Genesis 4:2
And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
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(2) Abel.—Of this name Dr. Oppert imagined that it was the Assyrian Abil, a son. Really it is Hebel; and there is no reason why we should prefer an Assyrian to a Hebrew etymology. An Accadian derivation would have been important, but Assyrian is only a Semitic dialect, and Abil is the Hebrew ben. Hebel means a thing unstable, not abiding, like a breath or vapour. Now, we can scarcely suppose that Eve so called her child from a presentiment of evil or a mere passing depression of spirits; more probably it was a title given to him after his untimely death. Giving names to children would become usual only when population increased; and it was not till a religious rite was instituted for their dedication to God that they had names given to them in their infancy. Even then Esau was changed to Edom, and Jacob to Israel, while previously such names as Eber and Peleg, and earlier still Jabal and Jubal, must have been given to those who bore them from what they became. Such names too as Esau, Jacob, and most of those borne by Jacob’s children, seem to have been playful titles, given them in the women’s tents by quick-witted nurses, who caught up any chance words of the mother, until at length it became the Jewish rule for women to name their children. Probably, therefore, it was only after Abel’s death that his sorrowing relatives called him the Breath that had passed away.

Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.—As Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (Genesis 5:3), there was a long period for the increase of Adam’s family (comp. Genesis 4:14-17), and also for the development of the characters of these his two eldest sons. In the one we seem to see a rough, strong nature, who took the hard work as he found it, and subdued the ground with muscular energy; in the other a nature more refined and thoughtful, and making progress upwards. Adam had already tamed animals in Paradise: to these Abel devotes himself, tends them carefully, and gains from them ample and easy means of sustenance, higher in kind even than the fruits of Paradise. Round these two the other sons and daughters of Adam group themselves, and Cain seems already to have had a wife when he murdered his brother (Genesis 4:17).

4:1-7 When Cain was born, Eve said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. Perhaps she thought that this was the promised seed. If so, she was wofully disappointed. Abel signifies vanity: when she thought she had the promised seed in Cain, whose name signifies possession, she was so taken up with him that another son was as vanity to her. Observe, each son had a calling. It is the will of God for every one to have something to do in this world. Parents ought to bring up their children to work. Give them a Bible and a calling, said good Mr. Dod, and God be with them. We may believe that God commanded Adam, after the fall, to shed the blood of innocent animals, and after their death to burn part or the whole of their bodies by fire. Thus that punishment which sinners deserve, even the death of the body, and the wrath of God, of which fire is a well-known emblem, and also the sufferings of Christ, were prefigured. Observe that the religious worship of God is no new invention. It was from the beginning; it is the good old way, Jer 6:16. The offerings of Cain and Abel were different. Cain showed a proud, unbelieving heart. Therefore he and his offering were rejected. Abel came as a sinner, and according to God's appointment, by his sacrifice expressing humility, sincerity, and believing obedience. Thus, seeking the benefit of the new covenant of mercy, through the promised Seed, his sacrifice had a token that God accepted it. Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not, Heb 11:4. In all ages there have been two sorts of worshippers, such as Cain and Abel; namely, proud, hardened despisers of the gospel method of salvation, who attempt to please God in ways of their own devising; and humble believers, who draw near to him in the way he has revealed. Cain indulged malignant anger against Abel. He harboured an evil spirit of discontent and rebellion against God. God notices all our sinful passions and discontents. There is not an angry, envious, or fretful look, that escapes his observing eye. The Lord reasoned with this rebellious man; if he came in the right way, he should be accepted. Some understand this as an intimation of mercy. If thou doest not well, sin, that is, the sin-offering, lies at the door, and thou mayest take the benefit of it. The same word signifies sin, and a sacrifice for sin. Though thou hast not done well, yet do not despair; the remedy is at hand. Christ, the great sin-offering, is said to stand at the door, Re 3:20. And those well deserve to perish in their sins, that will not go to the door to ask for the benefit of this sin-offering. God's acceptance of Abel's offering did not change the birthright, and make it his; why then should Cain be so angry? Sinful heats and disquiets vanish before a strict and fair inquiry into the cause.His brother Habel. - Habel means "breath, vanity." Does a sense of the vanity of earthly things grow in the minds of our first parents? Has the mother found her sorrow multiplied? Has she had many daughters between these sons? Is there something delicate and fragile in the appearance of Habel? Has Cain disappointed a mother's hopes? Some of all these thoughts may have prompted the name. There is something remarkable in the phrase "his brother Habel." It evidently points with touching simplicity to the coming outrage that was to destroy the peace and purity of the first home.

The two primitive employments of men were the agricultural and the pastoral. Here is the second allusion to some use which was made of animals soon after the fall. Coats of skin were provided for the first pair; and now we have Habel keeping sheep. In the garden of Eden, where the tree of life was accessible, an exclusively vegetable diet was designed for man. Whether this continued after the fall, we are not informed. It is certain that man had dominion over the whole animal kingdom. It can scarcely be doubted that the outer coverings of animals were used for clothing. Animals are presently to be employed for sacrifice. It is not beyond the bounds of probability that animal food may have been used before the flood, as a partial compensation for the desire of the tree of life, which may have been suited to supply all the defects of vegetable and even animal fare in sustaining the human frame in its primeval vigor.

Man in his primitive state, then, was not a mere gatherer of acorns, a hunter, or a nomad. He began with horticulture, the highest form of rural life. After the fall he descended to the culture of the field and the tending of cattle; but still he had a home, and a settled mode of living. It is only by a third step that he degenerates to the wandering and barbarous state of existence. And only by the predominance of might over right, the selfish lust of power, and the clever combinations of rampant ambition, comes that form of society in which the highest state of barbaric civilization and the lowest depth of bondage and misery meet.

2. Abel was a keeper of sheep—literally, "a feeder of a flock," which, in Oriental countries, always includes goats as well as sheep. Abel, though the younger, is mentioned first, probably on account of the pre-eminence of his religious character. Abel signifies vanity, a vain, mortal, miserable man, whereas she thought Cain to be more than an ordinary man; or this name might prophetically design his miserable life, and untimely and unnatural death. To till the ground was esteemed a more honourable calling than that of a shepherd, and therefore either chosen by the elder brother, or allotted to him by his father.

And she again bare his brother Abel,.... Or "added to bare" (y), not directly or immediately, but perhaps the following year; though some have thought, because no mention is made of her conceiving again, that she brought forth Abel at the same time she did Cain, or that the birth of the one immediately followed upon that of the other: and it is the common opinion of the Jews (z) that with Abel, as with Cain, was born a twin sister, whom the Arabic writers (a) call Lebuda: the name of Abel, or rather Hebel, signifies not "mourning", as Josephus (b) observes, but "vanity", Eve not making that account of him as she did of Cain; or perhaps because by this time she became sensible of her mistake in him, or had met with something which convinced her that all earthly enjoyments were vanity; or by a spirit of prophecy foresaw what would befall this her second son, that he should be very early deprived of his life in a violent manner:

and Abel was a keeper of sheep: a calling which he either chose himself, or his father put him to, and gave him; for though he and his brother were born to a large estate, being the heirs of Adam, the lord of the whole earth, yet they were not brought up in idleness, but in useful and laborious employments:

but Cain was a tiller of the ground: of the same occupation his father was, and he being the first born, was brought up in the same business, and might be a reason why he was put into it.

(y) "et addidit ut pareret", Pagninus, Montanus; "addidit autem parere", Cocceius, Schmidt. (z) Pirke Eliezer. c. 21. (a) Abulpharag. ut supra. (Hist. Dynast. p. 6.) (b) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 2. sect. 1.

And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
2. Abel] Heb. Hebel = “breath,” or “vapour,” a name suggestive of fleeting life, cf. Job 7:16. No better explanation of the name is given. Assyriologists have suggested that the name reproduces the Assyrian aplu = “a son.” But it is doubtful whether the resemblance is anything more than accidental. At any rate, no Babylonian version of this narrative has yet come to light. More probable is the suggestion that “Hebel” might represent a form of “Jabal,” as the keeper of sheep (cf. Genesis 4:20). As in the case of Cain (see above), the original form and significance of proper names preserved in primitive folk-lore must be extremely uncertain. In the course of the transmission and repetition of the narrative, less known names would continually be altered to forms which would suggest familiar ideas.

keeper of sheep] Abel is here mentioned first, as the representative of pastoral life. Cain follows the agricultural life, which was commanded for Adam in Genesis 3:17; Genesis 3:23. The calling of Abel is one for which the Israelites had a special fondness. The metaphors taken from the shepherd and the sheep are among the most frequent and the most striking in Holy Scripture.

Verse 2. - And she again bare (literally, added to bear, a Hebraism adopted in the New Testament; vide Luke 20:11) his brother Abel. Habel (vanity), supposed to hint either that a mother's eager hopes had already begun to be disappointed in her eider son, or that, having in her first child's name given expression to her faith, in this she desired to preserve a monument of the miseries of human life, of which, perhaps, she had been forcibly reminded by her own maternal sorrows. Perhaps also, though unconsciously, a melancholy prophecy of his premature removal by the hand of fratricidal rage, to which it has been thought there is an outlook by the historian In the frequent (seven times repeated) and almost pathetic mention of the fact that Abel was Cain s brother. The absence of the usual expression וַתַּהַר, as well as the peculiar phraseology et addidit parere has suggested that Abel was Cain's twin brother (Calvin, Kimchi, Candlish), though this is not necessarily implied in the text. And Abel was a keeper of sheep (ποιμὴν προβάτων, LXX.; the latter term includes goats - Leviticus 1:10), but Cain was a tiller of the ground. These occupations, indirectly suggested by God in the command to till the ground and the gift of the clothes of skin (Keil), were doubtless both practiced by the first man, who would teach them to his sons. It is neither justifiable nor necessary to trace a difference of moral character in the different callings which the young men selected, though probably their choices were determined by their talents and their tastes. Ainsworth sees in Abel a figure of Christ "in shepherd as in sacrificing and martyrdom." Genesis 4:2But her joy was soon overcome by the discovery of the vanity of this earthly life. This is expressed in the name Abel, which was given to the second son (הבל, in pause הבל, i.e., nothingness, vanity), whether it indicated generally a feeling of sorrow on account of his weakness, or was a prophetic presentiment of his untimely death. The occupation of the sons is noticed on account of what follows. "Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground." Adam had, no doubt, already commenced both occupations, and the sons selected each a different department. God Himself had pointed out both to Adam-the tilling of the ground by the employment assigned him in Eden, which had to be changed into agriculture after his expulsion; and the keeping of cattle in the clothing that He gave him (Genesis 3:21). Moreover, agriculture can never be entirely separated from the rearing of cattle; for a man not only requires food, but clothing, which is procured directly from the hides and wool of tame animals. In addition to this, sheep do not thrive without human protection and care, and therefore were probably associated with man from the very first. The different occupations of the brothers, therefore, are not to be regarded as a proof of the difference in their dispositions. This comes out first in the sacrifice, which they offered after a time to God, each one from the produce of his vocation. - "In process of time" (lit., at the end of days, i.e., after a considerable lapse of time: for this use of ימים cf. Genesis 40:4; Numbers 9:2) Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a gift (מנחה) to the Lord; and Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and indeed (vav in an explanatory sense, vid., Ges. 155, 1) of their fat," i.e., the fattest of the firstlings, and not merely the first good one that came to hand. חלבים are not the fat portions of the animals, as in the Levitical law of sacrifice. This is evident from the fact, that the sacrifice was not connected with a sacrificial meal, and animal food was not eaten at this time. That the usage of the Mosaic law cannot determine the meaning of this passage, is evident from the word minchah, which is applied in Leviticus to bloodless sacrifices only, whereas it is used here in connection with Abel's sacrifice. "And Jehovah looked upon Abel and his gift; and upon Cain and his gift He did not look." The look of Jehovah was in any case a visible sign of satisfaction. It is a common and ancient opinion that fire consumed Abel's sacrifice, and thus showed that it was graciously accepted. Theodotion explains the words by καὶ ἐνεπύρισεν ὁ Θεός. But whilst this explanation has the analogy of Leviticus 9:24 and Judges 6:21 in its favour, it does not suit the words, "upon Abel and his gift." The reason for the different reception of the two offerings was the state of mind towards God with which they were brought, and which manifested itself in the selection of the gifts. Not, indeed, in the fact that Abel brought a bleeding sacrifice and Cain a bloodless one; for this difference arose from the difference in their callings, and each necessarily took his gift from the produce of his own occupation. It was rather in the fact that Abel offered the fattest firstlings of his flock, the best that he could bring; whilst Cain only brought a portion of the fruit of the ground, but not the first-fruits. By this choice Abel brought πλείονα θυσίαν παρὰ Κάΐν, and manifested that disposition which is designated faith (πίστις) in Hebrews 11:4. The nature of this disposition, however, can only be determined from the meaning of the offering itself.

The sacrifices offered by Adam's sons, and that not in consequence of a divine command, but from the free impulse of their nature as determined by God, were the first sacrifices of the human race. The origin of sacrifice, therefore, is neither to be traced to a positive command, nor to be regarded as a human invention. To form an accurate conception of the idea which lies at the foundation of all sacrificial worship, we must bear in mind that the first sacrifices were offered after the fall, and therefore presupposed the spiritual separation of man from God, and were designed to satisfy the need of the heart for fellowship with God. This need existed in the case of Cain, as well as in that of Abel; otherwise he would have offered no sacrifice at all, since there was no command to render it compulsory. Yet it was not the wish for forgiveness of sin which led Adam's sons to offer sacrifice; for there is no mention of expiation, and the notion that Abel, by slaughtering the animal, confessed that he deserved death on account of sin, is transferred to this passage from the expiatory sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The offerings were expressive of gratitude to God, to whom they owed all that they had; and were associated also with the desire to secure the divine favour and blessing, so that they are to be regarded not merely as thank-offerings, but as supplicatory sacrifices, and as propitiatory also, in the wider sense of the word. In this the two offerings are alike. The reason why they were not equally acceptable to God is not to be sought, as Hoffmann thinks, in the fact that Cain merely offered thanks "for the preservation of this present life," whereas Abel offered thanks "for the forgiveness of sins," or "for the sin-forgiving clothing received by man from the hand of God." To take the nourishment of the body literally and the clothing symbolically in this manner, is an arbitrary procedure, by which the Scriptures might be made to mean anything we chose. The reason is to be found rather in the fact, that Abel's thanks came from the depth of his heart, whilst Cain merely offered his to keep on good terms with God-a difference that was manifested in the choice of the gifts, which each one brought from the produce of his occupation. This choice shows clearly "that it was the pious feeling, through which the worshiper put his heart as it were into the gift, which made the offering acceptable to God" (Oehler); that the essence of the sacrifice was not the presentation of a gift to God, but that the offering was intended to shadow forth the dedication of the heart to God. At the same time, the desire of the worshipper, by the dedication of the best of his possessions to secure afresh the favour of God, contained the germ of that substitutionary meaning of sacrifice, which was afterwards expanded in connection with the deepening and heightening of the feeling of sin into a desire for forgiveness, and led to the development of the idea of expiatory sacrifice. - On account of the preference shown to Abel, "it burned Cain sore (the subject, 'wrath,' is wanting, as it frequently is in the case of חרה, cf. Genesis 18:30, Genesis 18:32; Genesis 31:36, etc.), and his countenance fell" (an indication of his discontent and anger: cf. Jeremiah 3:12; Job 29:24). God warned him of giving way to this, and directed his attention to the cause and consequences of his wrath.

"Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen?" The answer to this is given in the further question, "Is there not, if thou art good, a lifting up" (sc., of the countenance)? It is evident from the context, and the antithesis of falling and lifting up (נפל and נשׂא), that פּנים must be supplied after שׂאת. By this God gave him to understand that his look was indicative of evil thoughts and intentions; for the lifting up of the countenance, i.e., a free, open look, is the mark of a good conscience (Job 11:15). "But if thou art not good, sin lieth before the door, and its desire is to thee (directed towards thee); but thou shouldst rule over it." The fem. חטּאת is construed as a masculine, because, with evident allusion to the serpent, sin is personified as a wild beast, lurking at the door of the human heart, and eagerly desiring to devour his soul (1 Peter 5:8). היטיב, to make good, signifies here not good action, the performance of good in work and deed, but making the disposition good, i.e., directing the heart to what is good. Cain is to rule over the sin which is greedily desiring him, by giving up his wrath, not indeed that sin may cease to lurk for him, but that the lurking evil foe may obtain no entrance into his heart. There is no need to regard the sentence as interrogative, "Wilt thou, indeed, be able to rule over it?" (Ewald), nor to deny the allusion in בּו to the lurking sin, as Delitzsch does. The words do not command the suppression of an inward temptation, but resistance to the power of evil as pressing from without, by hearkening to the word which God addressed to Cain in person, and addresses to us through the Scriptures. There is nothing said here about God appearing visibly; but this does not warrant us in interpreting either this or the following conversation as a simple process that took place in the heart and conscience of Cain. It is evident from Genesis 4:14 and Genesis 4:16 that God did not withdraw His personal presence and visible intercourse from men, as soon as He had expelled them from the garden of Eden. "God talks to Cain as to a wilful child, and draws out of him what is sleeping in his heart, and lurking like a wild beast before his door. And what He did to Cain He does to every one who will but observe his own heart, and listen to the voice of God" (Herder). But Cain paid no need to the divine warning.

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