Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4: 1-16)
Today my pastor discussed this passage. The name of the sermon was, “A Righteous Life.” He focused on the contrasts between Cain’s and Abel’s birth, how they worshiped, the motives of their hearts, and God’s judgment.
Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve, and the text seems to indicate he was the favored one. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he banished them from the Garden of Eden. Cain’s birth can be seen as a symbol of God’s mercy. Abel’s birth was almost an afterthought. The name Abel in Hebrew means breath or vapor, and his life was indeed brief, cut down in its prime.
One day the brothers brought offerings to God. Cain, who tilled the ground, offered “some” of his crop, while Abel, a shepherd, brought the best of the firstborn of his stock. Christians are taught to give sacrificially. Why? Because giving to God what you think you can’t afford demonstrates faith that he will provide. The most powerful recurring theme I picked up on when I finally read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation was that God is extremely pleased with the faithful. Nothing pleases him more than our faith that he is righteous and faithful to us, no matter how dire the circumstances seem or what the world tells us.
God looked favorably on Abel’s offering because he showed faith in and obedience to the Lord. We’re to give God the very best now and trust that he will provide in the future. Read more about what happens when you’re willing to give God your very best.
What were Cain’s motives for offering a lesser sacrifice? Greed, perhaps. He wanted to keep the best for himself. Maybe his faith was weak at this point, and he wasn’t willing to part with the cream of his crop. We do know something about his motives from his reaction to God’s rejection of his offering: anger. Cain could have repented, asked for forgiveness, and promised the best from now on. But he let his sinful anger and disobedience rule him.
God warned Cain, saying, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Picture a crouching animal — a lion — ready to pounce. Its desire is to ravage you. This is where disobedience (and unrighteous anger) leads. Ignoring God’s commands allows sin to overtake us. “But you must master it,” God says.
Contrary to popular opinion, even among Christians, anger is not a sin. Why we’re angry is the key. For example, God’s anger is always righteous, always just. Our anger is usually tainted by sin. We may be angry over some perceived injustice against ourselves instead of righteously angry over injustice against God. We need to discern the reasons for our anger.
Cain allowed the crouching tiger to pounce. In his sinful anger, he kills his own brother. Although God knew what Cain had done, he asked where Abel was, and Cain got “smart.”
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain’s answer is pure sarcasm and a play on words (Abel was a “keeper of sheep.”). God sentences him to a life of wandering the earth and also curses the ground. For the rest of his life, Cain was condemned to weak crops and a hard row to hoe, so to speak. He had sown the blood of his brother and reaped a bitter harvest, literally and figuratively.
Cain, the firstborn of Adam and Eve, became a cursed man. Abel, the second son born to lesser fanfare, is the one remembered as favored. God uses the weak things of the world to shame the strong to show that wisdom comes from him.
The passage is filled with wisdom, and I could write about it all day. I’ll briefly blog about one more thing. We tend to think we’re more deserving of this accolade or that praise than someone else. A fellow Christian may be getting the attention we deserve because our writing is better or we’re more articulate or our worship is more fervent or our faith is much stronger. We should strive to be righteous instead of the best or the biggest or the richest. The righteous man — not the most articulate or best or biggest or richest — is the one who pleases God.
Never, never be angry with God about not getting what you think you deserve. You deserve to be punished. You are a sinner, fallen and depraved. Ask God for what you don’t deserve: mercy.
Two thousand years after Christ was killed to cover the sins of those he came to save, his blood still cries out to the Father for mercy. I’ll be eternally grateful that he will never give me what I deserve.