So here we are taking it from the top. The first portion of the annual Torah cycle is called Bereishit (בְּרֵאשִׁית in Hebrew, meaning “in the beginning”), after the first word of the allotted text. Spanning Genesis 1:1-6:8, it covers a tremendous amount of ground – creation, Eden, the Fall, Cain and Abel, the first 10 generations of humanity from Adam to Noah, and the times of Noah, including the corruption of the human race by angelic cross-breeding.
There’s so much I could say about the various things in these chapters. They summarise over 1600 years’ worth of history (the period from creation until Noah’s flood is 1656 years, although we’re not going to read about the flood until the next portion), but I don’t have the time to cover them all, nor could I do it as well as some others have.
… As I’ve said, there’re lots of resources out there on the Torah already, so I’m just going to focus on the things in Scripture which stand out most to me. And for this portion, this year, I want to write about Cain and Abel. Or more specifically, the significance of their names as a source of insight into Adam and Eve’s life post-Eden.
We set the context with the first Messianic prophecy to appear in Scripture – Genesis 3:15 – when God promises the serpent while He’s cursing it:
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
This is God’s express declaration, right from the beginning at the Fall, that a Saviour would one day be born into the human race who would defeat Satan, while being wounded in the process. … The question is, what did Adam and Eve understand of these words?
We get an important clue in Genesis 4:1, which says:
וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת-קַיִן וַתֹּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת-יְהוָה
In the NKJV, this is rendered: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the LORD.'” Many other English translations read similarly.
However, if one were to look at the Hebrew, one would see that it literally says: “And the man knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and she said, ‘I have acquired a man, YHWH.”
The phrase “from the LORD” is not actually found in the text of Genesis 4:1. What is found, is the untranslated word אֶת (pronounced “eth”), located just before the name YHWH (which is commonly translated as “the LORD” in English). אֶת is an accusative particle in Hebrew grammar. This means that it is used in conjunction with a word to indicate that it is the object of a verb. In this case, the verb is קָנִיתִי (qanithi), meaning “I have acquired/gotten.” So according to the Hebrew, Eve is really saying, “I have gotten a man: YHWH,” or “I have acquired a man, that is YHWH.”
This indicates that Eve understood more about God’s prophecy than one might be led to think at first glance. Her words show that she believed the seed which God promised her would be divine, and not just human… that He would be a man, and YHWH at the same time. The only mistake she made in the matter was in thinking that Cain was the seed in question, as evidenced by her naming the child קַיִן (pronounced “Qayin”), which means acquired, or acquisition – she thought she had gotten the fulfilment of God’s promise through her firstborn.
This interpretation is supported both directly and indirectly by a couple of traditional Jewish sources. One is Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which translates this verse: “I have gotten a man: the angel of YHWH.”
This is noteworthy because the targums are Aramaic translations/paraphrases of Hebrew Scripture which came about as a result of the Babylonian exile. Having been carried away into Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, the Jews of the time learned to speak and write Aramaic, but were not as familiar with Hebrew as they were before, especially in subsequent generations. So upon their return from exile, a practice of reading the Bible in both Hebrew and Aramaic was instituted in the synagogues so that the people could stay in touch with their mother tongue and understand what the Scriptures said.
Because of this, the targums provide valuable insight into the various ways in which the Scriptures were understood by ancient Jews of the time, because they not only translate the Hebrew verses, they also paraphrase and expound on them. Thus not only do we have Eve saying that the male child she had birthed was YHWH in the original Hebrew, there is also an Aramaic targum which expands on this by saying that she believed the child was the Angel of YHWH – which is a common Old Testament designation for the pre-incarnate Jesus.
Apart from this, the Midrash Rabba, a collection of traditional Jewish stories, homilies, parables and legal exegesis on the Bible, also cites Rabbi Akiva, a first-century sage, admitting that if the verse said, “I have gotten a man the LORD,” it would’ve been difficult to interpret, because it might imply that Eve had begotten YHWH, so the phrase “with the help of” needed to be inserted between “eth” and “YHWH” – and this is how many Jewish readers, as well as various English translations of the Bible, still take the verse today, i.e. “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” But the truth is, when read plainly and simply, that’s not what the Scripture says.
But here’s where it gets really interesting (at least, as far as I’m concerned). After Cain, Eve conceived again and gave birth to another son, whom she named Abel. In Hebrew, this name is written הָבֶל (pronounced “Havel”). It is the same word used by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes when he writes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל). The word הָבֶל literally means vapour, but is also used to denote futility, vanity or emptiness due to the functional nature of the Hebrew language – just as vapour is ephemeral and without substance, so are all those things which the Hebrews judge to possess the same quality.
So here’s the picture that I see. When Cain was born, Adam and Eve, quite literally, named him Acquired. And one can almost perceive a celebratory tone to this act… feel the palpable hope of the banished couple that the promised seed of God had come to redeem them from the curse they were under, so they could return to the garden from which they’d been expelled. … Unfortunately, however, as time passed, they would’ve eventually realised that this was not the case… and when Cain’s brother was born, their disillusionment and despair are starkly expressed in the fact that they name this second baby, Futility.
As I see it, Abel’s naming signifies the death of Adam and Eve’s hope that the God with whom they fellowshipped in the garden would bring them home. I think it indicates that they were finally realising just how long and severe His punishment on their sin was going to be. They had to face the fact that they were going to have to live in the fallen world which they created with their own disobedience – with hardship and perpetual toil, sickness and pain, suffering and labour; with more anguish if they decided to keep having children, and a relationship that would be marred by dysfunction and disunity for the rest of their lives; and at the end of it all, they were going to die, just as God had promised them would happen. … And so would their children.
It wasn’t too long after, in fact, that their firstborn murdered his brother.
Genesis is, mercifully, largely silent about what went on between the unhappy couple during this period… though I do believe that we get one more glimpse through the birth of Seth. Genesis 4:25 tells us, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, ‘For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.'” And Genesis 5:3 adds: “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”
So Seth was their third son, and while we don’t know when Cain and Abel were born or how long it was after Abel’s murder that Seth was conceived, I think it speaks volumes that Adam was 130 years old when it happened. … How long did it take for Adam and Eve to come to terms with each other over everything – their respective roles in the Fall, their disappointment over Cain, their anguish at losing a son at the hands of another son… how long did it take for them to be reconciled, and truly comforted with each other again? Scripture seems to be saying that the whole process took more than a century, for it was only after the birth of Seth that Adam is recorded as having gone on to have many more children (Genesis 5:4).
One can only imagine what it was like for them during this time. To live with each other and recall what they had with God so vividly, and yet be so impossibly cut off from it… to resent and blame each other in the decades that followed… to see their sons growing up and being affected by such an environment – reality must’ve sunk in hard. Paradise was indeed lost. They were seeing for themselves the terrible price of sin, and it is something for us to remember as well.
The only silver lining in all this, of course, is the fact that right from the beginning, God promised the birth of a Messiah who would change all this. A Messiah who would be both אִישׁ (“ish,” or man) and יְהוָה (YHWH, God); a Messiah who would strike the enemy on his very head, and be wounded in the heel (and just in case you didn’t know, a nail was driven precisely through the victim’s heel in a Roman crucifixion); a Messiah who would bring the race of Adam back into communion with God.
From the first chapters of Genesis, these things are delineated clearly in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it justifies that title by which we refer to Yeshua as the Hope of the Ages. He was the hope of Adam and Eve from the time of their fall; the hope of Israel from her birth as a nation; and He is the hope of the Gentiles today. It demonstrates, vividly, why Revelation 13:8 refers to Him as the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world.”
… As written on my About page, the Torah points us forward, in profound ways, to the coming of Jesus as the Saviour of the world. And I hope this post gives you some idea as to what I meant.
Next week we look at Noah, but before I finish, I want to share some links on a particular topic that’s always interested me about Bereishit: the long lifespans recorded on Adam and his progeny.
Now when it comes to such questions, I say this adamantly and emphatically: Creation Ministries International is your best friend. If you want to know how so many apparently mythological-sounding facts in Genesis could possibly have any basis in reality, they are your best source for finding logically/scientifically viable (and most importantly, Biblical) theories and explanations. So if you’re interested, take a look:
And if there’s anything else you want to look up, they have a very helpful search engine and, of course, their excellent Q&A on Genesis.
Shalom everybody. Have a blessed week ahead, and thanks for reading.