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Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

Their Upbringing

When Eve gave birth to Cain, she specifically thanked God for the ability to have a baby (Genesis 4:1 “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord”).  Genesis chapter 4 moves quickly from their birth to a point in time when Cain and Abel were bringing an offering to God (4:3-4).  Both brothers had the unique and awesome opportunity to actually communicate verbally with their Creator.

The Rejected Sacrifice

All sorts of theories exist as to why God rejected the offering of Cain but accepted Abel’s offering.  Some try to picture Cain as giving a small amount of grain and of Abel giving generously.  Yet the answer is made clear in the New Testament.  Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel offered his sacrifice by faith, and Romans 10:17 reminds us that faith comes from hearing the word of God.  Therefore, they must have both heard through direct communication from God what pleased Him, Abel choosing to obey and Cain offering something he preferred, rather than what God commanded.  Cain might have thought the actual details did not matter much, just as long as he offered something. He may have even offered a very impressive amount of produce from the ground, including grains, vegetables and fruit.  He may have worked very hard to get this offering together, but it is not what God had commanded and his offering was clearly rejected—and he knew it.

The Wrong Reaction

At the moment that Cain knew that God did not buy his excuses or rationalizations, he could have said, “I am sorry, it is my fault”.  “That is what I deserve for trusting myself and going with my feelings instead of simply obeying God’s clear instruction”.  But have you ever thought of this: Cain did exactly what many people have done since— and even what we ourselves have at times also done.  We know what the Bible says, and if we don’t follow God’s instructions, Scripture condemns us—and to make matters worse, we can get angry and defensive.  Solomon observed the same trend, “The foolishness of man subverts his way, and his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).  How fair is it to God when you or I ignore God’s instructions, make a mess of our lives, then in anger blame God because He does not validate or reward our poor choices? 

Why are You Angry?

This is a great question we need to ask of ourselves far more often.  If Cain would have just retraced his steps he would see that not only was his anger completely unjustified, it was altogether misplaced.  God had given him simple instructions.  Yet so many people forget that worship is for God, and want to engage in or offer the worship that instead pleases them, or puts them in a position to receive human attention and praise.

If You Do Well….

God is extremely merciful and patient.  He gives Cain a second-chance to get it right.  Also, notice the connection God places between feeling better and doing the right thing.  I have found this to be true.  Do I want to feel better?— I will if I behave responsibly, work first, play later, help others, clean up my messes, organize my life, be productive, and use my time efficiently. Is anger the problem? One of the best things to remove anger is to get busy with meaningful projects, to be productive in what is right.  Notice also how God believes in Cain.  God does not endorse his rebellion or commend him for his unique and creative sacrifice.  Rather, God believes that Cain can change, repent and obey.  The elusive happiness---can be as simple as obeying.

If You Do Not Do Well…

God is both optimistic (Cain can change) and realistic (but Cain has the final choice).  Things can either immediately get better or we can throw additional gasoline on a problem and make it worse.  It is noteworthy how a simple act, like worship, can quickly deteriorate into personal chaos when our hearts are stubborn.  Cain woke up that day and had the chance to worship God, to be right with God and feel good about himself.  Or he could mess up the whole thing and end up a murderer.  Observe how sin can take a simple act and turn it into complete disaster.

Sin is Crouching at the Door…Its Desire is for You…

Ignore God’s will in one area and we are opening up a Pandora ’s Box of trouble.  Cain was making one wrong move after another—he could have still stopped at this point, but he was in very dangerous territory.  Disobedience and then some anger at God or others makes us very vulnerable to being completely consumed by Satan.  Do we see our own little rebellions and fits of anger in such a serious light?

You Must Master It…

God is not going to intervene and make the final decision for Cain.  Nor is God going to mysteriously remove his anger.  Only Cain can repent, only Cain can turn himself around, and only Cain can come to terms with how ridiculous and unfounded his anger was.

And Cain Told His Brother…

It is likely that the word “told” includes the entire conversation God had just had with Cain--- that Cain told Abel the whole story.  The next thing we are told is that Cain kills Abel.  The logical inference seems to be that Cain might have wanted Abel to take his side, that he was looking for sympathy or support from Abel.  Like sinners often do, perhaps he wanted Abel to say something soothing such as, “Yea, God can be pretty unreasonable sometimes”. Or, “God is impossible to please”.  Or, “I think it was really unfair that God did not accept your offering, it looked really nice”.  And it seems clear that Abel took God’s side and agreed with what God had said, “Why can’t you just do what God told you to do—what is so hard about that?”  Or, “God is right Cain, you have no right to be angry---you would be thankful that God is giving you a second chance, so stop being so stubborn”.

“His Deeds were Evil”:  1 John 3:12

I find what John says here refreshing and clarifying.  Cain’s problem was not his upbringing, genetics, environment, or the thousand other factors that mankind often seeks to blame.  Cain’s altered sacrifice was rooted in evil as is all disobedience.  We must not fool ourselves.  We cannot think that while the rebellion of other people is quite selfish, that ours somehow is not. 

Not as Cain: 1 John 3:12/The Way of Cain: Jude 11

We can walk in the steps of either brother.  Abel was a man who listened to God, took Him at His word and obeyed (Hebrews 11:4).  Jordan Peterson offers the interesting observation that Cain kills Abel, because Abel is everything that Cain wishes to be (The 12 Rules p. 175).  I would add, wishes to be but is unwilling to pay the price to become.  So if we are unwilling to put in the effort to strive for what is right, then we will probably attack and seek to tear down that ideal.  Thus, people who attack the truth that we can have unity by simply following the Bible, that one can be just a Christian or that the New Testament church can be restored are often people who are unwilling to fully commit to such noble goals.  Therefore, to make themselves feel better they must destroy such things.

The Consequences…

Cain had started out to worship God one day with the wrong motivation, and then ignored the chance to repent and then descended into a downward spiral:

  • He became a murderer as a result of experimenting with sin: 4:8
  • He refused to hear the truth so he killed the messenger.
  • He was a defiant smart mouth: 4:9
  • He complained that his punishment was too great—even though his life had been spared.  He broods over his “misfortune”.  He views himself as a victim: 4:13
  • He became paranoid.  “He enters the desert wilderness of his own mind” (12 Rules p. 178). Genesis 4:14
  • In spite of such grace, mercy, and still knowing how to make things right, how to come back to God, suffering because of his foolishness, he still refuses to repent: 4:16
  • He goes out, marries a woman, has a family, and starts a long family line that ignores God: 4:17-25, and who eventually corrupt just about everyone else: 6:1-5

Thank God for the lessons we learn from the lives of those who have gone before us. May we take them to heart and thus enjoy the closeness and blessings of having a warm and thriving relationship with our Beloved Creator.  Like Cain, we will aim down or like Abel will we aim up?

Mark Dunagan/mdunagan@frontier.com