4 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 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.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear.14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.
(Genesis 4:1-26 NIV)
As we progress through the narrative story of Genesis, we heard Moses tell of God’s creation of everything (chapter 1), zooming in on God’s creation of humans (chapter 2), and the fall of humanity from sinless perfection and relationship with God to sin and alienation from God (chapter 3).
In today’s passage, Moses continues the story with more “firsts” – the first children, the first sibling rivalry, the first jealousy, the first murder, the first city, and the first revenge and boasting.
As today’s narrative of Cain and Abel unfolds, we see the two brothers dividing duties, likely under the instruction of their father Adam. Both men bring gifts before God; the Lord accepts Abel’s gift but rejects Cain’s gift.
And what was the difference? Why did God choose one over the other? Was it the gift itself, or the attitude of the giver? The text gives a hint about the gift but does not focus on it. The real emphasis is on the heart and attitude of the two givers.
The only hint we have about the gift is that “Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” (verses 3 – 4). Did Cain bring produce that was second-best, the leftovers, while Abel brought his best, the “first fruits”, the “fat portions” (the best of the best) as their offerings before the Lord?
The real emphasis is on the heart of the giver, and God’s response to each man’s heart. When God looked with favor on Abel and his offering, the text told us that Cain became very angry.
So what was the issue? Why did Cain get so mad? Sibling rivalry and jealousy. Cain, as the older brother, did not like it that he was upstaged by his younger brother. He wanted to be number one in God’s eyes, and God made Abel number one (or so it felt like it to Cain). In fact, they were equals before God; God was revealing their hearts to both men and showing them what He was looking for in His relationship with them.
When God sees Cain’s reaction, He talks to Cain in a gentle but firm way about the consequences of Cain letting his feelings and emotions rule over his obedience to the Lord. Cain had a choice in front of him. The Lord, as Cain’s divine coach and mentor, advised him to choose wisely and carefully.
And what was the question that God asked Cain? What was the choice in front of this angry man? The Lord was asking Cain if he was going to let the past influence the present. God did not equate the acceptance or rejection of Cain’s gift with the acceptance or rejection of Cain as a person, but Cain did. This was a matter of attitude, not of action.
Unfortunately, sin was in full bloom, and Cain chose to let his emotions and his jealousy rule the day. God held Cain responsible for his brother’s death and issued the consequences for Cain’s actions – he could no longer be a tiller of the soil and would be relegated to being a wanderer, a nomad.
Cain was overwhelmed, and the Lord showed Cain mercy by giving him some kind of mark that would protect him from others, and a promise to revenge any harm that would come to him.
The need to be right, to be noticed, to be seen as better than others is a disease that goes to the core of our being. We see this in the next glimpse of the life of Lamech, one of Cain’s descendants. Things had gone downhill rapidly, from God announcing revenge for anyone who would try to harm Cain, to Lamech actually taking revenge against a child who bruised him by killing the child, then bragging to his wives for what he had done.
Imagine for a moment about how that would make Lamech’s wives feel… so much for any sense of loving support and feeling equal status with their husband. Lamech was bragging to his wives to make himself look good and make them feel good about him, but the implications were quite the opposite. Lamech had put himself in place of God, and was essentially threatening his wives that if they crossed him in any way, they would end up the same as the boy.
May we keep the Lord first and foremost in everything we think, say, and do.
The consequences of doing otherwise are deadly.