The Cain FactorBy Nathan Mates
In the garden of Eden, it was promised that the serpent would be repaid for his sins in tempting Adam and Eve: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." [Genesis 3:15] Taken quite literally, Eve would understand this to mean that her son would crush the serpent's head. She had helped cause the fall of mankind, so if her child fixed everything back up, so much the better.
And so, Eve had children: "Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." Later she gave birth to his brother Abel." [Genesis 4:1-2A] Eve gave birth to sons, and as they grew up, they almost certainly heard of their parent's mistake, and promises to crush Satan through a son. Cain, as the firstborn, was most likely the candidate for the serpent-bashing, and the one through whom God's promises would prevail.
But, things were about to go drastically wrong again for the first family. "Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought 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." [Genesis 4:2B-5] From much later in the Bible, we learn that "By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead." [Hebrews 11:4]
So, knowing that Abel's sacrifice was a better sacrifice, not just because the Lord looked with more favor on Abel, what can we learn from this? This is the first mention of sacrifice and offerings in the Bible. How'd they know what to give? It seems reasonable to assume that God must have told them what to give. Genesis 4:6 details God talking to Cain around this time, so other conversations probably happened as well. Even if this was not the case, there is empirical evidence that God liked one type of sacrifice better than another, and so conclusions could have been drawn by Cain and Abel as to what God wanted.
From examining the words of Genesis closely, we see that Abel brought from the 'firstborn of his flock,' while Cain is not mentioned as giving from his firstfruits. Later on, the Israelites were commanded to give of their own firstfruits: "Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God." [Exodus 23:19a] This is echoed by Solomon, "Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." [Proverbs 3:9-10] This prosperity due to giving of firstfruits is the Lord's favor, which Cain didn't have. As Cain wasn't mentioned as giving to the Lord first, he probably gave to God as an afterthought.
Beyond the firstfruits, Abel also brought a blood sacrifice, while Cain gave grain. While both of these reflect upon their occupations-- Cain the farmer and Abel the herder, there is more going on here if you examine the rest of the Bible. Leviticus chapters 1-7 list the sacrifices that God commanded the Israelites to give. If God did speak to Cain and Abel about sacrifices, the content of such a speech would be similar to that given to Moses centuries later.
And so, examining Leviticus's details for the Law, we see that the agricultural offerings in Leviticus 2 were voluntary act. However, the mandatory Sin Offering in Leviticus 4:1-5:13 requires an animal to be sacrificed. "'If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord's commands, he is guilty. When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect." [Leviticus 4:27-28; young bulls, male goats, doves/pigeons were also acceptable depending on stature]
Even further on in the Bible, we read that "In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." [Hebrews 9:22] When there was sin, before Jesus's sacrifice and shedding of blood, something else was required to shed its blood. Cain and Abel were certainly both sinners, just like all humans, and so they were required to give a blood sacrifice as atonement for their sins. Abel did that, Cain did not.
Once Cain noticed that his sacrifices were not being accepted, God spoke directly to him with a challenge: "Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." [Genesis 4:6-7] God directly told Cain that what he was doing was not right-- and Cain knew what was right. Cain knew that he had to give out of his firstfruits, and a blood sacrifice as well-- even if that meant bartering/buying an animal from his brother.
As an early foreshadowing of 1 Corinthians 10:13 ["No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."], God also told Cain that there was a way out of his dilemma, that there was an escape route. God challenged Cain to master this sin in his life of not giving an acceptable sacrifice, and it was fully within Cain's power to do so.
However, Cain refused to change his actions, and tried to be 'better' than the competition (his brother) by eliminating the competition: "Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him." [Genesis 4:8] This is absolutely the wrong way to deal with sin-- we cannot become perfect by being better than anyone else in existence, our actions do not become right when nobody else is doing better. Sin is, quite simply, 'missing the mark' -- not living up to God's standards. Killing others doesn't change God's standards, doesn't make him suddenly look upon us with more favor. A blood sacrifice was required for sin, but human blood shed in murder is in the category of "really not acceptable to God." [Jesus was a voluntary sacrifice of a sinless creature, and the only instance where such a thing was acceptable to God.]
Having previously been involved with this family feud, God comes back into the picture: "Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"" [Genesis 4:9] God knew of Cain's sin, and subtly challenged Cain to live up to his added responsibility of having his brother's blood on his hands-- as the first murderer in existence. Cain's response was flippant, arrogant, and denied God's omniscience in the process. Basically, Cain said to God "I'm not responsible for Abel, so don't bother me about him." But, taking a life kinda increases one's responsibility just slightly-- Cain knew that, but refused to take his sin seriously.
God then acted as judge and jury for the first human death: "The LORD said, "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." [Genesis 4:10-12] God had lost a friend, a devoted human-- in Matthew 23:35, Jesus himself talks of Abel as righteous. God knew who had killed him, and Cain wasn't repentant in the least. And so God cursed him to be the first homeless wanderer.
Far from learning from God's presence and judgment on him, Cain merely whined about his new condition: "Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." But the LORD said to him, "Not so ; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him." [Genesis 4:13-15]
Cain refused to repent of his sin, and even whined about the possibility of people killing *him*. When Cain killed others, it was somehow ok, but Cain couldn't stand to be on the receiving end of such treatment. Cain, by all reasonable approaches, had lost all rights to complain when he killed his brother. But, his character remained true to what it was-- unable and unwilling to accept God's commands, and to take personal responsibility for his sin and repent. God was far more merciful to Cain than one would expect-- he marked Cain so that Cain wouldn't get what he feared. Cain would have a long life after this, with plenty of chances to repent.
Apparently Cain never repented. He had children after this incident [Genesis 4:15-17], and if anything, they were worse than him. His descendant Lamech, is quoted as saying "Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times." [Genesis 4:23-24] Lamech, when hurt, struck out and killed others. He didn't care what happened to him, and dared God to do worse to him. Lamech was also the first polygamist mentioned in the Bible, also something against God's will.
While only a few verses in Genesis, there is much to be learnt from them. The rest of the Bible does not ignore Cain and Abel, but makes reference to these two in several places later. As to how to apply this story to our own lives, John tells us "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous." [1 John 3:12]
Beyond thoughts of murder, do you take sin seriously, or do are you flippant to God about it? Cain never cared about dealing with his sin, never repented, never acknowledged God's sovereignty in his life. He didn't end up too well off. He also whined about 'unfair treatment' when he was guilty of it first. So, examine your own attitude towards God. When God says "What about X" to you, in hopes that you'll deal with a sin, do you ignore him, pretend that sin doesn't exist in your life, or do you honestly acknowledge it and deal with it through repentance? Do you acknowledge that there is a way out of every sin, and you can choose to take it or remain in sin? Hopefully, you'll learn to resolve things by dealing with God's requests, and not by giving in to sin and hurting others in the process.