Genesis 4: 1 - 16
This is the story of Cain and Abel. This story is dark and tragic from beginning to end. Parents remember what it was like to wait for the birth of our first child. So many hopes and dreams are wrapped up in that little baby. I am sure Adam and Eve had big dreams for Cain. They hoped he would make his mark on the world. He certainly made a mark, but things did not work out as they intended. Instead of fulfilling their dreams, the first baby, broke their hearts and left a trail of blood and tears.
The key to understanding the meaning of this story - repeated 7 times - Cain killed Abel his brother. The shock of this story is not simply that Cain killed a man who made him angry. No, Cain killed his brother.
A Family Affair
There is much we don’t know - the age difference? - their childhood years? Why did one choose to be a farmer and another a shepherd? How did Cain know Abel’s sacrifice had been accepted? What was the “mark” that God placed on him to protect him? For all those things, we don’t have enough information to give a definite answer. But there are 2 things we know for certain – 1. The first murder takes place within the family. 2. The first murder takes place after a worship service.
What started as deception in the garden moves to deliberate sin and now leads to pre-meditated murder. It is a sign of things to come. There is a direct line that stretches from the bloody corpse of Abel to the killings of children, men and women everyday in our country and around the world. Man has now become his own executioner.
Cain and Abel appear the same - you can’t tell who will be the killer and who will be the victim. Shared the same parents - spiritual background - home life - heard the same stories from Adam and Eve about life in paradise and about their expulsion because of sin. Yet as often happens in families - 1 boy went in 1 direction and 1 boy went in another. 1 followed God - 1 followed his own desires - 1 man murdered his brother.
Modern terms - Cain and Abel went to church - both gave an offering. After church Cain invited Abel over to watch the grand prix. Cain killed his brother just before the start of the race.
1. A Tale of Two Brothers v. 1 - 5
Cain and Abel had much in common - 1 difference: Abel’s offering was accepted by God; Cain’s was rejected. Why? No clear answer. It seems that Cain brought fruit and veg while Abel offered the best of the flock. If so, then Cain was just going through the motions while Abel was generously offering his very best to the Lord.
May be a difference between grain versus blood sacrifice. Maybe God gave instructions and the brothers should have known that sin requires blood sacrifice. Then Abel’s offering was accepted because it pictured the coming death of Christ; Cain’s was rejected because it was a man-made attempt to bypass the sacrifice.
Hebrews 11: 4 “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” The real difference was in the heart. Abel had faith; Cain did not. Abel believed God and offered the best that he had; Cain lacked faith and apparently just went through the motions. God looked with favour on Abel and his offering. The order is crucial: first the man, then the offering. God always looks to the heart first. When he looked at Abel’s heart, he found faith. Cain’s absence of faith guaranteed that his offering would be rejected. Sacrifice is acceptable to God, but where there is no faith, even the best offering cannot make up the difference.
So Cain was angry when he saw that his offering had been rejected but his brother’s had been accepted. But his defective offering came from a defective heart. His brother was not the problem. The angry man was his own worst enemy.
2. A Murder Even God Could Not Stop v. 6 - 8
The questions are rhetorical. God knows the answers. He asks to force Cain to face his sin. Cain was so angry at Abel that he couldn’t face his own personal failure. God’s offer is genuine. If Cain would do right, and offer the right sacrifice in the right spirit, he too would be accepted. The door was open to both brothers but it must be entered by faith. Going through the motions would not win God’s approval.
Sin is pictured as a lion waiting to pounce on Cain and destroy him. What started as jealousy led to anger and now to rage. Cain is on the brink of destruction, and God warns him so he can go another direction. There is still time to change. What will Cain do? Will he realize his danger and turn from his anger or will it destroy him?
The answer is quick in coming. Cain lures his brother to a field where no one can see them. There he attacked his brother and killed him. He probably used a rock or a club to beat him to death.
Why would Cain kill his brother? Simple - He wanted to remove the competition and he wanted to get even with God. The only way to “hurt” God was to kill the man whose offering he accepted. It is a sick, twisted logic but in his rage, Cain was not thinking straight.
How easy it is to hurt those we love. No one can make us angry like members of our own family. The meanest things we say are said to those closest to us. Often we show kindness to people we hardly know while treating our “loved ones” as if they were dirt. One minute you are making an offering to God, the next you are murdering your own flesh and blood. How quickly the heart can turn from worship to mayhem. There is a little Cain in all of us and a lot of Cain in most of us.
3. A Murderer’s Punishment (v. 9 – 16) Story unfolds quickly.
A. Total Denial of Responsibility v. 9
Cain lies to God. It took awesome callousness to flippantly say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Like saying, “Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?” It is a denial of the very purpose of the family. We have brothers and sisters so that we can watch out for them and they can watch out for us. Today we say, “I’ve got your back.” Brothers are supposed to stick together no matter what happens. But somehow that basic family obligation never sunk in with Cain.
B. God Sentences Him to Restless Wandering v. 10 – 12
He buried Abel’s body thinking no one would know. But God saw and heard the cry of Abel’s blood. Cain’s sentence is 2-fold - He will continue to work the ground, but it will no longer yield its fruit to him. He will roam the earth - move restlessly from one place to another, never quite finding a place he can call home.
C. There is Fear and Uncertainty v. 13, 14
Selfishness - It’s all about Cain - “I … me … my … me.” The man who killed his brother cares only for himself. He doesn’t express remorse or repentance. If he feels bad about what happened, he hides it very well. He is a brutal murderer and a selfish, pathetic loser. His only concern is that someone will try to kill him.
D. God Promises Protection amid Punishment v. 15
No one will be able to touch Cain. Whatever the mark was, it guaranteed Cain a long life. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that no one will kill him. It is a curse in that he will now live a long, restless, unfulfilled life. But the protection will afford him time to get right with God, even though it does not seem that he ever availed himself of that opportunity.
E. He Ends up with a Life Apart from God v. 16
Ironic - God would have been fully justified in putting him to death. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But it is the righteous man who dies while the guilty man lives. Cain left God’s presence because he showed no desire for repentance. Sin cannot stay in God’s presence, so he now voluntarily departs from the Lord. He is the perfect picture of the secular man who lives under God’s protection even while living in rebellion against him.
Step back and see why this sin is so great: 1. He killed his brother, 2. in the context of worship, 3. after rejecting God’s warning, 4. then denying responsibility, and 5. refusing to accept his punishment. There is nothing positive you can say about Cain. He appears to be a man wholly in the grip of sin.
So sin takes a deeper hold in the human heart as it passes from one generation to another. What started as a trickle with Adam and Eve now becomes a tidal wave of death in the next generation. One child is dead; the other roams the world, restless, homeless, hopeless. Seen from Abel’s side, it looks like this: The first man who died, died for his faith, killed by a religious man who hated his righteousness.
As we move into the NT, Cain and Abel each become symbols of larger spiritual realities. Jesus mentions Abel as the first in a long line of martyrs who were put to death by those who reject the Lord. In Hebrews he is the first example of those who lived by faith. Also in Hebrews - the “blood of Abel” cries out for justice. John mentions Cain as an example of one who belonged to the devil and whose life displayed hatred leading to murder. He is the proto-type unbeliever who does not know God and who does not have eternal life. Jude speaks of the false teachers who follow the “way of Cain,” meaning they not only reject the truth but persist in following lies and leading others to destruction after them.
The Two Humanities
“Genesis in Space and Time” - Francis Schaeffer - Cain and Abel represent the 2 great divisions of the human race. Cain is the first unbeliever while Abel is the first true worshiper of God and also the first martyr. Everyone in the world is either in the “line of Cain” or the “line of Abel.”
Describe Cain - proud, stubborn, cynical, sullen, defiant, angry, unforgiving, devious, violent, resentful, scheming, self-reliant, clever and religious. Abel - humble, honest, a man of faith, a believer who offered his best to God and was murdered as a result. The bottom line of this story is all about worldly religion versus the true worship of God. All about a humanistic approach to God that rejects the humility of faith in favour of doing things your own way. Cain’s religion is the religion of the world that rejects the way of the Cross. The “Way of Cain” is the way of those who wish to downplay the sacrifice of Christ in favour of Tolerance and Love. Modern-day Cains want nothing to do with the “narrow-minded” approach of those who believe that there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. We hear echoes of Cain in the voices of those who affirm that Jesus and Mohammed are both great prophets and that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God. Cain speaks today through those who tell us that the way to heaven is through good works and not through the new birth.
The way of Abel is of those who come to God saying, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy Cross I cling.” It is the weakness of the Cross versus the power of the world, the shame of the Cross versus the glory of the world, and the reproach of the Cross versus the power of those who think they don’t need to be born again.
Cain represents all the self-made men in the world who attempt to come to God on their own terms. But God says to Cain then and now, “No deal. Come my way or don’t come at all.” Abel stands for the humble believers who having rejected the world are rejected by it, and who nevertheless come to God in humble faith, laying hold of the cross of Jesus as their only hope of heaven.
Points of Application
1. Small sins soon become big. I’m sure Cain didn’t get up that morning intending to murder his brother. No doubt he had envied his brother for a long time but that sort of thing normally doesn’t lead to murder. Once his anger took hold, it was only a short step to doing what he would have called unthinkable. Sin is like that. It’s a lion crouching, quietly waiting, biding its time, looking for an opening, and then pouncing when we least expect it.
2. Great sins are never as sudden as they seem. Just as sin crouched at Cain’s door, even so it crouches at your door and at mine. Beware of your anger. Watch out for the temptation to nurse a wounded spirit. Beware of hidden bitterness and the grudges we nurse in secret. Don’t say, “I could never kill anyone.” As James points out, sin starts as a tiny seed that leads to a wrong desire that ends up in death. It’s the same way with all sin. No one ever just “happens” to commit adultery. Sometimes we say, “I saw him fall into sin.” No, you saw him hit the ground. He had been falling for a long time and you just saw the end of the process.
3. Even the worst sinners can be forgiven. There are at least 2 notes of grace in this story. There is the warning God gives. Then there is the “mark” that protects Cain and gives him time to repent. It seems that God cares for Cain and wants to see him do right. Even after the murder, he is spared the death penalty and allowed to live many more years. God shows more mercy than Cain deserves. While I see no evidence that Cain ever repented, that does not cancel the truth that he had many chances to do so but apparently never took advantage of them.
1 final irony - Cain the evil murdered Abel the righteous. The man who believed God died and the guilty man lived. Cain appears to get away with murder. But that is only a temporary judgment. In the end Abel looks good and Cain looks bad. Those who live by faith in this world may not be famous or popular and they may not seem appealing to us. Abel was declared righteous by God even though he was murdered. You can’t always tell whom God approves by how well known or popular they are. You can’t tell whom God approves simply by how long a person lives. Death is never the last word in the life of a righteous man. Abel was murdered yet he is the one who went to heaven. Although he is dead, yet he still speaks to us. It’s ironic that when he was on earth, his faith could not even convince his brother, yet now that he is dead, his faith speaks to the whole world. He is more alive today than he was when he lived on the earth. This is what faith does. Though the world hate us, and may even kill us, it cannot destroy us. Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.