Genesis 4:1-26

Jimmy JoGenesis, O.T. Survey, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Read the passage here.

Last time we talked about Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden. It wraps up the first three chapters which talks about ultimate beginnings – the beginnings of this world; the beginnings of humankind; and the beginnings of sin.  As we talked about, there’s several different opinions on these passages but a few truths come out of them:

  • God created the world
    • God created the world good.
  • God created human beings
    • Human beings have the image of God
    • Human beings were created good.
  • Human beings sinned
    • Human beings are not good.

It’s important to grasp these things because from here, we can begin to understand our plight (that is, we are separated from God) and God’s purpose to restore creation. In today’s passage, we’ll take a look at how these themes develop – or, we’ll see how humanity develops.

  1. Read Passage

Our passage today relates the story of Cain and Abel.  It’s a story that is fairly well known but there are a couple of thoughts about the story worth bringing up.  Notice that Abel does not feature in the story at all – the story is almost exclusively about Cain. This leads us to pay special attention to the development of sin in humanity.  So how is humanity’s sin seen in this story?

To begin with, we have to consider the nature of/problem with the sacrifice that Cain brings.  We read that:

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

And unfortunately, that’s all that scripture says about this. The Bible doesn’t specifically say what was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice.  However, scholars typically agree that what was at issue was the distinction between Abel, who brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” and Cain who brought “some of the fruits of the soil.”  It appears, then, that the sin was Tokenism.  Cain brought the offering because he had to, out of duty, but it wasn’t truly a presentation of thanksgiving or honour to God, the king.

This is pretty easy to see in our own lives. Do we give God the best and do we give him the first?  Or do we give Him the leftovers – giving only what we have to give or what we feel like giving?

We can see the attitude of Cain in his reaction to God. Rather than taking on an attitude of repentance and humility, he becomes angry.  So then, Cain, because he is angry and jealous of Abel, takes the remarkably drastic step of killing his brother.  We probably don’t need to say anything about why murder is a sin, but notice, from a literary point of view, the swiftness from which we go from Adam celebrating Eve to Cain callously murdering his brother.  This isn’t a crime of passion – the passage indicates that this was clearly pre-meditated.  So the blessing of community of fellowship is forsaken because of pride. It’s a direct repudiation of the gift of community that we saw in the previous passages.

From here, we see God pronouncing punishment on Cain.

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Now there’s more to the story, but let’s pause here for a moment to notice some of the things that we are seeing.

Where we are in the book of Genesis (ch. 1-11) is what is typically called the Proto-history or the primordial history (takes us from creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, to the tower of Babel). As we’ve seen in the first few chapters, we see beginnings.  But we have yet to see the emergence of Israel, God’s chosen people, in the story.  So what we are getting is a “setting the stage” so to speak.  And in the set-up to the emergence of Israel, which speaks to God’s redemptive purpose in creation, we are seeing several themes:

  • Problem of and Escalation of Sin
    • We can see the development from the original sin in the garden, where Adam and Eve are presented almost as having made a mistake, and at least as being deceived in some sense (though this doesn’t remove responsibility). Here, Cain’s sin is pre-meditated, selfish, and obviously of much greater magnitude.
  • Escalation of punishment for/consequences of sin:  Humanity is cursed
    • In the garden account, Adam and Eve are not directly cursed. The serpent is cursed and the land is cursed.  Human beings suffer the consequences of that curse, but it’s worth noting that the word “cursed” is not used of human beings.  Here, Cain is directly “cursed” by God.

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

  • And what we see is that the result of that curse is that Cain is cast even further out. Remember, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden which is described as being “in Eden.”  Cain is cast out of Eden altogether.
  • Two families/paths
    • This is actually something we may miss because it’s tucked away right at the end of this passage. After Cain is exiled from Eden, we see an account of his descendants culminating with Lamech who actually out-does Cain in his sinfulness (escalation again).  We’ll actually talk about this more next week.  But notice that after this account of Lamech, we get almost a digression.  After this account of the sin of Cain which is followed by the sins of Cain’s sons, culminating in Lamech, we get this:

25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, p saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Already, then, we are seeing that God is setting aside a people for Himself.  In other words, in the midst of the sin in the world, the sin which mars God’s good creation, we see the grace of God.

So What Now…?

In this past week I’ve begun reading the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. I know that one of our community groups did a bible study series on this over the past semester, as well.  In the book, Keller examines some of the doubts that people have about God and Christianity.  One of the questions that Keller looks at is “how can a good God allow evil in the world?”  It’s a question that was discussed a lot in some of my philosophy classes in undergrad as well.  I know it’s an issue that bothers a lot of people, both Christian and non-Christian.  And it’s an issue that I don’t really want to get into (and can’t get into) today in any kind of depth.  But I do want to say this:

I think that the biblical position is slightly different. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about the problem of evil from a variety of perspectives, not the least of which is the ultimate hope that we have in Christ – that all evil will be done away with in God’s time and according to His plan.  And of the immeasurable love that God has for all of His creation – love which we cannot comprehend.

But what I’m seeing in the early parts of Genesis is a slightly different take on the question of/the problem of evil. What we have seen so far is that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it.  God created everything by his sovereign and absolute power and placed human beings in a place of responsibility, of priesthood, in that creation.  God warned human beings that the consequence of sin, of contradicting his good design and purpose, of choosing to be our own gods instead of allowing God to be God over us, is death.

So why, after Adam and Eve sinned, did God not simply do away with them. Give them immediately the punishment for sin – death – that he had warned them about?  Why on earth didn’t he do away with Cain?  Or Lamech?  Why not just wipe everything out and start with a clean slate?  So the problem of evil as I see it is not, “how can a good God allow evil in the world?” The problem of evil, in my opinion is, “how are any of us around at all?”

And the answer is, as we see as we continue through the story, that God is merciful. God is gracious.  He has a plan, realized in Jesus, and will be realized in Jesus, to deal with our sin and restore us to Him.  So I realize that my take on things may sound a little pessimistic – “God should just destroy us all” – but I hope you see that it’s ultimately based on Hope.  The work of God through Christ assures us that we have a hope and a future.

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