A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on June 6, 2010
Cain and Abel were brothers. They played together as children. They built forts. They swam together. They had carved into the same tree. They’d always been racing and competing with one another. They were brothers “ they were rivals and friends.
Adam and Eve had shown them the way to worship. They told the boys about the early days in the Garden, when they had walked and talked with God. He came down to them every day. The parents showed Cain and Abel how to prepare sacrifices. They said, God stays a little away from us nowadays, so we have to talk to Him by way of smoke signals. The young men built their altars. They strike up the song of the fire and send their praise and thanks to God.
Then comes the word from heaven. Abel makes the worship team, but Cain is cut from the roster.
It’s a familiar story. Both of the boys brought their offering unto the Lord. Cain was like his father, Adam “ he was a farmer. So when he brought an offering, it was natural for him to bring produce to God. Abel was a rancher, so when he brought an offering, it was proper for him to bring an offering from his flock.
The question that stands in our mind as readers of the story is clear. Why did God accept the offering of Abel and why did He reject the offering of Cain? The author of Hebrews (11:4) gives us a hint. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
Cain is outraged. How dare God accept the offering of his kid brother and yet refuse his?
It’s a familiar story and there is much fruit to be found from the story of these two earliest of brothers.
I. Real intimacy can never be casual without commitment.
Look at Genesis 4:1-2.
Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord. And again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
The original language says, Now the man knew his wife Eve. In context, of course, it means that he had relations with her. But it’s a powerful Old Testament expression that has become somewhat obscured in contemporary thinking. To know a person, to have an intimate relationship with that person, cannot happen in a casual environment without commitment. By definition, being intimate with somebody means that you know them at a deep level. You know them in all dimensions. The idea that a man and woman can have a physically intimate relationship that is mutually satisfying outside of an emotional and psychological commitment is a myth of modernity.
Adam knew Eve and she bore a child by the name of Cain.
Notice what Eve says. I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord. It is as if Eve is saying the Lord created humanity to begin with all by Himself from the dust of the earth, and the Lord is still involved in the creation of humankind. The Lord and I, together, have made this one, seems to be the essence of Eve’s words.
II. While Cain brought an offering out of obligation, Abel brought the fattest of the firstlings of his flock.
In the Hebrew text, Cain’s offering is described by one small Hebrew word that means some. He brings, as his offering, some of the fruits of the earth.
On the other hand, Abel’s offering is given a lengthy description. He brought some of the first born of his flocks; that is, their fattest portions.
It appears as if Cain is going through the motions out of a sense of obligation. But Abel has come with a faithful and glad heart to worship God with his very best.
Later, of course, the law required worshipers give their best to God, which included the first born of the flock which was the fattest or healthiest (Exodus 13:2, 12 or Leviticus 22:17-25).
Cain comes by a sense of a discharged duty. And Abel comes with a heart of praise to God.
It might be disturbing to us in this passage, but it does seem as if God plays the role of evaluating the offering of each of His worshippers. Look at the end of verse 4. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.
God makes the decision about accepting or rejecting his worshippers. Notice, before his offering is mentioned, Abel is called by name. And in his worship, Cain is mentioned first and then his offering. The kind of offering (fruit or flock) is not as important in this story as is the attitude of the person making the offering “ the attitude of giving God your first and best against making an offering out of a sense of obligation.
We don’t know exactly how it was determined that God had accepted the offering of one of the brothers and not the other. Perhaps the smoke rose to heaven with Abel’s offering as a sweet savor into the nostrils of the Almighty. And perhaps when Cain’s fire was started, the smoke just stayed on the ground, never ascending to God “ it seemed to be refused or rejected and never made its way upward in the wind. I don’t know how they knew, but Cain knew that he and his offering were not accepted or respected by God.
I’ll have to admit that reading this passage again made me ponder my own attitude in worship and my own offering to God. God evaluates and God accepts or God rejects what we bring to Him as our offering. Do we come and participate in the offering with a glad heart, or do we do it out of a sense of obligation? Are we giving God some or are we giving God the first of our income?
III. Pursuing the path of anger will always lead to regrettable passion.
God could see that Cain was angry because he had not been accepted like his brother. Verses 6-7: Why are you angry? And why has your face fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.
The temptation to act upon anger is is pictured as a hungry lion, ready to leap.
Sin, in this case, is not merely breaking the rules, but, rather, sin is an aggressive force ready to ambush Cain. Sin is so large that it takes on a life of its own. And it’s lethal.
There is an important question in Cain’s life and in our lives: how do we handle our rage, depression, and anger. Could the stakes be any higher in how we handle the disorders, anger and frustrations we have among our siblings? We live in a world that wants to justify every action and every anger. But the reality is sin is waiting to embody our anger and our rage, to pounce upon us as we act on anger.
Notice what God says. Sin has its desire for you. And here’s the irony of it all “ the animal of anger. When you act upon your anger, it destroys not only the recipient of your anger, but it also destroys you, the perpetrator.
Notice God warns Cain before he sins. Ironically, with the first fall, Eve had to be talked into sin by the serpent. But God, Himself, is unable to talk Cain out of his actions of anger in the second sin. If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And be careful if you don’t do well. The lion is waiting on you, crouching for you.
The choice belongs to Cain. The choice belongs to you.
John Steinbeck, in East of Eden, describes that ability to choose. He writes:
…It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself onto the lap of the deity, saying, I couldn’t help it; the way was set. But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. (Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: Genesis, p. 59)
What Steinbeck is saying is this: Cain has a choice on whether or not to act on his anger.
Cain is invited by God to try to do better and not let the destructive power of anger define him.
In his At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, President Dwight Eisenhower relates how he learned to forgive. He was ten. He became so angry about something that he beat his fists into an old apple tree until they were bleeding. That night his mother came into his bedroom. He was still sobbing into the pillow, and she sat in the rocking chair by the bed and said nothing for a long time. Then she began to talk about anger, quoting Proverbs 16:32: He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
There is so little to be gained in hating another person, his mother told him. She put salve on his bloody hands. We only hurt ourselves when we’re angry.
Eisenhower said he considered the conversation with his mother about anger one of the most valuable moments of his life, and it led to his developing a curious habit as an adult Whenever someone angered him, Eisenhower would write the person’s name on a piece of scrap paper, drop it into the lowest drawer of his desk, and say to himself, That finishes the incident. (www.preaching.com)
Frederick Buechner says in Wishful Thinking: Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back. In some ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. (www.homileticsonline.com)
When you ohoate or depise someone, you give them power over you; you are wasting time and energy on them.
God is saying to Cain, Deal with your anger and things can go better with you.
But Cain refuses to heed the advice of God about anger.
When Jesus preaches, He warns us not only against murder but against the murderous spirit displayed by Cain. Jesus changes You shall not kill to You shall not have a murderous anger against your brother.
You and I are not likely to draw back the dagger, to make it drunk with our brother’s blood. But in our hearts, does our anger make us like a murderer? Do we dwell on the wrongs inflicted upon us by others?
IV. Life is always lived with brothers.
Cain acts on his anger. He invites his brother, Abel, out to the field. Cain ambushes Abel and kills him (verse 8). The first murder.
Just as God had questioned Adam, Where are you? , now he questions Cain, Where is Abel your brother? And he said, as he lies (one sin always leads to another), I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?
Look at Genesis 3:13. Then the Lord God said to the woman [about the fruit], ˜What is this you have done?’ Not look at Genesis 4:10. The same question of God to the second sinner: What have you done?
Life is always lived in brotherhood. The word translated keeper is the same word God used when he created human beings in the first place. They were to work and to guard “ that is, to keep “ the Garden (2:15). But Cain has not guarded God’s creation. He’s not taken care of his brother. He has destroyed his brother and, thus, destroyed the creation of God.
There is always a brother in the Bible, isn’t there? Maybe it’s Isaac and Ishmael. Maybe it’s Jacob and Esau. Maybe it’s Ammon and Absalom. Maybe it’s Joseph and all his brothers. There is always a truth to the statement that “ biological or not “ life is always lived amongst the brothers. A life with our brother is not lived in void, but in relation to God. How we treat our brother matters to God. And whoever violates the brother must face the riddle of God.
The psalmist wrote in Psalm 133,
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing “ life forever.
Life is always lived among the brothers. Think about the New Testament. Luke 15:11-32: There was a certain man who had two sons. Why didn’t he have just one son? Why not an only child? But no, there are two sons. They are brothers. And they compete. There is the older son. There is the prodigal son. And there is tension between the boys.
In fact, if I think about the families I know, the daily estrangement between brothers seems to be the ordinary, the norm, the routine, and the accepted.
In the New Testament, of course, all Christians become our brother, the very word that Paul uses for those who believe by his side. Brothers he calls the men, and sisters he calls the women.
Your obligation is not only to God, it’s to me. And my obligation is not only to God; it’s to you. Life lived before God is always lived among the brothers. There was a man who had two sons….
V. Once again, we end with grace.
After the first sin, we ended with grace. God slaughtered the animal, made the sacrifice, and clothed the man and the woman with garments of grace. In the same fashion, even as Cain receives his punishment, he receives a grace-mark from God.
God makes Cain a wanderer. He sends him to the land of Nod. And Nod is really no place, which means he becomes a runaway, a fugitive. Cain objects to the Lord, My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, you have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me.
Kind of strange, isn’t it? Cain is worrying about being killed when he, himself, has just killed.
So the Lord said to him, ˜Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, lest anyone finding him should slay him. Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
One of the saddest commentaries on Cain is that his punishment from sin, like a punishment for each of our sins, is that we must leave the presence of the Lord. He goes out from the presence of the Lord.
It’s a mark of mercy “ it gives testimony to both Cain’s guilt as well as God’s grace. They always go together, don’t they? The acknowledgment of guilt before we have the reality of grace. God, Himself, became the protector of the perpetrator. God gave grace to the one who would not heed His command.
So what about us?
Do we come to worship with faithful hearts and first fruits for our offering?
Do we realize that life is always lived with the brother?
Do we heed the warning of God through his prophets and psalmist and proverbial sage that anger is utterly destructive, not only to the one against whom we strike, but in our own hearts as well?
How much time have you spent being angry at someone lately?
How much have you loathed someone, running rampant your evil imagination, contriving conversations that probably will never take place just to satisfy your own angry soul?
For you, the word of God comes like it came to Cain. The lion of anger is crouching and ready to strike. But if you’ll listen to Me, if you’ll avoid the anger and do well, things can go better for you. But if you yield to the murderous spirit of anger, ultimately the one that you destroy is you.
Cain. We don’t want to be like Cain. But I warn you anger is crouching at the door for you, too. It’s desire is for you, too.
And, yes, we are our brother’s keeper.