
Then later on, we see Cain trying to make a name for himself by building a city (v17). One commentator noted the continuous verb, “Cain was then building a city”. And said that this mirrors the life of someone trying to earn salvation, rather than receiving it by faith.
Faith passed on: Adam and Eve to Abel, to Seth, to society
And yet Adam and Eve continue to have faith in God. And once they give birth to Seth they teach him too to lean on God. And so chapter 4 ends with the hope-filled phrase: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD” (v26)
One of the mysterious things about faith is that we can pass it on. This is how commands like the Great Commission are possible. We can go and make disciples of all nations because of our example and teaching of faith.
This is why Paul urges Timothy, ‘do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example to all the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity’.
Yes, God does distribute a measure of faith to each of us (Rom 12:3), but we can go and model and encourage others to walk in faith. This is what we see Adam and Eve doing, and later Seth.
May we too seek to model faith well.