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"My Brother's Keeper"

January 31, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Genesis 4:1–26

A reminder that we will hold the Annual Congregational Meeting on Feb. 7.  The Annual Report is available under "Announcements."

Just to bring you back to where we are in this series, we have been looking at Genesis chapter by chapter to see how God has revealed Himself to us. Like prior weeks, our verses today are a familiar story to most people – at least the basics of it. Also like prior weeks, this chapter tends to raise more questions than answers. So, at the risk of boring you via repetition, let me cover two key elements of our sermon series on Genesis:

We are not going to try to answer all the questions you may have had or heard regarding these verses. For example, if Adam and Eve were the first people, and Cain and Abel their first offspring, of whom was Cain afraid? Who else could have been out there? What was the mark on Cain? These are great questions for a Bible study. The author did not provide us with any detail on these things because the focus was elsewhere. For our purposes here, we are going to look within the text to see what is being revealed to us about the nature, character, and purpose of God? Who is this God who has revealed himself to us? What has God revealed? What does God’s revelation mean for how we understand who we are and how we are to live?

We have to remember that Genesis is the first book of a larger set. It has to be read as part of the whole, and it functions as the preface to that larger story. We cannot read it separate, apart, or distinct from the rest. It has to be read in light of the rest.

Genesis chapter 1 was all about God creating the cosmos according to His will. Chapter 2 was all about God establishing order out of chaos; that there is a plan and a purpose for humankind. At the end of Chapter 2, the man and the woman were in the ordered Garden of Eden that God had created, living in the immediate presence of God.

And then, we had Chapter 3. In Chapter 3 we saw how the ordered creation of God was broken by the disobedience of the man and the woman. Now, in Chapter 4, we continue to decline into brokenness where we see the relationship of family destroyed by the jealousy of Cain; and then, how the descendants of Cain celebrated brokenness and violence against others.

Happy stuff, right? Remember: the point of our series is to see what is being revealed to us about the nature, character, and purpose of God. Yes, we see and can feel the guilt of human action in these accounts, but we are not the point. The point always is to see what is revealed about God.

The Story

Chapter 4 begins with Eve becoming pregnant. There is no way to determine – grammatically or otherwise – if she conceived prior to or after their banishment from Eden. What was important to the author was not whether sex was a “pre-fall good” or a “post-fall brokenness”; rather, what was important was Eve’s response. She said, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.” Already we are seeing the playing out the consequences of the banishment from Eden, in which the woman (and women) experience “pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Whether the help from the LORD was the blessing of conception or, more likely, God’s sustaining hand through delivery, Eve recognized that she did not create her son on her own. Though we could remain here and consider the implications of all this, the author did not linger and neither will we. All I want you to see here is that things develop as God declared.

Cain was born. Then, Abel was born. Again, the narrator did not detail much about their birth, their childhood experiences, or the world in which they grew up. Very simply he moved from their existence to the pivotal incident in their lives.

Abel was a shepherd. Cain was a farmer. Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Abel brought an offering of the firstling of the flocks. The LORD had regard for Abel’s offering and not for Cain’s. We do not know why God accepted Abel’s and not Cain’s. The suggestion has been made that it was because Abel offered the first and best, while Cain offered from the totality; however, the text does not tell us that. Other suggest it was the difference between animal and grain offerings. Again, the text does not say. Nor does the text tell us how Cain knew that Abel’s offering had been accepted while his had not. All we know is that Cain knew.

And, I should note, even though we do not know the specifics of why Cain’s offering was rejected, it is clear that Cain knew. The LORD saw and knew that Cain was angry. He cautioned Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Let’s stop there for a moment. As we saw in Chapter 3, the LORD does not ask questions because He does not know the answer. The LORD asks questions as a rhetorical means to reveal the nature of our heart. In short, the LORD was telling Cain, “You know what is right. Do it. You know you did not do right. Get your act together.”

How often do we get angry with God when we have done what we know is not right. How often have we rationalized that what we want and what we are doing – although technically not sinful in human eyes – is not what God has called us to do. The quickest and easiest way to illustrate this is through our handling of money: how many of us (my own hand raised here) have calculated our giving to the church based upon what are our other expenses? Technically, we are giving. Spiritually, we are trying to measure our giving to God because we want to be in control or we want other things more. We use our giving in attempt to appease God so that we feel we can expect God to give us what we want. It is like we are paying dues for services we expect to be rendered rather than offering gratitude, trust, and worship for who God is. Remember how subtle differences have huge consequences? God called out Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?” In other words, “You are mad at me because your heart is not right?”

Cain was angry that his offering had not been accepted, but that wasn’t everything. Cain had been looking around and saw that his brother’s offering was accepted. Oh, brother, what a teacher’s pet. Isn’t that just the way, the younger one gets all the breaks and is the favorite. The narrator made the point that Cain was very angry. Anger and jealousy are not good. “If you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it,” the LORD told Cain. Cain did not have ears to hear.

The picture of sin lurking at the door is powerful. We do not know why God has allowed evil and sin; we can just observe that evil and sin are real. Lurking is a good word because it carries with it the impression that evil is opportunistic. It waits for the right moment to strike. It is strategic. It is out to destroy you. The LORD told Cain, “You must master it.”

What does it take to “master” sin? It takes awareness and intention. Because sin is opportunistic, we need to be aware. We need to be aware that the playing field is not level, that things are not always as they ought to be, and that we are not the center of the story. In other words, our wants and desires are not the top priority in the larger scheme of things – and that is where sin lurks and tempts us first. Having an awareness that we are going to be challenged from serving God first  – internally and externally by those who would tempt us to do otherwise – is essential in “mastering” sin.

“Having an awareness” is not the same thing as “focusing on.” Again, subtle differences have huge consequences. I have known people who have seen demons lurking under every bush and behind every door. They became so obsessed with avoiding the negative that they failed to see, appreciate, and experience the positive. They fear doing everything and are paralyzed into trying to keep everything the same and status quo. In short, they give up on joy because they fear judgment. They bury the talents given them in the back yard.

Mastering sin is different than eliminating sin. We do not have the power to eliminate sin. We can master sin. Because sin is opportunistic, we need to be clear about our intention and purpose. It was only two chapters ago, in chapter 2, that we saw what was our purpose: to live in communion with God, working and serving as He created us to do. When we are focused on what is right, we move forward in the things pleasing to God and effectively master sin. How?  We avoid sin by being too busy focused on what is of God.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise” Paul wrote to the Phillippians – “think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” When we are focused on what is right, the God of peace will be with us. 

Murder and Conviction

Cain went a different route. He invited Abel out into the field and killed him.

It does not get any more broken than that. God created humankind to live in communion with Him and each other. Cain was very angry – with God and with Abel – and broke communion with both. If Cain knew his offering was not right, he also certainly knew that killing his brother was not right. He did it anyway. Having not mastered sin, sin was opportunistic in seeking to destroy Cain. That was not the end, either.

God confronted Cain, again asking a question to which God already knew the answer. “Where is your brother Abel?” The point of asking was not for information; it was to reveal the character of Cain’s heart. What was revealed was not pretty, “I do not know,” (a lie), “am I my brother’s keeper?” (sarcasm). Another way of understanding Cain’s retort was as a snide version of, “Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”

By the way, after last week’s sermon, you all know that the answer to Cain’s sarcastic retort is, “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.”

The upshot is that Cain must have believed God would not hold him accountable for his sin. The horrible lie of sin is that we are right and justified in our own eyes for doing wrong; and that we believe God will not hold us accountable. Even knowing that his parents had been banished from Eden (that had to have been a conversation at some point in the years between his birth and the time he was out on his own tilling the ground), Cain somehow discounted the reality that God means what He says. When God asked the question that revealed Cain’s heart, what was revealed was a total lack of respect. It was a total lack of appreciation that God is God and Cain was not. The lie revealed that Cain did not love God. The sarcasm revealed that Cain did not love his brother.

Consequence

Cain’s error in believing that God would not hold him accountable was quickly clarified. God did hold Cain accountable.

Friends, take note. Whatever sin we countenance or allow in our own lives, matters to God. Whatever sin we harbor, protect, conceal, or simply ignore is not hidden from God.

The LORD asked, “What have you done?”

Once again, the question is not seeking information; it is a rhetorical means to express the scope of horror Cain has enacted.

The Word Biblical Commentary then notes,

“Your brother’s blood is crying to me.” The four Hebrew words used…[express] a whole theology whose principles inform much of the criminal and cultic law of Israel. Life is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), so shed blood is the most polluting of all substances. Consequently, unatoned-for murders pollute the holy land, making it unfit for the divine presence. …Because man is made in God’s image, homicide must be avenged (Genesis 9:5). Here Abel’s blood is pictured “crying” to God for vengeance, “cry” is the desperate cry of men without food (Gen. 41:55), expecting to die (Exod 14:10), or oppressed by their enemies (Judges 4:3). It is the scream for help of a woman being raped (Deut 22:24, 27). It is the plea to God of the victims of injustice (Exodus 22:22). The law, the prophets, and the psalms unite with narratives like this to assert that God does hear his people’s desperate cries for help.[1]

The LORD declared the consequence for Cain, “Now you are cursed from the ground.” The land was a promise and blessing. Because Cain profaned it through shedding his brother’s blood, he became cursed from it. Cain understood this immediately and cried out about how his punishment was too much. There were four things he understood: a) he was driven away from the blessing of the land; b) he was to be driven from God’s presence; c) he would be a fugitive and an exile; and, d) anyone who met him may kill him. The LORD clarified only the last; putting upon him a mark for protection and declaring the potential penalty for anyone who sought Cain’s life.

Note: Cain did not apologize for what he did; rather, he complained that the consequences were too much. He was very angry with God for not accepting his offering, and he was aghast that God would not protect him from the consequences of his own conduct. Let me digress for a moment to touch upon Cain’s son, Lamech, who went a step farther into hard-heartedness, bragging about his own conduct in killing another and (errantly) declaring upon himself God’s protection ten-fold.

Cain cried out that his punishment was too much. Remember when I said that Cain must have thought God would not hold him accountable for his sin? Here we see that come-uppance.

Cain’s lament is the accusation of the world against God: Wait, what? You really mean it? You really are going to hold me accountable? It is too much! A loving God would never banish me from His presence. A loving God would never hold me accountable no matter what I did – other people, sure; but me? Never!

How often do we get angry with God when we have done what we know is not right. God called out Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?” In other words, “You are mad at me because your heart is not right?”

The hardness of heart is what John picked up in his letter.

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 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.

Where is your heart? Sorrow for sin and repentance are so important because they are manifestations of God’s grace in our lives and in our hearts. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” wrote David in Psalm 51. The Sinner’s Prayer captures so succinctly the heart Cain never manifest, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” John’s letter continued,

14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

Friends, we are called to love one another. We need that command because our broken default is to seek our own good at the expense of others. We are called to love one another despite and because of the news we read and see. We are called to love one another despite and because of the frustrations and disappointments we experience in the midst of this world that is not as it should be. We are called to love one another despite and because of the injustices we have suffered for Jesus and the sins we have endured against us – because he suffered for us and endured the cost of our sins. He laid down his life for us – and we need to lay down our lives for one another. He took upon himself the eternal consequences of our sin.

Because Jesus laid down his life for us, what does laying down our lives for one another look like? It means we hold onto Jesus. It means we looks to Jesus. It means we follow Jesus. It means that the news does not inhibit or deter or distract us from Jesus. It means that we are intentional about being focused on what is of God.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise – think about these things.”

What Genesis 4 reveals to us about God is: God is holy. God’s holiness is not mocked or tarnished or modified by our will. There are consequences for not abiding in and respecting God’s holiness. Genesis 4 also sets the stage for what we read later and throughout Scripture: that in Jesus Christ God has put in place a redemption for those who receive his grace and mercy.

We have the promises of God for our adoption, redemption, salvation, and hope. We have good news to share. We are Christ’s ambassadors to this community; so let’s go proclaim the message we have been sent to deliver. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Because of Jesus, we know how much greater is the love of God than the hardness of heart of Cain. Praise God for the peace that comes in the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Amen.

 

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, p. 107.