Please turn in the pew Bibles to Genesis chapter 4 and follow along as I read verse 8. ďCain said to his brother Abel, Let us go out to the field. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.Ē Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
It was the first murder. Everybody has at least heard about it. Even people who have never read a word of the Bible know that Cain killed Abel.
Cain was the first-born son of Adam and Eve. He was a farmer. Abel, the second son, was a shepherd. One day, they both brought offerings to God. Cain brought a grain offering. Abel brought an animal from his flocks. Genesis emphasizes that Abel brought the best he had, the finest sheep from the flock. In contrast, Cainís offering is described as just an offering. And we are told that the Lord accepted Abelís offering, but the Lord did not accept Cainís offering. We wonder why. There was nothing wrong with a grain offering.
We suspect that the offering was not the problem. Cainís attitude was the problem. The great medieval Jewish Biblical commentator Rashi notes that apparently Cain's offering was of inferior quality compared to Abel's. Rashi says that God rejected Cain's offering because he wanted to get Cainís attention and have him put more effort in his worship. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain_and_Abel.). That seems to be true. Cainís whole attitude toward God and toward others is flawed.
I John 3:12 says, ďWe must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.Ē Cain belonged to Satan. How do we know thatóbecause he ďmurdered his brother.Ē Why did he do it? Because he was so dominated by jealousy. He knew Abel was a good and righteous man, and he saw God approving of Abel, and he could not stand it.
Hebrews chapter 11 carries us a little farther along in understanding what is going on with Cain. Verse 4 reads: ďBy faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's.Ē Again, we come back to attitude. Abel had an attitude of faith in God. Abel made his offering to God because he loved and trusted God.
We do not know what was going on in Cainís mind, but he was certainly not making a generous love offering. We have the idea that Cain gave the minimum hoping to receive a maximum reward from God. For Abel it was not about the offering; it was about his love for God. For Cain it was about the offering.
Cain seems to have been selfish and grasping in his attitude toward possessions. Moreover, Cain was selfish and grasping when it came to any matter of prestige or status. When God accepted Abelís offering, Cain was nearly consumed with jealousy and anger. Cain was entirely dominated by a self-centered, egotism. He cannot stand the idea that this younger brother of his should receive any acclaim at all. This is an evil outlook. This is sin.
God tries to work with Cain so he can get beyond his selfishness. We read in v6-7 ďThe LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it." In effect, God said to Cain, So Abel made the best offering. Get over it. Donít be angry at Abel. Look at yourself. Change your attitude and do well and I will accept your offering. Godís words are a challenge to Cain. Cain needs to get beyond the sin that is dominating his life.
But apparently Cain was not listening to God. He was so consumed with jealousy that he could not hear God. And so we come to v8. Cain said to Abel, let us go for a walk. They walked out into a field, perhaps Cainís field of grain, and Cain murdered Abel. We do not know the details of the murder. Genesis simply says, ďCain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.Ē
Notice that in our judicial terms, this is first degree, premeditated murder. Cain thought about it, planned it, and carried out his plan. He could not plead that he killed in a moment of anger when he was temporarily insane. He could not say that there was a fight. In plain fact, he assassinated Abel.
Sometime later, God speaks to Cain again. God asks Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" This is obviously a rhetorical question. God already knows where Abel is. God is present in every event. God was there when Cain murdered Abel.
Cainís reply to Godís question has been the subject of numerous sermons and discussions. Rudely, abruptly, Cain snaps, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" Of course, Cain does know where Abel is.
And God replies, in sorrow, in tears, "What have you done? Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!Ē To the ancient Hebrews, blood was the seat and foundation of life; blood symbolized life itself. In effect, God said, I know you killed Abel and what you have done demands punishment.
Cainís punishment was that he would be ďa fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." This was a painful punishment. Cain was farmer. He loved the land. He derived his livelihood from a piece of ground. God said that will be true no longer. The ground is cursed as far as you are concerned. You are condemned to wander the earth.
Now Cain did not dispute the Lordís right to judge him. He seems to accept that he deserves punishment. His complaint is that the punishment is greater than he can bear. Cain says in v14 ďToday you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me."
Cain said, all right you have banished me from farming, and I know that you are not going to be with me any more, and therefore anyone I meet along the way will kill me, and that is too much. Your punishment, Lord, is too hard. Some folks miss the point of this verse and argue about who could have possible been around to kill Cain. After all, there was supposedly no one around at this point but the family of Adam and Eve. If Cain is banished from that family who else is out there?
But that is not a question that Genesis is discussing. In the ancient Middle East, a man banished from his tribe had no rights, and he could be killed by anyone. So banishment amounted to a death sentence. That is what Cain is complaining about. Like most every murderer caught in his crime, he says I do not want to die. Had God been administering only justice, God would have replied, You killed Abel, why should you not die?
But God does not reply in justice. God replies in mercy. In verse 15, God said to Cain, "Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.Ē Further, we are told that ďthe LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.Ē
Now please remember one thing, if you do not remember anything else from this sermon. Most people seem to think that the mark of Cain was a mark of Godís judgment to single out Cain as a murderer. As the old saying goes, ďIt is amazing what most people know about the Bible that ainít so.Ē The mark of Cain was a mark of Godís mercy and protection. Cain the murderer was not very loveable. God loved him anyway.
Thus, Genesis chapter 4 tells us some things about God. Many people seem to think that in the Old Testament Godís justice demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life, and that it was only in the New Testament that Jesus softened this harsh law and taught us about love and mercy. Perhaps that is another thing that people know about the Bible that ďainít so.Ē God judged Cain; God punished Cain; but, throughout this incident, God loved Cain, and in the end God had mercy on Cain.
As we consider this chapter, we wonder, Did Cain ever repent? Was Cain ever sorry that he murdered Abel? This is also a question that Genesis does not answer. Cain was sorry that God punished him so severely, we know that. He begged for a lesser sentence. But was he sorry for the evil he did? We do not know.
We do not know about Cain, but it is certainly obvious how we can apply this chapter to ourselves. The story of Cain is about a jealous rage that led to an awful crime. Other biblical stories illustrate the evil consequences of jealousy. Joseph was his fatherís favorite son, with a coat of many colors to wear. His brothers were so jealous, that they sold him into slavery. Saul, the first king of Israel, became so jealous of David that he tried to kill him.
Whenever we are dominated by jealous attitudes, we are led to evil and often horrible actions. We want honor and recognition, which is not sinful. Sin comes in when we are so vexed by the honor and recognition another person receives that we wish them harm.
Such a jealous rage strikes at the very heart of what we are. We are relational beings. We are what we are because of our relationshipsóour relationships with others, our relationships with our environment, our relationship with our parents and ancestors, our relationship with God.
Jealousy arises because of a distortion of relationships. We refuse to value those in relationships with us. We regard other people as objects who only have value insofar as they contribute to us. Our ego determines their value. Thus, when they do something that gives them recognition, we are outraged. How dare they do anything! Why would anyone recognize them? We should all pray to God to be delivered from such selfish egotism.
We need to learn a new way of thinking. We should give credit where credit is due, and we should rejoice in the achievements of others, recognizing that they are just as important to God as I am.
The selfish person never realizes that. Selfish people may believe in God, and may believe that God is working through their lives. But they fail to realize that God is working through other lives also, and what God is doing with other people is just as important as what God is doing with me.
Other people are valuable to God. That is why I should rejoice in what they are doing for God, but that does not mean I should be envious of their achievements, because I should know that God is doing something unique with me.
A fundamental cause of jealousy is comparison. Our prayer should be, ďLord, help me to stop comparing myself to others.Ē The Lord said to Cain, Donít worry about Abelís offering, just be sure you do well. In other words, donít compare yourself to Abel.
The world lives by comparison and competition. The world teaches us to think in terms of our status, our possessions, our reputation. We live in a performance-oriented culture where we are taught to compete for power and prestige Thus, we fall easily into jealousy and envy.
We need to get beyond all this and see jealousy for what it is. It is egotism, which wants to dominate others. Jesus calls us to a different way. Jesus calls us to love others. In this love, we do not surrender ourselves, we compete ourselves. Each of us is a unique creation of God. We are surrounded and in relationship with other unique creations of God. Our destiny is related to them, our destiny is not their destiny. Hence, there is no need for any envy. Let us all then live in the love of God and rejoice in each otherís triumphs. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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