We are studying through the first 11 chapters of Genesis where God is revealing who he is to the world. He is also revealing who we are, which is explains why life is a mess. Genesis 3 disclosed why life is the way that it is. The curses of sin hang over this universe. After expressing why our lives are a mess, we are going to notice over the next few lessons that God is going to describe why the world is a mess. The first picture God gives is found in the two sons born to Adam and Eve. Their names were Cain and Abel.
The Problem (4:1-7)
When Cain and Abel were older, there was a time when Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground (4:3). We are told that Cain worked the ground. So Cain is bringing fruit from his labors. Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. Abel was a keeper of sheep. So we are presented with a contrast between the fruit of the ground and the firstborn of the flock and the fat portions. The end of verse 4 tells us God received Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s offering. We are not told what specifically was the problem between their offerings. We see under the Law of Moses that God accepted the fruit of the ground as an offering to him. The writer of Hebrews merely declares that Abel offered a better sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4). Maybe the problem was that Cain’s offering was not specifically said to be the first fruits like Abel’s was. We do not know for sure because that is not the point of the text and we are not to get lost in this question. The focal point is found in verses 5-7.
Look at Cain’s response in verse 5. God did not accept Cain’s offering and “Cain was very angry. And his face fell.” Cain is angry and dejected. Like Adam and Eve, we see an improper response from Cain. Rather than wanting to do the right thing and rather than looking to be pleasing to God, Cain became angry and sullen. How do we react when someone tells us that we have done something wrong? Do we try to correct our mistake or deny that we need to correct it? We are already seeing the first problem for Cain. Cain is angry when he told that his offering was not correct. Cain is dejected to be told that what he has done was not acceptable.
Now Cain is in a dangerous moment and God is going to come to Cain because of this. In verses 6-7 God asks Cain why he is angry and upset. God comes to Cain and asks him a question just like he went to Adam and Eve and asked them questions after their sins. God is trying to show Cain something about his heart and about this situation. So the Lord asks Cain why he is angry. He asks Cain why his face has fallen. Now look at verse 7. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” We should think about what God tells Cain for a moment. What is God’s solution to Cain’s anger? What is God’s solution to Cain’s dejection and depression? God’s solution is to do what is right before the Lord. The answer is simple: do what God says. If you want joy, then do what God says to do. Do not do what you want to do. Do what God says to do. It is a very simple solution. Do not overcomplicate your life. God’s solution for your life is to simply do what he says.
But then the Lord graciously gives a warning to Cain in the rest of verse 7. “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Think about the picture God offers. Sin is pictured like an animal crouching and ready to pounce on you. Sin is pictured as a predator that is looking to destroy you. Please think about this. God does not merely describe sin as an action. God describes sin as a power that is standing against you and attempting to destroy you. We need to allow this sinister picture of sin move us to realize what we are dealing with. Sin is trying to wreck you. Sin desires you. So you must rule over it.
Now this is a helpful and hopeful picture. Sin desires you and is trying to destroy you. But you must rule over it. Listen to it: you can rule over sin. You do not have to sin. Sin wants to rule over you. Sin desires to control you. But you can control it. You can say no to sin. There is no sin that is too powerful for you. You must rule over sin and you can rule over it. So God is showing Cain that he is in danger. Cain is angry and sullen. God is warning what will happen if he allows his heart to remain angry. God is declaring there is going to be a problem if Cain remains downcast. Sin is going to pounce. For Cain to be in control of sin, he has to let go of his anger. So God tells Cain to do well instead of being angry and he will be accepted. But bigger problems are coming if his anger and sullenness continues.
The Danger of Anger.
We can easily underestimate the danger of anger. We can allow anger to harbor within our hearts and not think that it will harm us or change us. Think about the relationships we have where we have the tendency to harbor anger. It can be with people at work. It can be toward our parents. It can be toward people in the church. It can be toward our spouse. But we need to think about how nothing good can be produced from our anger. There is a reason that God said to remove anger from us (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8). God also says that we must be slow to anger because “human anger does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). There is a reason why God comes to Cain when he is angry and downcast. Cain is in danger because of his anger. We need to establish a sensor within us that reminds us that when we are angry we are in danger of not producing God’s righteousness. We are in danger of sinning. We especially need to see that we are in danger of greater sins. Think about what happens in our anger. How often the next step is bitterness or slander or hatred or malice or outbursts of wrath or lashing out or physical abuse or acting intimidating or self-seeking or some other next level sin? The warning light needs to turn on when we feel anger well up within us. We are in danger. What God wants from our lives is not going to come out of us if we are acting or speaking from anger.
I hope that we can see one reason why the world is a mess because this is what everyone does: reacts out of anger. Anger has become the emotion of justification. Why did you do what you did? I was angry. Why did to yell at that person? Why did you chase that person? Why did you hit that person? Why did you speak evil of that person? Why did you sin against that person? The answer is so often: you made me angry.
The Sin (4:8-9)
Cain does not listen to God’s warning. In verse 8 Cain kills his brother Abel when they are in the field. Think about what Cain has done. Cain is blaming Abel. Rather than accepting responsibility for his own mess, he blames Abel and kills him. Dissatisfaction leads to attacking others. Have you ever noticed this truth? When we are not satisfied, we try to make others not be satisfied and try to elevate ourselves over others. Rather than repenting, Cain sinks deeper into sin by luring his brother into the field and killing him. Rather than admitting his own sin, Cain destroys another person. He takes his brother’s life. The absolute horror of bitterness, anger, sullenness, and malicious thinking bears fruit: he kills his brother. I want us to think about the darkness of heart a person has to desire to harm, destroy, or kill another person. This is a black, dark heart. But please consider that we do not get to this point by accident. Anger is allowed time to fester in the heart. You are bitter toward another person. You are consumed with blaming another person for your problems. Here is the result: a hatred that comes from a darkened heart that finally lashes out. This was exactly what God was warning Cain about.
Now we will again see a gracious God who is going to try to restore Cain through his questions. God asks Cain in verse 9, “Where is Abel your brother?” Here is Cain’s chance to repent and confess. However, Cain does not take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, Cain lies. Cain says, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” Not only is Cain deflecting responsibility, notice how dismissive he is. His answer is simply, “Not my problem.” Abel is not my concern. Ultimately, Cain says that he does not care. His heart is so hard that he does not care about the life of his brother. This is a complete failure to God’s questioning.
Dismissive and Uncaring.
Here we see another reason why the world is a mess. We do not care about other people. Cain did not care about his brother. Cain only cares about what happened to him. Cain only cared about his own feelings. He did not care about his brother. He did not care about Abel’s feelings. He did not care about anything else but himself. The world will be a scary world if no one cares about another person. Let me show that on a very low level. This is why people run red lights. You do not care about other people. All that matters is you. You are too important to wait. Why should I have to stop? Imagine our roads if everyone did that. No one has a regard for red lights. Imagine our culture where no one has regard for another person. Imagine a culture where everyone reacts by what they feel and makes decisions by their emotions alone. When we lose regard for human life and do not see all people as equal because we are all made in the image of God, then there is nothing to restrain people from harming and destroying others because that is what they felt. Anger leads to action because there is no thought about the other person. When we no longer listen to God and do to others as we would have them do for us, then humans hurting other humans is the natural outcome.
The Consequences (4:10-16)
With this response, God brings a curse upon Cain in verses 10-16. The nature of this curse is an intensification of the curse originally placed on Adam. The blood of Abel cries up to the ground to the Lord so the ground will no longer yield to Cain when he works it. This will make Cain a restless wanderer as the ground will not give him anything when he works the ground. Cain must now deal with the consequences of his sins. By no surprise, Cain does not like his consequences. Cain again avoids repentance and complains about his consequences. Cain moves to self-pity, declaring that the penalty is too harsh. Now think about what Cain did. Is the penalty too harsh? No, God is being quite gracious toward Cain because Cain deserves to die for what he has done. But Cain complains about the consequence and God shows more grace. God puts a mark on Cain to keep him from being killed in the future. Then Cain leaves the presence of the Lord for his sin. Yet again we see the picture that sin separates us from God. With sin we cannot be near God. So Cain must go east. This is not a mere geographical detail but is used throughout Genesis as the direction that is away from the Creator and away from the promised land. Cain is separated from God.
So why is the world a mess? What is God telling us about who we are and the situation of the world? God summarized the problem as this: we are self-seeking rather than God-seeking. God states the simple problem and solution to Cain. If you do well, you will be accepted by God. Why do we have problems? Why is the world a mess? One reason is because we are not seeking God. We decide to be self-seeking. God comes to Cain and tells him that his problem was simple. Cain did what he wanted and not what God wanted. He offered what he wanted and not what God desired. What God is showing is that self-seeking is self-destructive. Further, the rest of chapter 4 is going to show that self-seeking is also world destructive. This is why life is a mess and why the world is a mess. We are self-seeking rather than God seeking. God had a remedy for this in mind when he is dealing with Cain in this passage.
The Lord declares that the blood of Abel cries to him from the ground (4:10). The writer of Hebrews seizes on this picture to speak of a great hope. In Hebrews 12 the writer lists what we have come to as Christians. We have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23). But I want us to look at verse 24. We have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Cain killed Abel. The blood of Abel is what brought the curse on Cain. The blood of Abel was crying out for vindication, judgment, and justice. The world killed Jesus. What should Jesus’ blood cry out to the Lord for? It ought to cry out for vindication, judgment, and justice against us. But the writer of Hebrews says the blood of Jesus speaks a better word. It is the blood of Jesus that ends the curse we ought to receive. It is the blood of Jesus that brings healing and restoration to God. It is the blood of Jesus that brings cleansing, forgiveness, and peace rather than judgment and wrath. You have come to the blood of Jesus and by coming to him, seeking him rather than self, you can have hope, healing, and restoration with your Father in heaven.