Cain and Abel
You all know how I like to start off my stories with a fable. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always designed to help us understand the concept we're studying. This week, I really couldn't think of one. The events which we just read about are among the most powerful and sorrowful moments in history. I really don't have any way to bring them down to a meaningful level that still does the concepts involved justice. There simply isn't anything to compare them to.
Imagine you're Adam or Eve. You were either sculpted or cloned. There has never been a member of your species born. Ever. And now the first man-cub ever to exist has been born to you. What elation they must have felt! Now surely they understood what babies were. They had seen many other creatures having babies. Adam probably assisted in a number of deliveries himself. But the thrill of having the first man-child ever was a cause for celebration for Adam and Eve. The name "Cain" was an expression of gladness and thanks to God for His precious gift.
And then to have not just one, but two, sons! Adam and Eve must have considered themselves doubly blessed.
You know that Adam and Eve loved their sons. When you're the only four people on the planet, you pretty much HAVE to love one another. They must have been proud to see their two boys grow into healthy, hard-working men. One tended animals, the other grew fruits and vegetables. Both were intelligent and skilled, able to work well with their hands. The future of people looked bright. It was not the ideal world which the parents had known, but under the circumstances, it was all right.
Then in a moment, everything changed.
The death of a loved one is a terrible loss. Perhaps the most painful loss of all is the death of a child. i can only imagine. I have not experienced this myself and I hope I never do. In fact, I hope none of you ever have to experience the death of a son or daughter. To even hear that someone I don't know has lost a child is painful. Even in reading the story of the passover, I could not help but weep for the egyptians.
Adam and Eve lost two sons when Cain killed Abel. One had become the first man ever to die. The other became a fugitive. The two wonderful young men who represented the bright future of people-kind were now gone.
Now what can we learn from this passage?
The first thing that jumps out at me is that God had already instituted sacrifices. Not only this, but the sacrifices had to be of once-living creatures. Creatures whose blood had been shed. Vegetables, though once biologically alive, would not do. As early as this, God was impressing upon mankind that the wages of sin is death. But of course, this also told them that it is possible for one being to atone for the sins of another with his blood. As early as this, God was foreshadowing the death of Christ.
And of course, because God is holy and just, He cannot accept an improper sacrifice. Cain knew that vegetables were not an acceptable offering.
But God was not without compassion. He could see what was happening in Cain's heart. He gave Cain an opportunity to do the right thing, warning him that sin was "at the door" and urging him to do the right thing. More than anything else at that moment, He wanted Cain to change course. He told the man that if He did the right thing, he would surely be accepted. God never rejected Cain. He wanted Cain. It was only Cain's willful attitude which got in the way. How terrible it must have been for God to see the thing which had corrupted His arcangel rearing its ugly head again and threatening to estrange the man he loved like His own son.
We learn from this that God cannot abide injustice. He cannot overlook it. He tells Cain that Abel's blood was crying out to Him. Yet he doesn't come straight to accusing Cain. He gives Cain the opportunity to confess his crime as his parents did theirs. God asked Adam where he was and Adam answered. He asked him and his wife what happened, and they told the truth. Yet Cain adds to his guilt by lying. It is only then that God explains that Abel's blood cries out to Him. Faced with a lie, God cuts straight through it with the truth. He doesn't attempt to weedle a confession or to prove anything. He needs no fingerprints, no DNA evidence, no ballistics tests. He simply breaks right through the lie like Samson breaking a philistine.
God is the final judge of all. Because of his crime, Cain received a punishment at the hand of God. He was cursed to be a wanderer, his ability to farm taken away. Bear in mind that he was still under his father's curse, which required him to work hard in order to eat. As there was no one but Mom and Dad who might have grown food for him, and he was certain that they would probably kill him, he had a very difficult punishment indeed. But God demonstrates His mercy here. Though He punishes Cain, God also promises to protect him. He places His mark on Cain to let everyone know that this man is under God's protection, and He promises horrific retribution to anyone who would murder the man. We also know that Cain actually did pretty well for himself despite his curse. He got married to one of his sisters or nieces (When you're the second generation of your species, you can do that.) and founded the city of Enoch.
So we see God's holiness manifest in His craving of justice and His authority as judge. We also see His love manifest in His mercy toward the first murderer and His commitment to him.
Now we've heard a lot about Cain. What about Abel?
Extrabiblical works tell us that Abel became the chief of all martyrs. Now we have no way of knowing whether this is true. It's certainly the first. And I imagine that Abel became very close to God after his death. Abel was now in paradise. He could not go to Heaven because Jesus had not yet reconciled mankind to the Father. It would be four generations, possibly even as much as half a millenium, before he would see another man in paradise. That would leave a long, long time for him to work on his relationship with the God for whose love he died. The book of Enoch tells us that Abel spent his days screaming for the decendants of Cain to be wiped off the face of the earth. This is absolute hooey. First of all, nobody would be able to know that. Secondly, if God swore to protect Cain's life, why would Abel, who died for being right with God, want Cain and all his children dead? The people who made this up are the same kind of people who believe that we can't have a direct relationship with Jesus because He's mad at the world for killing Him. This is totally at odds with everything Jesus represents. And Jesus Himself declares Abel righteous in Matthew 23:35.
It may well be that Cain DID get right with God. And if that's the case, the brothers have necessarily been reconciled.
How does this event tie in with the "river of history"?
There's a number of responses we could give to that. The Most obvious answer is that set the course of the development of the entire species. God blessed Adam and Eve with a third son, Seth, who is the ancestor of all living today. It also signaled the beginning of the downward spiral of mankind that would eventually neccesitate the destruction of the world in the great flood. The flood, by the way, is our next topic.
Our challenge for this week: A good parent loves his child even when that child is bad. Our Heavenly Father is no different. So when you feel like God can't love you because you've sinned too much, remember what we've learned here today. God may have to punish you when you sin, but He still loves you just the same.
Today's reading: Genesis 4:1-17
4:1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man."
2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.
4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
7 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."
8 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.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
10 The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.
11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.
12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear.
14 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."
15 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.
16 So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain lay with 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.