The First Great Crime
After Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden they had to work hard to raise food to eat. God had told Adam that the ground would not bear fruit of itself, and unless he labored hard the earth would produce only thorns and thistles. And furthermore he told Adam that when he died his body would return with the dust out of which it was made.
Adam and Eve went forth to labor, as every one since has had to do, but we may well believe that God who made them earn their living by hard work, also made them more content and happy in occupation than if they spent their days in idleness.
After a while Adam and Eve had two sons; the older one was named Cain, the younger one was named Abel. When Cain became a man he turned to tilling the soil for an occupation, and raised grain and fruits. In fact he was a farmer as his father was before him, thereby making farming the first as it is the most necessary of all human occupations.
Abel the younger brother was a keeper of sheep. He loved the flocks and herds that gave man meat, and raised lambs for the sacrifices that God had already told them they must make. While Cain was plowing the ground, sowing the seed, and reaping his harvest, Abel was tending to his flocks on the hillsides or following them as they wandered through the valleys searching for food and water. The brothers probably lived very happily together, so long as they obeyed God and did right.
God had told both of them that they must offer sacrifices unto the Lord, and should do so with a loving and devout heart. An altar was to be built of stones, or of earth, with a flat top and a place for wood that should consume the offering with fire. Upon the altar the offering was to be placed, the wood was to be set on fire, and while the offering was ascending to heaven in the shape of smoke, he who was making the offering was to repent of his sins and think of the goodness of God to all his living creatures.
Cain brought his offering of the fruit of the ground, such as grain and other things he had raised, and having built his altars he tried to consume his offering with fire. But the heart of Cain was wicked, and his offering did not please the Lord, and Cain knew it and was angry.
Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, a young lamb, and having built his altar, he also tried to consume his offering. And the heart of Abel was good and he loved the Lord, so that the Lord had respect unto his offering, and Abel knew it and was glad.
When Cain knew that the Lord was pleased with the offering of Abel, he became still more angry and began to hate his brother. Instead of repenting of his evil heart and offering a sacrifice that would please the Lord, he became more wicked and more jealous of his younger brother.
"Why are you so angry, and why is your face so downcast? If you do right I shall be pleased with you; if you do wrong the fault is your own and sin lies at your own door," the Lord said unto Cain.
Cain answered not a word, nor did he repent in anywise of his sin, nor did he forgive his brother for having received favor in the sight of the Lord. Bitter words were spoken by Cain and Abel, and one day when they were in the field, Cain fell upon his young brother and killed him, and left him dead in the field beside his flocks.
Terrified at this awful crime Cain fled but he could not get away from the presence of the Lord. The voice of the Lord called unto him and said: "Cain, where is Abel, your brother?"
Cain now added falsehood to his crime by answering the Lord: "I know not; am I my brother's keeper?"
The Lord knew very well that Cain had slain his brother, and as a punishment told him that when he tilled the ground it would not yield any harvest; only thorns and thistles, and weeds would grow for him instead of the grain and fruit he had once raised so abundantly. Since he had disobeyed God and had killed his brother he should from that time be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, always moving from place to place and never finding any rest.
Then Cain cried out: "My punishment is greater than I can bear. The Lord has driven me forth and has hidden his face from me, and now everyone that sees me shall try to kill me."
But the Lord did not intend for Cain to be killed, so He set a mark on him that anyone seeing him should know by the mark that he was to suffer for his sin, but was not to be killed. And Cain went away from the place where he was born, and wandered into a far country.