COMMUNICATION 10 - God style communication: Cain

There is a very sad but also very important story right at the very beginning of humanity after the fall: the story of Cain and Abel. The way God communicates with Cain is truly fascinating:

Genesis 4:1-5      “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD” 2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD and offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”

  • The verb for ‘produce’ sounds similar to ‘Cain’ in the Hebrew language.
  • Maybe Eve thought of Cain as the promised Savior (Gen 3:15). Maybe she preferred him because he was the firstborn.
  • Cain tills the ground as commanded (Gen 2:15), Abel becomes a shepherd, an acceptable variation, as the text shows. The commands are not a tight law.
  • Both brothers acknowledge God and give offerings of their produce.

Why is Abel’s offering acceptable and Cain’s is not?

  • One possible answer: because Abel’s was an animal sacrifice, not grain like Cain, foreshadowing the sacrificial system and ultimately Jesus’ sacrifice.
  • It can also be argued that if worshiping God with the sacrifice was the purpose, God should be allowed to say how he wants to be worshiped.
  • Possibly, but Gen 2:15 affirms agriculture. Offering of the fruit if one’s labor makes sense. Also the law commands various grain offerings (Num 28). Lack of knowledge as such is not a problem with God.
  • Another answer: because their attitudes were different. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen 4:7). So Cain is ‘not doing well’, his attitude is not right.
  • Cain’s reaction is to be angry. He is not asking why, he is not seeking God, he is not asking for reasons nor tries to understand God’s thinking.
  • Cain is not repentant, not apologizing, not changing his attitude, not improving.
  • Anger? He has a sense of betrayal, of injustice. But he doesn’t verify it. He is clearly taking no responsibility and thinks the problem is entirely God’s. God is unjust to him, therefore he has a right to be angry, and attitude we all know too well.

1 John 3:12         “We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

  • John clearly lays full blame on Cain’s attitudes and actions, at least following the sacrifice, not on an ignorance of his heart or an injustice on God’s part. He did evil, he resented the righteousness of his brother.

Genesis 4:6         “The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?”

  • God comes to Cain, not Cain to God. God engages him, coaxing him with a question to think, to talk, to reason, or at least to complain, charge God with wrong
  • God describes reality: anger and a fallen countenance. Maybe Cain is unclear as to what he is feeling, though he is feeling it strongly. God helps him to process, to name, to describe, to think about it.
  • The question is designed to lead him to be honest, to engage, but also to make him understand what exactly was different

Genesis 4:7a       “If you do well, will you not be accepted?”

  • God clearly diagnoses the problem: the problem is not that God is arbitrary or playing favorites, the problem is not God, but Cain, his attitude, his action.
  • God states the reason for non-acceptance: he hasn’t done well, his attitude or possibly motivation hadn’t been right.
  • God gives the truth and perspective that Cain needs.
  • This is comforting: there is clearly something Cain can do about it, the way is open, just acknowledge the wrong attitude, and come to God with the right attitude, and you will most definitely be accepted. Repentance is possible, forgiveness is assured, God speaks in order to restore him and bring him back into right relationship.
  • This is challenging: it shows Cain’s thinking to be the choosing of lies: his jealousy has no basis, his sense of injured pride is false, his conclusion that he is being unjustly treated is wrong, … basically his assumption that everybody else is at fault, especially God, is thrown over. This is not popular, but needed.

Genesis 4:7b        “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

  • God affirms that Cain truly has a choice, educates him about the choice, its importance and its consequences.
  • God also denies ‘victim mentality’ here: Cain can choose to do wrong, but it will have been his choice, not an inevitable consequence of the injustice committed against him … He must master it. It’s possible for him to master it.
  • Sin is lurking at the door also implies, that his wrong attitude about the offering is not that big of a problem, possibly not even sin yet, the real problem is how he now responds and chooses: that can be a full-blown sin. God encourages here: it’s not ‘all lost’, ‘done deal’, ‘can’t undo’ at all, it’s most recoverable, God invites him to do so.
  • God sorely warns: if Cain stays on his track of thought and persistent in this attitude, he is giving himself to sin, he will succumb to it, he will make sin his master.

Genesis 4:8           “Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.”

  • Cain shows by his action, – an outright murder against his own brother who has done nothing against him – what he has chosen to listen to and think.
  • Cain feels unjustly injured. Cain reacts against perceived injustice. Yet here he metes out a death sentence to Abel for an offence that was nothing, and that definitely wasn’t Abel’s fault. Abel has done no wrong whatsoever. In our sense of injustice we become unjust ourselves.
  • Jealousy is dangerous, it blows everything out of proportion, has barely a root in reality any more. Jealousy deceives. Sin masters if we let it. Tall puppy syndrome.
  • This is a full blown murder: it’s intentional, premeditated and pro-active. No circumstances that could lessen the guilt of what Cain is doing.
  • How does Cain go from annoyance all the way to murder? > probably not in an instant, but by letting this sit, turn, rot his thoughts, by denying God’s words, by choosing to hold on to a sense of injury, to ‘I’m being treated unjustly’, to ‘victim mentality’. Cain has given over his thinking to jealousy, pride, bitterness … he is mastering nothing, rather he is inviting this warped thinking to dominate him.
  • The murder is also a full denial: Cain has taken no responsibility whatsoever for his attitude and thoughts. The murder says: “it’s all your fault! I have the right to revenge myself”.

Genesis 4:9            “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

  • God does not prevent the murder. He initiated communicated, reasoned, cautioned, warned … but he doesn’t prevent the murder!
  • God is fully and painfully committed to the right to choose that he gave to humans.
  • Again it’s God graciously initiating, communicating, giving an opening question, a convicting question, an invitation to confess, to repent, to ask for forgiveness.
  • Cain is lying (he does know), denying, taking no responsibility, not confessing, even charging God with unjustly demanding. ‘Abel’s safety is not my business’.

Genesis 4:10           “And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen: your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

  • God now speaks truth directly and he charges the offender with the his offence: you, Cain. No victim mentality, Cain has chosen, Cain has done. God calls him to the reality of his choice and behavior.
  • God’s question is “What have you done?” expressing grief, grief Cain doesn’t express, grief at the magnitude of the sin, an appropriate emotion about a murder.
  • The questions is meant to convict: Realize what you have done, a full-blown murder for a jealousy, an irreversible crime for a completely reversible issue.
  • ‘Blood crying out’ … injustice is not silent, even though the person can’t speak any more. The reality of the crime remains even though ‘nothing can bring Abel back’ … the irreversibility cannot excuse the crime.
  • Cain has lied and denied. But reality speaks: evidence can be found, Cain’s actions had consequences, the reality he created through his choice and sin will not go away by ignoring it.

Genesis 4:11-12      ”And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to your its strength; you will be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth.”

  • “You are cursed” … not “I curse you”, is there a difference? The curse is not so much an added-on punishment, but more a consequence … the ground had to swallow the blood, the ground was soiled, the ground was violated, now it responds by refusal to yield its strength.
  • Ground is almost personified, as also in for example Lev 18:28.
  • Sin affects the physical world, fertility and ease of cultivation are linked to the sin of people living on the ground. This is split out in detail later in the law.
  • Being a ‘fugitive and wanderer’ is a consequence, since fertility is denied, his profession of tiller of soil is affected, the ground won’t be home any more… leading to a hunting-gathering lifestyle. He will live a bit like a thief off the ground.
  • ‘fugitive and wanderer’ also is metaphorical, his conscience is biting him, he has broken relationship with his God.
  • He is now considered dangerous by humans and is excluded from their society (his parents and future siblings). He doubts everyone and everyone doubts him, no intimacy, no acceptance, no ‘home’.
  • All 4 relationships are shown affected by sin: to creation, to God, to others, to self

Genesis 4:13-14       “Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”

  • God spoke of consequences, Cain speaks of unfair punishment … to a unrepentant mind God’s actions will look as unfair punishment, for there is no acknowledgement of guilt, of responsibility, of one’s own wrong choice.
  • “You have driven me … from soil, your face, men” … not really, his action has driven him away, but he doesn’t acknowledge that.
  • Cain is not confessing, not repenting, not asking forgiveness, not changing his mind, still thinking God unjust and still thinking God the problem.
  • Cain is worried about his life … the murderer fears murder. “The treacherous are ever distrustful” (J.R.R. Tolkien). Cain claims a protection, a value to his life that he was not willing to grant his innocent brother … there is no congruency, no sense of fairness, no proportionality in his thinking, just stubborn self-focus.

Genesis 4:15-16        “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

  • God is gracious in his judgement. Life is valuable, also Cain’s. God affirms that.
  • Why does God not punish murder with death penalty as in the Law (Deu 5:18)?
  • Because he won’t exercise judgement but rather a human government (Gen 6:9)?
  • But that is not yet instituted. Because the only humans to date to execute the sentence would be own family, and judgement is given to GOV, not FAM (Deu 21:18-21)?
  • Why the sevenfold? Why an escalation? Is this not in conflict with Deu 19:21? This escalation will be picked up selfishly and disastrously by Lamech in Gen 4:23-24. Why does God institute it? Possibly to hit home the ‘sanctity of life’: His life is protected. Everybody’s life is protected. God wants life protected.
  • Who are the people to come upon Cain to kill him? It must be his own family, later siblings. He is estranged, they will not know him a few years from now.
  • ‘mark’? a clear communication, used metaphorically again in Revelation, positively and negatively, for both believers and unbelievers (Rev 7:3, 13:16).
  • Cain goes away from the presence of the Lord. He says he is hidden from it (Gen 4:14). But God never said that, never hid himself, rather pursued Cain, initiated communication, engaged reason, gave conviction, showed grace and ways forward.