Cain and Abel: Humanity Can’t Save Itself from Sin

The Sunday School story of Cain and Abel has historically been put to many uses. As children, some of us probably heard it presented as a moral tale to discourage us from fighting with our siblings. In the biblical counseling world, the falling of Cain’s countenance (Gen 4:5–7) is used as a proof that emotions and conditions within the inner man can affect the outer man. Cain’s declaration that his punishment is too much for him has been used to encourage people to be wise and endure the consequences of their sin. But these and similar usages of Genesis 4 miss the main point being presented in the chapter: that redemption cannot come from man. People are unable to save themselves from sin and the curse.

The support for this view begins in verse 1. The first thing we read of occurring after the removal of Adam and Eve from the garden is that Cain is born. The wording is difficult but pregnant with implications:

NIV: She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”
ESV: saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.”
NASB: and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.”
CSB: She said, “I have had a male child with the LORD’s help.”
NET: Then she said, “I have created a man just as the LORD did!”
ISV: She said, “I have given birth to a male child—the LORD.”

All the standard translations capture the same idea: Eve got Cain with God’s help. The ISV translates the verse as saying that Eve thought Cain was God incarnate. However, this would be very unusual; the term for man/manchild/male child is not grammatically parallel to “the LORD.” The NET similarly captures an unusual interpretation: that Eve saw irony in Cain’s birth. As she had been brought forth from a man by God, so now she brought forth a man: Cain. But the traditional translation is probably best. Despite the fact that the expression is unusual, we can be fairly sure Eve sees that God has helped her have Cain, and as all three interpretations show, in Cain she puts her hope.

What was Eve’s hope for Cain? After their sin, God cursed first the serpent, saying,

And I will put enmity between you and the woman
And between your seed and her seed.
He will bruise you on the head,
But you will bruise him on the heel.

This first hope of the seed of the woman held forth to Eve the hope of a savior: one who would defeat the serpent, reverse the curse, and return humanity to dwelling with God in Paradise. Right after being removed from Eden, all Adam and Eve would really want is to be restored to their right relationship with God, to return to Eden. This then was Eve’s hope for Cain: that Cain would be a savior for humanity that returned humanity to the garden of Eden.

But the tale that Genesis 4 recounts shows all the ways Cain failed to be that savior. First, Cain failed to worship God rightly (Gen 4:3–5). As we know from Hebrews 11, Abel’s offering was given by faith, but Cain’s wasn’t. So Cain already has a breach in his relationship with God because of his lack of faith. He can’t worship God rightly, so he can’t be the savior for man. Then Cain makes things worse: he fails to recognize the temptation of sin, in particular, anger and jealousy (vv. 6–7). God identifies this for Cain, but he fails then to resist temptation: he kills his brother Abel (v. 8). Cain fell into sin. He failed to be a deliverer from sin.

Lest there remain any smidgen of hope that Cain would deliver humanity from the curse of sin, God confronts Cain, just as he confronted Adam in the previous chapter. And like Adam, Cain hides his sin. He fails to confess his sin (v. 9). But then God convicts him: he saw Cain murder Abel. He is thoroughly aware of Cain’s sin (v. 10). And so we come to Cain’s biggest failure as a potential savior in verse 11. Cain fails to reverse the curse. Indeed, he is cursed from the ground that he tilled. It’s worth comparing this curse to that given to Adam in Genesis 3, the one Cain was supposed to deliver humanity from.

In Genesis 3:17–19 we read the curse as follows:

And to Adam he said:
“Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree
Which I commanded you saying, ‘you will not eat from it,’
Cursed is the ground on your account.
In pain you will eat of it all the days of your life,
but thorns and thistles it will sprout for you,
and you will eat of the greenery of the field.
By the sweat of your forehead you will eat bread.
Until your return to the ground
For from dust you were taken
For dust you are and unto dust you will return.

Note in particular the following elements:

  1. It is the ground that is cursed, not Adam. It is cursed on Adam’s account.
  2. Adam will eat from the ground, but he’ll have to work for it.
  3. Adam will ultimately return to the ground (that is, die).

The curse God gives Cain is the following:

But now Cursed are you from(?) the ground which opened its mouth to receive the blood of your brother from your hand. For you will serve the ground, but it will no longer give its strength to you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.

Note the elements:

  1. Cain is cursed, not the ground, though the ground has effects.
  2. Cain will work the ground, but it will not give fruit for him.
  3. Cain will wander about without a home until he dies.

This is a worse curse than that suffered by Adam. Indeed, the Hebrew word “from” in “from the ground” can also be used as a comparative–the text can read as “cursed are you more than the ground.” The alternative readings would be “cursed are you from the ground” so that you are not separate from it and have to wander, or “cursed are you because of the ground” which testifies to your guilt.

Perhaps the best rendering though is to realize that none of these three options are wrong because all of them are right. The two witnesses that convicted Cain before God were the blood of Abel and the ground that received it. As a result, his punishment involved being separated from the ground that he tilled to wander all the earth. His curse then was worse than the curse on the ground of Genesis 3. In all respects, Cain has failed to redeem humanity from the curse.

Even worse, Cain proves unable to bear the guilt of his sin. That is, in his lament “My punishment (or guilt) is too great for me to bear!” (v. 13), Cain admits that he is unable to pay for his sin before God. He cannot then save humanity from sin, because he is unable to bear God’s wrath for the sake of himself, let alone that of others. He needs grace from God, as seen in God’s merciful provision of a sign to prevent his death in vengeance (vv. 14–15).

Ultimately, Cain fails to return humanity to the garden of Eden. Cain fails to fulfill Eve’s hope. Instead, he goes off to wander about east of Eden (v. 16). What we’ve learned in the story of Cain is that no man is able to save humanity.

No man, that is, except the God-man Jesus Christ. What Cain failed to do–worship God rightly by faith, identify temptation, resist temptation, break the curse, bear the punishment of sin, and return humanity to a right relationship with God–Jesus Christ did through his death and resurrection. The point of the story of Cain and Abel then is this: you, apart from Jesus Christ, are like Cain, trying to save yourself, but proving ultimately unable. You fell into sin. You didn’t confess it to God. You couldn’t pay for it. You are deserving of a worse curse, not deliverance from it. You end up wandering farther and farther away from the presence of God in the paradise of Eden. You need Jesus Christ to save you from your sin. Cain’s failure points us then to our need for Jesus Christ. The right response is to place your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Cain and Abel: Humanity Can’t Save Itself from Sin

Eve’s Deception and Our Perception

As Christians, we daily struggle with sin and temptation. In order to fight this, we need a strong understanding of how sin tempts us to turn away from the God who saved us. We find this knowledge in the Bible, even at the very beginning. Genesis 2 and 3 show us that the reason that Eve was deceived by the serpent is the same reason that we fall into sin under temptation in our individual lives today. Parallels between Genesis 2 and 3 demonstrate the heinous evil of the sin of Adam and of all sins since.

Continue reading “Eve’s Deception and Our Perception”

Eve’s Deception and Our Perception

When Heaven Helped Those who Helped Themselves

Words matter. As a self-identified writer, I at least sometimes try to pick my words intentionally so that they create specific informational and emotional effects in the minds of my readers. The biblical authors of course did the same thing. Unlike me, they wrote in Hebrew and Greek, with at least the first of these two being a heavenly language. Their specific word choices in the original languages matter. Continue reading “When Heaven Helped Those who Helped Themselves”

When Heaven Helped Those who Helped Themselves

Ministry Updates, Part III: Of Bibles and Teaching Opportunities

I am a preacher without a Bible. I do own several Bibles, and I do preach from the Bible, but I do not own a Bible I actually enjoy taking with me into a pulpit. Let me explain. Continue reading “Ministry Updates, Part III: Of Bibles and Teaching Opportunities”

Ministry Updates, Part III: Of Bibles and Teaching Opportunities

Ministry Updates, Part II: Seminary

I am now in my spring semester of my second year of seminary. If I had always been on a 3 year plan, I’d be half done now. However, by unit count, I’m currently more like 40% done. This is unimportant; I’d rather talk about some things I’ve learned and the surprising unity of my seminary experience thus far. Having recently finished my survey courses, I have now had the privilege to read through the entire Bible for class, including reading the entire New Testament twice and large sections of the Old Testament two or more times. This alone has been incredibly beneficial.

Continue reading “Ministry Updates, Part II: Seminary”

Ministry Updates, Part II: Seminary

Ministry Updates, Part I: Fiji

In a brief amount of time I have between fall and winter classes of my second year of seminary, I want to write a few brief posts that update people one where I am in life and ministry and continue to encourage readers in manners similar to previous posts. This is first of an unknown number of these updates for December, 2017.

In the middle of my fall semester, I had the opportunity to go to Fiji for a few days on a very brief missions trip. This update will discuss what that was and why it happened in Q&A form.

Did Grant really go to Fiji in the middle of his fall semester?


When did Grant really go to Fiji in the middle of his fall semester?

October 25–30, 2017.

Why did Grant really go to Fiji in the middle of his fall semester?

“Tell your parents you need to study in a tranquil environment.” -Michael Seehusen

No, but really.

My high school small group leader (Michael Seehusen) will be moving out with his family in 2018 to teach at a Bible college in Fiji (College of Theology and Evangelism, Fiji; henceforth called CTE). Michael visited during their graduation at the end of October. Readers should be reminded, if they think this sounds strange, that Fiji is in the southern hemisphere, like everywhere else I have gone for missions trips. He invited several people to come with him for different purposes. I was invited to do an evaluation of the college library.

What did Grant do when he really went to Fiji in the middle of his fall semester?

I messed around in the library jotting random things on 4″x6″ index cards with a TWSBI mini fountain pen. This is remarkably similar to what I do in class.

More specifically, I took notes observing general trends in the library’s collection to get an idea of how to improve its content and organization. Michael, having space in his shipping container, will be able to collect book donations to add to the library. Observing the library’s current content gave direction for expanding and improving it, not only through those donations, but also potentially through reorganization.

What sort of observations were you able to make in the library?

I was encouraged by the general quality of content already existing in the library. There were a good number of helpful evangelical commentaries, enough resources to learn and study Koine Greek well enough to work through the New Testament, a decent amount of theological reference works, etc.

There were two main observations I made for improvement. First, the vast majority of books (probably around 95%) were printed before 1985. Particularly for scholarly works and libraries, this is a shortcoming worth attention. This gives opportunity for expansion. Second, a lot of books had numerous (for some potentially upward of a dozen) duplicates. Books that were very popular at particular times had been donated in large numbers. Most libraries don’t need numerous duplicates of the same book; this gives opportunity for reorganization.

So what now?

I’m doing things stateside to help in the expansion project. I’ve already done some library software research and am currently working on a list of recommended books to find in donations. I’ll probably continue to be a library contact stateside for Michael into the foreseeable future.

Can I help?

Yes! Please pray! If you’re interested in giving or serving in other ways, please contact me and I will direct you in the way you should go.

Ministry Updates, Part I: Fiji

On the Intense Agony and Joy of Being a Dodgers Fan

On October 20, 1988, the Dodgers won their last World Series.

Almost six years later, on Sunday, August 7, 1994, Orel Hershiser, the last remaining player from that Dodgers World Series winning roster, for the last time in a Dodgers uniform (his later return in 2000 doesn’t count–at that point he no longer pitched like Orel Hershiser) pitched a game for the last time, due to the strike shortened season. That very same day, I was born. Continue reading “On the Intense Agony and Joy of Being a Dodgers Fan”

On the Intense Agony and Joy of Being a Dodgers Fan