Cain’s Crime, God’s Response

Cain Cries

by Lois Tverberg

“And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen. 4:8-9

When we read this story, it isn’t clear to us why God chooses to accept Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. The text says that Abel brought some of the fat portions of the first born animals of his flock, and to an ancient Israelite, that would have meant the absolute best of the absolute most precious animals that he had.

Cain brought some of the produce of his field, but no mention is made of it being the first or best, suggesting that Abel offered his sacrifice with enthusiasm, but Cain offered it out of a sense of social obligation, with an eye toward what he would get in return, in comparison to his brother. It appears that God knew their hearts and responded accordingly, but in Cain’s eyes, it looked as if God had arbitrarily favored his brother over himself. God chooses whom he will bless, and sometimes that is a mystery to us. We sometime see God’s kindness toward others as favoritism and it makes us angry.

Cain CriesThis story has a great irony, however, because in punishment, God’s grace extends to Cain too. Cain has taken his brother’s life and certainly merits death for his actions. But not only does God spare Cain from the fate that he gave his brother, he promises to protect Cain from harm and repay anyone who tries to harm him. God is being amazingly merciful to a man who was forewarned about the evil that he was about to do, does it anyway, and then brazenly answers God’s question about his brother with, “Why should I care?”

The irony is that Abel appears to merit God’s favor, but because Cain had the slightest doubt of God’s choice of favoring him, he is angered. But Cain, who has no merit of all, receives even greater grace from God. How unfathomable is God’s kindness!

We should learn that while we all can compare how God has blessed others in comparison to ourselves, to do so only leads to jealousy and hatred. God sometimes chooses and we can’t see why. But we also know that God’s choosing extends to the most unworthy, and extends even to the one who merits least of all, which is often ourselves.

Photocred: Jastrow

My Brother’s Keeper

Abel is Dead

y Lois Tverberg

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. – Genesis 4:9-10

We often miss the major point of biblical texts if we don’t take into account the wording and poetry of the story. Often, a word is repeated over and over in the story to make a point in a subtle way. The first time we read the word “brother” in the bible (ach, in Hebrew) is when Eve gave birth to Abel after first having Cain. It says, “Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel,” (Genesis 4:2) showing that the first person in all of the Bible to be a brother to someone else is Abel, and the first person to have a brother is Cain.

Interestingly, in the next several verses, the word brother is repeated seven times, and the middle time is in God’s question, “Where is Abel your brother?” The writers were very sensitive to word repetition and pattern, and to repeat a word seven times emphasizes its centrality to the story. Abel is DeadThe unspoken message is that God’s question, “Where is Abel your brother?” is central and very important – Abel is the first brother, and the only brother to Cain, and he is responsible for him. Cain’s response, the first words after Abel’s murder, shows that he has rejected his responsibility to his one and only brother.

The Bible often uses the first of a kind to represent all of that kind, as Adam is the first and representative man. So the take-home message of this story is that all who are human are our brothers, and we are our brother’s keepers. The minute we forget that, sin starts to crouch at our door and we start moving down a path toward evil that may even lead toward murder.

We might think that this is self-evident and not something to be reminded of. But modern culture today emphasizes our individuality to the point of amazing self-centeredness. Materialism and consumerism prey on answering every need of ours, and pornography feeds the desire to use others’ bodies for our own pleasure. Every possible convenience is available to us, showing us that the world will obey our every whim. As a result we become self-centered and short-tempered in our relationships with others, expecting everything to go our way at all times. Only when we are reminded that other humans are our brothers, and that we must love our brothers as ourselves, will we begin to live as God wants us to.

Photocred: Art Renewal Center

The Slippery Slope

Temptation and Expulsion from the Garden

by Lois Tverberg

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. – Genesis 6:5-6

We think of the point at which sin enters the world as when Eve takes the first bite of the apple. Some of us quickly leap next to the Gospels to read God’s answer to the problem. But it is interesting that if we keep reading we can get a lesson about sin and its consequences.

Temptation and Expulsion from the GardenWe see sin’s effects even after Adam and Eve are sent out from the garden. Within a few years, one of their own sons commits the first murder – a drastic worsening from Adam and Eve’s small act of rebellion of eating forbidden fruit. Cain is a man who doesn’t care about his brother and is prone to jealousy. His anger entices him to murder, just as the serpent led Eve to sin. A few generations later, in Cain’s line, we see a man even more vengeful than Cain – his descendant Lamech. Lamech said the following:

I have killed a man for wounding me, and a boy for striking me;
If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold. Genesis 4:24

Not only was Lamech more violent than Cain, he was even proud of it! Finally, evil reached its peak a few generations later in the generation of the flood. The scriptures say that this was a people whose only thought was of evil all the time, and God was sorry he made them. He wiped them all out with a flood, but the first thing man did after the flood was to build the tower of Babel — it was clear that the flood hadn’t washed the sin out of their hearts.

At this point, God began a much more long-term answer for sin in the heart of man. In the very next chapter, God chose one faithful man, Abram, and promised that through him he would make a people that would bless the whole world. Through him would come a nation that could be taught God’s way to live, and even if they struggled, could be a light to the nations around them. And God could use this nation to bring his final answer to sin – Jesus.

Through this we can see the amazing power of sin that starts out small and quickly grows powerful and ugly. But we can hope in the fact that while God’s answer also starts out small, it ultimately will triumph with redemption.


You Must Master It

satan the serpent

by Bruce Okkema

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your
countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?
And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire
is for you, but you must master it. – Genesis 4:6-7

With so much happening in the opening chapters of Genesis, it is surprising how much we are not told. We know that Cain started a fight with Abel out of jealousy, but did he know that the striking or whatever he did to his brother would result in death? Quite likely, neither of them knew what death was, and furthermore we do not know if that was Cain’s intention (verse 8). How did the brothers know that God had accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s? Who are the people that Cain says will kill him (verse 14)? Several more questions surface in our minds as we read the ensuing story, but they are left unanswered for us to focus on the main issue.

Essentially God is saying to Cain, “What’s your problem? You know the difference between right and wrong. In every situation you face, you are going to have a choice. Sin is lurking at the door; it desires you, but you must master it.”

satan the serpentFrom the very first temptation, in which Eve certainly could have chosen not to listen to the serpent, until today, the Adversary will continue to come back with another suggestion; that’s the way life is. God has given us the responsibility to choose between activities which honor Him and those that don’t. He promises us that if we ask him, he will make us wise in our choosing and strong in resisting the temptations that confront us. I Corinthians 10:13 says,

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

As an athlete trains diligently day after day to increase his endurance, to improve his performance, so on the day of the race he can win, let us faithfully, day after day, study God’s Word, pray, and prepare intensively, so that when we face life’s trials and temptations we will be ready to “master” them.

 Photocred: Darren and Brad