Meditating on the Judgements of God:
3.2 Cain and Abel
Gen 4:10-12 Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
The thing about the judgments of God is that they only come when there is a case to be decided, so to speak, when someone has gone contrary to the design of God for His world. The Biblical record tells us of Eve’s first two children, Cain and then Abel and we read, “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Gen 4:2-5) These are somewhat mystifying verses at first sight and we wonder why the Lord should have looked with favour on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. But then we notice to important words: ‘some’ and ‘firstborn’.
First of all Cain brings ‘some of the fruits of the soil’. Now why they brought offerings to God in the first place is a slight mystery. The word for ‘offering’ means a gift. Whether it is a special occasion or Eve has taught the boys to be thankful to God is unclear but when it says Cain brings ‘some’ fruits it has a somewhat casual feeling about it. Yes, the word ‘some’ is also used of Abel but here it is completely different because he is bringing what would have been considered the best portions of meat from more than one of his animals. ‘Some’ of the firstborn indicates more than one, so Abel’s gift is both high quality and abundant or generous. God looks at the heart and is blessed by what He finds in Abel but is distressed by what He finds in Cain. Indeed Cain’s heart is revealed in his response which was anger. Cain becomes synonymous with those with wrong hearts against God (Jude 11) while Abel is named among the people of faith who come to God with good hearts (Heb 11:4).
So Cain’s poor heart is revealed in the casual way he brought a gift and then in the way he responds to being (we suggest) rebuked for it. Now the Lord understands exactly what Cain is feeling and so confronts him with it: “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Gen 4:6,7) He warns Cain to be careful, for his bad attitude can overtake him and cause more wrong, but he needs to overcome it and avoid that. Note that the Lord is seeking to help him avoid sin.
But Cain’s heart is set in the wrong direction: “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” (Gen 4:8) We have a criminal case on our hands! There is no question about Cain’s guilt. He can make no excuses; the Lord warned him to take hold of himself but instead he gave way to jealousy and killed Abel. An open and shut case! The only thing to be decided is the judgment. What should happen to Cain? Well on the basis of what follows later in the Bible – an eye for an eye etc. – we would have expected God to have taken his life. That would have been reasonable, but look again at the verses at the top of this study.
The judgment that God imposes on this murderer is twofold, one thing following the other. First of all, “When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you.” For whatever practical reason, farming will no longer be a means of providing for him. From now on he will have to go foraging or relying upon other people, he will be a “a restless wanderer on the earth.” What should be the effect of this punishment? It should bring him to his senses, it should bring about humility in him, it should bring about a better man. Do you see this? God’s intent is to redeem this man through what happens to him. It’s what happened to the prodigal in Jesus’ parable (Lk 15) and it is what the Bible hints at a number of times, that a person can be changed by discipline, for that is exactly the purpose of discipline, to bring about a new, better person. No way is there any indication in this story of a harsh and judgmental God. Twice we have now seen Him speaking or acting for Cain’s good.
But Cain is blinded by his hard heart: “Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Gen 4:13,14) Like so many hard hearted people he turns it and blames God: this is unkind! Well, actually no Cain, you still have your life and the opportunity to redeem it!
But watch the Lord yet again: “But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (Gen 4:15) The mark is not a stigma but a mark of safe-conduct. Cain will be protected throughout his life – by God!
But why didn’t God kill him, he’s a murderer and a hard hearted individual? The answer can only be found in the words mercy and grace. Everything about the story reveals a God who seeks to help the sinner avoid sin, and even when he does sin, give him opportunity to repent and change. Do you remember in the first study, we closed thinking about Ex 34:6,7 where the Lord described Himself and in that description it spoke of Him “forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin,” and then we went on to consider the three references in Ezekiel where the Lord said He took no pleasure in the death of man but would much prefer to see repentance and be able to bring forgiveness. The Lord WANTS to forgive and so He gives us opportunity after opportunity to repent so that forgiveness may flow, but it cannot until there is the change.
Perhaps there was the leniency in this case because it was the first one and therefore nothing had been laid down previously about it. Once the Law is established it is obvious and disregard for it is blatant rebellion. Cain is an amazing illustration of the mercy and grace of God. Bear this in mind as we progress through these studies.