[Painting by Mariotto Albertinelli]
Cain— the first murderer— the guy with anger issues— the sinner of the Bible I have historically identified with the least. In the past, I’ve been quite appalled by Cain— appalled that his jealousy and anger over something seemingly easy to correct could escalate into the act of murdering his brother. He was angry because the Lord received Abel’s gift of meat, but rejected Cain’s “fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3 NKJV). The solution seems easy—get over it and give God some meat, man!
However, in reading Genesis again recently, I was struck by the Cain and Abel situation in a new way. More specifically, the Cain situation.
I used to see Cain’s actions as not only sinful, but horribly rash and idiotic. Now, I see myself and the attitude of our culture in Cain.
Cain was a “tiller of the ground” while “Abel was a keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2 NKJV)— both gave to the Lord out of their occupation…but, Cain’s gift was not accepted. Surely it felt unfair— wasn’t his job just as worthwhile as Abel’s? Didn’t they need to eat grains with their meat?
It seems it would be easy (on a practical level) for Abel to give the Lord a meat offering, sheep were his thing! …but, maybe it was really hard for Cain to sacrifice a sheep— he spent his days tilling the earth. In fact, God probably wanted him to till the earth, it was an important job. But, the Lord did not want or require what came out of Cain’s giftedness for THIS offering…and that must have hurt. We know he became “very angry and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:5 NKJV).
God sees Cain’s response and addresses it:
“Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?”
This seems like not only a chastisement (and an implication that Cain knew what he was supposed to give God and deliberately disobeyed), but an encouragement, an affirmation that Cain COULD, indeed, be accepted AND that the Lord saw the way Cain felt.
The Lord goes on:
“And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV).
Cain wanted to make his worship about himself rather than about God. He thought the Lord “should” accept his offering— after all, didn’t the Lord appreciate how he cultivated the earth? I am sure He did…but Cain failed to see that appreciating and affirming man was not the point of worship.
Cain did not “do well.”
We do not “do well” when we try to make religion and worship about us— when we say “God made me this way, He can’t ask me give Him such-and-such!” We clothe our self-worship in the pleas of a victim, “Why can’t you just accept me?” or “A loving God wouldn’t make it this hard for me to obey Him.”
Oh, but it was HARD for Cain! It did not feel natural or right or fair for Cain.
Cain’s sin leads to more sin.
Cain kills Abel.
God is obviously very upset about this and punishes Cain— part of Cain’s punishment is that the work he wanted God to accept as his offering, tilling the ground, would no longer produce anything for him. The Lord also said he would be “a fugitive and a vagabond” from then on (Genesis 4:12).
To me, this punishment seems to be an act of grace. It seems like God is about to show Cain how the work he may have thought to be so vital to his identity (tilling the ground) actually wasn’t. Because Cain couldn’t produce from the ground and had to live as a vagabond, he had to change his occupation. Maybe God was pruning Cain.
Though the Lord punishes Cain for murdering Abel, He also shows him mercy. God marks Cain so anyone who kills him will receive vengeance “sevenfold” (Genesis 4:15 NKJV).
Cain isn’t so unlike us. Our sinful tendency is to become self-focused and to make worship what WE want it to be— we can easily make ourselves the focus of worship rather than our great God. Sometimes what is really needed, and what God would have us to do, isn’t necessarily where our giftedness lies.
We can continue in sin that leads to death yelling, “This is just the way I am!” All the while, our good and gracious God longs for us to run into His arms. He is longing to show His strength through our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). He loved us first— and He receives and accepts us when we accept Him. My sin nature, sinful tendencies, personality and even my gifts should not define who I am. I am adopted into Christ’s family. He calls me blameless, pure, His bride. He wants to make me into His likeness.
He desires for us to walk and worship in His ways— the ways that lead to life. Praise the Lord for His mercy. The story of Cain holds hope.
We don’t know if Cain began to live in obedience to God after this. We know he lived for a long time. Genesis 4:20 specifically mentions that some of his descendants were known for raising LIVESTOCK…which seems significant to me. However, he did build a city, which may have been in defiance unless God told him his time of being a vagabond could be over (because part of Cain’s punishment was that he would be a wanderer).
The state of Cain’s heart after correction is uncertain. I don’t think we’ll know until our earthly lives are over.
What I can seek to understand and change is the state of my own heart in relation to the Lord:
Am I worshiping the Lord and living my life for Him through obedience to His word and His Spirit? In other words, am I worshiping the Lord or myself?
How do I respond to correction?
What do I need to sacrifice?
God is so worthy every bit of my soul, my heart, my mind.
To be in His presence is life, freedom, and peace.
It is only with His help and His grace that we can worship Him the way He deserves to be worshiped.
My soul yearns for His hand physically in mine— for all of my brokenness restored.
For now, with the help of God’s mighty grace, we fight the evil within and without us. We may fall in our weakness, but He picks us up. He says, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).