Recently my wife delivered our third son, but this time around, things were a little different. With the first two boys, we made it to the hospital in plenty of time, she got her epidural, and we sailed through delivery like it weren’t no thang. Somehow this time we missed all of the signs of delivery until it was too late. She slept all night through her labor pains, and after a pancake breakfast, she realized, “This baby is coming NOW!” We made it to the hospital just in time for the nurses to holler several expletives and hoist my wife onto a delivery table. As she got ready to deliver our baby, she said to the nurses: “I guess there isn’t time for me to get an epidural?” Needless to say, our baby was born just minutes later. She suffered valiantly through the curse that all women endure: the pain of childbirth.
The Greatest Pain of Childbirth.
I’ve always assumed that physical pain was God’s primary focus when he explained the consequences of Eve’s disobedience in the Garden. However, as I read the story of Cain and Abel this week, I couldn’t help but see the sad irony that Eve’s firstborn son turned out to be a murderer. The pain of childbirth was there in the delivery room, but the greater pain of bearing children was watching her firstborn child fall into sin. Eve watched as he fell into the same trap of temptation she and her husband had–and it was her fault. She and Adam had brought sin upon the whole world, including their precious firstborn son Cain.
The greatest pain of childbirth was not when Cain came through the birth canal, it was when Eve realized that her own son was a sinful murderer. The sin that was crouching at the door had overpowered Cain and filled his heart with murderous rage. Eve realized that in childbirth, there is a pain worse than labor and delivery. The greatest pain is realizing that the children you are producing are sinners. As you watch those children act out the same disobedience that you yourself once walked in, it breaks your heart and produces pain that lasts long beyond the delivery room. Eve’s greatest consequence was realizing she was birthing a race of sinful men.
The Greatest Sorrow of the Ground.
Cain’s murder of Abel was a scorching hot sear on Eve’s conscience, but Adam did not go unscathed. As Cain’s blow fell on Abel’s head, and his blood was spilled on the ground, Adam’s part of the curse took on new meaning: “Cursed is the ground because of you…” (Gen. 3:17). Yes, the ground would produce thorns and thistles, and work would be a trial rather than a joy. But the true curse of the ground was that it would now receive the flesh and blood of Adam’s dead sons. Adam was not the first to experience the fullest consequences of his disobedience. His son Abel was.
When the LORD came to Cain, he said, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Gen. 4:10-11). Death would be terrible for Adam; however, watching his own son die as a consequence of his sin was worse than death itself. As the ground swallowed Abel, and his blood sunk into the dusty soil, Adam was forced to watch the full consequences of his sin destroy his family. The greatest sorrow was not in the toil of thistles and thorns; Adam’s greatest sorrow was in watching the ground swallow his sons.
The Righteous Shepherd.
The story of Cain and Abel seems injust. Abel, the man who offered the acceptable sacrifice has his blood spilled, while the murderer gets special protection from God. Adam and Eve are left with only one son–the wicked one. What hope is there for the future of mankind? The rest of Genesis 4 chronicles the descendants of Cain, and the line finishes with a man named Lamech who has taken two wives and who brags about being seventy times more vengeful than his grandfather Cain. Sin no longer crouches at the door. The line of Cain has invited it in for dinner.
I cannot help but chuckle at how great a storyteller God really is. Here in Genesis 4, we have a righteous shepherd wrongfully murdered by a jealous brother. His blood is poured out, and he is buried in the cursed ground. Here, just a few verses after the fall, we see what it’s going to take to redeem this fallen line of man–a Righteous Shepherd who is born into a lineage of sinful children, who is murdered by wicked men, and who is buried in the cursed ground.
Chapter 4 concludes with a glimmer of hope: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him'” (Gen. 4:25). Eve recognized that Seth was not just another son, he was like Abel come back from the dead. A new son in the stead of Abel. She hoped that Seth would be the ‘offspring’ God had promised in Genesis 3:15.
And one day, in the line of Seth an offspring would come. This Righteous Shepherd would also bring his mother grief as she watched him murdered by sinful men. He would bring his Father sorrow as He watched him buried in the cursed ground like Abel. However, sorrow and grief would last for the evening, but joy would come with the morning. This Righteous Shepherd would not stay in the ground, but would rise like Seth, and–just as happened in the days of Seth–His lineage would produce the sons of God: “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” (Gen. 4:26).