If Genesis 4 tells us anything, it tells us that sin disrupts worship of God. While God created humanity to bless them (Gen 1:28) and live out God’s image (Gen 1:26–27), sin peeled away this blessing, and the curse came (Gen 3:14–19). Ironically, Adam and Eve wanted to be like God by eating of the tree (3:5), though they were like God in his image already (1:26–27). Tragically, they were barred from God’s presence because tried to be like God — the likeness they already shared via his image. Worship was disrupted.
In Genesis 4, we learn how the sinfulness of sin marred the worshipfulness of worship. Both Even and Cain show us how pride and hate wreck havoc on service to God; still, God is faithful when we are faithless. So Eve trusts in Yahweh’s promises, while Cain repents. I am aware that this might be a hard sell — but I believe the text leads us to this conclusion without having to spiritualize the text or simply read it as “ancient history” with no present relevance today.
WORSHIP AND CAIN’S REPENTANCE
Let’s just agree to pass over the debate as to why God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s offering. The text doesn’t comment on the “why” as if it is trying to focus on Cain’s response to God. Actually, the point of Genesis 4:1–16 is the discussion between God and Cain and not the offerings or the murder per se. Leading up to this discussion, we learn that both Cain’s rejected offering and his murder emaciate his communion with God. Sin has consequences, and so God punishes him by exile (4:12). Here’s where things get sticky. It will take a serious interpretive movements to illustrate the point.
Cain’s response, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (4:13, ESV), can be translated “my guilt is greater than I can bear” as the footnote in the ESV indicates. In fact, guilt or sin are the most common translations of the Hebrew word anon. In this case, it would mean “my sin is too great to bear/forgive.” Only context can really determine the right reading. What makes the “punishment” translation attractive is that Genesis 4:14 makes Cain sound a little whiney.
But God’s response in Genesis 4:15 makes me think he was truly repentant (at least at this time): “Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” Yahweh responds by saying “Not so!” That is, your sin is not too great to bear. Then Yahweh provides Cain divine protection. God’s faithfulness to bless overcame Cain’s unfaithfulness.
Sin disrupts worship of God, but repentance returns us to close communion with him.
WORSHIP AND EVE’S FAITH
In two oblique verses, Eve coaches us to trust in the promises of God, and that faith evokes worship. These two verses are Genesis 4:1 and 4:25 respectively. They read:
4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.’” (ESV)
4:25: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’” (ESV)
Like the NASB translation, the words “with the help” are added, because they believe this best represents the sense of the text. At the same time, these words don’t exist in the Hebrew Text. With a wooden and literal translation, it would read, “I have gained a man with Yahweh.” The reason that translations often add “with the help” is because it seems awkward to say “with Yahweh.” But I say, “Keep the awkwardness!”
By this odd phrase, I think Eve means, “I have created a human with/like Yahweh.” In short, Eve believes she can return to a state of blessing by having a child that will fulfill Genesis 3:15. She basically falls into the same trap of trying to out-God god that she did in the garden. Ironically, trying to be “like” God the first time separated her from blessing, and now she tries to regain blessing by the same means (being like God). There are a couple reasons why I believe this is what Eve means in Genesis 4:1.
First, Eve’s example seems to be substantiated by the greater context of Genesis. Her presumptions attitude is copied later by Sarah’s giving Hagar to Abraham (do I even have to mention the super-baby-making narratives of Leah and Rebekah?). There’s a theme of barren ladies who try to bring blessing through the flesh without trusting in God to provide an offspring. They try to work out blessing by flesh and blood, but God always pulls through by providing the promised offspring through a barren womb. This teaches us that new life does not come through flesh or blood but by God being born from above (or through God’s power).
Second, Genesis 4:25 sharply contrasts with Genesis 4:1 in two important ways. In the first place, Eve clearly affirms God’s action in producing an offspring, “God has appointed for me….” Also, and most importantly, Even adds this quip, “another offspring instead of Abel.” But wait? Didn’t she say in 4:1 that Cain was her offspring (of promise?, Gen 3:15)? Yes. But at some point in time, she learned that she could not force blessing (with Cain) and that she needed to wait on God’s blessing (with Abel). We don’t know when this happened; but it probably happened before Cain’s murder of Abel, since she says “for Cain killed him” — meaning that Abel was the (promised) offspring before Cain killed him. By the way, this makes Cain’s murder of Abel so atrocious and at the same time God’s forgiveness that much more gracious.
Genesis 4:26 focuses on the idea of worship, showing that Eve’s faith was replicated in her son Seth and her Grandson Enosh. It reads, “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” The idea behind calling “upon the name of Yahweh” is simply to worship him. Thus, the narrative (Gen 4) ends where it began, with worship.
In this way, Eve shows us that true worship includes trusting in God’s promises, and this trusts pushes away the drive to live by the flesh.
Even if you say I am being too mean to Eve (though I do amplify her faith!), the main point of the passage remains. God desires worship from those who live a life of repentance and faith. Note well, repenting and believing in God is not a one time action that is finished and forgotten after our conversion — they are the defining marks of our communion with God, our worship of him.