Please read Genesis 4:1-16 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
Whenever one section of Scripture directly comments on another, we should sit up and take notice. With that in mind, I want to begin by sharing two Scriptures that reflect on Abel’s murder.
1 John 3:12-15 = This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was righteous. So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.
One of John’s purposes in his letter is to urge the believers to love one another. Here he uses Cain as a negative example and uncovers hate as a sign of belonging to the evil one, not God. For our purpose, he explains Cain’s willingness to commit murder as part of a life of doing EVIL.
Hebrews 11:4 = It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
Where John used Cain as an example of behaviors to avoid, Paul used Abel as an example of faith that should be followed. He explains the difference between Abel’s sacrifice and Cain’s, why God accepted Abel’s offering, not Cain’s.
God calls us to be our brother’s keeper, not his killer.
1. What’s in a name? (1-2a)
The name CAIN means “brought forth” or “acquired.” Maybe Eve chose that name to show gratitude to the Lord. Who can say why she chose it? Notice that before the Fall Adam named everything, now after the Fall Eve names everything. Coincidence?
The name ABEL means “breath” or “vapor.” It is used in the Bible as a metaphor of things that are insubstantial or are quickly gone (i.e., Job 17:6; Psalm 39:5).
Abel’s name became a kind of prophecy about his life and a comment on all life in this world. As with Cain, we can only guess at Eve’s reasoning in selecting the name Abel, but what is certain is that Abel did not have a full life. In that sense, her choice of names was a prophecy. It’s possible Eve realized death had entered into creation and regretted her role in bringing it about. In that sense, the name Abel is a commentary on the shortness of life.
2. The difference that made all the difference. (2b-7)
There is little discernible difference between their sacrifices. The obvious difference was that Cain offered vegetables and Abel offered meat. Cain worked the soil and Abel watched over the sheep; at harvest time, both gave God some of the fruits of their labor.
Without a word of explanation at this point, the text simply reports the outcome of each offering: Abel’s offering was accepted, Cain’s was not. Since Abel’s offering was listed first, we might guess his offering was a sincere and spontaneous act of worship, while Cain’s was merely an imitation or worse, an attempt at one-upmanship.
We’re not told how the Lord communicated His acceptance. The word ACCEPTED can also be translated “kindled.” Its possible God sent fire from heaven to burn up Abel’s sacrifice. When that didn’t happen with Cain’s, he became VERY ANGRY and showed it: HE LOOKED DEJECTED.
Divine confrontation #1: God confronted Cain and gave him a chance to repent. (6-7) God confronted Cain’s anger and his dejected face to give him a chance to explain, a reason to stop and think about his feelings. Know that God never asks questions to get information; He asks questions to make us stop and think (see 3:9). A lot of good can be done and evil avoided by stopping to think before acting and speaking.
God gave Cain an explanation as to why his sacrifice was not accepted: he’d failed to do what is right. This affirms what John wrote in 1 John 3:12-15, as quoted earlier. Whatever RIGHT may’ve meant in that situation, Cain failed to do it. He may have had a bad motive, offered poor produce, who can say?
God promised Cain if he did RIGHT, his sacrifice would be accepted. God was not being arbitrary; He was being fair. Abel did right and his sacrifice was accepted. God also warned Cain if he failed to do RIGHT, then worse troubles would befall him. That is exactly what happened.
God coached Cain on his own human nature. He warned SIN was like a dangerous animal CROUCHING at his DOOR. It appealed to him on the basis of temptation. Intimidating and irresistible though it may seem, temptations can be resisted, subdued, and mastered. This was the only way Cain could resist sin and achieve self-control.
3. The ultimate crime, for the first time. (8-16)
Ignoring God’s warnings, refusing to repent, Cain committed premeditated murder. (8) Notice Cain invited Abel to follow him to his “turf.” They went to the field, not the pasture. This must have been to get Abel away from their parents. This detail proves premeditation. Though he did it out of anger, Cain did not commit a “crime of passion” in the way we use that term. He did let his anger get the best of him, but he was fully aware of what he was doing. Curiosity might cause us to want more details here, but this is not a murder mystery or crime drama; this is history and a cautionary tale of a negative example.
When God confronted Cain a second time, his defense was defiant falsehood. (9) As we said before, God doesn’t ask questions for information, but to make us stop and think. In this case, Cain was supposed to think about what he’d done and confess.
Instead, he took the stupid path and defiantly attempted to dodge the question. This is so typical to human nature, isn’t it? Cain refused to confess, missing his final opportunity to do the RIGHT thing as God had counseled him to do (6-7).
By the way, the answer to Cain’s question is “Yes.” Yes he was Abel’s GUARDIAN. God wants all of us to love one another and act as guardians of each other’s safety and sanctity. We’re supposed to take care of one another and be mutually responsible.
God judged Cain guilty. (10) What we see of Cain’s character in his attitudes and actions is the best explanation of why his sacrifice was not accepted. Cain was a selfish brute who thought he could defy God and get away with it. God condemned Cain on the silent testimony of his brother’s BLOOD; He said it CRIED OUT to Him.
God passed sentence: Cain was cursed and banished. (11-12) First, the curse. This is very much like the curse Adam brought on himself (3:17-19). The earth itself will reject Cain and his attempts to grow crops will end in frustration and failure. Cain lost his job, his farm, and his home. He lost everything.
Second, the banishment. God condemned Cain to be a HOMELESS WANDERER for the rest of his life. This may seem a little hard to square with what happened later.
- Verse sixteen says Cain SETTLED IN THE LAND OF NOD (which is where some folks attend my sermons!). Understand the name NOD means “wandering,” so it refers to a general area, not a specific spot. It would be a little like saying he settled “in the Dakotas.” That’s a lot of real estate.
- Verse seventeen says Cain later FOUNDED A CITY (which could be translated as “fortified settlement”). That sounds like settling in one spot. We should note that there’s a difference between founding a city and staying in one. It would be poetic justice for Cain to be allowed to found a city and never allowed to live in it.
Cain expressed regret, but not repentance. (13-16) Informed of God’s discipline, Cain THEN felt regret, but it was not for the act of murder. He regretted God’s punishment. He was selfishly complaining about God’s “heavy-handed” sentence. He didn’t like the idea of being homeless.
He worried that ANYONE who found him would kill him. Who did he have to worry about besides dad and mom? Probably he was more worried about future generations, sons and grandsons of Adam and Eve. More to the point, who says this was a logical concern?
God’s answer to Cain’s complaint was to give him a MARK as a warning to anyone who tried to avenge Abel. (15-16) Over the years people have had various ideas about the MARK of Cain, some of them goofy. Whatever physical form the MARK took, the important thing is to recognize it as a mark of grace. Consider: Cain deserved death, but God decreed that he should not be killed, instead serving his sentence. The graciousness of the Mark of Cain becomes clearer when we realize that millennia later, when God would give His Law to Moses, murder was the one act that was met with a universal, mandatory death penalty. Human life is sacred to God, it should be as sacred to us.
God promised a SEVENFOLD PUNISHMENT to deter anyone foolish enough to try to kill Cain. It was a warning to others to leave him alone. Thus, God showed Cain a measure of mercy but let the penalty of his sin fall on him.
God calls us to be our brother’s keeper, not his killer.
In His teaching, Jesus said that hating is akin to murder and that condemning one another puts us in jeopardy of hellfire. It’s easy for us to claim innocence on the basis of never having been guilty of murder, but none of us are innocent of the sin of hatred.
The fact is Cain’s love was misplaced. He loved himself more than Abel or anyone else. His self-love was the cause of his anger at what he perceived to be God’s unfair acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice. His perverse self-love caused Cain to defy God and fail to repent at every opportunity God gave him. An out of proportion self-love lay at the root of Cain’s sins.
This is the thing about which all of us must be vigilant. We must guard against a self-love so complete that no other life counts. Respect for life begins with a humble & correct level of self-love.
What was true of Cain as an individual can be true of churches. We can take self-love too far, indulge self-centeredness too much, lose sight of what is truly important: God.
Writing for churchrenew.org, Larry Doornbos identified some false loves in churches. The article is entitled, “LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES.” He gives nine examples of what disordered loves might exist in a church:
Prestige: A desire to look good in priority over doing good.
Power: A desire to gain, exert, and hold control.
Safety/Survival: A focus on keeping the church from closing.
Comfort: An emphasis on keeping the members comfortable rather than caring about those outside the membership.
Institutionalism: Protecting the institution at the price of people.
Assimilation: Being absorbed by the culture rather than being faithful to God’s kingdom.
Closed Eyes: Ignoring injustice or thinking it doesn’t impact us.
Holding on to History: Being so caught up in what we used to be we refuse to imagine a new way forward.
Zondervan Bible Commentary, One-volume Illustrated Edition, Genesis, 2008, H.L. Ellison and David F. Payne.
https://churchrenew.org/disordered-loves-and-church-renewal/, retrieved on 11 January 23.