A study on Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Able) account of Gen. 4:1-25.
Kayin and Hevel
v1 “The man knew Havah his wife. She conceived, and gave birth to Kayin, and said, ‘I have gotten a man with the יְהֹוָה ‘s help.’” Traditionally the second reference to ‘a man’ refers to Kayin and the conception of the first natural-born child was by divine intervention. However, there are some that has this reference meaning Adam (Hertz). Due to the expulsion of Adam and Havah from Gan Eden, the relationship between the couple had soured but in response to the commandment to be fruitful, sexual relations carried on. In conceiving a son, Havah hoped that Adam would be reconciled back to her once again.
“Le’ah conceived, and bore a son, and she named him Re’uven. For she said, ‘Because the יְהֹוָה has looked at my affliction. For now my husband will love me.’” (Gen. 29:32). רְאוּבֵן #H7205 Re’uven ‘behold a son’ Leah gave the baby an appropriate name. קַיִן #H7014 Qayin ‘possession’ with consideration for קָנָה #H7069 qanah acquired, of יְהֹוָה.
v2 “Again she gave birth, to Kayin’s brother Hevel. Hevel was a keeper of sheep, but Kayin was a tiller of the ground.” הֶבֶל #H1893 hebel ‘breathe’ and could mean something that is short-lived or transitory from the root הָבַל #H1891 habal ‘emptiness, vanity’. Kayin was given the more strenuous task of working the ground (ref. Gen. 3:17-19) whilst Hevel had the lighter task of looking after the flocks later referred to as ‘his’. Unlike shepherding accounts later in the TaNaKh (Dawid especially), there was no threat from wild animals coming in to kill the sheep. Shepherding would involve moving the flocks and herds to fresh grazing and water. It is my belief that animals did not become carnivorous until Noach starting eating the flesh of (clean) animals (Gen. 8:20).
יְהֹוָה gives to each man a calling (Gen. 2:15), so not to be idle. The produce of each brother’s labour was meant to compliment the other: one produces food to eat, the other for clothing (hair, wool and fleece but not meat to eat).
v3 “As time passed, it happened that Kayin brought an offering to יְהֹוָה from the fruit of the ground.” After a specific period of time, the brothers brought their sacrifice. This may be a weekly Shabbat, monthly or annual feast.
This is the first mention of any form of worship. פְּרִי #H6529 pĕriy refers to any fruit of his crop. This indicates that Kayin did not select the best or firstfruits (רֵאשִׁית פְּרִי #H6529 pĕriy #H7225 re’shiyth cf Deut. 26:10). This offering was a מִנְחָה #H4503 minchah that means a votive or voluntary offering (Chartrand). It may be that Adam had instigated a regular thanksgiving offering and is here being carried out by his two sons. The sin offering that had to be perfect (without spot or blemish), but Kayin brought something that is not the choicest of his crop. When something is done out of duty, the least amount of effort needed to satisfy the requirement is expended. However, if something is done out of love, the maximum effort and thought is used. This is a type of false religion where a person approaches יְהֹוָה on their own terms and worship is offered without faith.
We are minded of the importance of bringing the produce of our labours to יְהֹוָה and do everything unto Him (2 Cor. 5:9). This is a love offering, not one of duty. Hypocrites can bring the same offering but with a different attitude (Henry p22). יְהֹוָה does not have any choice but to refuse this type of offering, as it is an abomination to Him (Isa. 1:13).
v4 “Hevel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of the fat of it. יְהֹוָה respected Hevel and his offering,” Why was this offering accepted? בְּכוֹרָה #H1062 bĕkowrah is the firstlings, the choicest of his flocks.
In Gen. 3:21, יְהֹוָה `Elohim had to kill an animal to cover over Adam and Havah’s nakedness. It is my belief that it was from this that יְהֹוָה `Elohim instructed the couple to pass on the lesson that innocent blood had to be shed for atonement. This would include the full Good News account i.e. sin was punishable by death; man could do nothing to pay this debt; the blood of an innocent animal had to be shed to temporarily ‘cover’ the sin; all this pointed by faith to a time in the future when Messiah would offer Himself as the perfect Sacrifice that ‘covers’ eternally. It should be noted that the hair or wool of animals was not sufficient to ‘cover’ their nakedness, even temporarily.
“Sanctify to me all of the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Yisra’el, both of man and of animal. It is mine.” (Exod.13:2). The firstborn has a special place in the economy of יְהֹוָה.
“If his offering… He shall offer from the sacrifice of shalom offerings an offering made by fire to יְהֹוָה; its fat, the entire tail fat, he shall take away close to the backbone; and the fat that covers the inwards, and all the fat that is on the inwards… offering made by fire, for a sweet savour; all the fat is יְהֹוָה ‘s.” (Lev. 3:6-16). The Law of Burnt Offerings was given to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, but the principle of offering may have already been in place: firstborn of flock, its choice parts including the fat. When the Law was given to the Israelites through Moshe, I believe that there was already existing a formal form of worship but that it was fully developed by יְהֹוָה at Sinai.
v5 “but He did not respect Kayin and his offering. Kayin was very angry, and the expression on his face fell.” Why was this offering rejected? It would appear that Kayin’s attitude toward יְהֹוָה `Elohim was wrong (see v9) and that it was not the offering that was rejected but the attitude of Kayin’s heart/mind (see the Master’s parable in Mark 12:41-44).
“By faith, Hevel offered to יְהֹוָה a more excellent sacrifice than Kayin…” (Heb. 11:4a). πλείων #G4119 pleiōn excellent in that it is greater in quantity and/or superior in quality. Kayin offered a plant offering instead of an animal sacrifice. It has been said that he should have used his crops to buy an acceptable sacrifice from Havel. However, when the Law was eventually given to Moshe, there was a fine flour offering that was acceptable to יְהֹוָה. The thorough grinding to produce the fine flour was to represent the trials, tribulations and suffering of Messiah. As with the animal offering, the flour offering would be totally ineffectual if not offered up in faith to represent Messiah’s Sacrifice.
“yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through the faith of Yehshua the Messiah, even we believed in Messiah Yehshua, that we might be justified by faith in Messiah, and not by the works of the law, because no flesh will be justified by the works of the law.” (Gal. 2:16). It may be that Kayin’s offering could be considered as ‘works’ but Hevel’s offering was offered in faith.
“unlike Kayin, who was of the evil one, and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12). Tradition has it that Hevel drove his flock over the fields of Kayin. Whether this was unintentional or Hevel disrespected and looked down upon the crop offering that he thought יְהֹוָה had rejected (as opposed to the attitude that it was given). It was such an attitude that the Master condemned in His parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14). After a brief argument Kayin killed Hevel using a piece of his plough (Johnson).
Kayin’s face fell. It has been said that the eyes are a window to the soul. Kayin must have thought that he could hide his feelings from יְהֹוָה by lowering his face. This is impossible tp One who searches out the secrets of the heart (Psa. 10:11; Psa. 44:21; Matt. 6:22). “but if you have an ‘evil eye’ [if you are stingy] your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6: 23 CJB). Could not Kayin lift up his head because he knew that his offering was ‘stingy’?
“But as then, he who is born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born of the according to the Spirit, so it is now.” (Gal. 4:29). It is a common occurrence that when a person’s wrong-doing has been uncovered by the illumination of someone else’s correct performance, that anger is kindled against the person doing right. Much more so when this entails a person being found unworthy of יְהֹוָה’s esteem because their sins have come to light by the actions of a righteous person (Luke 11:52) (Henry p23).
v6 “יְהֹוָה said to Kayin, ‘Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen?’” challenges (אָמַר #H559 ‘amar see below) Kayin as to his feelings. The omniscient One does see and know all that is going on but here, He is trying to bring about Kayin’s repentance for He is not willing that anyone should perish (John 3:16; 2Pt. 3:9). Kayin had no cause to be angry against יְהֹוָה, for יְהֹוָה set the rules!
v7 “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Sin (or its instigator, haSatan) had, up to this point not taken hold of Kayin. יְהֹוָה has stated that acceptance, although not automatic, does depend upon the intent of the offering and had given Kayin the opportunity to make amends before sin took hold. Having rejected this opportunity, יְהֹוָה has no other option but to leave Kayin to the clutches of sin. Henry comments that if Kayin had done what was expected of him, he would have been accepted. Furthermore, if he now does what is expected (repent and bring the correct offering with the right attitude) he will yet be accepted. Kayin was given a choice of life and blessings or death and curses (Henry p23).
If sin and punishment must come upon Kayin, then יְהֹוָה’s acceptance of Hevel’s offering did not automatically transfer the birthright and its associated privileges and blessings of the first-born unto Hevel.
v8 “Kayin said to Hevel, his brother, ‘Let us go into the field.’ It happened, when they were in the field, that Kayin rose up against Hevel, his brother, and killed him.” This translation infers that Kayin had premeditated the murder of his brother. “Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (NKJV). This translation has less of a premeditated attack, but more of a crime of passion or opportunity
“You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of judgement.’ But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Idiot!’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘Fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehinnom. If, therefore, you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come offer your gift. (Matt. 5:21-24). This passage forms part of the ethical, moral and spiritual code of conduct that is referred to as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. The commandment in the Torah is ‘You shall not do murder’ (Exod. 20:12; Duet. 5:17). However, Jewish sages throughout time have put ‘hedges’ around יְהֹוָה’s commandments so as to prevent people from breaking the commandments. These hedges became the foundation of the Oral Law. In of themselves, they have a vital role in Torah observance. It is when man puts the same weight and authority to the hedges as is rightly given to the Torah, error sets in. In fact, the Master uses hedges in this section of the Sermon. He warns not to be angry otherwise murder may result (and similarly adultery/lust in vv27, 28).
Does the Master have the account of Kayin and Hevel in mind when He issues this warning?
“But I say to you, that anyone who provokes his brother to anger his brother without cause, is condemned to judgement, and anyone who should say to his brother, ‘I spit on you,’ is condemned to the assembly, and anyone who should say, ‘You are a coward,’ is condemned to the Gehenna fire.” (Matt. 5:22 AENT). Roth, in translating the Aramaic makes an interesting point. In v22, it is not the angry brother that is condemned, but the one whose actions or words goads his brother to become angry. In the first v22, it would have been Kayin who is condemned but in the second v22, it would have been Hevel.
‘שָׂדֶה #H7704 sadeh *2236b ‘field’ can mean any piece of land but when used with the definite article refers to a specific piece cultivated land. v2 tells us that Kayin was the cultivator whilst Hevel was the husbandman. Did Hevel’s flock roam into Kayin’s fields? Did the sight of the livestock cause Kayin to lose control and kill his brother?
Both the above verse translations do not stress the first verb. אָמַר #H559 ‘amar can mean to say or talk. However, it can also mean to speak out against or challenge, inferring that Kayin confronted Hevel for satisfaction against an actual or imagined slight.
Adam’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit in Gan `Eden seems trivial when compared to fratricide or more heinous crimes. Nevertheless, it was this sin of disobedience that opened up the way for all the other possible transgressions.
v9 “יְהֹוָה said to Kayin, ‘Where is Hevel, your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” As with Gen. 3:9, the question is not a seeking of information but asked in order to bring out a confession. However, Kayin’s reply is both insolent and false. (Hertz quoting Rashi). In fact, it was the duty of the eldest brother to take care of the family as he would become the head of the family upon the death of his father.
v10 “יְהֹוָה said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.’” Again, this is not a question asked to garner information but an exclamation of horror (Hertz quoting Rashi). The word for blood used here is plural. When Kayin killed Hevel, it is considered that not only Hevel but all his possible, unborn descendants were killed with him.
“Earth, do not cover my blood, Let my cry have no place to rest. Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven. He who vouches for me is on high.” (Job 16:18, 19). Hevel’s blood has a witness and Advocate in heaven.
v12 “From now on, when you till the ground, it will not yield its strength to you. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the land.” Before passing judgement and punishment, יְהֹוָ gives people many opportunities to repent and seek forgiveness, but there comes a time when punishment can no longer be withheld. As the punishment was not immediate, it may be that the slaying of Hevel was not pre-meditated and was the result of a moment of anger.
“For the children of Yisra’el, and for the stranger and for the foreigner living among them, shall these six cities be for refuge; that everyone who kills any person unwittingly may flee there.” (Num. 35:15). יְהֹוָה provides a series of safe havens to those whom accidentally kills another person so that a revenger may not also fall into sin by killing in the heat of passion.
Sepher HaYasher recalls that Kayin repented of his action and יְהֹוָה allowed Kayin to leave the area only to be accidentally killed by his grandson, Lamekh in a hunting incident. (Johnson).
“for sin, finding occasion through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.” (Rom. 7:11). It is common that יְהֹוָה punishes a person ironically by using the actual sin as a means (law of sowing and reaping cf Gal. 6:7, 8). In this case, Kayin will not be able to live off the earth as he did prior to the murder, but had to live by nomadic herding, an out-cast from his family. It may be the difficulty to produce a living that turned (or יְהֹוָה -guided) to artisan skills that are detailed in his descendants (Gen. 4: 20-22).
v13 “Kayin said to יְהֹוָה, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear.’” עָוֹן #H5771 `avon *1577a punishment and the sin itself. Punishment here is in the plural and combines the act or acts and the consequences of guilt and punishment. Kayin was guilty of 1) fratricide, 2) covering up of the sin, 3) and lying and insolence to יְהֹוָה. Rashi comments that ‘Is my iniquity to great to be forgiven?’ (Hertz quoting Rashi).
v14 “Behold, you have driven me out this day from the surface of the ground. I will be hidden from your face, and I will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the world. It will happen that whoever finds me will kill me.” The ground mentioned is the land that his family occupies and so Kayin is exiled from the family. Who will be hunting Kayin? Although the Scripture account has Kayin born, followed by Hevel then the murder it may be possible that Hevel had fathered children prior to his death and it is his children that would seek revenge.
Kayin was thus considered an outlaw, one who was refused any shelter, assistance or sustenance by family or friends. In this, Kayin may be considered as a type of the nation of Yisra`el. After the Master’s crucifixion and the resultant destruction of the Temple, the people of Yisra`el were scattered throughout the nations. Throughout history, persecution has stalked the Jews when many considered them outside of the law and thus open to any and every abuse.
“I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evil which they shall have worked, in that they are turned to other gods.” (Dt. 31:18). A most set apart יְהֹוָה cannot be close to sin and a sinner banishes himself from the very presence of יְהֹוָה.
v15 “יְהֹוָה said to him, ‘Therefore whoever slays Kayin, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’” יְהֹוָה appointed a sign for Kayin, lest any finding him should strike him. אוֹת #H226 ‘owth *41a ot sign can be any ordinary or miraculous sign but the meaning of this particular sign cannot be known for certain.
“For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises up again; But the wicked are overthrown by calamity.” (Prov. 24:18). Seven reflects an infinitely large number.
v17 “Kayin knew his wife. She conceived and gave birth to Hanokh. He built a city and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Hanohk.” This shows the continued descent of Kayin into sin. Not only was he not repentant over his brother’s murder, he flouted יְהֹוָה’s mercy. The punishment was not instant death, but Kayin was allowed to live a nomadic life. Here, Kayin rejects this in order to settle down and build a city.
v25 “Adam knew his wife again. She gave birth to a son and named him Sheth. For, she said, ‘יְהֹוָה has appointed me another child instead of Hevel, for Kayin killed him.’” שֵׁת #H8352 Sheth. This verse shows that neither Kayin (#H7104 possession, possessed?) or Hevel (#1893 vanity, breath, vapour) where never intended to be the progenitor of the Messiah. It was Sheth’s line that was appointed to be the line from which Messiah came (Chartrand).
Kayin/Hevel; Ishma’el/Yitzchak; Esav/Ya’akov are all examples of older siblings not enjoying the blessings that would be given to their younger brothers.
Chartrand P. Torah Revealed, Book One, Bereshit (Genesis), Chartrand, Arroyo Grande, CA.
Johnson K. Th.D.(2008) Sepher HaYasher, Bible Facts Ministries, U.S.A.
Harris R.L., Archer Theological Wordbook of the Old G.J. Jr., Waltke B.K. Testament, Moody, Chicago, Il.
Henry M. (1841) An Exposition of the Old an New Testament, Vol. I, Frederick Westland, London.
Hertz Dr. J.H. (1987) The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Socino Press, London.
Strong J. (1994) Strong’s New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, World Bible Publishers Inc., Madison.
Strong J. (1996) The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
AENT Scripture taken from the Aramaic English New Testament Copyright 2008. Used by permission of Netzari Press (http://www.aent.org).
CJB Complete Jewis Bible, Jewish New Testament Publications Inc., Clarksville, MD. Copyright 1998 David H. Stern.
HNV The Hebrew Names Version is based off the World English Bible, an update of the American Standard Version of 1901. This version of the Bible is in the public domain.
KJV King James Version – Outside of the United Kingdom, the KJV is in the public domain. Within the United Kingdom, the rights to the KJV are vested in the Crown. This Bible is printed and published by Cambridge University Press, the Queen’s royal printer, under royal letters of patent. The text commonly available now is actually that of the 1769 revision, not that of 1611. The text used by BLB is the current 1769 edition.
NKJV New King James Version – Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version, Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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