Things went downhill fast after the serpent deceived our first parents in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve failed to trust the goodness of God and embraced a culture of death. Sin can cause even our best gifts and worship to be tarnished (Isaiah 1:12-15; 64:6). No one found that out more than Cain, the first “named-in-the-Bible” child of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:1). Legend says that Adam and Eve had 33 children.
The grace of God is seen in that, while death was spreading through the earth due to sin (Romans 5:12), Adam and Eve still co-created life with God. Abel (his name means “breath”) was born. But Cain and Abel could not have been more different. Like other brothers in the Bible (Genesis 25:19-28; Matthew 21:28-32; Luke 15:11-32), these two were a study in contrast.
One difference between the boys was their occupations. Abel watched flocks and Cain tilled the soil. But the contrast in our text goes beyond occupation. Worshiping God through sacrifice became deeply embedded in the human psyche after the fall of humankind. We seem to know intuitively that something needs to be done to bridge the God-human gap.
Each son brought his gifts to God. God looked with favor (mentioned twice in our text and meaning “to have regard for” or “to gaze upon” or “to respect”) on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s offering. What made the difference? The Bible doesn’t say, though it does give some hints. Was Abel’s gift “better” because it was a blood sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22; 11:4), though grain offerings were acceptable in the Old Testament? Was Abel’s gift acceptable because it was from the first fruits of his flock (Proverbs 3:9)? Was Cain’s offering not acceptable because it had some kind of blemish (Leviticus 20:20, 22)? Was Cain’s offering not sufficient because it cost him little (Mark 12:41-44)? Was Abel’s offering more acceptable because his deed was righteous as opposed to that of his brother (1 John 3:12)? All we know is that the brothers were as different as the gifts they offered.
It would seem that Cain was upset with God and took it out on his brother. (This often happens. Fred Craddock said, “Anyone at war with himself will make casualties out of his loved ones and friends.”) Cain was very angry (kindled, hot, or grieved) and his face was downcast (fallen).
Similar to Jesus confronting Judas (see John 6:70-71; 13:27-30; Matthew 26:50 and note that “friend” is not a term of endearment in Matthew), God tried to shine a bright light in Cain’s eyes to get his attention. The confrontation consisted of four questions. God interrogated Cain about his anger issues, his countenance, and his volition. After Cain murdered Abel God confronted Cain about the absence of his brother.
But even in the midst of this interrogation God held out the prospect of grace to Cain. If Cain would do what is right (mentioned twice) he would be accepted. Maybe God had more confidence in Cain than Cain had in himself. God challenged him to realize sin’s desire (only elsewhere in Genesis 3:16 and Song of Songs 7:10; see also 1 Peter 5:8) and challenged him to rule (reign or exercise dominion) over it.
But Cain would have none of God’s coaching. Even God could not talk Cain out of murder. In a very premeditated act he murdered Abel. The fourth question of confrontation was, “Where is your brother?” Cain’s question back to God could be sarcastic or even accusing. In either case, “Am I my brother’s keeper (watchman)?” was lame.
Because sin continued, God’s curse continued. It would only be removed through Christ (Galatians 3:13). But again there is grace in how this curse is dispensed. The ground (mentioned three times in the text) took the hit more than Cain did. The ground cried (called) out, swallowed blood, and resisted growth due to Cain’s sin. Cain would have to “wander” (to stagger or be a fugitive) the earth to make a living.
Cain was overwhelmed by this prospect. He felt that his punishment (fault or iniquity) was more than he could bear. He was convinced that because he had committed murder that someone would murder him. But God’s mercy was once again in evidence. God put a mark (sign or signal) on him to spare him from being murdered. He went and lived in the east (where God’s people in the Bible went when they were in trouble).
In this New Year let us avoid the “way of Cain” (Jude 11) and instead offer gifts that please God like Abel’s did.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.