And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! (Genesis 4:13 NKJV)
Most of us have heard that Cain slew Abel, but what were the events in the life of this son of Adam that brought him to these unbearable circumstances?
Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a keeper of the flocks. Both gave sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering (Genesis 4:4b-5a NKJV). One of the pitfalls of the Christian faith is having an outward religion while being devoid of an inward reality. God did not accept or reject them just based on the type of offering they each made. There was a difference in the characters of those sacrificing. Cain was a wicked man and his offering was a vain sacrifice. Abel was a righteous man (Matthew 23:35) and found favor before God. Therefore, due to the character of the two, there was a difference in their offerings. Abel made his gift by faith. By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4). They differed in the motive for their actions. Abel gave his sacrifice with an eye on receiving mercy and grace for one who did not deserve it. Cain’s offering spoke of his own ability to merit God’s favor. One gift pleaded for God’s help and the other portrayed one’s self-sufficiency.
Cain became angry at the distinction God made between his sacrifice and Abel’s. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:5b NKJV). Cain should have been angry with himself for his own indiscretions. The commentator, Matthew Henry, says in relation to this incident; “It is a certain sign of an unhumbled heart to quarrel with those rebukes which we have by our own sin brought on ourselves.” Anger and finger pointing are evidence of our own guilt. And so is envy. Those who are not fit to be honored by God are always tempted to be jealous of those who are. This is the reason some form of persecution always accompanies a righteous life. Envy seems to be a sin with it’s own punishment. A sound heart is life to the body. But envy is rottenness to the bones (Proverbs 14:30 NKJV).
God Reasons With Cain
When we start down that slippery slope of sin we can be assured that at some point a loving God always tries to intervene. So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen (v. 6)? God tries to convince Cain of his sin and the error of his ways by giving him insight about the source of his anger. But understanding to be transformative must be embraced. There are none so blind as those who won’t see. God continues and lays out life and blessing and death and a curse. (v. 7) If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” If Cain would have come to his senses and taken responsibility for his thoughts and actions, he would have received the same honor God had bestowed on his brother. God is just, as he does not practice favoritism.
Cain’s answer came in his actions. Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him (v.8). Whatever attitudes we allow to remain in our hearts will always surface in the actions of our hands and feet.
Cain Pleads Not Guilty
Once again we see God throwing Cain a lifeline. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (Genesis 4:9a NKJV). God was extending to Cain an opportunity to admit his crime and reverse the downward spiral of his life. Things come to us that may appear to be a judgment or accusation when in reality they are God’s invitations to embrace His mercy. Cain’s response must have broken the heart of a pursuing God. When asked about the whereabouts of Abel, Cain replied, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9b) As commentators have suggested, he covered a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie. Trying to deceive God showed a lack of understanding of the character of God. He (God) is omniscient as He sees and thus knows all things. Lying to Him is an exercise in futility.
Furthermore, we see no remorse in Cain for his actions or for the loss of his brother. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If Cain’s conscience had not been seared, it must have been close to it. God has nothing left to do but to squarely confront him with “What have you done” (v. 10a). God is merciful and longsuffering and longs for us to humble ourselves, but if we refuse he allows us to humiliate ourselves.
You Reap What You Sow
Cain bemoans his punishment. Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14 NKJV). It is interesting to note that although Cain mentions the consequences for his sin, he makes no reference to his sin. He dwells on what his actions have cost him, but he is strangely silent about what it cost Abel, not to mention rejecting the God who has consistently tried to bring about his highest good. It seems to be all about him at the expense of others and God.
Cain started to serve his sentence. Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden (v. 16). Nod means exile, wandering, or unrest. Cain is banished to a sterile land that will not respond to his efforts as tiller of the ground. He is bereft of his calling. He dwells in a land without any hope or goodness, as God is absent. Unrest ferments in his spirit. For when we reject God and his reasonable requirements, we have no rest for our souls.
God seems to give a bit of a reprieve. And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him (v. 15b). But was it really amnesty? Cain has a constant reminder for the rest of his life to himself and all who pass by that this is the man that killed his brother. And the crowning tragedy is that he realizes that it did not have to be. Some punishments can be worse than death.
Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing