Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

10-12-04

Cain and Abel - the Story of Every Man 

 

 

Genesis 4:1-4:12 

1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.

2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?

10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.

11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;

12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

 

The Bible story of Adam and Eve, our first parents, while they were in the garden before their Fall, shows the perfect life of happiness and fulfillment that could have been theirs. 


But it wasn’t to be. 


It ends with the guilty pair being driven out, with cherubim and a flaming sword guarding the way back. 


It’s to the Bible that we must look to gain an insight into why this world is in the situation it’s in and how it operates. 


This world of ours is in a conflict between God and the devil and the forces of good and evil. 


The apostle Paul writes: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph 6:12). 


That’s the Bible’s ultimate explanation of the whole of human history.


But God hasn’t finished with His damaged creation. 


He allows life to continue in the fallen world because His objective is to renew and restore. 


He won’t accept that His divine purposes are to be thwarted by evil. 


The author of Genesis turns to the second generation and here we see a picture of life after Eden. 


It sets the scene for humanity in a way that we can see our own world and ourselves. 


On the positive side, there’s the beginning of community life with the expanding population developing into the occupations of agriculture and farming. 


The early humans were conscious of spiritual life, for the in-built desire for worship was there. 


Men and women still bear the image of God, although it is grossly distorted. 


All this is good but underlying this progress is the problem of the human predicament. 


The sins of the first parents are embedded in the character of the children. 


Yet, God hasn’t abandoned His creation. 


Here in the world, which has been turned topsy-turvy by the entrance of sin, God is still revealing Himself and looking for a response from each person, for all of us are answerable to Him. 


This is clearly seen in the life and times of Cain and Abel, the first of the many case histories that the Bible gives for our understanding. 


The illustration provided by these two brothers presents truth in the form of their different personalities. 


These two sons of Adam and Eve are representatives of every man, and I could add every woman. 


Abel is the man who pleased God, while Cain didn’t. 


In this world there’s "Abel", and there’s "Cain". 


Let’s see what we can learn from them, for in ourselves also, perhaps there’s "Abel" and there’s "Cain". 


It’s important that we know which of these men we are more similar to. 


We see: TWO BROTHERS BUT THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT.


Cain was the firstborn, followed by Abel. 


They had the same parents but soon developed into different characters. 


There’s nothing wrong with that because God has made us as individuals; each of us are a unique person. 


We can see that in our children; my son Mike is very different from my daughter Mary.


I believe we raised both of them the same way, but they were different even as little children.


I bet you would say the same thing about your children.


Today, science wants to get involved with creation.


The present talk of cloning human beings is quite alien to God’s creation. 


We must pray that this evil will be thwarted.


Let’s get back to Cain and Abel. 


Cain was in crop agriculture while Abel was in animal farming. 


Already the pattern of social life on earth is seen. 


On the face of it, this was good, because God’s will for human beings, even in their fallen state, was to work for their living. 


The trouble lies when they fail to work together in a community relationship. 


When they cease to act as neighbors, having mutual respect for each other, it’s then that destructive forces are unleashed, with disastrous consequences for society. 


People’s names in the Old Testament are often significant and indicate their characters. 


Experts in language tell us that "Cain" points to self-sufficiency, to strength, to the first-born with first rights to everything, for power and self-assertion. 


By contrast, "Abel" means nothingness and frailty. 


This paints a picture of two brothers who have completely different attitudes toward life. 


Cain is the dominant of the two. 


He needs to be at the centre of things and life revolves around him. 


He will use others for his own purposes. 


Abel, on the other hand, is the "also-ran", the weakling.


In modern language, he would be called "wet behind the ears". 


That’s the background to the point being made about the conduct of Cain and Abel, because the storyteller focuses on:


TWO PERSPECTIVES OF LIFE THAT ARE SO DIFFERENT.


When we look at the world around us there are so many things that are unfair. 


Few of us can remain untouched when the "Christian Aid" appeal is made, telling of the huge gap between the "have" and the "have-not" nations. 


And at the level of individuals, why are some struck down with terrible diseases or are the victims of terror or accident? 


Life is unfair! 


The biblical writers struggle with these questions. 


The psalmist asked why did the wicked triumph and the people of God suffer? (Psalm 73). 


Faith has to live with what seems to us as unfairness, and leave some uncertainties unresolved. 


We need to acknowledge that sometimes we meet a barrier to our understanding. 


We have to fall back on the mystery of God’s gracious providence.


The account of Cain and Abel is telling us that life must be seen from God’s perspective. 


From any other aspect, it’s all wrong and unfair. 


It’s essential that we understand that God is free to act as He wills without asking our permission. 


Cain has no rights over God - and that’s true of each one of us. 


No one has rights over God. 


Only God is in a position to say why things are as they are, that is, apparently fair or unfair. 


In His sovereign wisdom, He chose Abel, just as in His sovereign wisdom He chose the Hebrews to be His people, not because of anything they had done, but simply because He loves them (Deut 7:7). 


And why did He cause you and me to be born or live here in this good and pleasant land and have the opportunity to hear the gospel, when there are millions in far less pleasant circumstances? 


Someone looking outwardly at Cain and Abel would have found that they had much in common. 


They were brothers and they both had honorable vocations. 


We read that "Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground." 


But that’s only half the story, for the storyteller quickly goes on to say: "The Lord had regard for Abel … but for Cain … he had no regard." 


This seems very puzzling and hard to take in. 


Why was this? 


We find a clue to this as we think of the:


TWO MOTIVATIONS FOR WORSHIP THAT ARE SO DIFFERENT.


The picture we have here is of two men worshipping God. 


Cain was as much a worshipper as Abel and yet he was rejected by God. 


The apostle Paul made a profound statement when he wrote: "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (Rom 9:6). 


This is something that needs to be delved into. 


In the story of Cain and Abel there’s a fundamental separation, of the false and the true. 


It’s a principle that’s seen right through life. 


Both men had the desire to worship God, so how did they go about it? 


Was it out of duty or was it motivated by devotion? 


That’s going to be the key to finding out why one was rejected and the other accepted. 


The great chapter in the Letter to the Hebrews on the heroes of faith makes an important statement on their approach to worship: "By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did" (Heb 11:4). 


There are only two ways of worshipping God - either through self or by faith. 


It makes all the difference. 


Abel worshipped God by faith; Cain did not. 


So how did Cain fail? 


Did he bring the wrong offering? 


There’s evidence in the history of Israel that God could and did accept cereal offerings. 


So what’s the problem? 


The words used by the storyteller hint that Cain, it would seem, just brought what was nearest at hand, probably without thinking much about it. 


Was there casualness in his approach to God? 


I came across a quotation worth repeating: "If an ancient Hebrew rode the time machine to the front door of a church one Sunday morning, and understood what we were doing, he would not expect us to come out alive!" 


The writer was referring to the great care that the High Priest of Israel took in preparing himself for entry into the Holy of Holies. 


This is something for us to watch out for. 


God is longsuffering - He has to be - because to some extent, we’ll always get it wrong. 


Sometimes God says, "No, that’s not what I want you to do." 


That’s how we learn God’s will for us. 


Cain decided what he was going to do, acting on his own understanding. 


Worship for him was a formal matter. 


He wanted to acknowledge God and thank him for the blessings of life. 


The modern equivalent is rather like coming to church for the thanksgiving service and thanking God for all the blessings of life. 


It’s the thing that’s done every year in any decent community.


Well, one could say that’s what did happen, but now even that’s being forgotten! 


Cain would remember the worship practices of his parents. 


It was the expected thing so he did it. 


So many people have a recollection of the Christian heritage of a previous generation and they continue its observance in a mechanical way, thinking it’s going to do them some good. 


Perhaps they mumble a few prayers or listen to "Songs of Praise", but a vital ingredient is missing.


Abel had a better motivation - he came to worship "by faith". 


What does that mean? 


It means worshipping God in a way that’s pleasing to Him. 


There’s no doubt that both Cain and Abel had been taught by their parents as to how God was to be worshipped. 


Abel acted on these clear instructions from God, but Cain ignored them. 


That made all the difference in their motivation. 


Abel wanted to please God while Cain was careless and went about worship according to his own ideas. 


Human beings have an inborn need and desire to worship as we know from the practices of our primitive ancestors.


Mankind has always worshipped something or someone. 


But where do we get our instructions for worship? 


The only real source is in the Bible, the Word of God. 


If we don’t submit to God’s revelation (the Bible) we’re bound to go wrong. 


If we fail to follow its guidance we’re followers of Cain. 


This leads us to the reason why Abel’s offering found flavor while Cain’s didn’t. 


It was because of the:


TWO SACRIFICES OFFERED THAT ARE SO DIFFERENT.


We’re told that: "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." 


What was so wrong, that God couldn’t accept Cain’s worship, while Abel found favor with God? 


Both brought the fruits of their labor - Cain probably brought some cereal crop such as wheat and Abel offered a lamb. 


There’s a definite emphasis in the words used in our text, that Abel offered his best - "the fat portions … of the firstborn" - in fact the best of his best. 


His was an offering of consecration, a sacrifice that was costly to him.


That’s certainly a plus for Abel, but there’s a more profound reason why his offering of a lamb was acceptable to God and why Cain’s harvest gift didn’t find acceptance by God. 


When we approach God, not even our best or costliest gift is adequate. 


The reason is that we are sinners. 


We have nothing worthwhile to offer. 


The prophet Isaiah acknowledged that "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are as filthy rags" (64:6). 


Abel knew this to be true for him. 


He approached God in the light of the teaching he’d received from his parents - that true worship of God must be made on the basis of the sacrifice of a life.


When Adam and Eve had fallen into sin in the Garden, God gave them a great promise. 


The seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, but in so doing, his heel would be bruised (Gen 3:15). 


It’s true that Abel didn’t know that the Lord Jesus Christ would be that "seed of the woman" and that He would be "pierced for our transgressions … and crushed for our iniquities" (Isa 53:5). 


But he did know and believe in the tradition of sacrifice. 


He knew that God had clothed his parents in skins, the result of the death of animals and the shedding of their blood. 


That’s why he approached God by way of sacrifice which anticipated the atoning sacrifice that only Jesus could offer for the sins of the world. 


God, in His mercy and grace, could see that Abel wasn’t relying on his own significance and value. 


That’s why God was able to accept his offering and the writer of Hebrews was inspired to record: "By faith Abel was commended as a righteous man." 


Cain also approached God, but quite differently. 


His thinking went like this: "I’ve done well and I’ll give something to God from what I’ve worked for. He’ll be pleased with it." 


Well, God wasn’t pleased because Cain had offered his self-righteousness and self-confidence. 


He was like the picture that Jesus gave of the Pharisee who went to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem.


"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men … or even as this publican. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get" (Luke 18:11,12). 


Self-satisfied, self-contained and pleased with himself, his worship was meaningless to God. 


But there’s worse than that when we think of:


TWO REACTIONS THAT ARE SO DIFFERENT.


We don’t know how God made it known to Cain that his offering didn’t find favor with Him. 


He was far from pleased. 


In fact we’re told: "So Cain was very angry and his face was downcast." 


What is to blame is his reaction to the Lord’s response. 


He wasn’t blamed for his mistake. 


God asked him why he was angry and upset. 


He asked, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" 


He was told where he’d gone wrong; the responsibility was his; and God said, "You must master it." 


There’s nothing like a disappointment to bring out our true nature. 


Our guard is down and our unhappiness becomes obvious to those around us. 


The "old man" of our evil nature comes to the forefront. 


Cain’s anger towards God is then transferred into jealousy toward Abel. 


"The Cain within us" is seen in our envy of others’ gifts. 


Cain is seen in our resentment of others’ service to God, especially if they appear to be more successful than we are. 


How hard it is to rejoice in others’ gifts, when we wish they were our own! 


C S Lewis in his "Screwtape Letters", which is the imaginary account of a senior devil giving the benefit of his experience to fellow tempters, has Screwtape saying, "Religion can still send us the truly delicious sins. The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighbourhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt more successfully as on the very steps of the altar." 


Any pretence of brotherly love that Cain had for his brother was swept away as a fit of jealousy came over him. 


But somehow he kept his cool while seething within himself. 


He was going to deal with this "goody goody" brother of his! 


Cain didn’t master the wild beast that raged within him. 


It began to devour him. 


Resentment and jealousy turned to deceit. 


"Cain said to Abel … ’Let us go out to the field’ … and he killed him." 


There were no human witnesses but God saw the horrible act and immediately challenged Cain: "Where is Abel your brother?" 


The unrepentant Cain answered rather disrespectfully: "I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?" 


There’s a powerful drama by J B Priestley titled, "An Inspector Calls". 


It tells how a young woman died in tragic circumstances. 


The story revolves around a wealthy home. 


A police inspector calls and asks to see the members of the family.


Every one of them was denying any involvement with the victim. 


But each of them, in different ways, through uncaring behavior, mistreatment, pride, greed and selfishness had contributed to her misery and eventual death. 


They are eventually and reluctantly forced to admit to a guilty conscience. 


They were "my brother’s keeper", just as we are if the "Cain spirit" is in our hearts.


That was Cain’s reaction, but what about Abel? 


He was dead physically but alive in spirit. 


Jesus Himself confirmed in Matthew 23:35 that Abel was numbered with the martyred prophets of Israel, and the writer to the Hebrews states: "and by faith he still speaks." 


The story of his faithful achievement speaks to us today in his Viewpoint of Life, his Motivation for Worship and the Sacrifice he Offered. 


Abel’s attitude towards life and possessions and his commitment to God in worship speak volumes to us. 


But another verse in Hebrews (Hebrews 12:24) says that he speaks still more clearly by reminding Everyman of the most important offering of all, "the sprinkled blood of Jesus" 


Yes, the story of Cain and Abel is the story of Everyman and I could add Everywoman. 


Those who are like Abel, and have trusted only in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus should have no fears, but the "Cains" of this world can be sure that the "Divine Inspector" will call: "Where is Abel …?  What have you done?" 


The consequences of that confrontation will be awful. 


It’s for us to decide in the footsteps of which brother we should follow. 


Amen.

 

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