November 22, 2016

It is indicative of man’s fallen condition that even when he dedicates himself to love, labor, and the Lord he is still capable of deviant behavior. Cain and Abel, for reasons not explained to us, determine to offer sacrifices to the Lord. Cain being the agriculturalist brought agricultural produce; Abel the shepherd brought animals from his flock. “And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Gen 4: 4-5). It is tempting to read into the differing offerings some suggestion that one contained blood and was therefore acceptable and the other did not and was therefore unacceptable. But the text gives no indication of this but rather stresses the fact that the person offering was acceptable or unacceptable, leading us to believe that God was looking on the heart—the attitude of the worshiper—rather than at the specifics of his offering. Even in worship man is capable of deviant behavior and attitudes. Cain shows it and church history confirms it.

Cain reacted violently to his rejection, but not against the One who rejected him so much as against the innocent one who was accepted. Jealousy had raised its ugly green-eyed head and was about to prove that it is truly “cruel as the grave.” It is possible for us to read this story of fratricide with some degree of indifference because we have become conditioned to violence, but we should bear in mind that sin had “entered” and was already “abounding” and would shortly “reign” (see Rom. 5:12-21) in the most gross way. The text by repeatedly using the word “brother” brings this into sharp focus. The man first born on earth killed the second man born on earth—his own brother! Love had become deviant. This is shown by Cain’s response to God’s inquiry about his brother’s whereabouts. Callously, and untruthfully, he responded, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (v. 9).

Conjugal love quickly deteriorated too. Polygamy with all its attendant evils soon appeared on the scene through a reprehensible character called Lamech, who compounded his polygamous and murderous activities with an arrogance and belligerence frightening in their intensity. He killed a “young man for hurting me” (v. 23) and boasted about it in a song written for the occasion which he then performed for his wives. Man’s deviant behavior toward the Lord is clear in Cain’s reactions. He lied when reminded of the immensity of his crime: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground” (v. 10). There is no indication of remorse, and when he was punished with banishment there was no acceptance but only complaint: “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (v. 13). God graciously provided protection for him stipulating “‘Whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him” (v. 15). But this elicits no gratitude and “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (v. 16). It should also be noted that while there is no record of man’s deviant behavior toward labor in the text (unless we assume that the killing suggests that skills in metal work were already being turned to making weaponry), it was not long until the first signs of man’s abuse of God-ordained work and God-provided raw materials began to appear.

The cause of all this is remarkably stated in Genesis 4:7: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” The word “accepted” means “lifted up” and contrasts sharply with Cain’s fallen countenance but suggests much more than a brighter face. There is restoration for all who will turn to the Lord from the heart. The enemy “sin” crouches at the door of man’s life like a wild animal waiting to devour him, but God’s way is for man to overcome the forces of sin. Cain did not, and sin abounded and reigned. The same principle works today. The identical challenge confronts contemporary man.

I think of two brothers who were friends of mine from childhood. Born into the same family, fed the same food, reared in the same church, exposed to the same truth they were also susceptible to the same temptations. One from his earliest days began to show a genuine love for the Lord and a desire to order his life in accordance with divine principles. He disciplined himself in study and preparation, married wisely and well, and eventually became a singularly effective missionary in a primitive part of the world where very few white men ventured. Like every other man he was not exempt from sin crouching at his door, but he did well and was lifted up in blessing and honor before God and man. Meanwhile his brother who was less disciplined and less inclined to honor the Lord began to fudge around the edges. His business began to suffer, his marriage began to deteriorate, and eventually he became so gripped by the sin which lay in wait to devour him that he lost family, wife, and business and eventually sat desolate in a prison cell.

This sad chapter of Genesis, as is so often the case in Scripture, contains a bright note of hope. Seth (meaning “appointed”) was born to Adam and Eve and his mother said, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed” (v. 25). The reference to “seed” suggests that she was trusting in the promise she had heard from the Lord about the serpent’s bruising. Attributing the birth to the Lord’s appointing shows that in the midst of the chaos God still had His people. It is still true today.

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God bless

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