The promise of redemption, right there in the midst of God fulfilling His promise that death would come when they ate the fruit of that one tree. As the whole of Creation begins to fall apart and groan under the curse, a promise is given. As Adam and Eve wait their turn to hear how the curse applies to them, they see and hear the Lord say to the serpent, “I’m going to fix this. I’m going to send One who will be “the seed of the woman” and though you will strike His heel, He will crush your head.”(paraphrase; Gen. 3:15) As they are escorted out of the Garden and into a world that is now characterized by death and decay, they go, nonetheless, with a promise and a hope.
Not long into their exile, Eve bears a son. There is a slight implication from Gen. 4:1 that Eve had some hope that Cain might be the promised seed. She says, “With the help of the Lord, I’ve gotten a man.” Whether or not she believed Cain was the promised seed, you’ll notice there is no such remark when Abel is born. However, we don’t have to read very far before we discover that Cain is not going to be the one to fulfill the promise.
Understanding the promise in Gen. 3:15 is crucial to understanding the story. If we don’t keep the promise in view we will miss the ultimate point of the story (and this holds true for every story in the Old Testament.) As the story unfolds we find the two brothers bringing an offering to the Lord. Cain’s offering is from “the fruit of the ground” while Abel’s offering is from his flock, likely a sheep or a ram. The Lord finds Abel’s offering acceptable but He treated Cain’s offering with disregard. This makes Cain angry and jealous of Abel and he begins to consider how he might get Abel out of the way. In the midst of his scheming the Lord challenges him to do that which is good and explains that the temptation he is facing can be overcome. We know what happens next. Strife, animosity and hatred enter into the world and ultimately Cain brings physical death to mankind by killing his brother. Thus, mankind begins the decent in the destruction that rebellion against God brings.
So, what lessons can we learn from this story? We can look at the offerings given and note that Cain simply gave “an offering of the fruit of the ground” while Abel gave the choice parts from the firstborn of his flock. The implication is that Abel gave his best while Cain gave his leftovers, so the first lesson is that we should always give God our best. Then we see the Lord confront Cain about his plan to kill Abel and we learn that we must master our temptations or they will master us. Then of course, we learn that murder is bad and so we should not murder.
But what if we believe what Jesus said about this story; that it’s actually about Him? What if we read it with the promise in view? Then when we read Eve’s statement that she had “gotten a man with the help of the Lord, we would remember that many years later, a virgin in Israel gave birth to the Son of Man with only the help of the Lord. When we read about Abel’s offering we would be reminded that Jesus is the firstborn Lamb of God who offered His all for our sake. We would recall that like Abel, Jesus was despised and rejected by His own. We would note that it was envy and jealousy that prompted Cain to kill his brother, the same kind of envy and jealousy that caused the leaders to turn Jesus over to be crucified. As Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord for justice, so the blood of Jesus satisfied the justice of God so that He can be both just and the One who justifies. As we keep the promise in view, the better Abel becomes more clear.