A Servant of the Ground and a Shepherd of a Flock: Genesis 4:2–5

servant of ground

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3) Gen 4:2–5: The story of Cain and Abel forms an A-B-C-B-A chiasm, with the first and fifth scene paralleling each other (Cf. Gen 4:2b–5 with Gen 4:15–16), as do the second and fourth (Cf. Gen 4:6–7 with Gen 4:9–14).

Scene three, in which Cain murders his brother, gains the central focus (Gen 4:8).[1]

In God’s words of judgment against the snake after the fall, he declared that people would align themselves either with the serpent or with the Lord as his “seed” (zera) (Gen 3:14–15).

Those who opposed the Lord’s reign over them would pit themselves against the faithful followers of God. The battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman began here.[2]



Moses opened verse two by writing, “She again bore, his brother Abel.”

In contrast with the birth of Cain (Gen 4:1), Eve made no recorded comment regarding the name of her second son. This may be because its significance was—in retrospect—too painful.[3]

Abel” means “vapor, breath, futility,”[4] an appropriately ominous moniker given the fleeting nature of his life (Ps 144:4; Job 7:7, 16; Ecc 1:2–3).[5]

In agrarian societies like Israel’s (Deut 21:15–17), the firstborn son enjoyed preeminence over his brothers (Gen 49:3; Ps 89:27).[6]

However, as occurs throughout Genesis, here the principle of favoritism failed to hold true.[7] God frequently chose the younger brother (Gen 21:8–9; Gen 25:21–26; Gen 48:17–20; Gen 49:1–3, 22–26).[8]

Despite the fall, both of Adam’s sons worked to fulfill the cultural mandate of Gen 1:26–28 by stewarding the planet’s natural resources.[9]

Cain continued in the profession of his father as “a servant of the ground” (Gen 2:15; Gen 3:23), while Abel shepherded domesticated animals. This work took place far from Eden’s pleasures (Gen 2:8–14; Gen 3:24).[10]

But God never restricted his presence to Eden.[11]



Therefore, after an indefinite amount of time,[12] Cain and Abel brought their offerings to the Lord.

Moses’s original readers would have likened this to a vassal king bringing tribute as a sign of deference and respect to his suzerain overlord (2 Ki 17:3–4).[13]

A king who reigned in an era close to Moses’s wrote this to his underling:[14]

Aziras was the grandfather of you, Duppi-Tessub. He rebelled against my father, but submitted again to my father…As he was bound by treaty, he remained bound by treaty.

As my father fought against his enemies, in the same manner fought Aziras. Aziras remained loyal toward my father [as his overlord] and did not incite my father’s anger.

My father was loyal toward Aziras and his country; he did not undertake any unjust action against him or incite his or his country’s anger in any way.

300 (shekels of) refined and first-class gold, the tribute which my father had imposed upon your father, he brought year for year; he never refused it.[15]



In contrast to Cain, who “brought an offering (minkhah) of the fruit of the ground to the Lord,” Abel “brought from the firstborn of his flock and from their fat.”

This type of offering refers to a gift of thanks to God for his generosity toward them, rather than to atone for sin.[16]

Consequently, one would anticipate that a tiller of soil would bring produce, and a shepherd would deliver a gift from his flock.[17]

In fact, a “minkhah” nearly always refers to flour or grain (Lev 2:1–3, 14–16).[18]

At this point in time, God had not specifically set apart first fruits for the Lord’s priests (Exod 23:19; Num 18:12–13). Furthermore, people could make legitimate offerings from later in the harvest (Lev 27:30; Num 18:21; Neh 10:37).[19]

Therefore, Cain’s offering of produce was quite proper.[20] It does not explain his failure.[21]

A lack of blood did not constitute a problem. In fact, Abel’s gift never refers to blood,[22] but to “their fat” (khēlev).[23]

Cain’s fault fell elsewhere.[24]



Prior to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood after the exodus, God gave no restrictions upon offering a sacrifice of one’s own as Abel did (Lev 1:1–6).[25]

It appears that both Cain and Abel served as priests, worshiping God and desiring his acceptance.[26]

Genesis does not mention the Lord asking for such gifts. Yet when given without enthusiasm, such offerings fail to express true gratitude.[27]

Many years later, David refused to offer a sacrifice which cost him nothing in order to end a plague ravaging Jerusalem (2 Sam 24:23–25). He regarded it as a form of what we today call “re-gifting.”

God commanded that the firstborn—seen as the best—[28] be set apart for himself (Exod 13:2). One could sacrifice only perfect, unblemished creatures (Lev 22:20–22).

As the choicest part of an animal, the priests burned all the fat of each sacrifice, for it belonged to God (Lev 3:16–17).[29]

Thus, the Lord “perceived a soothing aroma” (Gen 8:21).[30]



The text in Gen 4 does not specify how people recognized God’s approval.[31]

What we do know is “to Cain and his offering, he did not gaze with favor” (1 Sam 16:7).

Moses’ emphasis falls upon the older brother’s reaction to the rejection of his offering.[32]

When the Lord exposed his failure, the “seed of the serpent” “burned with anger” against the “seed of the woman” (Gen 4:6).[33]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 4:2–5.  Based upon this text, why does it appear that God rejected Cain’s offering but accepted Abel’s? How does this knowledge affect the way you give offerings to the Lord?




Go to By Faith (Heb 11:4)

[Related posts include Stewards of the Earth (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); A Well-Watered Garden (Gen 2:8–14); Serving and Keeping (Gen 2:15); God Curses the Serpent (Gen 3:14); The First Good News (Gen 3:15);  Driven Out (Gen 3:23–24); Eve Acquires a Man (Gen 4:1); Sin Lies Stretched Out (Gen 4:6‒7); By Faith (Heb 11:4); and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Brothers (Genesis 4:1‒16)]


[1] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 99.

[2] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 96.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 102.

[4] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “הֶ֫בֶל” (hebel), BDB, 210–1, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/210/mode/2up.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 102.

[6]Wilhelm Michaelis, “πρωτοτοκος” (prōtotokos), TDNT 6:871–82, 871.

[7] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 96.

[8] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 102.

[9] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 97.

[10] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 222.

[11]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 222.

[12] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 103.

[13] Walton, Genesis, 262.

[14]Pritchard, James B., ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd. ed. (ANET) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 203, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n227/mode/2up.

[15]Mursilis, “Treaty Between Mursilis and Duppi-Tessub of Amurru,” in ANET (Albrecht Goetze (trans) and James B. Pritchard (ed.) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 203, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n227/mode/2up.

[16] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:7.

[17] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 223.

[18] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “מִנְחָה” (minkhah), BDB, 585, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/584/mode/2up. Confirmed by a Logos 7 word study, which notes that 134 of 211 occurrences in the Old Testament refer specifically to grain offerings.

[19] Walton, Genesis, 263.

[20] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:7.

[21] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 223.

[22] Walton, Genesis, 263.

[23] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “חֵ֫לֶב” (chelev), BDB, 316–7, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/316/mode/2up.

[24] Walton, Genesis, 263.

[25]Richard L. Pratt Jr, He Gave Us Stories: The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1990), 259.

[26] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 97.

[27] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:7.

[28] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 97.

[29] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 103–4.

[30] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 223.

[31] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 103.

[32] Walton, Genesis, 263.

[33]Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 182.