The name of Abel appears among ‘the heroes of the faith’ (Hebrews 11:14). The story of Abel is a story of grace, faith and obedience. Abel's sacrifice was a blood sacrifice while Cain’s was a fruit sacrifice (3-4). The blood sacrifice points forward - via the Old Testament sacrificial system - to the greatest sacrifice of all - ‘the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). The blood sacrifice points to salvation by grace - ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). Abel’s sacrifice was an act of faith: ‘By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did’ (Hebrews 11:4). The blood reminds us that true faith is always faith in Christ and never ‘faith’ in anything we can ever offer to God. Abel was obedient, bringing ‘the firstborn’ to God. ‘In the course of time Cain brought some...’.
In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the ‘mirror’ of God’s Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness - ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt’ (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from ‘the presence of the Lord’ to ‘the land of wandering (Nod)’ (16). This is the work of Satan in our lives - Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Even in the land of wandering, the hand of God is upon us. This is the meaning of ‘the mark of Cain’ - ‘so that no one who found him would kill him’ (15). Even in our wanderings, God is waiting in mercy for us to make our way back to Him by coming in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Even when ‘sin’ is a good bit more than ‘crouching at the door’, it can be ‘mastered’ through Christ (6; Hebrews 7:25).
The story of Cain and Abel is a continuing story. Abel died, yet ‘by faith still speaks, even though he is dead’ (Hebrews 11:4). Cain ‘went out from the presence of the Lord’. He became ‘a restless wanderer’ (14,16). What a contrast there is between these two brothers! For Abel, there was glory in the presence of the Lord - ‘By faith he was commended as a righteous man’ (Hebrews 11:4), he was ‘justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1). Cain was quite different. Far from God, he had no peace. He was haunted by his sins. What does God’s Word say to us about Cain? - ‘Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother... because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous’ (1 John 3:12). Cain’s sinful influence continues. We must be on our guard. The chapter ends with hope: ‘At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord’ (26).
From the story of Cain - taking God for granted (the opposite of grace), approaching God proudly (the opposite of faith), rebelling against God (the opposite of obedience) - , we come to a list of names and numbers. In this first part of the chapter, there is nothing of any note. Perhaps, this is the significant feature of this long list of names. There is nothing considered to be worthy of special note, except the length of their lives. What a sad reflection on the value of a life when all that can be said is this: He lived, and he died! What we must remember is this: the quantity of our years is less important than the quality of our living. How long we live is less important than how well we live. We have been ‘created...in the likeness of God’ (1), yet so often we miss out on this spiritual dimension. We have been ‘blessed’ by God (2) - ‘Count your blessings’.
In this second part of the list, two names get a special mention - Enoch and Noah (22,24,29). The reference to Enoch is the more memorable of the two. Enoch's life was characterized by grace, faith and obedience. The life-story of so many others could be told without reference to God. Enoch's story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, ‘he died’. Enoch's life on earth points beyond itself (24). Enoch had ‘walked with God’ (22, 24 ). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into ‘what we hope for’, ‘what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The reference to ‘the Lord’ in Noah's life (29) prepares us for what is to come (chs. 6-9).