Cain’s works leading to death; Christ's conflict with the Pharisees foreshadowed (Gen. 4:1-8)
We next meet Adam and Eve after the birth of their sons, Cain and Abel. Cain works the soil, but Abel kept flocks.
It is said that Man will work the ground, from which he is taken (3:23), and “for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (3:19) In this, there’s a sense of the futility of Man’s efforts at works-based self-sufficiency. It’s futile because even though he labors painfully to keep himself alive, he will still die. Ultimately, Man will not be able to sustain himself by his working the ground. This image is like Man’s attempt to justify himself before God by his own works of righteousness, which we will see more fully in the life of Cain.
Cain, in accordance with the Curse, works the soil. (3:23, 4:2). But notably Abel does not work the soil, but instead keeps flocks. This becomes significant because when they bring sacrifices from their respective professions, Cain’s fruits are rejected while Abel’s fat portions are accepted.
Again, the produce of the soil is an image of Man’s works, and here they are presented as an attempt to please God. But God is not pleased with Man’s works of self-sufficiency.
Instead, God is pleased with Abel’s fat portions—offerings which do not come from Man’s cursed efforts at self-sufficiency. Rather, they involve the sacrifice of a living being.
This sacrifice of an animal and conflict with Cain appears to be a foreshadowing of Christ and his conflict with the Jewish religious establishment. The Pharisees, like Cain, are said to believe that they were justified before God by their own efforts, but God required the sacrifice of Christ. The parallels between Cain and Able and the Pharisees and Christ is even more striking when we see what Cain does to Abel. Cain’s sacrifice is found wanting particularly when compared to Abel’s sacrifice, and this angers Cain and so he kills Abel. In the same way, the Pharisees conspired to have Christ killed because Christ exposed their efforts at religious observance as godless self-reliance.