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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–2
Verses 1–2

Adam and Eve had many sons and daughters, Gen. 5:4. But Cain and Abel seem to have been the two eldest. Some think they were twins, and, as Esau and Jacob, the elder hated and the younger loved. Though God had cast our first parents out of paradise, he did not write them childless; but, to show that he had other blessings in store for them, he preserved to them the benefit of that first blessing of increase. Though they were sinners, nay, though they felt the humiliation and sorrow of penitents, they did not write themselves comfortless, having the promise of a Saviour to support themselves with. We have here,

I. The names of their two sons. 1. Cain signifies possession; for Eve, when she bore him, said with joy, and thankfulness, and great expectation, I have gotten a man from the LORD. Observe, Children are God’s gifts, and he must be acknowledged in the building up of our families. It doubles and sanctifies our comfort in them when we see them coming to us from the hand of God, who will not forsake the works and gifts of his own hand. Though Eve bore him with the sorrows that were the consequence of sin, yet she did not lose the sense of the mercy in her pains. Comforts, though alloyed, are more than we deserve; and therefore our complaints must not drown our thanksgivings. Many suppose that Eve had a conceit that this son was the promised seed, and that therefore she thus triumphed in him, as her words may be read, I have gotten a man, the LORD, God-man. If so, she was wretchedly mistaken, as Samuel, when he said, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before me, 1 Sam. 16:6. When children are born, who can foresee what they will prove? He that was thought to be a man, the LORD, or at least a man from the LORD, and for his service as priest of the family, became an enemy to the LORD. The less we expect from creature s, the more tolerable will disappointments be. 2. Abel signifies vanity. When she thought she had obtained the promised seed in Cain, she was so taken up with that possession that another son was as vanity to her. To those who have an interest in Christ, and make him their all, other things are as nothing at all. It intimates likewise that the longer we live in this world the more we may see of the vanity of it. What, at first, we are fond of, as a possession, afterwards we see cause to be dead to, as a trifle. The name given to this son is put upon the whole race, Ps. 39:5. Every man is at his best estate Abel—vanity. Let us labour to see both ourselves and others so. Childhood and youth are vanity.

II. The employments of Cain and Abel. Observe, 1. They both had a calling. Though they were heirs apparent to the world, their birth noble and their possessions large, yet they were not brought up in idleness. God gave their father a calling, even in innocency, and he gave them one. Note, It is the will of God that we should every one of us have something to do in this world. Parents ought to bring up their children to business. “Give them a Bible and a calling (said good Mr. Dod), and God be with them.” 2. Their employments were different, that they might trade and exchange with one another, as there was occasion. The members of the body politic have need one of another, and mutual love is helped by mutual commerce. 3. Their employments belonged to the husbandman’s calling, their father’s profession—a needful calling, for the king himself is served of the field, but a laborious calling, which required constant care and attendance. It is now looked upon as a mean calling; the poor of the land serve for vine-dressers and husbandmen, Jer. 52:16. But the calling was far from being a dishonour to them; rather, they were an honour to it. 4. It should seem, by the order of the story, that Abel, though the younger brother, yet entered first into his calling, and probably his example drew in Cain. 5. Abel chose that employment which most befriended contemplation and devotion, for to these a pastoral life has been looked upon as being peculiarly favourable. Moses and David kept sheep, and in their solitudes conversed with God. Note, That calling or condition of life is best for us, and to be chosen by us, which is best for our souls, that which least exposes us to sin and gives us most opportunity of serving and enjoying God.