Tale of Two Brothers

Cain, Abel, sin

Every parent has great hopes for their children. When we bring a child into the world, we hope and pray that they will be better students, athletes, people, and disciples than we were. I think this is a pretty universal feeling. We want our children to go through life without making the mistakes that we did. Many of us hope and pray that our children find Jesus Christ earlier than we did so that they might grow deeper and trust more completely than we do. Many of us knew the frustration and lostness of life apart from Christ and we want our children to get beyond that as soon as possible. We want our children to be what we wish we could have been.

But I suspect there are no parents that had higher hopes for their children than Adam and Eve. There is something that we generally miss when we read that Eve gave birth to a son and named him Cain. Listen to James Boice,

This translation does not give the full force of what Eve said. In view of the promise of a deliverer, the name probably means “Here he is” or “I’ve gotten him.” Eve called her son “Here he is” because she thought the deliverer had been sent by God. [Genesis]

Most likely Adam and Eve hoped that Cain was the deliverer that was promised in Genesis 3:15. This would be the one who would be bruised in the heel but would crush the head of Satan. He would be the one who would set them free once and for all from the penalty of sin. He would be the one who would be their Redeemer. And when you think about it . . . this probably was a very logical and reasonable hope. Unfortunately, these hopes were soon dashed to the ground. Hope turned to horror. Harmony turned to hate.

THE PROBLEM

We don’t know much about Cain and Abel. We don’t know what kind of brothers they were. We don’t know whether they were ever close or whether they always went their own ways. All we know is the one event that took place in their lives. At this point they were grown . . . probably with families of their own. Abel was a Shepherd and Cain was a farmer. On one particular day of worship Cain and Abel present their offerings to the Lord. Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Cain brought some of his harvest as an offering to the Lord. We are told that God “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.” They both came to worship. God was pleased with Abel but not Cain. Cain was offended.

There is a great deal of debate as to why God rejected Cain and his offering and accepted Abel and his offering. There are two main ideas, First, are those that say it had to do with Cains attitude. The other says it had to do with his offering.

His attitude was the problem

Those who see the rejection of Cain’s offering because of his attitude point to several things…

  • Both Cain and Abel brought the best that they had
  • Many kinds of offerings did not require an animal. If this was an offering rather than a sacrifice for sin then there was nothing wrong with the offering.
  • We are told that God did not look with favor UPON CAIN and his offering. Could this point to the fact that the problem was not with the offering itself but with the attitude of the one making the offering? In other words, it was not what Cain brought but HOW he brought it.

These facts lead some to conclude that the reason that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was rejected was because Abel came joyfully to worship and Cain came out of a sense of obligation. It would be like two people who come to church. One comes because they have to or because it is part of the routine, the other comes because they love the Lord. One’s worship will be accepted, one will not.

His Offering was the problem

Others suggest that Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not an animal sacrifice. The sacrifice of an animal is required later in the Old Testament to cover sin. This act of sacrificing an animal shows the heinous consequence of sin and points the worshipper beyond the animal to the one who would “give his life as a ransom for many.”

It is true that Moses gave the regulations for sacrifices thousands of years after this encounter. But we must remember that one of the first things God did for Adam and Eve was slaughter an animal to make clothes for the first couple. I contend that this was a sacrificial act designed to remind the couple of the need for a deliverer. If this is the case, the notion of animal sacrifice was already in place.

The fact that they were bringing offerings at all shows that there was some instruction regarding sacrifices. In this case the problem was that Cain was seeking to worship God on his terms and not on the Lord’s terms. He was doing what was convenient and not what was required or right.

Let’s fact it, we will never know why God rejected Cain’s offering for sure. But what we do know is that this rejection by God really irritated Cain. And it irritated him perhaps even more that Abel’s offering was accepted. You know the old saying, “misery loves company”. Nobody likes to see someone else prosper while we struggle. For example it is hard to celebrate someone’s promotion if it was a job you felt you deserved. It is hard to celebrate someone’s wedding if they are marrying the person you believe you love. Cain resented the fact that his wrong was in sharper contrast in comparison to Abel’s good. The result? Cain coaxes Abel out to the field (perhaps on his farm) and kills him!

THE INTERROGATION

We are given two conversations between Cain and God. One is before the murder. The other is after. Listen to the first conversation in verses 6 and 7,

“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.”

Cain was miffed. He felt that he had been embarrassed and wronged. Rather than repent, Cain allowed the pot to boil as he grew in anger. Notice a couple of things from what God says,

Cain Knew the Right Thing to Do

If Cain is admonished to do the right thing, it was because the right had been made known to him. Cain knew what he should do and chose not to do it that way. So Cain is not wrong because of ignorance or a mistake. He is rejected because he lacked humility, faith and obedience. He refused to come to God confessing his need.

Cain did not need to be angry

This wasn’t a matter of favoritism. It had little or nothing to do with Abel. The problem was with Cain himself. Instead of getting angry he could have repented and done the right thing. This was a problem that was easy to solve. But Cain found it easier to blame others.

This murderous attitude is not so rare. Did you read about this classified ad?

“Wedding dress for sale, never worn, Will trade for .38 caliber pistol”

Wayne Dyer is direct and to the point,

Anger is kind of a psychological influenza that incapacitates you just as a physical disease would. . . Anger is a choice, as well as a habit. It is a learned reaction to frustration, in which you behave in ways that you would rather not. [You Erroneous Zones]

Cain is Warned that he is flirting with danger

God warns Cain. He sees the destructiveness of Cain’s attitude. He tells him quite plainly, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” This was a pivotal moment in Cain’s life. His soul hung in the balance. God warns Cain to root out the sin from his life. If he didn’t, it would destroy him. He wanted him to stop making excuses and take responsibility for his behavior. He wanted him to repent.

A certain man wanted to sell his house in Haiti for $2,000. Another man wanted to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn’t afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: he would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door.After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail.The moral to the parable is this: “If we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ’s habitation.”

This is what Cain was doing. In fact he was not giving the Devil only a nail . . . he was giving him a whole room of the house. Cain was courting disaster by harboring these ill feelings.

We do the same thing when we trifle with sin. When we shrug off our bitterness, resentment, anger, stubbornness, and hard-heartedness in our relationships, we are giving the Devil a nail. When we know something is dangerous but walk as close as we can to the edge, we are giving the Devil a nail. When we choose to excuse rather than repent, we are giving the Devil a nail. When we choose to rationalize rather than confess, we give the Devil a nail. How much better to be honest before the Lord and deal with the problem.

Cain’s Sin is Exposed

Now the second time Cain talks with God the Lord asks, “Where is your brother Abel?” That’s not because God doesn’t know what happened. Like a parent, God is asking a question to see what His child will say. He is giving Cain the opportunity to confess his sin. Cain refuses with a smart aleck remark, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God responds, “Listen, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” If this was a crime drama we would say at this point that Cain is “busted”. He has been exposed and now he will be punished. But before we go on to the punishment, I want you to see a couple of life principles.

  • There is no such thing as a secret sin. Cain may have thought he was getting away with something, but God sees everything. You and I can pretend to be something before others . . .but God knows the truth.
  • Since there is no secret sin it is foolish to make excuses. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, Cain blamed Abel. Every one of those folks would have been better off seeking the mercy of God.
  • Unconfessed wrong creates a cancerous condition in our soul. When we don’t acknowledge and repent of our wrong, we leave a nail that the Devil can use. He will and does.

THE PUNISHMENT

As a result of Cain’s act of premeditated murder God pronounces a sentence on Cain,

Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which open 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. (11-12)

Notice that the punishment is severe. God could have killed Cain but chose to exile him instead. Cain was a farmer and from this day forward he would farm and get no yield from his efforts. Others around him might be successful but everything he touched would die. And not only does Cain lose his livelihood, he is condemned to be a wanderer. He will no longer have a place to call home.

In December 1863, Edward Everett Hale published a story in ATLANTIC magazine titled, “The Man without a Country.” This story, was about a United States Army officer, Philip Nolan, who had been involved in the Revolutionary war treachery of Aaron Burr. At his trial he was asked if he wished to say anything in his defense to show that he had always been faithful to the United States. But he cried out, “May God curse the United States, I wish I may never hear of the United States again.” The judge decided to take Philip Nolan’s request seriously. So instead of sentencing him to death for treason, which he had every right to do, he sentenced him to be imprisioned at sea on government vessels with instructions to the officers that no one was permit him to hear the name of or receive any information about his country. In this fashion many years go by. He passes from ship to ship, always transferred before the one he is riding on returns to the U.S. port. Government red tape keeps him from getting pardoned, and at last he dies at sea–but not before the supposed author of the story, a naval officer, breaks orders and tells him about America and its remarkable growth and prosperity during the preceding twenty-five years. Nolan’s last words are that no one ever loved a country as much as he.

Does this help us see Cain’s punishment? This is what sin does. It destroys lives. In light of this, listen carefully to Cain’s response,

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.”

Do you notice what is not said here? No where do we see a feeling of remorse for ignoring God’s commands or for killing his brother Abel. All we see is Cain’s remorse over his punishment! Cain still feels like a victim! Cain utters words that contemporary man utters often, “But that’s not fair!” We receive the consequences of our rebellion and we cry out not for our sin but because we resent having to face the consequences of our actions.

A while back a professional basketball player had his contract terminated because he physically attacked his coach. In his response to the suspension the man felt the NBA was overreacting. They were “making an example of him”. And then, he sued his agent because the agent didn’t get him a contract that could not be terminated. There was no sincere repentance for his act.

Like Cain, we deserve far worse than we get. As R.C. Sproul has said many times, “Don’t every pray for justice . . . you might get it.” Sin carries a stiff penalty – death. If God were to act in justice rather than mercy we would die the moment we sinned. But God extends mercy to us because he is going to exact justice through Christ.

CONCLUSIONS

The account of Cain and Abel in the Bible is one of great sadness  The dreams of parents are shattered. It began with the dream that their son would be the promised deliverer. It ended with one son dead and the other sent into exile.

It is easy to see this story as one of fascination but yet of no personal relevance. But that should not be. For you see, everyone of us is faced with the same kinds of temptations as Cain. We all know what is right to do. We have been instructed. The question is a simple one: Will you do what is right or will you go your own way? Will you excuse your behavior? Will you blame others or will you seek God’s forgiveness and grace? Will you turn from God or to Him?

Boice sums it up well,

If you have never come to the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you are somewhat like Cain. You are in danger and you must flee from it. The Navy uses an expression for ships that sail into danger. They are said to be “in harm’s way.” That is an expression for you, if you are apart from Christ. You are in harm’s way, and you must get back into the safe way before you are lost forever. [Boice p. 260]

There are many people who take the course of Cain. They refuse to follow and serve the Lord. They refuse for many reasons.

  • Some refuse out of arrogance. They will not bow the knee to anyone. They don’t want anyone to have any authority over them. They want to control and run their own life. In essence, they want to be God. These people are “in harm’s way”.
  • Some refuse out of ignorance. They really believe they are right. They have rationalized so much that they no longer see the foolishnes of their ways. They think their way is bringing them happiness. And they wander farther and farther away from God. They also are in harm’s way. When things crash down around them they will no longer know where to turn.
  • Others turn away out of bitterness. Like Cain they feel the lot in life they have been dealt is unduly harsh. They feel they deserve better. They don’t see that their very life is granted them by God’s mercy. Some people become so embittered by the circumstances that they don’t see that God is trying to reach out to them through the circumstances. He is trying to wake them up but they just wander further away.

Cain lived out his days in loneliness and apart from fellowship with God. Learn a lesson from his sad example. Don’t let the same thing happen to you. If you find yourself on the wrong side of life it’s time to turn to the one who can lead you home.

If you’d like to receive God’s forgiveness, you must stop making excuses and admit the truth. You must be honest with God and accept responsibility for your life. Then believe. Believe that Jesus died in your place. Believe that His resurrection was the sign of God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice. Believe that the life that God offers is a real offer. Take God at His word. If you will trust Him, rely on Him and follow Him you will be restored to the family of God. Bow your head and tell God you want to be His . . . and do it now. For, when all is said and done, we either go the way of Cain or we learn from the way of Cain. Which will it be for you?

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Scripture:

Genesis 4:1-16