Teaching series from Genesis

Two Humanities: Cain & Abel

Genesis 4:1-16

Teaching t07300

Introduction

We saw last week that there would be enmity between the two humanities that descended from Eve—those who followed Satan in his rebellion against God versus those who followed her trust and cooperation with God. This enmity is immediately evident in her first two children, Cain and Abel.

This passage breaks up into three sections. We’ll explore the meaning and application for each section.

Two ways to approach God

Read 4:1-5. As mentioned above, we find that the problem that results in the first murder is a spiritual problem. God accepted Abel’s offering (or sacrifice), but he did not accept Cain’s. (We don’t know how God communicated this.) They represent two ways to approach God that have been at enmity ever since.

Why would God accept the one offering and not the other? Was God being capricious? Is it that he doesn’t like vegetables?

Some commentators say that God required blood sacrifice, as he later ordained in the Old Testament law. While this is possible, there is nothing in the text that indicates that the problem was what they offered. Both Cain and Abel brought to God the fruit of their vocations: plants and animals.

No, the issue was not what they brought to God, but rather the attitude with which they approached God.

Notice that in 4:4,5 their names are mentioned before their offerings (“ . . . the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering he had no regard . . .” God was more concerned with the person than with his offering.

The New Testament (written by the same ultimate author) confirms this (read Heb. 11:4). Abel approached God by faith; Cain did not.

Here is the beginning of the two humanities (reiterate SCHAEFFER QUOTE). Later, the Serpent’s seed will devise gods of their own imagination, and deny God altogether. But it began with Cain coming to God in his own way rather than in the way God prescribed.

But wait a minute! Cain certainly had faith in God. Yes, he did—and in fact he is the exemplar of the kinds of faith that God doesn’t accept.

He obviously believed that God existed. But this mental assent faith is not enough.

The demons have this kind of faith (Jas. 2:19), but it won’t profit them in the day of judgment.

Over 90% of Americans believe in the existence of God, but I doubt that anywhere near that many are going to be in heaven.

He engaged in religious ritual. He approached God with an offering, as God evidently instructed them to do. But God still turned him down. This is the beginning of religious formalism, which has a rich legacy in the rest of the Bible. Religious formalism refers to the notion that what matters in approaching God is that we observe the proper rituals, recite the proper prayers, etc. It is an emphasis on the outward trappings.

God reserved some of his harshest words in the Old Testament for this attitude (read Isa. 29:13; Ps. 51:16,17). Consider the supreme irony of Matt. 6:7ff. This is all around us today (DESALES YESTERDAY) . . . 

As God says in Isa. 29, the issue is the heart-attitude. The faith that God responds to is that which humbly trusts God’s mercy versus the self-sufficient attitude that approaches God on the basis of your own righteousness and works.

Jesus gave an updated version of this in Lk. 18:9-14 (read).

Read Gal. 2:16. How can it be any clearer? The faith that God responds to is a faith that trusts in God’s work for us rather than in our works for God.

This is the problem with so many people—maybe with you. “I’m a pretty good person. I’m certainly not bad person. I’ve done some good things in my life . . . Yes, I think things will be OK between me and God.” What are you saying? “I trust that my works are good enough to deserve God’s acceptance.”

Yet Paul says in this passage that not one person will ever be accepted for this reason! Not Mother Theresa, not Billy Graham, not you, not me, not anyone. This is an affront to God because it compromises his perfect righteousness and replaces it with our own imperfect moral accomplishments as the ultimate standard. This is the way of Cain, and God will reject you if you come to him with this attitude.

But if you’re willing to humble yourself, and come to God trusting only Christ’s work for you—then God will respond to you and forgive you and accept you permanently, regardless of what you’ve done (TEXAS EXECUTION >> THIEF ON THE CROSS).

Does this offend you? Then you are still in Cain’s line, saying “Take me as I am—here’s my own works, they are good enough.”

Relationship between feelings and attitude/behavior

So Cain came to God with the wrong attitude—and God turned him down. Now let’s see what his reaction was (read 4:5b). Even his face showed that he was angry—he took on a moping, brooding look. He didn’t question himself about his attitude toward God; he got furious toward God for embarrassing him.

So God approached Cain and counseled him (read 4:6,7). He’s not very sensitive, he doesn’t validate Cain’s feelings, and he is not a non-judgmental listener. “You feel bad? That’s because your attitude is wrong! Turn it around, and you’ll feel better! If you don’t turn it around, things can get a lot worse, so deal with it now!”1

What a fascinating piece of counsel! God grants us insight into the relationship between our feelings and our attitude/behavior.

We know that our feelings can affect our attitude/behavior. For example, when I feel depressed, I tend to be morose and irritable toward those around me. When I feel inadequate, it’s difficult to perform well at work and be open in relationships. When I feel ripped off, I tend to withdraw and punish others.

So many of us assume that if we focus on our feelings and find others to validate those feeling, somehow we’ll feel better.

Unfortunately, this is the theoretic for much modern psycho-therapy. It assumes that humans are basically good and that the main problem is emotional repression. Therefore, the role of the counselor is to reflect feelings non-judgmentally (“I can tell that really hurt you”), to suggest reasons why such feelings are valid (“You are a victim”), and to urge the client to enter into and embrace these feelings. Only when you do this will the healing begin.

God takes a different approach. He doesn’t ignore the feelings, but he focuses on the attitude/behavior. He says that normally our attitude/behavior has affected our feelings, and that therefore if we choose to adopt the attitude God prescribes and take action on it, our feelings will improve (4:7). See also Ps. 34:12-14; Jn. 13:17 for this theme.

Seen in this way, our negative emotions usually function like the TROUBLE-LIGHT on your car’s dashboard. When it comes on (like it did with me yesterday), I can make two mistakes. The first is to ignore it (“It’s probably just a short. I’ll put electrical tape on it so I won’t see it”); the second is to view it as the main problem (“If I can unscrew it, my car will be OK”). No, the TROUBLE-LIGHT is usually not the root problem, but rather the warning system that is designed to alert me to a problem under the hood. I should check under the hood and see what needs to be repaired—and then the TROUBLE-LIGHT usually goes off.

In the same way, when I notice that I am angry, depressed, anxious, etc. (especially when chronic), I need to “take a look under the hood” for attitudes/behaviors that are contrary to God’s will.

EXAMPLES: confessing sin vs. justifying; forgiving vs. bitterness; gratitude vs. self-pity; self-serving vs. self-giving; trusting God’s loving sovereignty vs. self-reliant

As I choose to change my attitude (“repent”) and take actions consistent with that new attitude, my emotional state usually improves—sometimes quite quickly and dramatically, sometimes more slowly and subtly.

This should normally be our first approach to negative emotions. If we try this over a period of time without relief, then we should consider professional counseling and possible medication. Because we live in a fallen world, there are cases in which this is needed—but they are the exception, not the norm.

We can’t control our feelings in a direct way. But we can affect them indirectly by choosing to “do well”—agree concretely with God’s priorities. This is the way to build a positive emotional life.

The heart of God’s priorities is relationships. He wants us to forge and build a relationship with him, build relationships with other people within a framework of Christian growth. Many of our addictions and depressions and anxieties are the result of neglecting these relational priorities.

This kind of correction is never easy to take—it’s always easier to feel sorry for yourself. But as God warns in 4:7b, this is the path to the downward spiral of more wrong choices, more emotional misery, etc. This is the way of Cain . . . 

The extent of God’s mercy

Read 4:8. This is the first murder and the first martyr (1 Jn. 3:12). What follows this murder is what preceded it—God’s continued invitation to repent juxtaposed by Cain’s continual choice to harden himself against God’s mercy.

Remind of 4:6,7. Cain responded poorly to God’s rejection of his offering. But God still initiated with him to help him understand how to turn things around.

Read 4:9. God gives Cain an opportunity to admit his sin and take responsibility for it. But Cain stiff-arms him with a lie.

Read 4:10-13. God confronts Cain with what he did and informs him of the consequence (loss of vocation and expulsion from his family). Cain responds with a complaint that his punishment is too great—when in fact it is far too lenient! He projects his own wickedness onto God, assuming God doesn’t care about him and interpreting God’s discipline through this grid—when God is reaching out to him in mercy.

Read 4:14-16. Cain complains that Adam’s descendants will eventually kill him because of what he did to Abel—but God mercifully promises to protect his life. After all this, Cain complains that God is driving him from his presence—yet it is Cain that chooses to leave the presence of the Lord.

This is another major theme in the Bible—humans’ consistent rejection of God’s will, but God’s gracious patience as he continues to reach out to us with an invitation to repent (read 2 Pet. 3:9). Because God is righteous and just, he will ultimately call us to account if we do not repent. But he puts that off until as long as possible, and keeps reaching out to us as he did with Cain (see also Ex. 34:6,7).

Next

We’ll see how the enmity that began in the first family spread beyond them to the first two lines of descendants and their two legacies . . . 

Footnote

1 The NIV translation (“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”) is confusing for two reasons. The lack of Hebrew verbiage in this sentence demands that we look to the previous context (4:5,6), in which the fallen countenance is the issue. Furthermore, doing what it right is not God’s basis for being accepted by him—unless this is a reference to approaching him in the right way.

Copyright 1998 Gary DeLashmutt