Life Lessons: Cain
Not too long ago I had the opportunity to teach on Genesis 4 and my first thought when I began preparing for this lesson was, “Awesome! I can sum this up pretty quickly. Murder equals bad.” Lesson done! But as I sat down, asked the Lord to direct me and really began to study this chapter, I realized that there is far more to Cain’s issues than murder. In fact, murder was the ripple effect of everything else. So, let me share the things the Lord taught me through the story of Cain and Abel.
Don’t compare your gifts to others.
Cain and Abel are the first siblings we encounter in the Bible and they prove that sibling rivalries are nothing new. It is clear from verse 2 that Cain and Abel are very different, not just in abilities but in the way that approach God. Cain is a man of the soil. We’ll call him a farmer and Abel is a shepherd. Both have been given skills and talents to use for the benefit of their family but also in praise to the Lord. Just like we’ve all been given different skills and talents. Don’t allow comparison to make you disgruntled or prideful when the Lord knows exactly what gift will most benefit your purpose in life. So riddle me this… Is it a sin to not use your God-given talent?
When I posed this question to my Bible Fellowship class, one of my wise friends made the point that to not use a talent the Lord has given you when directed to do so actually equates to disobedience which is a sin and man, is he right! Don’t throw away your ability to make a difference because it doesn’t look like the same work as your sibling or neighbor or friend. They needed Cain’s food for sustenance and Abel’s wool for warmth. Every piece is essential! (1 Corinthians 12)
God’s not concerned with your religion but rather your relationship.
Murder wasn’t Cain’s first sin but rather a result of all his other sins. We know from verse 5 that the Lord rejects Cain’s offering but why? Well, it says in the verse above that Abel brought an offering of fat portions from the firstborn of the flock. Those are the best bits you could get and this was what was required of the Israelites throughout scripture, however, at this point we aren’t told that the Lord requires this type of sacrifice yet… so why is Abel correct and Cain incorrect? Look at the description of Cain’s offering in verse 4. It says that he brought “some fruits” as an offering. It almost sounds like he grabbed a banana off the kitchen counter and headed to the altar so he could mark that task off his to-do list.
Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” which may seem like a strange thing for God to say since this is smack dab in the middle of a time of required sacrifices for His people but here’s the deal. The sacrifice by itself does nothing towards cleansing you from sin but it is a reflection of your heart attitude. Satan will convince you that if you are doing religious stuff that you aren’t sinning but you can sin doing the Lord’s work just like you can sin doing anything else. Think of the Pharisees who were following the law to the Nth degree but Christ called them out for their hearts. He calls them “white washed tombs” and that’s a great description for those religious moments of sin. Beautiful and clean looking on the outside but hiding death and decay on the inside. The Lord sees your heart and you can’t trick Him by “behaving” correctly with the wrong attitude.
Sin is a slippery slope not a pot hole.
Cain didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to kill his brother. That’s just not how sin works! Sin isn’t a pothole that you happen to fall into but rather a slippery slope that may find you trying to catch yourself multiple times down the path until you hit what we view as a “big” sin. Think about Cain, we know that he sinned with his offering to God because it was rejected but that couldn’t have been the first failure. I have a hard time believing he was chasing hard after God on Monday and woke up Tuesday with an angry and complacent heart. That’s definitely not how it works in my life and yes, there are times when you may be surprised by how far you have slipped but if you look back you can see all the little moments of mistakes that added up to a huge issue. Someone doesn’t wake up and decide to have an affair or embezzle from their company. No, you let your boundaries down around a coworker or let your mind wander to inappropriate and unsafe thoughts. You convince yourself you deserve more than your company provides and you probably start with smaller acts of stealing from your organization.
It makes me think how your thought life, my thought life, can truly create that slippery slope. Have you ever disliked someone and realized that your mind is consumed with negative thoughts towards that person? Yes, they may aggravate you but this is beyond that. I’ve seen it start with comparison which leads to jealousy which leads to gossip which leads to outright slander. Your thoughts and actions can do just as much damage to yourself as you do to them but luckily if you have the Holy Spirit living in you, you have a Counselor to come along side you during those moments. Conviction is the Spirit’s method of getting your attention and redirecting your course. When you get that prick of guilt, you know you can ask the Lord to help soften your heart or redirect your thoughts. The more time you spend with God the more you can recognize His Spirit trying to get your attention and hopefully you will stop instead of getting deeper in negativity.
You have the choice to ignore God.
Cain was talking with God at the altar and yet, still went away and committed murder but I think we do that too when we choose to ignore God in certain areas of our lives. I was thinking about why we might not ask the Father to help us with certain sins and I believe it boils down to a couple of reasons…
1. We aren’t in tune enough with the Lord’s voice that we don’t hear the Spirit’s prompting. It’s hard to ask for help when you don’t know that you need it.
2. We have justified our actions to ourselves because we have the tendency to rationalize sin in our hearts. Whether that is pride in what we think we deserve, comparison at why we aren’t as bad as the next guy or even growing tired of waiting on the judgement we feel should come from the Lord so we take it into our own hands.
3. We are benefiting from our behavior and are afraid the Lord will tell us to stop. Sin can be very enjoyable… at the beginning and that can convince us that it must be right. Something this good couldn’t be that bad but we often don’t realize how many strings are attached until we are all tied up.
4. We are afraid that the Lord will ask us to do something like apologize and our pride gets in the way. I’ve said it before but pride gets in the way of so much. I know situations where the person stopped the original sinning but didn’t want to do the dirty work of repair so while no more damage was done it didn’t fix the situation and was disobedient to God which is a sin in itself. Don’t let pride get in the way of what you know is right and yes, I am speaking to myself just as much as anyone!
In the end, I have to wonder how long Cain waited before he decided to lure his brother to his death. Had these thoughts already been in his mind and he left the altar angry at God and Abel or did he go home and stew on it for a few days? Was God trying to get his attention through all of those moments? We know God gave him the chance to repent over his sinful offering but he just got mad. Did he just choose to shut God out like we so often do?
God is a God of mercy in the midst of our failures.
To me, the strangest part of the moments after Abel’s murder is Cain’s seeming lack of concern which to me shows just how far his heart had strayed. When God confronts him he lies which makes sense because we do the same but I think the odder bit comes after the Lord brings his sin to light. Verses 10-12 say, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Here he is, standing bare before God with all his sin on display and not once does he repent or seem to feel any regret towards what was done. Instead, he cries out to God about how this punishment was more than he could bear. It reminds me of the Rhett Butler quote, “You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail.”
The Lord says Cain will be no longer be able to tend the soil but will have to wander the earth scratching out a living. However, if you read Cain’s own description of his punishment, he says he is being hidden from the presence of the Lord but I don’t see that in the Lord’s words. It makes me wonder if there’s something I’m missing in the translation or if Cain assumed the Lord had written him off completely? Personally, I think it’s an assumption on Cain’s part because even in the midst of the curse the Father shows His mercy by promising that He will protect Cain from attacks as he goes about his life. The Lord is always wanting and willing to show mercy when we come home and if He can offer mercy to a murderer, there’s nothing you can do that will ever be too much for God but you have to repent and accept His mercy.
It’s so easy to read the story of Cain and justify yourself with the thought that you would never commit murder but the heart issues that plagued Cain are the same heart issues that plague the world today. To shorten his story to his last misdeed leaves us in danger of thinking we can’t make the same mistakes. Dear Lord, don’t let us ever think we are too good to not fail miserably…