The veteran of Pearl Harbor watched with hate in his heart. He was standing near the port-side grave where his battleship had gone down that fateful day, December 7, 1941. This was a place of respect and honor for him, but there were two Japanese girls there. Japanese girls! Didn’t they have more respect than to come to America and gloat over that victory they had, which had killed so many of his friends? He was so angry that he could hurt them. But then, a marvelous thing happened. The two Japanese girls brought two wreaths of flowers and cast them on to the watery grave over the place where the ship had gone down. As the flowers gently sank down to where the ship lay The man could feel fifty years of scarred hate and bitterness slipping away from him.
Man has hated his brother for many years. Wars are nothing new; murder is nothing new; hate is nothing new. It all started with Adam and Eve. The question in our text is: will sin continue into the next generation, or will Cain and Abel be able to start fresh?
The text starts out with the fulfillment of Gods promise that offspring would come. The word “know” here means marital intercourse. But it also refers back to the tree of knowledge. One of the questions of this chapter is, “Does man know anything or not?” It says that Adam knew his wife. The question will be, “Does Cain know Abel? If so, Does Cain know where Abel is?” Eve conceived and bore Cain. The name Cain sounds like the word “acquired.” There are many people who think that Eve named Cain thinking that she had acquired that seed of the woman which would crush Satan’s head. As we will see, Cain actually becomes the seed of the serpent, and is conquered by the serpent, rather than being the promised seed. Eve recognizes that this birth could only have happened because God had helped her. Then she bears Abel, Cain’s brother. Some scholars think that Cain and Abel were twins. This is possible, since Abel’s birth does not seem to be separated from Cain’s birth: there is no mention of Adam knowing Eve with regard to Abel’s birth, not is there any mention of conception with regard to Abel’s birth. It is possible, but let us not force the text to say that. Abel’s name means “breath” or “vapor.” From Ecclesiastes, you might recognize that this name “Abel” is the same word as the word “meaningless” or “elusive” that is the key word of Ecclesiastes. Plainly, Eve thought that Cain would do all the serpent-crushing, and that therefore, there would be no work left for Abel to do. So Abel’s life would be just a “breath.” It is ironic that Abel’s name fits his fate perfectly: just as life is but a breath; breathe on it and it is gone, so also Abel’s life is precarious, and he does not live long.
We should not read into their profession something about shepherds being better than farmers. That is not the point of the story. God told Adam to work the ground. Therefore, Cain’s occupation was just as honorable as Abel’s. So we cannot find the difference in the two sacrifices from the fact that a blood sacrifice was better than a non-blood sacrifice. The Bible gives us other indications as to why Abel’s sacrifice was better. From our text here, we see that Cain was indifferent to his religious duties. He merely brought some of the fruit of the land. He doesn’t take care that he brings the best, like Abel does. Cain’s sacrifice comes from a different heart than does Abel’s. Cain wants to do his religious duty, and then get on with life. Cain wants his sacrifice to be his ticket to God’s favor. Cain wants to manipulate God by merely offering something because it was “that time of year.” The beginning of verse three says, “In the course of time.” Probably at the end of each year was the time of sacrifice in this sense. The phrase indicates a rather lengthy period of time. Since it was “that time of year,” they both get ready their sacrifices. Cain merely brings some of the fruit of the land, while Abel is much more picky about what he chooses to bring to God. Abel hand-picks his offering. He brings from the first-born of the flock, always a good sign in the OT. Furthermore, he offers the fattest portions of the flock on the altar. This is the part that would smell the best. We must take notice here that it is not merely because of the quality of the outward sacrifice that Abel is accepted while Cain is not. It is quite clear that the heart of the person is the issue. That is why in verse 4, God regards Abel first before He regards the sacrifice. The person comes before the sacrifice. This is extremely important. It helps to explain why Cain was upset. Cain expected his outward service to be acceptable to God. Surely the fruit of the ground that he offered was not bad-looking. I’m sure it was a very attractive offering. However, Cain’s heart was not right. Hypocrites are usually angry when they are found out. Cain is found out. The text does not tell us how Cain knew that his offering was not accepted. Perhaps God shot out flames of fire to consume Abel’s offering, while Cain’s offering just sat there to rot. Perhaps, though that also goes beyond what the text says. But somehow, Cain knew that he was rejected. Cain felt personally rejected. God did not have regard for Cain, and because God did not have regard for Cain, He also did not have regard for Cain’s offering. Again, the person comes before the offering. Ultimately, we find out the real reason in Hebrews 11:4: which says this: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” The faith of Abel was the key ingredient that set his offering apart from Cain’s. So that is why Cain is angry. Cain did not have faith, but he expected to fool God by bringing an offering that was not accompanied by faith. 1 John 3:12 says that we should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him, the text says? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.
The Lord then warns Cain. Notice that the Lord is gracious to Cain. The Lord gives Cain a chance to do well. The Lord tells Cain that there is redemption. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” This is phrased in terms of the covenant of works. You remember that God made a covenant with Adam, telling him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam broke that covenant. God is now telling Cain that if Cain is righteous, then he will be accepted. This is what God’s law tells us: if we are perfect, then we will be accepted. But Cain shows us that it cannot be done. Cain cannot obey God’s law, because sin has the mastery over him. Sin is like some kind of wild animal, crouching near the door of Cain’s heart, waiting for a chance to overpower Cain. Sin is like a serpent slithering its way into Eve’s heart. Here it is a lion, waiting for a chance to pounce on its prey.
Sin has its way with Cain. Cain lured Abel into the field on some pretext, possibly to work together. Many manuscripts add a little phrase that is in the NIV, and which makes much sense, “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Come, let us go out into the field.’” Probably Cain said something very much like it. Cain was angry, and so he rose up and killed his brother. Notice though that Cain is really angry at God. He takes it out on Abel, but he is really angry at God for accepting Abel, but rejecting him. So he attacks God’s image, his own brother Abel, and thereby attacks God. Notice that the word “brother” is used seven times in this passage. Moses emphasizes that all murder is the killing of a brother or sister.
The Lord knows immediately what happened. The Lord immediately starts the law-suit against Cain for murder. The Lord does not need to search, find out clues, or do any detective work. The Lord knows. Cain thought that he could fool everyone by taking Abel out to the field where no one was around to see. He thought that even God would not see. Obviously, Cain thought he had succeeded when Abel was actually dead. Cain thought that if God was the protector of Abel, then God would have come to Abel’s rescue. If Abel was God’s favorite, then let God deliver him, if He delight in him. God saw. God always sees.
So the Lord asks Cain a gracious question. God allows Cain the opportunity to confess his sin. By saying “your brother,” God indicates that Cain should and does know where Abel is. That is why Cain’s response is so hideously rebellious. Cain was supposed to be his brother’s keeper. Abel was a keeper of sheep. So Cain is really saying, “Am I the keeper’s keeper?” The Lord indicates that Cain is Abel’s keeper.
The sixth commandment is a command that protects and honors life. It is not merely that we should not kill, or even hate, as Jesus tells us. We are also to protect and honor life, and watch out for the lives of those around us. We are our brother’s keeper. Cain’s question indicates that he has completely repudiated his brother, and therefore God. He says he does not know. There is an outright lie. He charges God with carelessness: “You should have been the one to guard Abel’s life. If anything has happened to Abel, it’s your fault.” Haven’t we hear something like that before? Didn’t Adam shift the blame on to God by saying that it was God’s fault for placing that woman there to tempt him. In fact, the Cain and Abel story is a second Adam and Eve story.
Moses’ point is that sin did not diminish when it came to the next generation; rather, sin increased. Adam confessed his sin; whereas Cain never does. That is why the Lord curses Cain himself. This curse sounds a lot like the curse put on Satan in the previous chapter. In fact, the Lord is saying that Cain is of the seed of the serpent. Since Cain shed his brother’s blood, it will be as if the ground has been rendered sterile by Abel’s blood. It will yield so little food that Cain will have to wander to get enough food. It ironic that Cain eventually settles in the land of “Nod,” which means “wandering.” Cain settles in “Wandering.”
In verse 13, Cain complains about his punishment. Notice that even here Cain does not repent of his sin. Never once does he mention his sin. He complains that his punishment makes him a target for revenge. Cain realizes that since Abel was the son of Adam, then every man he ever meets will be one of Abel’s relatives, and thus able to exact revenge for Abel’s murder. Cain at least has the sense to realize that justice might be seen in that way by Adam’s descendents. The other part of the punishment is that Cain is excommunicated. He is driven out from the presence of the Lord; “from your face I shall be hidden.” This is an act of grace on God’s part. Cain is going to be given an opportunity to repent in this life. If God had exacted justice at that point in time, then it would have been all over for Cain. But the Lord reserves the right of justice for Himself alone. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.” The Lord sets a mark on Cain. There is no indication of what this mark is. That kind of speculation is unhelpful. The important thing is that it was a sign that kept people from exacting revenge.
It must have been very sad for Adam and Eve to see the seed of the serpent taking such a strong hold in Cain. They lost a total of three children in this affair. Abel was killed, Cain was excommunicated, and one of their daughters was married to Cain, and she had to go live in exile with Cain. Adam and Eve’s children are all divided into two groups: the seed of the serpent, and the seed of the woman. Abel was of the seed of the woman. Abel’s blood cries out for justice to be done. Abel was a sacrifice of sorts. As such, Abel shows us Jesus Christ, the true seed of the woman. Hebrews 12:24 tells us that “Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, and that there is sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood cried out for justice: Christ’s blood cries out for mercy and justice. If Abel knew that blood needed to be spilled for the forgiveness of sins, what he didn’t know was that the blood that would cleanse our sins needed to be human blood, the blood of a perfect man, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant of works for himself and grace to us. Jesus was righteous. And the seed of the serpent murdered him just like he murdered Cain, hoping to subvert that promise that God had made to Eve. However, the seed of the woman always has the last word. Just as the ground opened up to receive Abel’s blood, so it also opened up to receive Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ came back from the dead. Because He has conquered sin and death, the seed of the serpent will always lose now. We see his ultimate loss in Revelation 12:1-17.
The question for us is, “Whose seed are we?” We must believe in Jesus Christ, the true seed of the woman, who came to earth to conquer the serpent Satan. We must believe that Jesus Christ was righteous for us. And that except for Jesus Christ, we would all go the way of Cain. We have all hated our brother in our heart. We have all murdered. But it is Cain whom we must put to death. It is our old man. It is our sinful nature that must be put to death. That is ultimate vengeance and justice on Cain. We might identify ourselves with Abel, but it is Cain that more often describes who we are. But the Greater Abel, Jesus Christ has suffered death for us. His blood cries out to God for mercy on us who believe in Him. When we do believe in Jesus Christ, then a new principle of life comes into us, and gives that Cain within us a mortal blow.
But we are also to put Cain to death. We do that by following the way of Jesus Christ. Jude 11 warns us against the way of Cain. Cain hated his brother. 1 John 3 tells us that we should not be surprised if the world hates us. The world is full of Cains. We are now the Abels of this world if we believe in Jesus Christ. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Ultimately, this passage in Genesis is telling us to love our brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death, John tells us. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. It is said that John, in old age, went about saying nothing but, “Love one another.” What we need to realize is that loving one another, because Jesus first loved us, is the way we are the seed of the woman, and it is the way we execute justice on the seed of Cain and the serpent. The way of love is more powerful than the way of hate. If you want your relatives and friends to get along with you, the way of love is more powerful. If you want a more harmonious house, the way of love is more powerful.
Just take the instance of discipline. Discipline is needed in a house to preserve order. Children need discipline, otherwise they will not know where the boundaries are. However, if discipline is not built on a foundation of love, then the discipline will be seen by the child as a form of hate. God disciplines those He loves. The child needs to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the parent loves him. He needs to be told and shown that the love is there. We can show that love in a variety of ways: we can tell them we are proud of them: that works especially well for boys. We can tell them they are beautiful. That works very well for girls. We can tell them we love them. It is remarkable to me how many parents find it difficult to tell their children that they love them. Maybe their parents never told them that, so they have trouble telling their children. The way of love that Christ brings can break that pattern of lack of love. God has told us many, many times that He loves us. It should not be difficult then to turn around and tell our children that we love them. I challenge us this week to find one meaningful way to say to our children that we love them. Try to find one way each day to tell them. “But pastor, you don’t know how difficult my children are. They deserve no such praise.” Maybe our children are a lot like us. Maybe we don’t deserve God’s favor. But God gives it to us. It is called grace. Perhaps the reason our children are so difficult is that they don’t really know if you love them or not. Maybe they are just trying to find out whether or not you love them. By loving them, we show that we are not following the way of Cain, but rather the way of Jesus Christ.
This works the other way, too. Children can tell their parents that they love them. Children don’t often realize how starved for affection their parents can be. They worked so hard to bring us up, and precious little thanks they get most of the time. Do you want your parents to tell you that they love you? Why don’t you tell them that you love them? Why not show it by being obedient? If you want them to be proud of you, why not behave in a way which will make them proud?
Maybe there is a people group that we hate. They haven’t done us any favors. Maybe we have tried to be nice to them, and they have rejected us. The temptation is to be like Cain and lash out at them, or at least not try the way of love again, since it has obviously not worked at all. Will we give up on them? Which is stronger? The hate of Satan, or the love of God? If we give up, are we not saying that Satan is the stronger, and that Jesus cannot change those people? Maybe it is your neighbor, maybe it is your brother. Maybe it is the Native American. Whoever it is, can we not pray for them? Can we not seek to serve them in love? Which is stronger? Hate or Love? Cain or Christ?
The way of Cain is to hate and murder. It would tempt us to kill two Japanese girls for something they had not done. They had not killed American soldiers. But yet, we might hate them anyway. What we need to see is that Jesus Christ has cast down His life in love for us. He cast His life into the depths of the earth, enduring hell itself for us. When we see that, we will see that years of hate and bitterness can melt away. Then we will truly abide in love, for faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of them is love.