From Genesis 3 onward, sin’s destructive power in interpersonal relationships becomes a theme of the storyline of Scripture. Sin naturally employs jealousy as a means of causing division in the human family. Cain’s jealousy of Abel is the first in a pattern of jealousy-laden relationships in Genesis: Ishmael was jealous of Isaac (21:9), Esau was jealous of Jacob (27:36), and Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Rachel’s firstborn (37:19). Further in the history of redemption, Aaron and Miriam were jealous of Moses (Num 12:1-2), Saul was jealous of David (1 Sam 18:7-9), the Pharisees were jealous of Jesus (John 11:47-48), and selfish preachers were jealous of Paul (Phil 1:12-17).
Sin’s reigning power in the pre-flood period is seen not only in the way it divides the human family in Genesis 4 and following, but also in its ability to drastically diminish the lifespan of humanity (Genesis 5). The thrust of Genesis 5 is that God did not contrive an empty threat in the Garden. Death entered as sin’s partner so that they would rule over humanity and restrain the gift of a long life on earth. The themes of humility in Proverbs 1 censure humanity’s jealous pursuits. The author of Proverbs warned his audience against the dangers of striving, concluding Proverbs 1 with two contrasting ways of life: “The waywardness of the inexperienced will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But whoever listens to me will live securely and be free from the fear of danger” (Prov 1:32-33).
In the storyline of Scripture, the relationship between Cain and Abel becomes a paradigm of good and evil. Cain’s jealous murder of his brother provided an object lesson for John in 1 John 3:11-12: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.” Jude described the false teachers of his day as followers of Cain—greedy and destructive (Jude 11).
The author of Hebrews began his catalogue of faithful Old Testament saints by noting that Abel’s gift was superior to Cain’s. “By this he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts,” the author wrote, “and even though he is dead, he still speaks through this” (Heb 11:4). The author of Hebrews saw in Abel’s blood a type of Christ’s sacrifice, writing that Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant—and His blood speaks better things than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24). Abel and Jesus were both killed unjustly but Jesus, as God’s Son, laid down His life willingly as a sacrifice for sin.