In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also presented an offering–some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:3-7 HCSB)
Cain was the first child born on the planet according to Genesis 4:1. He had the benefit of speaking directly to God (Gen 4:6) and yet things ended badly for Cain. He was the first person to be born under the curse.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
(Romans 5:12 NASB)
What I find most interesting is God’s characterization of Cain’s plight.
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 rule over it.”
(Genesis 4:7 TNIV)]
If you do what is right
Cain was doing something that wasn’t right. We don’t know exactly what God commanded Adam and his family regarding offerings but we know that by Genesis 4, which must have been 20 or so years after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, they were presenting offerings to God.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. (Genesis 4:3 TNIV)
Cain was the first man born under sin to feel the struggle between good and evil deeply within. He was outwardly doing something that looked good but inwardly a torrent of anger and jealousy were raging.
Why? Because God accepted Abel and his offering but Cain… well that is a different story.
but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. (Genesis 4:5 TNIV)
It mattered to Cain greatly that God would accept him and his offering. The fact that God did not accept him and his offering made Cain angry. The fact is, Cain must have known the right thing to do because God challenged him with this fact. “If you do what is right…”
Will you not be accepted?
Cain wanted to be accepted by God. Obviously he cared deeply about this. Yet when confronted by God and given this simple opportunity Cain responded with anger and violence. You might think that it would have been much simpler to do the right thing. There is something deeper going on here. It is truly fitting that the first man born under sin was overwhelmed by sin’s power. He was, as Jesus describes man under sin, a slave.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. (John 8:34 TNIV)
Thus began the revelation of man as sinful. Think of it, the first man born under sin also became the first murderer.
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8 TNIV)
Cain had every advantage
- Direct knowledge of God
- A very direct warning from God about sin
- No doubt in his mind about the truth that God exists or what he wants
In spite of all this, Cain did not make the simple choice to obey God.
People often say… If God revealed himself to me in some dramatic unmistakable way and told me what to do I would do it.
No you wouldn’t. Like Cain, sin is crouching at your door. And like Cain, though you should master it, you simply don’t have the ability to master it on your own.
This isn’t a knowledge problem. The fact is there is more than enough knowledge of God to convince anyone.
This isn’t a law problem.
- Didn’t Cain know what he was supposed to do?
- Didn’t he know that he shouldn’t kill Abel?
Cain’s story reveals man’s greatest need – a savior.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 TNIV)
Free… yes, but the struggle continues. Sin crouching at the door… the call to master it and often the failing that follows. Whatever Jesus meant by “free” he most certainly did not mean that the struggle would be ended.
He also did not mean that the struggle with sin doesn’t matter either. As in, well I can’t seem to stop sinning so I might as well sin all the more so that grace may increase.
Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. (John 8:35 TNIV)
The issue wasn’t about doing but about relationship. A place in the family. No one should ever say that our doing doesn’t matter. Clearly, it matters to God. But a slave, no matter how much good they did would never be able to change the fact that they were a slave and not a son.
It desires to have you
Strange to think of sin as having desire. This implies that sin is something more than an evil act but rather a rational entity. One that thinks, acts, desires.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. (Romans 7:14-17 HCSB)
Paul tells us that sin has power. And it’s power is such that it acts through our bodies through our fleshly desires. Was it sin’s power that caused Cain to pick up a rock or a stick and strike Abel until he was dead? Is this the state of natural man sold into sin’s power unable to do the right thing even if they knew without a doubt that God exists and what he wants?
Paul said a shocking thing; “it is sin living in me.” this wasn’t a devil-made-me-do-it kind of excuse. It was rather a frank confession that he still faced this struggle which left him feeling wretched.
And what is the answer to this wretchedness?
Asceticism, a severe self-deprivation for ethical, religious, or intellectual ends, says go to a place where fleshly desires are far away, perhaps a desert cave and practice rigorous discipline. Vows of poverty, silence, chastity etc. This practice of monasticism has revealed throughout history that the problem of sin is not simply external but internal and that the willpower of even the best of us cannot overcome it.
Licentiousness, lacking moral discipline or ignoring legal restraint, especially in sexual conduct, says in effect “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em.” and history has also shown that such a life cannot produce what all men, including Cain, most desire which is to be accepted by God.
This hopeless state can only be overcome by Grace.
For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 HCSB)
God said to Cain, “If you do what is right.” From this you might infer that the solution to the sin problem is to get people to do what is right. Knowing this God set out to teach humanity a lesson written across the pages of history. If your goal was to get people to do what is right you would need a law to teach them what right is. Of course the law would have to be incredibly detailed to prescribe right and wrong in any given situation and it would have to be accompanied by rewards and punishments for motivation. This is exactly what God did in providing the law to Moses. And what was the result?
There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. (Romans 3:11-12 HCSB)
Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law. (Romans 3:19-20 HCSB)
The law is there to shut your self-justifying mouth. It is there to point at your behavior and name it… sin. This naming is not for God’s sake but for yours. God knows what that behavior is but you might live in ignorance, not knowing that your life was being devastated by such a force. The first step to salvation is to know that your problem is not simply a behavior problem but a sin problem. And what a problem it is.
Cain’s life shows us that from the very beginning, the first man born under the curse of sin, humanity was depraved and murderous. Knowledge of God alone could not fix this. Law could not fix this. Humanity could not fix itself and we are no different.