Well, think back for a moment to what we learned from chapter 2 of the book of Genesis about the marvellous world that the Lord had made for Adam. Remember? In the Garden of Eden, everywhere Adam looked there were trees which were both pleasing to the eye and good for food. There was an abundance of good things for him to enjoy. And then, because it wasn’t good for him to be on his own, the Lord created Eve for him and made her a suitable helper for him. And, then, the Lord used to come walking in the garden in the cool of the evening so that Adam and Eve were able to enjoy the presence and the favour of God. Everything was good, very good even. It was a perfect world.
But then, as we saw last time, everything changed once Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit. First of all, they were ashamed and afraid and, for the very first time in their lives, they hid from God whenever they heard him coming. They didn’t want him to see them now that they had become sinners. And then, the Lord brought them out into the open, and he announced to them the penalty they would suffer for their disobedience. And do you remember? He started with Eve and with the home and family life. Her pains in childbearing were going to increase greatly so that with pain she would give birth to her children. And then, there would be this struggle between the man and his wife: she would desire to rule over him, but he would resist and dominate her. So, the home and the family would become a place of conflict and bitter dispute and of pain and disappointment and unhappiness. And, last time, I said that every time a parent suffers today because of their children, and whenever a married couple argue and fall out, it’s a reminder to us of the way we have all turned away from the Lord who created us to enjoy something far, far better than this.
But the Lord didn’t stop with Eve. He then turned to Adam and to his work. Because of his sin, the ground would be cursed and filled with thorns and thistles so that only by the sweat of his brow would he be able to produce the food he needed to live. Work would now be hard and difficult. And so, last time, I said that every time we struggle at work — whether we work in the workplace or at home or in school — it’s a reminder to us of the way we have all turned from the Lord who created us to enjoy something far, far better than this.
And, then, in the end we will all die. That too is the fate of all who live after the fall, for dust we are, and to dust we will return. And every time we stand at a graveside and watch as the body of someone we loved is lowered into the ground, it’s a reminder to us of the way we have all turned away from the Lord who created us to enjoy something far, far better than this.
The world God has made has been spoiled. And in Genesis 4 we see how sin spreads through the human race. In fact, things are so much worse in chapter 4 than they ever were in chapter 3. In chapter 3, Eve sinned because the Devil deceived her. But here in chapter 4, Cain knew exactly what he was doing. The Devil didn’t deceive him or trick him.
And then there’s this man, Lamech. And here in chapter 4 we read how he boasted about what he had done. Whereas Cain killed his brother and then lied about it, Lamech boasted about murdering this young man who had injured him.
Chapter 4 shows us how sins spread through the human race. And whenever we look at the world around us and all the sin we see, whenever we look inside ourselves and see all the sin lurking in our own hearts, it’s a reminder to us of how all of us have turned away from the Lord who created us to enjoy something far, far better than this.
So, in this chapter we see how sin spreads through the human race. However, we will also see that despite our sin, the Lord continues to show kindness to us. Remember how we saw this last time as well? In chapter 3, the Lord announced the penalty that Adam and Eve and all their descendants after them would have to suffer because of their sin. But there was also evidence of the Lord’s kindness so that it wouldn’t be all doom and gloom, and there would be many good things in the world so that life in the world wouldn’t simply be sorrow and misery.
So, while work would be hard and demanding and frustrating, nevertheless they would still be able to produce food to eat and to survive. And while childbearing would be painful, nevertheless, they would still continue to have children. Even though Adam and Eve were being sent out of the Garden of Eden, and sent away from the presence of the Lord, and even though life would be hard, nevertheless the Lord would still show them kindness. And so, we’ll see that in chapter 4 as well.
So, let’s go through this chapter now. And we can divide it easily enough. First of all, we have the story of Cain. That’s in verses 1 to 16. And then, we have a brief account of some of his descendants. That’s in verses 17 to 24. And then thirdly, we go back to Adam and Eve and their third son, Seth. And that’s in verses 25 and 26. So, let’s begin with verses 1 to 16 and the story of Cain.
Verses 1 and 2
We’re told in verse 1 that Adam lay with his wife and she conceived and bore Cain, their firstborn son. And look what she said about her son’s birth. She said:
With the help of the Lord I have brought forth [or, I have acquired] a man.
There you are: she’s acknowledging the Lord’s kindness to her. It’s not going to be all doom and gloom. Life may be hard and difficult now, and full or sorrow and sadness. Nevertheless the Lord was still going to show them kindness and he was going to enable them to know the joy of parenthood. So, with God’s help, she has brought forth a man. And not just one, but two sons, because some time after Cain’s birth, Abel was born too.
Well, Moses — who wrote the book of Genesis — doesn’t tell us anything at all about their childhood. Instead, he moves from their birth to the time when they have grown up and are beginning to work. And so we learn at the end of verse 2 that Cain worked the soil while Abel kept flocks. So, Abel was a shepherd who looked after sheep and goats perhaps while Cain was a farmer who grew things in the fields.
Well, the rest of the story of Cain’s life can be divided into three parts. First of all, we have Cain’s offering and how the Lord rejected him and his offering (vv. 3 and 4). Secondly, we have Cain killing his brother and the Lord’s sentence on him (vv. 5 to 12). And thirdly, we see how Cain cries to the Lord and the Lord shows him mercy (vv. 13 to 16).
Verses 3 and 4
So, first of all, Cain’s offering and how the Lord rejected him and his offering. Take a look at verse 3 and you’ll see that what Cain and Abel did is reflected in the offerings they brought to the Lord. Cain, the farmer, brought some of the fruits of the soil. So, he brought some of his produce and presented it before the Lord. Abel, the shepherd, brought the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. So, he brought some of his lambs and presented them before the Lord.
Now, Moses doesn’t tell us how they knew to bring offerings to the Lord. In fact, there are lots of things Moses doesn’t tell us. For instance, he didn’t tell us anything about their childhood. And later in this chapter, he doesn’t tell us where Cain got his wife from. Or where Seth got his wife from. There are lots of things Moses doesn’t tell us. He’s just not interested in those things and he leaves us in the dark about them. But, in this case, we can perhaps guess that presumably Adam and Eve taught their children about the Lord and taught them that they ought to worship the Lord and bring him offerings like this.
But look now at the end of verse 4 and into verse 5: We’re told that the Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, he did not look with favour. He accepted one and not the other. Why? What was wrong with Cain’s offering?
Well, Christians will sometimes say that the reason Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s was not was because Abel brought an animal sacrifice. People say that animal sacrifices were acceptable to God whereas farm produce was not. Sure, we’re told, just think about all the bulls and goats and lambs which were sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s the kind of offering the Lord likes to receive. Cain should have brought an animal sacrifice.
But that’s doesn’t really explain it, because when God gave instructions to the people of Israel about what sacrifices to offer him at the Tabernacle and Temple, along with the animal sacrifices, they were commanded to bring grain offerings as well. You can read about it in Leviticus 2. God accepted animal sacrifices as well as grain offerings, offerings from the flock as well as offerings from the field.
So, why didn’t God regard Cain’s offering with favour? Well, look more closely at what the Lord said in verses 4 and 5. It doesn’t say that God looked with favour on Abel’s offering nor does it say that he didn’t look with favour on Cain’s offering. It says that he looked with favour on Abel and his offering. And it says that he didn’t look with favour on Cain and his offering. The difference wasn’t really to do with what they offered. It was to do with them. God regarded Abel with favour and not his brother.
So, what was the difference between the brothers? Well, one of the principles of biblical interpretation we try to follow in the Presbyterian Church is that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture. If we don’t understand one part of the Bible, perhaps another part of the Bible can help us. And Hebrews 11 helps us to understand Genesis 4.
Now, you don’t need to look it up: I’ll read it to you. In Hebrews 11:4 we read:
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.
Do you get it? It says: By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice. That was the key difference between them. And what is faith, according to the writer to the Hebrews? Well, listen now to what it says in Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
What does that mean for Abel? Well, think back to God’s promise in verse 15 of Genesis 3. God had promised that one of Eve’s offspring would crush the head of the serpent. In other words, one of her descendants will destroy the Devil and all his work. And, of course, God was referring in that verse to the Lord Jesus Christ who defeated the Devil when he died for us and rose again. And, now, through the preaching of the gospel, he releases sinners from the Devil’s tyranny and he brings us into his own kingdom of grace. And then, one day, when he comes again, the Lord Jesus will utterly destroy the Devil for ever and ever. God was promising in verse 15 of Genesis 3 to send his Son into the world to be our Saviour.
Well, that’s what Abel was hoping for. That’s what he was longing to see. He knew it wasn’t him; he wasn’t the promised Saviour. I’m sure he knew that it wasn’t his brother: Cain wasn’t the promised Saviour. But Abel believed that God would be true to his promise and he would send the Saviour into the world to destroy the Devil and to put right all that has gone wrong in the world. By faith Abel brought his offering to the Lord.
And that faith was missing from Cain and so the Lord did not regard either Cain himself or his offering with favour.
That’s the difference between the two brothers. One was a believer and the other was not. The worship of one was pleasing to the Lord while the worship of the other was not. That’s what the Lord is looking for from us whenever we come to church. He’s looking for faith. And we ought to remember and to rejoice that whoever comes before him with a true faith finds favour with the Lord. No matter how we have sinned against him during the week, and no matter how we have fallen short of keeping his commandments, no matter how our conscience accuses us and the Devil tempts us to doubt, we should remember and rejoice that the Lord looks with favour on the one who comes to him with a true faith, and who is trusting in Christ alone for peace with God.
Verses 5 to 12
So, that’s the first part of the story of Cain’s life. The second part is in verses 5 to 12 where we read how Cain killed his brother and then the Lord sentenced him.
So, look first of all at verse 5. How did Cain react when he discovered that the Lord did not look with favour on him or his offering? Did he immediately humble himself before the Lord and ask for forgiveness because of his unbelief? Well, that’s what he ought to have done. But Cain didn’t do that. Look at the end of verse 5:
So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
He’s not pleased at all. So the Lord spoke to him:
Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
In other words;
If you humble yourself and repent of your unbelief, and if you believe in my promise, you will be accepted just as I accepted your brother.
Well, here we see the Lord’s kindness again. To this unbelieving sinner, the Lord offers pardon and acceptance. He’s saying to him:
Here it is. I’m willing to pardon you and to accept you. I won’t hold your past sins against you. I’ll accept you.
And the Lord also issues him with a warning. He said to him:
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door.
He’s warning Cain to watch out:
Watch out for sin, because it’s like a crouching lion and it’s waiting for its chance to leap on you and to overwhelm you. So, you need to be ready for it. And you need to master it.
He’s warning Cain. He’s appealing to him. He doesn’t want Cain to be overcome by the power of sin.
But Cain did not listen to the Lord’s appeal. Look at verses 8 and 9. Cain and Abel are both out in the fields. And while they were there, Cain turned on his brother. He attacked him. And he killed him. And notice how Moses emphasises that this was his brother. Look at verse 8:
Now Cain said to his brother….
while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel….
And verse 10:
the Lord said to Cain: ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
To murder anyone is a terrible thing to do, but to murder your own brother is surely far, far worse. You’re meant to love your brother and to care for him. But Cain was so overwhelmed by sin that he hated his brother and he was ready to kill him.
Well, afterwards, the Lord asked him:
Where is your brother Abel?
And Cain replied with a lie:
I don’t know.
Do you see? One sin leads to another. We sin by lying in order to cover up another sin. And then Cain said:
Am I my brother’s keeper?
Well, remember that his brother was a keeper of sheep. And so, Cain is trying to be smart here. It’s as if he doesn’t care about what he’s done and he’s trying to be clever and insolent towards God. And so, he saying:
Am I the keeper’s keeper?
He’s trying to be smart.
But, of course, the Lord knows all things and we cannot hide anything from him. And so, the Lord knows precisely what has happened. And he said to Cain:
What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
He’s saying to Cain:
You can’t deny what you have done. You can’t think that you’ll get away with it. I know what you have done and your brother’s spilt blood is crying out to me for justice.
And in verse 11 the Lord pronounces his judgment on Cain. Cain, the farmer, is told that the ground will no longer bear fruit for him. And instead of being able to settle in one place, and make it his home, he will from that time forward, be a fugitive in the world, wandering from place to place.
Verses 13 to 16
Well, the third part of the story of Cain’s life is in verses 13 to 16 where he cries out to the Lord and finds mercy. And he cries out to the Lord because his punishment is too much for him. He won’t be able to bear it. Do you see that in verse 13?
So, why can’t be bear it? Well, for one thing, he says in verse 14 that he’ll be hidden from God’s presence. Well, when we’re going through some difficult time, we pray for God to be with us. And we pray for God to be with us because we know that he will therefore protect us and help us to cope with whatever we have to face. Think of Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way.
The Lord Almighty is with us.
But Cain is worried that he will no longer know God’s help and protection. And then he says that whoever finds me will kill me. He’s afraid. He’s afraid that the world will be utterly godless now, and totally lawless, and that the people in the world will be just like him, ready to kill one another without hesitation. And so, in these verses he cries out to God for mercy.
And look at verse 15. The Lord is merciful to him — and once again we should be struck by the Lord’s kindness to sinners. He will not let the world descend into chaos and lawlessness. Even though sin is like a crouching lion, he will not let it run around loose, causing terror and mayhem wherever it likes. Sin will be restrained in the world. And so, the Lord promised Cain that his death will not go unpunished. And he put a mark on Cain as a sign that Cain must not be touched.
Well, we all ought to remember and to give thanks that the Lord is still restraining sin in the world. In the days of Cain, he did so by putting a mark on Cain. Today, he restrains sin in the world by providing us with governing authorities who have the power and the authority to uphold law and order and to punish the wrongdoer and to protect the innocent. Though we live in a fallen world, and even though our hearts are so often a house of horrors with all kinds of sinful thoughts and attitudes and inclinations, nevertheless, most people do not carry out the things in their hearts because we know that the governing authorities are ready to punish wrongdoers for their crimes. And so, we ought to give thanks to God that most of us can live without fear every day.
And, of course, every believer can give thanks to God that he has also given us his law to guide us and his Spirit to help us to obey his commandments. By his Spirit living inside us, he teaches us to say ‘no’ to sin and to live godly lives, and to fight with all the strength that he provides against sin so that it, more and more we will learn to master sin and not let it rule over us as it ruled over Cain.
Verses 17 to 24
Well, let me move on quickly to the account of Cain’s descendants in verses 17 to 24. And the most significant one is Lamech. Look at his boast in verses 23 and 24. He boasted that he had killed a man who wounded him, a young man who injured him. Whereas Cain lied about killing his brother, Lamech boasted about it. And look how excessively violent this man is: The young man who attacked him only wounded him. But instead of wounding him back, Lamech killed him. And look how excessively vengeful he was:
If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech will be avenged 77 times.
Well, many years later, the disciples asked the Lord Jesus how many times they ought to forgive someone who offends them. How about up to 7 times? And the Lord answered them and said:
not seven times, but 77 times.
Lamech was excessively vengeful, but the Lord Jesus commands his people to be excessively forgiving. We’re to forgive one another, again and again and again and again and again and again. We’re to be always ready to forgive and we should be known for being ready to forgive whoever has wronged us and to put it behind us for ever. We’re not to be like Lamech who murdered someone for hurting him, but we’re to be like the Lord Jesus who prayed for the men who nailed him to the cross. Whereas Lamech hated his enemies and wanted to kill them, we’re to love our enemies and to do good to them. That’s what the Lord has called us to be like and we ought therefore to repent of all those times whenever we have held a grudge and, as quickly as we can, we ought to do whatever we can to make peace with one another whenever we fall out.
But Lamech isn’t the only descendant of Cain who is mentioned. Moses mentions others and tells us a little about some of them. So, look at verse 20: There’s Adah who as the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. So, he’s a breeder. Then there’s Jubal who is the father of all those who play the harp and flute. So, he’s a musician. Then there’s Tubal-Cain who forged all kinds of tools using metal. So, he’s a craftsman.
Now, the importance of this is to remind us once again of the Lord’s kindness and how, once again, he will not let the world descend into chaos. Even though the world might have seemed a violent and brutal place with men like Lamech in it, nevertheless, there were many good things too: a plentiful supply of animals for food; music for entertainment; craftsmen who were able to make tools. And it’s the same today. We live in a world where there is so little regard for the Lord and his ways. And often we’re bewildered by the shameful things that people will do. And yet, though there’s so much sin and darkness, and we’re capable of so much sin, nevertheless, there is still so much that is good in the world, and even sinful men and women who have no regard for the Lord are enabled by God to produce things which are good and which we can enjoy. And so, we ought to remember to give thanks to God for all his good gifts to us and for filling this dark world with good things to enjoy.
Verses 25 and 26
But most of all, we should give thanks to God for his church. And we see that at the end of this chapter. Adam and Eve had another son, Seth. And at that time, men began to call on the name of the Lord. In other words, they began to worship the Lord. And it’s been the same ever since. — Though there is so much sin and darkness in the world, nevertheless, the Lord Jesus is still calling men and women and boys and girls out of the tyranny of sin and Satan and into his own kingdom of grace. He’s calling us to belong to his church. And in his church, he’s teaching us to give thanks to him, and to walk in his ways, and to do his will by loving one another so that instead of being excessively vengeful like Lamech we’re learning to become excessively forgiving like our Saviour.