After Adam and Eve fell into sin, they were driven out of the garden. “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived” (Genesis 4:1), and gave birth to two sons: Cain and Abel. “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (4:2). In the process of time each of them brought an offering to the LORD: Cain offered from his produce and Abel from his flocks. “And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect” (4:4-5). For some reason Jehovah accepted Abel and his offering, but did not accept Cain and his.
Cain was enraged by this; so much so that he murdered his own brother. “And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell….And 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 slew him” (Genesis 4:8). The fires of envy and hatred burned so hot in the heart of Cain that he could not stand to see his righteous shepherd brother live. So he killed him.
Now remember, Abel was a shepherd but Cain was a farmer. It was Abel’s occupation to keep sheep, but Cain plowed the ground. “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:2)
The murder was done. “And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper” (4:9)? It is almost as if Cain is saying, “Abel watches sheep; do I watch him? He guards and protects those stupid sheep; do I guard and protect him? Like a shepherd he cares for the well being of his sheep; do I care for his well being? How should I know where he is? What is his safety to me?” Cain’s response is intentional and cruelly sarcastic. Abel was a keeper of sheep: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
But it was far worse than that. “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:2). “And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper” (4:9)? And the LORD responded, “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (4:10). It is as if Jehovah turns Cain’s rebellious response back on him. Cain was not a keeper; he was a tiller of the ground. And it was from the ground, Jehovah says, that the blood of his righteous brother cried.
Cain’s punishment was fitting. “Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:2). Therefore the LORD said, “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened hear mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (4:10-12). The ground with which Cain worked was to become the punishment for his sin. For his murderous hatred the ground he tilled, the ground that received the blood of his brother, was now his enemy.
Not only would the ground fight against him; but he was to be a fugitive and a vagabond. He could no longer stay in the presence of the Jehovah, but was forced to flee. “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD” (Genesis 4:16). And rightly so. Cain’s response to God’s question was fraught with hatred: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Rather than respond with contrite confession, he spitefully spits the response for his sin into God’s face. The most bitter of enemies could not have spoken more hatefully.
By the death of one shepherd, Abel, Cain was made God’s enemy, cursed, and driven from Jehovah’s presence. But by the death of another Shepherd, Christ, we have been reconciled to God. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And Jesus died for us “when we were enemies” (Romans 5:10). Now, by the death of one Shepherd, we have been made God’s bride, blessed, forever to live in his presence.
How often we have been in the place of Cain. As Paul said, we were “hateful, and hating one another”. And John says that “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Cain was a murderer, and in hatred we are like him. But we have hope in the blood of Jesus. It is through that blood that we have been made partakers of the new covenant.
The author of Hebrews tells us that, as participants in the new covenant, we have come to the blood of Jesus: “the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). And truly Jesus’ blood does speak better things than Abel’s blood. You see, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for justice; but Jesus’ blood cries out from the ground for mercy. Truly the blood of our Shepherd is better blood than Abel’s.