Our Discord channel is our own little Areopagus where students come to ask questions “We wish to know therefor what these things mean?” regarding matters of faith. From time to time, I publish here their questions with my slightly edited and expanded answers.
QUESTION: Abel was the first person to die in the Bible, so I need to know does anyone else think it might be reasonable to assume that Cain didn’t know Able would die?
DAVID: So the writer is not particularly concerned with the psychology or knowledge of Cain, the primary concern is that turning away from God can lead to fratricide even after God himself warns Cain about the effects of sin (Gen 4:7).
That being said, the context here is of two offerings, Cain’s cereal offering is rejected (it doesn’t specify why) and Abel’s sacrifice from the firstlings of his flock is accepted. If Abel is sacrificing lambs, then Cain definitely knows what violent death looks like. There is a possibility that Cain is trying to one-up his brother, offering an even greater sacrifice than the animal, that which the animal is supposed to replace, Abel himself. Surely a human sacrifice is better, right? But again, that would be trying to read psychology into a writer not interested in motives.
It IS important however in typology. Abel is the shepherd who offered the lamb as sacrifice who becomes the first human sacrifice whose blood cries out to God. Jesus is the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd, the incarnate Word of God who is fully God and fully human, sacrificed on the altar of the Cross. Abel is betrayed by his brother; Jesus is betrayed by his friends, his religion, and his people. Abel’s blood calls for justice and judgment; Jesus’ blood calls out for mercy and redemption. God marks Cain so that he is not to be slain. Jesus seals his servants with a sign that will protect them from God’s saving wrath (Ezek 9:4; Rev 7:4, 9:4, 14:1)