Genesis 4 includes the story of Cain and Abel, the man who killed his brother. But there is a lot more going on in this passage than meets the eye. For starters, it is where we first start to really see the beginnings of faith in the human race.
Yes, Adam and Eve were supposed to have faith in God’s commands and goodness back in the garden. But they didn’t. We also saw a little of Adam’s faith in the previous chapter when he named his wife Eve, in response to the Promise of God [See: Where do we go from here?].
But in chapter 4, faith is beginning to spring up all over the place:
It is so encouraging to see that Adam and Eve were not “lost causes”. They had learnt, over time, to turn back to God. In fact, they raised their children to follow God, even though they themselves had disobeyed Him.
As Chapter 4 opens, and closes, the faith of Eve is very much on display in the birth of her sons.
“With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man…God has granted me another child in the place of Abel” (vv 1 & 25)
I believe that one of the reasons she thanks God for both Cain and Seth, is because she believes that through one of these children God will provide the Promised One (3:15).
There are many explanations for why Abel’s offering was accepted whilst Cain’s wasn’t. One of the most convincing ones is rooted in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.”
His offering was accepted because of his faith. A faith that still speaks today! (Heb 11:4b)
Cain’s Lack of Faith
Another reason to explain why Cain’s offering was not accepted was because of his lack of faith. We assume this because of the despair that emerges when his offering isn’t accepted.
When we fall short of God’s standards, It is faith that moves us to turn back to God. If however, we don’t live by faith, falling short will result in despair. We will groan that we are not good enough and not valuable to God. (In fact we are not good enough). But faith allows us to put our trust in God and receive His righteousness.
Cain’s lack of faith is seen his response to having his sacrifice rejected. But it is also seen in what happens next. When God punishes him for murdering his brother, Cain again falls into despair. “My punishment is more than I can bear”.
Even despite this, God continues to lavish grace and protection on Cain.
Then later on, we see Cain trying to make a name for himself by building a city (v17). One commentator noted the continuous verb, “Cain was then building a city”. And said that this mirrors the life of someone trying to earn salvation, rather than receiving it by faith.
Faith passed on: Adam and Eve to Abel, to Seth, to society
And yet Adam and Eve continue to have faith in God. And once they give birth to Seth they teach him too to lean on God. And so chapter 4 ends with the hope-filled phrase: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD” (v26)
One of the mysterious things about faith is that we can pass it on. This is how commands like the Great Commission are possible. We can go and make disciples of all nations because of our example and teaching of faith.
This is why Paul urges Timothy, ‘do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example to all the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity’.
Yes, God does distribute a measure of faith to each of us (Rom 12:3), but we can go and model and encourage others to walk in faith. This is what we see Adam and Eve doing, and later Seth.
May we too seek to model faith well.
A while back whilst I was studying Genesis chapter 2, I came across a little quote that put the story into practical terms for us today. I think it also applies to chapter 4:
“A story rooted within our space and time, but a story which catches us up into itself and confronts us with the truth about ourselves”
It’s important to remember that the story of Cain and Abel, however well known it is, and however distant it feels, is still a story which catches us – “up into itself”. We don’t have to look far to see ourselves in the characters and dilemmas which they face.
It is a story of jealousy, denying responsibility, lying, doubting our self-worth. It is a story of passion, hate and murder. (We might be inclined to think murder is far away from where we are, and then Jesus comes and broadly re-defines it as hate.)
The story of the man who killed his brother. Is a story of warning about the power of anger, jealousy and hate to destroy us.
In this post we’re going to examine Cain’s sin(s) and take lessons we can apply to our own struggle with sin.
1) Sin hi-jacks our Legacy
Again, this isn’t a foreign concept to us 21st century readers. How many church leaders have had their legacy re-defined as one characterised by their greatest moral failures? We are no longer surprised when politicians are accused of abusing women, or when priests are found to have manipulated children in horrible ways.
Sin has the potential to overwrite our entire life’s work. Especially the hidden sins. This is important to remember, especially in light of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:2-3 about hidden things being revealed.
It seems few people appreciate the city Cain built, or the accomplishments of his children also detailed in Chapter 4. Did you know that he also spent his life building a city? No, his sin caught up with him. It overwrites all his other accomplishments. His legacy is the man who killed his brother.
This is real, for me and for you. Let us fight to rule over sin.
I guess this is where the good news of Jesus’ gospel comes in. No matter our past, God completely forgives those who put their trust in Jesus. He is able to use the “worst of sinners” to accomplish His legacy (1 Tim 1:15).
2) Sin is a choice
What we see in Cain’s life are the multiple avenues and choices he makes in order to disobey God. Firstly, in temptation, God plainly explains to Cain: “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 rule over it’ (verse 7). Cain is here given a choice, does he continue in despair and jealousy, or does he seek to do what is right.
As we know, Cain chooses murder.
But then, even after Cain has killed his brother, he is offered another choice. Either repent and confess his sin, or try to hide it and run away from God? We don’t know what would have happened, if Cain had turned to God and apologised for the murder of his brother.
But we do know, later on in the Bible, that King David would sleep with Bathsheba, kill her husband and get her pregnant. However, in his confession and repentance, God’s grace is shown to be powerful to pass over his sin.
Instead, Cain’s response is famously: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Inferring blame on God. He chooses to deny responsibility. And in so doing he refuses to accept God’s grace.
Sin is a choice. And our response to our failures is also a choice.
3) The Choice we face
The picture presented in Revelation 3:20 is a counter piece to the picture God gives Cain. In Genesis 4, Cain is told that Sin is crouching at His door. In Revelation, the Church is told that Jesus is standing at the door knocking.
Who do we open the door to?
Do we confess our sins, or do we hide them? Do we turn to Jesus to forgive us, or do we avoid responsibility, and tell ourselves its not that bad.
4) Our Sin affects others
We don’t know an exact reason why Cain’s offering wasn’t accepted, whilst Abel’s was. Although there are several very convincing theories. However, we can see a parallel in Cain and Abel with that of the Pharisees.
Cain’s offering was rejected by God, he couldn’t enter God’s presence on that occasion. And so, in his jealousy, he prevented Abel from ever entering God’s presence.
In the same way, the Pharisees are accused by Jesus: “You have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).
We need to be very wary, about the impact our lives have on the faith of other believers. This is one of the reasons Paul gives for abstaining from meat altogether, because of the consciences of other believers (1 Cor 8).
In an age, when the promotion of individual freedom is held as one of the highest values. The Bible asks us to limit our personal freedoms for the sake of others. This is love.
Along the way, studying these passages and writing these posts I came across the following image of Adam and Eve walking out the garden, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, shame covering their face. And I imagined, what it must have been like for the two of them to leave Eden. What regret they must have felt, what embarrassment and what despair.
This post is an attempt to explore those moments, what position they were in as they left the garden. Their feelings and the various opportunities afforded them by God’s grace.
How far we have fallen
Undoubtedly, Adam and Eve would have reflected on their fall. How far they had strayed from the original. They were supposed to rule over and subdue creation, including the wild animals. And now the very ground they walk groans beneath their feet.
They were supposed to carry their heads high, with dignity and proudly bearing the image and likeness of God to creation. Now they seek to hide themselves and cover it all.
What once was a relationship characterised by love, protection, honour and intimacy. [See Vision for marriage]. Is now one characterised by hiding, blame and fear of allowing the other to see. A relationship of domination, tyranny, and abuse.
Where once, they had walked with God in the cool of the breeze. They now hide from Him. They leave His presence. They are estranged! Estranged from God, for each other, from creation and from themselves.
And were their work before had Preistly connotations, tending, guarding, keeping the garden of God’s Temple. It is now a frustrated, broken, endeavour, filled with futility, disappointment and despair!
Oh how much there is to regret with sin. How far it reaches to devastate and destroy. How severe it’s consequences. May the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, move each of us to consider the cost of our sin. May we repent.
Opportunity to respond to Grace
And yet, all hope was not lost. We have seen that God’s response to their sin remembered mercy. And so Adam and Eve, although cast from God’s presence, exiled from the Garden, were still given the opportunity to respond to His grace.
Through confession rather than blaming. It is so tempting when we sin and fail to blame others, those nearby and those far off, society or families. The first step to receiving God’s grace is acknowledging and confessing our sin.
Then we must choose to receive God’s Grace. Both the spiritual blessings appointed to us, the promised blessing of the saviour to come, and the physical blessings of provision with food and clothes. May we not be too proud to receive God’s free grace, purchased for us by the Promised One.
Furthermore, the opportunities to continue sinning have not ended with the forbidden fruit. In fact they have multiplied. Adam and Eve can now, with the knowledge of good and evil, lie, steal, cheat, hurt and even kill one another. They can choose God’s way or become subject to sin which still lies crouching at the door (See Gen 4)!
Adam and Eve along with their family now to come have the opportunity to respond with faith to the Promise. In the midst of God’s curse, He also proclaimed the gospel. That someone would come, descended from the woman, would suffer and would conquer sin.
Fortunately, we see glimpses of the faith of mankind in it’s early stages in this chapter. Does Adam not name his wife, after the Promise? By naming her Eve, he demonstrates faith that she will produce a seed – eventually the promised Seed. Does Eve not in Chapter 4, demonstrate her faith in the promise by praising God for the birth of her three sons! Does Abel not continue with the family decision towards faith by offering God a pleasing sacrifice? Do a portion of the children not demonstrate faith when they start calling on the name of the Lord? (But all this to come!)
In short they, like us, have the opportunity to receive God’s grace through faith in the Promise.
Finally, as Christians, and inheritors of the Promised One! We have the choice to meet again with God in the cool of the day, with worship, with rejoicing, and intimacy!!!
May we Worship
Praise be to Jesus! For when I hear God walking – I don’t have to hide, but I can plead God’s mercy, earned by Christ and know that I am forgiven and restored. That the fruit of the tree of life is available to me! The Cherubim’s flaming swords has been lowered and I may enter the garden again!
This is the gospel! Such good news!
The curse is reversed, death is defeated and the garden is open to those who receive the Promised One