************ Sermon on Genesis 4:1-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 13, 2011
"Cain and his Brother Abel"
The last time we looked at Adam and Eve, we saw them standing outside the Garden. Trembling. Afraid. Apprehensive. Clothed in garments of skin. Surrounded by wild and dangerous animals. Because of the curse, thorns and thistles and all manner of weeds were now growing out of the ground.
So, was life outside of the Garden better or worse than expected? Right away in Genesis 4 we see a portrait of human life that is apart from God and filled with all kinds of sin. We see that the relationship between parents and children is very different from the relationship between brothers. We see distinctive human passions: wounded pride, anger, jealousy, fear, and dread. We see violent death, crime and punishment, and the exercise of natural justice. We see the emergence of agriculture and settlements, the arts and the city. We see the first attempts, through sacrifice, at a relationship between man and God.
Everyone knows that Cain killed his brother. But did you know Cain is also responsible for a lot of what we know as "civilization"? For instance, Cain is the first farmer, the first one to offer sacrifice to God, the founder of the first city, and the father of a line of men who invented music and metal-working. Cain brought all of this. Telling us what? Telling us there is something fundamentally wrong, something questionable, even destructive, at the heart of what we call civilization.
Isn't this the message that the original audience of Genesis needs to hear? The Israelites, under Moses, in the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land, are moving into a world of cultures. Civilizations with music, art, industry, and enterprise will be on every side. These cultures and civilizations will be antagonistic to Israel's religion and will try their best to lead Israel away from God and into sin. Israel needs to be warned – and we with them – that culture and civilization are fallen, full of sin, and short of the glory of God.
But there is more. The Israelites are to see Genesis 4 as a mirror: they hold it up and they are to see themselves. They see – and we see – the natural sinful condition of man.
I The Birth, Names, and Callings of Cain and Abel
A The text begins by picturing a stable family. We are told that Adam and Eve have a son and then another son (cf Gen 4:25; 5:4). The first two sons were born one hundred years or so after the fall (Gen 5:3; 4:25).
Scripture tells us what happens at the birth of the first son: Eve triumphantly proclaims, "With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man" (Gen 4:1). Notice, Eve starts with an expression of pious gratitude: "with the help of the Lord." She recognizes that children are a gift from the Lord. But notice where the emphasis falls after this: on "I." "I have brought forth a man." Eve is arrogantly claiming power and authority somewhat equal to God's. But, then, didn't the Devil promise that she would be like God (Gen 3:5)? And, doesn't all the physical evidence support her claim? After all, she conceived, she carried, she labored, she gave birth. Having been named "Eve" by her husband, because she was "the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20), she now exults in her special creative powers.
Eve names her son "Cain." Why Cain? Because Cain sounds like the Hebrew word for "brought forth." "I have brought forth a man." Now, remember, names means something in the Bible. The name "Cain" means "possession, acquisition." The name "Cain" is a constant reminder that he has been brought forth by his mother, that he is a being created and possessed by his mother.
We need to remember that Cain is not only the firstborn of his family; he is also the firstborn of the human race. God made his father from the dust. God made his mother from his father's rib. But he was born of Eve, the mother of all the living. Which means Cain is the first human to have a belly button. Thus Cain, rather than his parents, is truly the first human who is like all other humans. Looking at Cain we are to see ourselves.
"I have brought forth a man." "A man." That is a rather strange thing to say about a little baby. What does Eve have in mind? What is she thinking of here? Looming in Eve's mind is Genesis 3:15 with its curse upon the serpent and its implied promise upon the woman.
(Gen 3:15) "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."Do you hear what Eve was promised in the serpent's curse? Not only was Eve promised children. She was promised someone who would crush the serpent's head. It appears Eve thought Cain was the promised seed who would do this. Eve thought, hoped, and prayed that Cain – her possession, her acquisition, the "man" whom she brought forth – was going to crush the serpent's head and undo the damage done in the Garden. As we will find out, Eve was flat out wrong in thinking this. She was as wretchedly mistaken as Samuel was when he looked at David's brother and thought to himself, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here" (1 Sam 16:6).
B Now, in contrast to the birth of Cain is the birth of Abel. No triumphant proclamation this time. No name speaking of a proud mother's claims. Instead, he is given the name "Abel" which means "vapor" or "vanity" or "emptiness." What a name, what a slap in the face; none of us would ever consider such a name for a child or grandchild. Poor Abel – he meant nothing and counted for nothing. Eve's hopes and dreams were centered on Cain, not Abel. Because Eve thought she had the promised seed in Cain, another son was as vanity to her. In the same way, to those who make Christ their all, all other things are as nothing.
C "Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil" (Gen 4:2). Cain worked the soil or, more literally, Cain was "a servant of the soil." Notice, it is Cain who follows in the footsteps of his father Adam who also was a servant of the soil. Before the fall, Adam was commanded to work the Garden and take care of it (Gen 2:15). After the fall, Adam was driven from the Garden "to work the ground from which he had been taken" (Gen 3:23); sin, in other words, causes no change in occupation. As for Abel, unlike his brother, he is a keeper of flocks, a shepherd. Which means the existence of domesticated animals.
"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil" (Gen 4:2). Think of what this says about the life of the first men. We can hardly speak of cave man and primitive stages of human development. Right from the get go our forebears were sophisticated enough to keep flocks and till the soil. The underlying premise of magazines like National Geographic or cartoons like the Flintstones, could hardly be further from the truth; mankind did not start off as a bunch of cave-bound savages who fearfully ventured forth and accidentally discovered agriculture and the care of animals.
"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil" (Gen 4:2). Notice, they both were fulfilling the cultural mandate to subdue the earth and rule over the fish and birds and animals (Gen 1:28-20). Though the whole earth and everything in it was given them by God yet they were not idle or lazy. Just as God gave Father Adam a calling, so God gave them a calling. And, likewise, God gives each person a calling that everyone of us should have something to do in this world. We were not made or created for laziness – something that all parents today need to teach their children.
D Think about what we have just looked at. "I have brought forth a man." "Cain" meaning "possession, acquisition." "Abel" meaning "vapor, vanity, emptiness." Abel kept flocks and Cain, like his father, worked the soil. Think about this. Isn't the stage being set for sibling rivalry?
I was making a visit to a family blessed with the birth of their second baby. I asked if the new baby's arrival created any problems with the first child. I felt sorry for the parents as they talked about their first born's struggles: toilet training was out the window, she was no longer sleeping through the night, she wanted to be held all the time, and she cried at the smallest thing. Needless to say, in my closing prayer I prayed for the new baby, the parents, and the intensely jealous first baby.I wonder if Eve had the same problems with Cain? Because, let there be no mistake about it, there was sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel – a sibling rivalry that ended in death. One of the jobs of all parents is to keep the rivalry between their children healthy and under control.
Genesis is full of rivalry between brothers – not just Cain and Abel, but also Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, the ten older brothers and Joseph. What does this tell the original audience – the children of Israel as they listen to Genesis? Let's go back to the relationship between man and woman. We learn from Genesis 2 that husband and wife complement each other, complete each other, and serve each other – and this is true even after the fall into sin. But brothers, especially after the fall into sin, are not complementary beings. They are not meant to live together. Instead, God's will is that a man leaves his father and mother (and therefore also his brothers) and be united to his wife and the two become one flesh. Each man, with his wife, is meant to be independent, separate from, and different from his parents and brothers.
II The Worship of the Two Brothers
A We are ending our service this evening by singing the words of Psalm 133. Let me quote the words from the old blue Psalter Hymnal:
How good and pleasant is the sightThis is the relationship Christ wants among His people.
When brethren make it their delight
To dwell in blest accord;
Such love is like anointing oil
That consecrates for holy toil
The servants of the Lord.
The story of Cain and Abel tells us that in a fallen world brothers do not always live in "blest accord." In fact, a close examination of the text tells us that these two brothers cannot and should not live in blest accord.
Why not? To see this, we need to go back to Genesis 3:15. Do you remember the culture wars that God promises? In fact, it is more than just culture wars; it is a war that involves the entire universe and everyone in it.
(Gen 3:15) "And I will put enmity [battle, strife, war] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."The seed of the woman are those who have faith in Jesus and fight sin. And, the seed of the serpent are those who follow Satan and love sin.
Every member of the human race is either a seed of Satan or a seed of the woman. And the two sides cannot coexist happily or comfortably. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians when he talks about Christian marriage:
(2 Cor 6:14-16) "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (15) What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?"There can be no agreement, no fellowship, no harmony, between the two sides. As we will find out, Cain and Abel cannot live in blest accord because one is a seed of the woman and the other is a seed of the serpent.
Now, who ended up being the seed of the woman in Genesis 4? Eve thought and Eve hoped that it was Cain. When we look at the worship of the two sons we see that Eve was sadly mistaken.
B Listen to how and what Scripture describes as the worship of the first two sons of Adam and Eve:
(Gen 4:3-5) 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.How did God show His favor? Probably the same way He showed favor to Elijah's offering – by sending down fire from heaven! A fire that consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, and even the water in the trenches.
Now, why? Why did God favor Abel's offering over Cain's? In answering this question let us back up a moment and look at the actual offering. Each of the brothers brought an "offering" to God. In later texts (for instance, in Leviticus), to bring an "offering" suggests the building of an altar and placing that offering on or before that altar. You need to realize that the offering was an act of worship, a sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:15).
Now, remember, this is outside of the Garden – the Garden where man talked with God and walked with God. This tells us that though the Garden may be off-limits to man, God Himself certainly is not!
The word for "offering" can also be translated as "tribute." Tribute is what Jacob sent ahead to Esau in order to pacify him before they met together (Gen 32:20). Both Cain and Abel were giving tribute to God in order to secure or retain His goodwill. But, as we know from the New Testament, the only sacrifice that secures God's goodwill is the death of Jesus on the cross.
Each of the brothers brought an offering appropriate to his occupation. Cain, the farmer, brought some of his crops. Abel, the herdsman, brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. On the surface, at least, there is no significant difference between the two offerings. A fruit or vegetable offering is neither superior nor inferior to an animal offering.
However, the Israelites listening to Genesis would immediately discern a difference. Abel did not just give an animal offering; he gave fat portions from his flock. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the fatty portions where the most desirable to God. They belonged to God and therefore were forbidden for human consumption (Ex 29:13; Lev 3:3-5, 9-11, 14-16; 4:8-10, 26, 31; 7:23-25; 1 Sam 2:15-16; Ezek 44:7,15). Such fat was burned on the altar, and the smoke of such an offering was a pleasing aroma to God (Gen 8:21; Ex 29:18; Lev 1:9) – just like the sacrifice of Jesus is a pleasing aroma to God (Eph 5:21).
The text also states that Abel brought fat from the "firstborn" of his flock. The Israelites listening to this would immediately hear that Cain did not similarly present the firstfruits of his crops.
So, what was the difference between the offering of the two brothers? We see that Abel gave God his best whereas Cain gave God his leftovers.
Topic: OfferingsDo you think God was happy with this sacrifice? The story of Cain and Abel reminds me that God always wants us to give Him our best.
Title: Did You Give Him Your Best?
This reminds me of a boy and girl who didn't know what to do with themselves one rainy Sunday afternoon. Suddenly one of them remembered the Sunday School lesson that morning. "Let's offer a sacrifice to God."
The children decided the kitchen stove would be the place for them to burn their sacrifice. The little boy found one of his sister's toy animals and said, "Let's burn this. It would make a good gift for God."
"Oh, no," said his sister in alarm. "We can not burn that." She found one of her brother's toy animals and said, "Here, let's give this to God instead."
Her brother did not agree with her. For some time they wondered what to do. Then the little girl had an idea. She ran off to the attic and in a few minutes returned with a little toy sheep. It had only three legs, its head was smashed, it had no tail, and it was so covered in dirt no one could see its white wool. "Here," she said, "let's give this to God. We will never want it again."
Her brother agreed, so they made their sacrifice. They burned the old toy sheep on the kitchen stove. The little broken lamb they did not want was given to God.
There is a difference, then, in the offering given to God.
C But there is more. When we look at the New Testament we see there is also a difference between the two brothers – a difference that helps explain the difference between their offerings:
(Heb 11:4) By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.Abel had faith. True faith. A faith whose offering ultimately looks to Jesus and His sacrifice upon the cross. Cain, presumably, did not have faith.
D But there is more. Why does Abel have faith whereas Cain does not? After all, both are raised in the same home. Both hear the stories of life with God in the Garden. Both know about the serpent and the judgment. Both have the same religious upbringing. So, why does Abel have faith whereas Cain does not?
I mentioned earlier that Genesis is full of rivalry between brothers – not just Cain and Abel, but also Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, the ten older brothers and Joseph. In each case, in a time and place where the culture favors the oldest with the birthright and other privileges, God favors the younger who is usually the weaker one and the more powerless. That same divine preference is noted and explained in Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he writes,
(1 Cor 1:27-28) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are ...Don't we see God doing the same thing in the New Testament with a virgin and a baby? So, the story of Cain and Abel is also a story about God's mysterious choices or, as we would put it, God's choosing, God's election. The Lord favored and chose Abel (remember, his name means "vapor, vanity, emptiness") over "Cain" who is his mother's treasured "possession and acquisition."
Getting back to Genesis 3:15, Abel is the seed of the woman – the chosen seed – whereas Cain is obviously the seed of the serpent.
I can only imagine how shocked, how surprised, was Eve when she realized her favorite was not God's favorite. We see from Scripture she was the first surprised parent but she certainly was not the last. Who knows when children are born which one ultimately proves to be a child of God and which one proves to be a child of Satan? My constant prayer is that I am never surprised by my sons as Eve was by hers. I can do what I can in terms of instruction and lifestyle but I need to keep in mind that ultimately it is not up to me, it is never up to me. It is all in the hands of a kind and gracious God Who chose the younger over the older, the son of vanity over the treasured son.
Let me end the same way I did a couple of weeks ago by asking, "Are you the seed of the woman or are you the seed of the serpent?" And, how do you know the difference?
Trace it back with me. The seed of the woman are chosen by God. How do they show that? They are the ones with true faith. And what do those with true faith do? They offer to God a sacrifice of praise from the best that is theirs. Does this describe you?
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