PART TW0: Lessons through People
Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 3. The Correction of Cain
Gen 4:11,12 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.”
A Strange Story: I think I often say that I am sure we frequently just scan our Bible reading and fail to think about what we have just read. The story about Cain is strange on a number of levels and perhaps not easy to understand in its outcome. The story is often taught so we may be familiar with the basics of it. Two sons of Eve, Cain and Abel. Although God has shut them out of the Garden they nevertheless bring offerings to Him, presumably on the teaching of their parents. Abel’s offering appears whole-hearted, Cain’s half-hearted, and as a result God was blessed with Abel’s but not Cain’s. This upsets Cain, but God challenges him over it and warns him against giving way to a bad attitude that might take him into doing something bad. Cain pays little attention to this warning and kills Abel. We have the Bible’s first murder.
Integrity of the Record: If we may pause for a moment, this is one of those instances that gives me confidence that the Bible is inspired by God. If you think about this, if this was merely of human origin, the writer would have given a different outcome but instead we have an outcome that raises questions, certainly at first sight anyway, questions about God as a Judge. Why do I say that? Well, later on in the Law, the application is ‘an eye for an eye’ etc. and murderers forfeit their lives. But what do we have here?
The Judgment on Cain: All we have, as we see in our verses above is a ‘curse’, that means that Cain will no longer be able to farm the land and all he can do is wander the world, presumably looking to work for others. This upsets him: “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.” (v.14) He sees being sent away as being sent away from God’s presence, which is interesting in that mankind has been excluded from the most intimate encounter with God in the Garden as we saw previously. The follow on from that, he feels, is that he will be vulnerable, and others could kill him.
God’s Protection: But it is not going to work like that: “But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (v.15,16) Now this is the outcome I find strange.
The depth of Cain’s Guilt: Not only have we seen Cain kill his brother, but it clearly is seen as premeditated: “Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” (v.8) i.e. he had in mind what he intended to do, which makes it murder and not manslaughter (an accident). Moreover when God banishes him, he shows no remorse but simply complains, as we saw above. In my eyes, he should be put to death, so what am I missing? I find I empathize with the idea that the Lord spoke out: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (v.10) i.e. justice cries out against you. It is the cry of the martyrs in Rev 6:10, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Justice demands wrong-doers be confronted and dealt with. We hear it in the child appealing against his brother or sister to their mother, “It’s not fair!” and we feel it when one close to us his harmed by a criminal.
So why? So why does God NOT condemn Cain to death? We are not told, so we must speculate along with all other commentators. First, we may suggest that, as this is the first death after the expulsion from the Garden, it may be that God is making a point for the rest of history, not that we can get away with sin, but that He looks for a way out for us that is a way of grace, a way for redemption to deliver us into something better. Second, the way for Cain gave him space to come to his senses and to repentance, as he wandered the earth. We aren’t told that he ever did, but the opportunity was there. Third, he traveled with an awareness of the grace of God over him for the rest of his life, reminding him of the possibilities open to him that were there because God had declared protection for him; he only lived because of that protection.
And more? In verses 13 and 14 where Cain protests, “My punishment is more than I can bear,” commentators note that the Hebrew could be construed as in the Septuagint, “my sin is too great for forgiveness,” but reject that as not being supported by the text. Have our translators opted for the easy path? Did, in fact, Cain realise something of the awfulness of what he had done, making the judgment of God here even more amazing? If they had opted for that rendering, they would have steered us more clearly towards thinking about this incredible act of grace, which to the legalistic mind makes little sense.
Jesus Parable: We find this same struggling with God’s grace (that looks for redemption – and the rest of this series is about how God takes sinners and makes something more of them!) in Jesus parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20). There the owner (God) employed men at intervals throughout the day, but when accounting came, paid them all the same. Those who were employed at the beginning of the day complained but the point was that the owner didn’t have to employ any of them, and so when he did it was an act of grace.
God’s End Goal: You can’t measure grace and so wherever we come across God’s redemption – and we will see it with many people and in many different forms – it is always a free gift. We dare not demand justice for our lives for that would be too painful, the condemnation would be too great; instead we gratefully accept the mercy of God that comes in the form of His grace – forgiveness AND blessing.
Transformation is the end goal and in the Christian life we are being changed, one degree at a time, into the likeness of Jesus: “And we all, …. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) He doesn’t just forgive on the basis of the Cross, He blesses us with a new life, a new identity and new power.
Cain at the end: The story of Cain in Genesis ends in a surprising way: “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.” (Gen 4:16,17) Wow! Cain settled, he had a wife and children and builds a community (a city). If that isn’t a turn up for the book, what is? Cain had the opportunity to change and he clearly took it. We, too, have the opportunity to change as we live out the years the Lord gives to us. May we not squander them.
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I understand that you deal with each one of us uniquely but whatever you do in respect of us it is for good, to redeem us from what is not good in our lives to something better. Help me value my days and look for your good in them.