I want to take a brief walk over the next two weeks through a story that's probably familiar to you whether you've read it or not--the story of Cain and Abel, which is recorded in Genesis 4.
One of the problems that we usually run into when we're reading a story in the Bible that's familiar to us is that we often miss out on some of the really important details that the author expects us to see. We get used to how a story goes and start expecting and thinking about what's going to happen next, and we end up missing the significance or the impact of the words we're reading.
So, here's what I want to challenge you with as we we open the Bible to Genesis 4 and read the story of Cain and Abel: read carefully, focus on every sentence, and open your eyes to see what God wants to show you through this familiar story. I believe that this is one of the most challenging and impactful passages of the Bible for our lives today.
I want you to see the passage as it is written in context, so I won't include the whole thing here. Grab a hard-copy of your Bible and read Genesis 4:1-26 (If you don't have a Bible, click the link... and email me so that I can get you one!). After you read, I'll help you to pull out some of the key details.
The structure of Genesis 4 itself is really interesting. There are essentially two halves that are distinguished by some really similar key phrases:
The passage opens with "Adam knew his wife...," and then we get the birth and story of Cain and Abel.
Verse 17 marks the center of the story with the statement, "Cain knew his wife...," and then we get an explanation of Cain's descendants.
And the story ends with "Adam knew his wife again...," and she has a new son to replace her murdered son.
There are a few reasons that this structure is important to recognize, the most significant of which is the comparison that the opening and closing of the passage is pushing us to make. In both instances, Eve makes a statement about the birth of her son--but when you read carefully, you'll notice that her perspective changes significantly between these two statements.
The first statement is about Cain, and there are actually a few different ways it can be translated from the original Hebrew:
The ESV says this: "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord."
But several other translations put it this way: "I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord,"
Or even the NIV translates it this way: "I have brought forth a man with the help of the Lord."
The reason that these are different is that the translators are trying to clear up the meaning of some confusing words here--but I think the author intentionally uses this language to help us see multiple truths in this passage.
Now, this is super nerdy, but I promise it's really important. Let me show you the verse in Hebrew:
qā·nî·ṯî ’îš ’eṯ- Yah·weh
It's only four words! But somehow we're getting to ten or even more words in English when we translate.
The word qā·nî·ṯî is where Cain gets his name from—qa·yin and qā·nî·ṯî—they look (and sound) the same, and it’s a word that has caused a lot of debate surrounding this passage. It can mean acquire or gotten, but in some contexts it means create. It's the same word that's used to describe God making all of creation in Proverbs 8—it says, Yah·weh qā·nā·nî rê·šîṯ—which means Yahweh created me at the beginning. So, you could translate the first part of Eve's statement, qā·nî·ṯî ’îš, as, "I have created a man..."
The next word, eṯ-, is also one that has caused a lot of debate. It's the preposition "with," but it's a flexible word throughout Hebrew depending on it's context. It's generally used to create some sort of comparison. So, for example, the ten commandments say: don't have any other gods with (eṯ-) me. It's the idea that Israel shouldn't have any other gods but Yahweh, in comparison to Yahweh. It gets used this way other times throughout the Bible, but it pretty much never gets used anywhere else to communicate the idea "with the help of..." There are other words for that phrase.
So, when you take this translation, you get the sense that Eve is comparing herself to God. Yahweh created a man, Adam, but now "I have created a man in comparison with Yahweh."
We're getting insight into Eve's perspective! Think on the context of the passage. The Lord creates Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and offers them a partnership in bringing about goodness and life in the world. Adam and Eve reject that partnership in creating alongside God in Genesis 3, and now in Genesis 4 Eve is bragging about how she can create without God!
Who is the only one with the power to bring life into this world? God! He is the very source of life, and it's only because of him that Eve is able to have a child. But in this moment, Eve forgets that her ability to create life is something she has been given by God and treats it as if what she does is in her own power and ability to accomplish.
As a result, we have a moment where God recognizes the pride of Eve and allows the circumstances in her life to humble her.
When Eve boasts in her own creative power, she loses her son—and the closing statement reflects her response and heart change in this:
She gives birth to Seth, saying, "God has granted me another son instead of Abel." There's a transformation in Eve's character from pride to humility as she recognizes that her ability comes not from herself, but from God.
Here's why this is a big deal for us: what's happening in Eve's mind is reflective of a perspective that I think a lot of us adopt in our own lives. And what we have to recognize is that the story of Cain and Abel serves as a warning for those who are prideful.
"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)
Genesis 4 invites us to place ourselves in this story. Are you prideful? Are the circumstances in your life calling you to humility? Allow the Lord to transform your heart and respond to the circumstances you face by seeking to bring glory to his name.
Middle School Pastor