Two weeks ago we saw how Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. The Tempter the Devil led them to believe lies about God and to confuse good and evil, so they disobeyed the one command God had given them. So Adam and Eve spoiled the relationship they had with God and that had terrible consequences for them and for all their descendants. They lost their immortality and they were banished from Eden forever.
But there was hope for humanity. God made a wonderful promise.
Genesis 3 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
God promises that salvation will come through a descendent of Adam and Eve. So you can imagine how overjoyed they were when they had their first born son. Not only were all the usual joys of parenthood, but here God’s promise was beginning to be fulfilled. Here was a descendent who might crush the serpent’s head and open the way back into Eden again. Would Cain turn out to be that descendent? He might have been, if Cain had made different choices. It all went wrong when the time came for Cain and his brother Abel to offer their sacrifices to God. Abel was a shepherd. Cain grew crops. So they brought their own kinds of sacrifice.
Genesis 4:2 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 But Abel brought 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.
We don’t really know why one kind of sacrifice was acceptable to God and the other was not. There are different theories. Some people think that God must already have prescribed the sacrifice He expected. Throughout the history of Israel from Moses onwards God commanded that the sin offering would be a lamb and that blood should be shed.
Hebrews 9 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Other people think that the problem with Cain’s offering was that he did not give God his best. Cain just brought “some fruits of the soil.” But another principle in the Old Testament about sacrifices is that only the first and the best is good enough for God and Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The first and the best for God.
Some people think that Cain’s problem was that his attitude was wrong, and that God saw that. Cain’s offering might have been meaningless because his heart wasn’t in it. Time after time later generations fell into that particular trap. Remember God’s words through the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 1 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right!
In Isaiah’s time the Israelites were offering empty rituals, not sincere worship, not worship in Spirit and in truth. Empty worship is a mistake some people make in every generation. Perhaps that was Cain’s problem.
Then again Hebrews chapter 11 gives us another clue about what was unacceptable about Cain’s offering in the very passage we are going to be looking at this evening.
Hebrews 11 4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
This verse tells us that Abel’s sacrifice was an expression of his faith in God. By implication Cain’s was not. True worship must always flow out of a genuine faith in God.
Whatever the problem was with Cain’s offering, we do know that the God of the Bible is always holy and just and fair. God had good reasons for accepting the sacrifice Abel brought and for rejecting the sacrifice that Cain brought. So God gives this solemn warning to Cain, which is of course a warning for all of us as well.
Genesis 4 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 master it.”
Here we have the first appearance of the ugliest word in the Bible and that word is “sin.” What a terrifying picture this is. Sin is like a wild and ferocious animal waiting to pounce, a savage and destructive beast which will devour Cain. And it is so sad to see that man ignore God’s warning and slide downwards to his own doom.
First came envy. Sibling rivalry is nothing new, the very first brothers in history were divided by it. But it is easy for all of us to fall into jealousy. Envy of other people’s possessions, or of their success, or of their popularity, or of their happiness. It is even possible to be jealous of the blessings other people receive from God when it seems God is not blessing us in the same way. Here is a powerful prayer. “Lord, grant that others become more holy than I am, as long as I become as holy as I should.” We can all fall into jealousy.
Galatians 5 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Envy led Cain on to anger. Jesus warns us that being angry with somebody is as serious a sin as murdering them because in our anger we are murdering them in our hearts.
Anger led on to hatred. In the New Testament the First Letter of John uses this story of Cain and Abel as a warning to Christians.
1 John 3 11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. … 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
God calls us to love other people from the heart, to love the unlovely and to forgive each other. When we don’t do that we risk falling into Cain’s sin.
Envy led to anger, anger led to hatred and hatred ended in murder.
Genesis 4 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
If only Cain and Abel had got their act together and made up and lived as friends instead of rivals, humanity might not have fallen so far away from God and the history of salvation might have been very different. But as we see the sins of envy and anger and jealousy which led Cain to murder, we need to trust in God’s help to escape those very sins ourselves.
Of course God was not asleep while all those things were happening and Cain attacked and killed his brother. So he asks Cain that vital question.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
God didn’t ask that question to find out the answer. God already knew what had happened. God was watching. God asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” to give Cain an opportunity to confess his sin and repent and be forgiven. But Cain ignores that opportunity and compounds his sin by lying.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
No sign of repentance there. Cain dodges the question with a feeble joke. How different history might have been if only Cain had taken that God-given opportunity to confess and repent and be forgiven. Instead the lie he chose to tell condemned Cain to bear that guilt and shame forever.
Throughout history God has given people countless opportunities to confess and repent and find forgiveness.
Acts 17 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
The sad fact is that time and again people choose to follow Adam and Eve and Cain in rejecting God. And another sad fact is that without confession and repentance and forgiveness, human sin always has consequences – the judgment of the holy God.
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.”
When repentance does not come, judgment surely does. And what a terrible punishment! God’s curse. God’s curse. Driven out from the land. Forced to roam as a restless wanderer. Yet protected by God from a premature death until the punishment is complete.
15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
Yet the ultimate punishment is even more dreadful.
16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Cain is banished from the presence of God. What an amazingly vivid picture of hell. Wandering lost and separated from God forever. This is the consequence of sin for everybody who rejects God, as 2 Thessalonians 1 puts it.
8 (God) will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
Here was the punishment Cain faced when he chose to sin as his parents had done. And more than that, Cain forfeited his place in the line of salvation. Cain had children, but the descendent of Adam and Eve who would destroy the devil could not come through Cain or through Abel. However God’s plan of salvation was not thwarted.
Genesis 4 25 Adam lay with 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 men began to call on the name of the LORD.
What a wonderful story! I really don’t know why Jeffrey Archer bothered to write a book called Cain and Abel because the original Bible history has all the ingredients of a best seller. Jealousy. Anger. Hatred. Murder. Justice. Hope.
And there is one more truth we need to learn from this passage from verse 9.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Of course, the answer to that question is YES! The truth is that Cain WAS Abel’s keeper. Of course he was – he had killed him! But in a more general way, all of us ARE responsible before God for how we treat other people. All of us are responsible for the relationships we have with our brothers and our sisters and our neighbours and our friends. We are responsible for their well-being in this life. And we are also responsible for making sure that they know about God’s call to confess and repent of our sins and God’s wonderful offer of forgiveness and eternal life to all who put their trust in Jesus Christ. Yes – we are indeed our brother’s keepers and our sister’s keepers!