The Cambridge Dictionary defines an “archetype” as “a typical example of something, or the original model of something from which others are copied.” The website “Writing Explained” defines an archetype in literature more broadly as follows: “Archetypes are settings, characters, images, or story patterns that repeat across various cultures and are universally understood.” Describing those disobedient to God, Jude (the Lord’s half-brother) wrote: “they have gone the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11). So, what is the archetypal pattern of Cain? Dr. Tim Mackie of the Bible Project has often explained that Cain failed to trust in the generosity of God. I agree.
In many of the stories found in the Bible, we seem to be missing some of the background or tangential information. Often, our brains quickly focus on the unanswered and unexplained. However, the writers want us to keep our focus on a few key facts or ideas. Cain and Abel were two sons of Adam and Eve, and as is sometimes the case, it seems there was some “sibling rivalry” – at least in the mind of Cain. By the time of their fateful conflict, Cain and Abel could have had many other brothers and sisters, but they are not identified, as the writer wants us to focus on the relationship between Cain, Abel, and God. We need to focus on the key elements of the story so that we can understand the meaning and message of the story.
The text explains that Cain was a tiller of the soil, and Abel was a keeper of the flocks (Gen. 4:2). We are told that both Cain and Abel brought an offering to the Lord. However, Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flocks to the Lord was from the “fat portions” of his flocks. The Hebrew word heleb includes the meaning of being the “richest, choice, or best parts” of the flock. On the other hand, Cain’s offering was not distinguished as being from the choice or best of his crops. Then we read that the Lord had no regard for the offering of Cain. In other words, the Lord rejected the offering of Cain, but the Lord accepted the offering of Abel. Abel’s offering suggests that he placed a high priority on pleasing God, while Cain’s offering suggests a lack of priority. Like Abel, our highest priority must be to please the Lord. We all have a hierarchy of values. What is at the top of our hierarchy?
In reaction to God’s rejection, Cain became very angry and insolent toward God. At Genesis 4:6, we read, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why is your face gloomy?” The writer used the Hebrew verb napal, which is defined as “to fall” or to be downcast. In other words, Cain was despondent, disheartened, and discouraged. Something that everyone of us has experienced at one time or the other! (In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that Satan had also experienced a despondency very similar to Cain.). Then the Lord said, “If you do well, will not your face be cheerful [s’et]? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). We always have the option of “doing well.” We “do well” when we seek to please God as our primary motivation. The New American Standard Bible 2020 translated the Hebrew word s’et as “cheerful,” but other definitions include “exalted or elevated.” In other words, instead of being “downcast,” Cain could have been “lifted up” by seeking to please God. The same is true for all of us.
No one likes to be rejected or corrected. It is always a test of our humility. But, God wants us to be humble. The Bible’s story of Cain and Abel teaches us that we all have free will and that God will hold us accountable for our decisions. Most importantly, we must be teachable and willing to accept God’s right and just authority and judgment. Additionally of great importance, we must trust in the generosity of God. If we seek to “do well,” we will trust in God’s desire to bring blessing to our lives. Abraham is an example of someone who learned to trust in the generosity of God. God told Abraham, “I will bless you…, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2), and Abraham ultimately believed Him.
However, like Cain, many of us continue to rebel against God. The Lord explained that “sin is lurking at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin was pictured as a crouching predator ready to attack and devour its prey. We all have either an earthly or Heavenly orientation to life. Sin was also personified as an inordinate or an “out of control” longing or desire. The Lord told Cain to master or gain control over his sinful impulses. Instead, Cain succumbed to his inclination to envy and jealousy. First, he had a mental attitude of anger, envy, and jealousy, and then he murdered his brother (Gen. 4:8). The anecdote to Cain’s sickness was to trust in the generosity of God. Instead, Cain reacted with hatred toward God and his brother. Cain did not have the power to kill God, but he did have the power to kill a follower of God. In a similar way, obedient followers of Christ will always face some degree of persecution in this fallen world dominated by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Then the Lord confronted Cain by asking, “Where is Abel, your brother?” (Gen. 4:9). Abel responded, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Abel used the Hebrew verb samar, which means “to keep, guard, or protect.” This is the same verb the Lord used when He told Adam to keep and guard Eden (Gen. 2:15). In one sense, it is true that adult brothers do not have a full-time obligation to guard or protect each other. However, on the other hand, we all have an obligation to guard, watch over, and maintain the peace and civility between each other. Cain’s words evidenced callousness, bitterness, and hatred toward God and his brother.
Then our omniscient Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground” (Gen. 4:9). Abel’s blood on the ground was indicative that something was terribly out of place in God’s good creation. This is an example of what it means to know and experience good and evil. As explained in an earlier blogpost, the Tree of Life included God’s wisdom. As we learned in the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is a Tree of Life (Pr. 3:18). Sharing in the life of God includes sharing in God’s wisdom for life. Now, since the Fall, we are routinely exposed to good and evil, which includes good things like tilling the soil and evil things like murder. We are required to trust in God’s generosity and God’s wisdom. We are not fit to be God, and we should guard against things like anger, hatred, jealousy, and envy.
 “Archetype.” Cambridge Dictionary Online, 8 Aug 2023. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/archetype
 “Archetype.” Writing Explained, Dictionary: Literary Devices, 8 Aug 2023. https://writingexplained.org/grammar-dictionary/archetype
 “H2459 – ḥēleḇ – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Aug, 2023. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h2459/nasb20/wlc/0-1/>.
 “H5307 – nāp̄al – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Aug, 2023. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h5307/nasb20/wlc/0-1/>.
 “H7613 – śᵊ’ēṯ – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Aug, 2023. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h7613/nasb20/wlc/0-1/>.
 “H8104 – šāmar – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Aug, 2023. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h8104/nasb20/wlc/0-1/>.