Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In the Place of Abel

Genesis 4 begins and ends with a birth announcement, the news that a son had been born to Adam and Eve. In v. 1, the son is Cain, at whose birth Eve declares, "I have made a man equal with the Lord." In v. 25, the son is Seth, at whose birth Eve declares, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him."

The significance of these birth announcements is found in the two responses of Eve. Do you notice a change in attitude as Eve names Seth? Doesn't Eve seem a bit prideful as she names her firstborn son, Cain? "I have made a man equal with the Lord," she declares. This, contrasted with the naming of Seth: "God has appointed for me another child." As she welcomed her first child, she shouted, "I did this!" As she welcomed her third son, she was humble: "God did this."

To understand the birth announcements and the reason for Eve's change in attitude, we must look back to Genesis 3. You remember the story. The serpent tempts the woman, the woman eats the forbidden fruit and gives to her husband to eat, and he eats. God comes in judgment. His words to the serpent are striking: ". . . he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (vv. 14-15). What do these words anticipate? They prophesy that the serpent will eventually be destroyed by the seed of the woman.

Might the woman have thought that she could get even with the serpent who had deceived her and cost her so much? Might the woman have thought that her own seed (her son) would be the source of her redemption? Eve's arrogance at the birth of Cain seems to suggest this. She had the view that she had produced the child . . . the seed that would get vengeance. But, then tragedy unfolds as Eve's son of promise kills his brother, Abel, and is driven away to a foreign land. Eve, in essence, is left without a son and the hope of her redemption seems to be shattered.

Then, in the depth of this despair, God blesses Eve with another son, whom she names Seth, declaring him to be "in the place of Abel."

At the birth of Seth, Eve is humble. She says, "This is God's doing." This is interesting. At Cain's birth, she claimed credit. At Abel's birth she had said nothing (indeed there is no reference to Abel being named; see Gen. 4.2). But now Eve credits God withe the birth of her son, one to replace Abel.

Remember, God had favored Abel and his offering, but not Cain and his offering. Is there a connection between this and Eve's hope that Cain would be her redeemer? Consider: the one whom Eve thought was the source of her salvation, her son Cain, was not the one God had appointed; he favored Abel. And, it is ultimately through the lineage of Seth that the redeemer will actually come. Jesus is the promised seed spoken of by God in his judgment of the serpent, the one through whom Eve's (actually, mankind's) redemption will be realized.

With this account of Eve and her sons a theme begins to develop that will continue to be woven throughout the Biblical story. Abel was favored by God, not Cain; Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael; Jacob was blessed, not Esau; Rachel was loved by Jacob, not Leah, but it is through Leah that God's blessing is passed; Judah was blessed, not Reuben; the youngest son of Jesse was chosen, not the eldest; and, so forth.

The significance of this trend: God brings his favor, salvation, redemption by his initiative and doing. Man has no room to boast.

Do we place ourselves in Eve's sandals (or, did she go barefoot?)? She put her reliance in Cain, only to see her hopes shattered when Cain murdered his brother. Can we relate to Eve's folly? To her lost hope? To the despair she must have felt? When we rely on ourselves and the things and power and status we accumulate, we will in time, be disappointed.

Let us have Eve's attitude as she welcomed her youngest son: "God has appointed for me another child in place of Abel."