There doesn’t appear to be a lot of time between Cain and Abel. Cain is born in Genesis 4:1, and Abel comes in the next verse. “And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain, a worker of the ground.” I would like to have more information about the two boys growing up, but Moses doesn’t seem to care about that. He moves right from their births to their adult occupations. At Cain’s birth, Eve shouts out that she had brought forth a man with the help of God. The enthusiasm and excitement she showed have led many to think she expected Cain to be the fulfillment of God’s promise of a deliverer. When Abel was born, they named him “breathe, vapor or air,” which Solomon used to refer to the vanity of life. It’s only a “breathe.” It’s here today and gone tomorrow. It’s not unusual for God to reverse the order of the blessing on children. The second-born, or later-born child, inherits the promise instead of the firstborn, as with Jacob and Esau and Joseph’s children, Ephraim and Manasseh. John Bunyon observes this regarding Cain and Abel and says, “God often doth as Jacob did, even cross hands, in bestowing blessings, giving that which is best to him that is least esteemed: For Cain was the man in Eve’s esteem; she thought, when she had him, she had got an inheritance; but as for Abel, he was little worth; by his name, they showed how little they set by him.”[1]

Abel was a shepherd. One cannot help but wonder if Adam and Eve, along with their family, had become carnivorous at this point. Why would you raise and tend sheep if you didn’t eat mutton? The most straightforward answer seems to be that you would raise sheep for clothing. As the family grew, they would need more and more as time went by and children were added. They knew that sheepskin was the best for making clothing because that’s what God used to replace their fig leaves. Kissling thinks they raised sheep to eat. He says, “At creation, humanity is given plants for food (Gen 1:29; 2:9). Here animals have become a food source. …Animals are explicitly given as a food source to humanity only after the Flood in Genesis 9:3.”[2] There is no mention of eating meat at this time, and maybe the flesh of animals offered as a sacrifice was seen as “food of the gods,” and therefore, it was burnt upon the altar as a sacrifice while the skin was used for clothing as initially done by God himself.

Cain was a farmer. It’s more literally “a worker of the ground.” Butler writes, “Some may think Cain had an inferior job compared to Abel’s work, but that is not true. His job was the job first mentioned in Scripture. But our text records the first mention of a keeper of sheep.”[3] There may be an additional comment here, though, dealing with the word “ground.” As the serpent was condemned to crawl on the “ground,” with his belly (appetites), so too might the idea of ground be used here. Satan’s interests are all fleshly. The ground speaks of the things of the earth, and the use of the concept with Cain might be a comment on his lusts as well. He’s of his father, the Devil, and follows suit. John tells us not to be like Cain, the murderer. He’s of his father, the Devil. Jude tells us that Cain sought only personal gain. Like Satan himself. Sailhamer suggests this saying, “On the basis of Jude 11 (‘Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain’) and Hebrews 11:4 (‘By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did’), Cain has often been taken as a ‘type’ of a godless humanity and Abel as a ‘type’ of the spiritual man.”[4]

[1] Bunyan, John. 2006. An Exposition of the First Ten Chapters of Genesis. Vol. 2. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Kissling, Paul J. 2004–. Genesis. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

[3] Butler, John G. 2008. Analytical Bible Expositor: Genesis. Clinton, IA: LBC Publications.

[4] Sailhamer, John H. 1990. “Genesis.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, 2:60. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.