Three Sons of Adam
By Athol Walter
As we go back through the history of the OT, we find the record of God’s dealings with mankind narrowing from the wide viewpoint of the people of Israel until it focuses on several men and their sons. For example, we have the 12 sons of Jacob, whose name was later changed by God to Israel. From those 12 sons, of course, came the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. Jacob himself was one of two sons, Esau was his brother and Isaac his father. These two sons of Isaac figure in some of Paul’s exposition of doctrine. “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated”, said God.
Their father Isaac also has an important place in the teaching of Paul. “All Israel shall be saved”, he says,. But he also says: “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel: neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed he called.” These quotes are from Rom. 9-11.
The themes of those verses could profitably occupy us for some time, but I want to move further back still.
Isaac was the son of Abraham and, as such, occupies a very important place in the type teaching of the Bible. He is said to be the child of promise. He was born not of the will of man, but by the power of the Spirit of God. Both his parents were said to be as good as dead with respect to child bearing when lie was born. And the NT tells us that Abraham received Isaac the second time from the dead as well. Again, very weighty themes.
Abraham is the furthest point back as far as the Jewish nation is concerned. He was the beginning for them. But I suspect that most of our readers are not Jews (neither am I), and it is helpful for us to go further back than Abraham.
We can ignore the likes of Terah, Abraham’s father, and others in the line of descent for our purpose in this article, but when we get to Shem we must pause. He, as we know, was one of three sons born to one of the outstanding figures in the OT. Noah was his father, and his brothers were Japheth and Ham. According to the Bible record, all the races and colours of the human race have come from those three sons.
But again, I don’t want to dwell on this family group, as interesting as that would be, because further back, there is another father who had three sons from whom we can learn some very instructive lessons.
I refer to Adam, who had many more children than just Cain and Abel. Of the other children, the only one who is named is Seth. These are the three sons that I want you to consider with me now.
There are very significant lessons for us to learn from these three men, and because we are dealing with events and truths that pertain to the beginnings of the race (and certainly long before ever there was the man Abraham and his descendants), these things are of importance to all us.
Let’s just set the scene a little.
On the terrible day when Adam chose very deliberately to follow his wife into death – and I think it was a very careful choice – the guilty pair were confronted by the Lord who came to talk with them in the cool of the evening.
God had said that the penalty for this particular disobedience was death. We will never know what was going through their minds as they hid themselves from the Lord, but we do know that while there were words of condemnation, they heard words of hope also.
The Lord was actually addressing the serpent when He said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
Again we can only guess it the thoughts and feelings of Adam and Eve when they heard those words. It sounded as if things were going to go on for a while. Eve apparently was to bear a child who would somehow undo what had been done. No details given, but words full of hope for those full of despair.
Then the Lord covered them with the skins of animals – animals which must have been slain on the spot for the purpose – and they learned for the first time about the principle of substitution. What did the Lord tell them? How much did He explain? What did they comprehend? We don’t know, but what we do know is that the skins with which the Lord covered them are symbolic of the sacrifice of the promised Seed, whom Scripture calls both the Lamb foreordained from before the foundation of the world, and also the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
In spite of the merciful words of hope, there were still penalties imposed and Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden. Please note that there were no children at this stage.
And after they had gone, the Lord placed the cherubim at the gate of the garden to guard the way to the Tree of Life. The cherubim speak of the dominion that had been lost, and also the glory of God. They are also a pledge that God’s plan of redemption will be carried out.
Now let’s move on to the three sons I mentioned.
The first one born is Cam, and if you keep the order of events in mind, it is not surprising that Eve makes the strange statement she does after the birth of Cain. “I have gotten a man even Jehovah”. (That is the literal translation of the Hebrew of Gen 4: 1). Why she used the name Jehovah I don’t know, but it would seem that she thought that Cain was the fulfilment of the promise of the Lord about the coming seed.
Unfortunately, there were two important things that Eve did not know. Firstly, Cain, the NT tells us, was of that wicked one. It would be easy to get side-tracked here into a discussion about whether Cain was born as of the wicked one, or became that later, but we will leave that hairy one for the present. So to make the point plain, Cain could not have been the promised deliverer because he was of the wicked one.
The second principle that Eve was unaware of is that stated by Paul in 1 Cor 15:46: “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual”. This simply means that the natural comes first. The first Adam was not the spiritual one, but the second Adam was. And the first child born was not spiritual but natural. The second one was the spiritual one. Now I don’t mean any more by that than to say that Abel, the second son, became a man of faith who tried to please and obey God, but Cain was the opposite. Other examples of this “natural first, spiritual second” principle are: Isaac not Ishmael; Jacob not Esau; and when the time is ready for the return of the Lord, the first one to appear in the guise of the Messiah is not the true one. But Scripture tells us that many will be deceived.
The next important event in Cain’s life is the murder of his brother Abel. This terrible deed is recorded in Gen. 4. It starts with the account of the offerings brought by the two brothers. It is fairly common for expositors to say that Abel’s offering was accepted because he brought blood with his offering, while Cain, who would not bring blood, or put himself under the blood, was not accepted because of that. I have believed that and taught it in the past myself. But I think now that there is another way of looking at it, to say the least. What type of offering was it that the two brothers were making? The Hebrew word used for their offering in Gen. 4 is minchah. You will find the rules governing this and other offerings in Lev. 2. The main point for us to note is that the minchah offering was what is called a peace offering. It is not a sin offering and it was voluntary. There is no blood associated with it. It was perfectly legitimate for this offering to be made without blood, so that cannot be the reason why Cain was rejected. Abel’s offering would still have been accepted if he had not brought blood. Abel, however, does add a blood offering to it, and it is very easy to think that is the reason for his acceptance. But we need to look a little further. Consider these verses:
Matt 23:35 “That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel… ”
Did you note it? Righteous Abel. Who is it making this unsolicited testimonial to Abel? None other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you want to argue with Him? He says Abel was righteous. I’m happy to believe Him.
Heb. 11:4. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it, he being dead, yet speaketh. ”
Abel’s offering was accepted by God because Abel WAS RIGHTEOUS. Note that the verse does not say that Abel’s offering made him righteous. The offering was accepted because he was already righteous. And by accepting the offering – which, remember, was not a sin offering, so had nothing to do with seeking forgiveness or righteousness – God testified to Abel’s righteous standing.
With Cain it was a different story. He was not righteous, so God could not accept his offering, for to do so would mean that God was recognising Cain as righteous, which, as we know, was not so. Was God correct in not testifying to Cain’s righteousness? Cain himself proved God right by murdering his brother. The action speaks louder than fine words.
Is God unfair to Cain? Some indeed think so. But I think not.
Abel had settled the matter of righteousness at some earlier point. Cain had not, and by all accounts would not. But God is patient, and straightforward with Cain.
In Gen. 4:7 God tells Cain that if he wants to be accepted, there is provision made for him. The AV says “sin lieth at the door”, but you will find an alternative reading in some Bibles. “The sin offering lieth at the door or gate”.
What gate? The gate, the entrance to the Garden of Eden, where the cherubim had been tabernacled, for such is the word used in Gen. 3. That was where the sin offering was waiting, and Cain could have used it, as Abel obviously had done. But he would not.
Look at these verses:
Ex. 29:14. “But the flesh of the bullock, and his skin, and his dung, shall thou burn with fire without the camp: it is a sin offering.”
Ex. 30: 10 “And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.”
Lev. 4:3 “If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering.”
In each of these references, the word translated its sin offering is exactly the same as the word translated “sin” in Gen. 4:7.
Now the important thing I am trying to get across here is this. I am suggesting that the reason that Cain is not righteous or accepted by God, is not that he would not bring a blood offering. The minchah offering did not require blood anyway. No, the truth is the other way around. He could not bring blood because he was not righteous. Why was he unrighteous? Well, let’s turn to his younger brother and we’ll get some help.
We are given very little information about Abel in Genesis, and it is really the NT that supplies us with the clues to work our little puzzle out. It is from the NT references mentioned earlier that we learn that Abel was righteous.
How was he righteous? Let me ask you this: How did Abraham attain righteousness? Was it not through faith? How did you attain righteousness? Was it not through faith? How do you think Abel attained righteousness? Was it not through his faith? Yes, I think so. Does Scripture support this? Let us see.
Heb. 11:4 “Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.”
The quote is not complete. What did I leave out? “By faith Abel offered…” Isn’t this whole chapter about faith? Yes, it is. And it is by faith, which means he was obeying a command of the Lord, that he was able to make a better sacrifice. I think he had already exercised his faith in the Word of the Lord, and by that faith had received the imputed righteousness provided by the Lord. And what about the last phrase of the verse: “and by it, he being dead, yet speaketh”? To what does the word IT refer? It certainly could be the sacrifice, but I suspect it might be rather the word “faith”. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice, and by that faith, he being dead, yet speaketh.
As I just said, this whole chapter is about the great cloud of witnesses – a better word is testifiers, they are not just onlookers – who through their faith and faithfulness are a great testimony. And someone who testifies, speaks, don’t they? Abel, through his faithfulness, is one of a great company who testifies to the faithfulness of God, and that they who trust Him to the end – it came down to just that with Abel didn’t it? – will not be ashamed.
Heb. 12:24 gives us another titbit of information about this man. “And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than [the blood] of Abel. ”
Why do these verses have to be so ambiguous? Again there is some diversity of opinion as to what is meant by the term the blood of Abel. Some think it refers to Abel’s death, but I think it refers to the blood of his offering. It seems to me that the contrast in the Hebrews passage is not between the Lord’s death and Abel’s death, but rather between the blood or death of the animal type and the blood of the true covenanting victim whose death seals die covenant.
Apparently, Abel’s death left something of a gap in God’s scheme. The murder of Abel was, above all else, an attack by Satan on the plan of God. So, reasoned Satan, Cain was not to be the one through whom the Deliverer would come. Therefore it must be Abel. Ergo, we get rid of Abel.
But God is not caught napping. Eve has another son, and calls his name Seth, meaning “set” or “appointed”. Eve said that God had appointed another son in Abel’s place. He was more than a replacement son for Adam and Eve. He was the substitute in the Plan of God, and he takes Abel’s place so thoroughly that Abel is not mentioned again in the OT. There is a place called Abel spoken about, but not the man. And it is through Seth’s descendants that the line goes on unbroken right to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me make a point about Seth. We know that Seth was born 130 years after Adam’s creation. We know that Seth was 105 years old when his first son was born, and he called the child Enos. We know that Seth lived to be 912. And that, my dear readers, is all we know about Seth. When you stop to think about it, that is not very much at all.
Here is the point. It is not anything the man did that is important from the Scriptural point of view. It is WHO HE WAS that is the important thing. The teaching is in his substitution for the dead Abel. The thought of substitution – of one person taking over the place of another – has now been presented to us twice, and it is certainly going to meet us again.
We can see very clearly from this that no matter what Satan may do, God is never taken by surprise, and what Satan may think of as a victory, always is turned around and used against him. This was the second time Satan was caught out through his own scheming, and it certainly is not the last.
Isaac is another one in Scripture who is more important for his position than for what he did. That is not to detract in any way from his part in the offering on Mount Moriah, and he is a wonderful picture of the Son willingly going to the offering with the Father. And Isaac is another one used to teach the principle of substitutionary sacrifice. Isaac, and indeed, all Israel, owe their existence to the ram caught in the thicket, which died in Isaac’s place.
However, when you look for details of his life that would compare with the mass of material about Abraham, or Moses, or Joseph, to name but a few, you will see how little we have of Isaac. His importance is in his position as the child of promise, in the miraculous birth, and in being the second son of Abraham, the spiritual one. Ishmael of course was the first, who represents the natural.
So in summary, what have we learned? Firstly, I think that by looking at these three sons of Adam in some sort of relationship, we can learn something about God’s purposes and how He carries them out, more so than if we only consider them separately. It is part of our natural curiosity to want to know as much as possible about these progenitors of our race. What did these ancestors of ours do each day? How did they live? What did they look like? How did they prepare their food? So many questions rush into our minds, but the Scriptures remain silent. Why? Because the Scriptures are written not to satisfy our various curiosities, but rather to teach us about the purposes of God and the truths that He wants us to know. And in these three sons of Adam we have set before us a number of basic truths:
CAIN. Not every one is of the true seed. Satan can get in somehow and spoil things. As moral beings, we have some choice in the matter of which master we serve. Then, we learn that the natural, the fleshly, comes first, the spiritual comes second. The natural man can be very religious, but this must not be mistaken for true righteousness. We can only be righteous with God, by receiving the imputed righteousness of Christ through faith. And perhaps the hardest lesson of all for us to accept is that it is impossible for the natural man to apprehend the things of God.
ABEL. I did not say it before, but his name means vapour or vanity or transitory. As we get older, we start to realise how true it is of us all, not just Abel. We have no permanence or substance in ourselves, only in Christ. And we can only be in Christ by faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Abel’s approach to God is in stark contrast with that of his brother Cain. Abel’s aspirations are to God, and he unhesitatingly accepts God’s word. And because of his faith, he receives from God the testimony that he is righteous. Abel is the first child of God to suffer the hatred of the evil one and his seed.
SETH. Seth is appointed in Abel’s place. He also is of the true seed. The line of descent to the Deliverer is through him. In a sense, Abel lived on, and his destiny was fulfilled in his younger brother. He took his brother’s place. This comes very close to ourselves. We were dead, slain by the work of the wicked one. But in our substitute who took our place, we live and look forward to the fulfilment of every promise of God.
His purposes cannot fail, because His Word is true and sure. And remember that the Word is not just the Bible, as wonderful as that is. Above and beyond that the Word is none other than our Saviour, Lord and Head, Jesus Christ.