In light of Gen 4:2 and other verses, how does Cain resemble Adam?

Like father, like son: they are both tillers of the ground. They are both warned against sin by God, but nevertheless commit grave sins. After an arraignment, a punishment is announced—in both cases, concerning the difficulty of their work in farming the land—and in the end, they are sent eastward out of God’s immediate presence.

Why did Cain and Abel make an offering to God in Gen 4:3-4?

We are not told. It is possible that they were taught to do so by God; it is not likely that they would decide to begin this practice in precisely this way without some direction, at least not if the practice were God’s will from the Fall. Since (as we will shortly see) they still seem to live near the presence of God, they might well look upon God as a worshiped grandfather figure, so that these would serve as gifts; but the word for “offering” and not “gift” is used, yet there is no explicit indication that the offering here serve as substitutionary atonement.

Was this in Gen 4:3-4 the first sacrifice?

Abel’s was the first thing in the Bible called an offering, and perhaps Abel’s was the first sacrifice described. It seems possible that Adam might have made some earlier and taught his sons, but that would seem to contradict a very telling verse found at the end of the chapter: “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Gen 4:26) But as to the first sacrifice, it is possible that God’s preparation of skin garments in Gen 3 for Adam and Eve also count as a kind of blood sacrifice.

Does the text here (Gen 4:3, 6) imply that Cain and Abel lived in or near the presence of the Lord? How is this possible?

Yes. They do not offer on an altar; they brought their offerings “unto the Lord.” Moreover, when the Lord “had not respect” for Cain, he is immediately aware of it, meaning the Lord must have done, or failed to do, something to indicate his displeasure. Finally, we have the Lord in direct conversation with Cain, and the matter is definitively settled with “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen 4:16). They did not live in the Garden, although they might well have lived east of the Garden while still in the land of Eden. When Cain is sent away, he goes to a different land, Nod, and so presumably not in a visiting distance of God. What is interesting here is that the Garden thus might have resembled in function the Holy of Holies of a temple, which Cain and Abel might approach, and out of which they might hear the voice of the Lord. It is probably no accident that the future tabernacle, and even more the various temples were decorated in ways that resembled the Garden—even down to the cherubim protecting the Holy of Holies.

Why should it be that God did not approve of Cain’s offering, while he did approve of Abel’s (Gen 4:4-5)?

As so much else in the Bible, this is left seemingly unexplained and mysterious, but in fact the reason is made quite clear by the context, both immediate and broader. There seem to be two reasons. First, the Lord could see into the mens’ souls. He presumably could see that Cain was envious, vindictive, and violent. We are told that God wants “sacrifices of righteousness” (Ps. 4:5), and that sacrifices done by vicious, faithless souls are disgusting to him (Isa. 1:10-20). We are not told in advance that Cain was such a person, but his murderous rage and lack of contrition together show what sort of man he was. He was doubtless that way before the fateful offering. By contrast, Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable no doubt first and foremost because of the state of Abel’s soul. Hebrews 11:4 says as much: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous”. Similarly, Abel was described as “righteous.” (Matt. 23:35) But perhaps Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable also because he offered a blood sacrifice. Cain could have traded Abel for sacrificial animal, but deemed mere grain to be sufficient. Later, Moses was told, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev 17:11) To be sure, the same book also recounts the laws for making grain offerings—but as an accompaniment to the blood sacrifices.

The details of the offerings at Gen 4:3-4, and other details from the chapter, greatly resemble what is required under the Mosaic law. What are we to make of this?

Without giving a long list, it is worth observing that sacrifices were meant to be offered with faith and contrition; that “the fat” of the sacrifice was offered; that “first fruits” were offered; that Israelites were required by law to care for their brothers; that murder was severely punished; that blood revenge was prevented through the practices of sanctuary cities; etc. All these details seem to point up the fact that God used earlier events in Genesis as a kind of template on which the Mosaic law was based. It certainly seems as if the details would be viewed that way by students of the Mosaic law glancing back at Genesis. It is also possible that the author of Genesis, also having authored Deuteronomy, would expect the business about the city Cain escaped to (at Gen 4:17) to be read alongside the “sanctuary city” rules of Deut 19. Indeed, even the very word, or קוּם or qum, translated “rose up,” can also be found at Deut 19:11: “But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die… .” One must, of course, bear in mind that the author of Genesis was aware of God’s law, even it had not be handed down yet in the narrative. This does not, of course, mean that the antediluvian patriarchs were aware of or lived under the law—certainly not in detail.

Why was Cain angry and downcast in Gen 4:5?

This seems obvious on first glance: the creator of the universe preferred his younger brother over him. But on a second glance one must add: he felt entitled to approval, perhaps, for being both older and the first to make an offering; and it certainly seems that he was viciously proud. But (and on this see above) plainly, God’s approval is not to be won merely by offerings or sacrifices but by what the offerings are supposed to indicate and underscore: a righteous, contrite, and humble heart.

What is remarkable about God’s response to Cain in Gen 4:6-7?

It is one of the rare times when God gives feedback and advice to an individual’s emotional reaction. But Jonah receives a similar rebuke and question: “Doest thou well to be angry?” (Jon. 4:4) This indicates that from the earliest days, God expected not just right action but also a right attitude toward sin. Moreover, rather than issue another rule or commandment, he gives a rare instance of what might simply be called “advice”: sin lies at the door, waiting to pounce; it wants you, so you must master it. This intimate exchange also makes it seem as if God were a near relation or close family friend or neighbor, which it seems he was. One imagines that Adam’s family did not move out of sight of the Garden. Of course, they might have; God could appear anywhere at any time. But we know they were in the area because when expelled, Cain moves “east of Eden.” Finally, it is remarkable to consider that at this point in the narrative, God was, one might say, “micro-managing” human affairs and not merely relying on laws or representatives in the form of priests.

What is the meaning of “sin lieth at the door,” etc., at Gen 4:7?

Sin is portrayed as a ravenous beast, and so brings to mind Peter’s advice: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) You must assert control over it, master it. The tragedy is that in spite of this well-meant advice from God himself, Cain still immediately murders his brother out of envy.