It is interesting to me to see the actions of God shortly after Adam and Eve left the garden. In Genesis 4, the Bible records the first murder, that of Abel by the hands of his brother Cain. Murder in and of itself is not that interesting as it is actually kind of common in this crazy, messed-up world. What is interesting is how Cain was treated. Three things could have happened after the murder. First, the people in the area (Cain’s family – Adam, Eve, siblings, or their descendants) could have gathered together and punished Cain for his deeds. In modern terms, this would be a type of democratic society in which the people decide what is right and wrong according to popular vote or what is best for society. In other words, society as a whole becomes the king who determines what is right and wrong.
Second, they could have ignored the killing and continued living out their lives as if nothing happened. This would be a similar concept to the first choice – namely promoting society to the role of king. Granted, there may have been some folks who would disagree with society and try to enact judgment on Cain themselves. But, then again, this would still be humanity deciding what is right and wrong – and if we learned anything from the Genesis 1–3, it is that God alone determines what is right and wrong. This brings us to the third choice people had after Cain killed Abel: they could let the Creator King judge the deeds of Cain. This may sound self-evident, considering that this story is recorded in a religious book, but in reality it isn’t that simple. Just below the surface of this story is a great deal of information about the rule and reign of God.
If you recall, Genesis was written to teach the Israelites who was the rightful ruler of heaven and earth. The Israelites had just been delivered from slavery under the kings of Egypt who had absolute power of their lives. The pharaoh could do anything he wanted without judgment or question as he was the supreme ruler of the land. In recording the story of Cain and Abel, Moses is telling the Israelites that the only person who has the right to judge the deeds of another is God himself. Only he can make the decision of what is right and what is wrong. He is also the only one who can decide what the punishment will be, as that too was the prerogative of the King.
The cool thing about this story – if I’m allowed to use the word “cool” in connection with a story about murder – is what God decides to do. Instead of killing Cain, which he had the authority and power to do, not to mention the political pressure of Adam, Eve and everyone else, God grants him grace. He allows Cain to continue to live. Granted, Cain had some consequences to remind him of his error, but in simple terms, God gave Cain grace when he could have killed him (Genesis 4:10–16).
This same grace was given to Cain’s parents, Adam and Eve, when they decided to be rulers of their lives. Genesis 2:17 tells us that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would “surely die.” It does not say that they would die spiritually – it said that they would die. Period. Therefore when Adam and Eve ate of the tree, they deserved death. However, God did not kill them right then and there. Instead, he covered their nakedness and granted them the grace to continue to live (though they eventually die and return to the dust, as does all their offspring). He even leaves the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and chooses to live within them as their God and King. While the relationship between the Creator King and humanity was different after this event (i.e. Adam and Eve no longer physically walked next to God like they did in the garden), it does shows the love and grace of God as he did not stay behind in the perfect garden and allow his people to struggle alone. Rather, he gave them the promise that one day he will destroy the serpent and the evil, sin, and death it represented.