Friday, October 8, 2010

Abel and Cain

Today I want to kick off my Friday series of learning about the various great saints of old mentioned in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11.  God specifically points out these people as men and women of great faith.  If God points someone out as an example, it is an example we need to follow.  We need to learn about these great saints of old to learn what God sees as great faith and to try and model our lives after their example.  The first example is Abel.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.  Hebrews 11:4 NKJV
We should all be familiar with the account of Cain and Abel in Genesis, which is where our study will take us today.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, "I have acquired a man from the LORD."  Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. Genesis 4:1-2 NKJV
Enter the subjects of today's study.  Cain was born first with much promise.  First, he was the first born male. Secondly, Eve thought Cain was the fulfillment of a promise.  At the Fall, God promised Eve that her seed would bruise the serpent's head.  Eve, seeing a man born, assumed Cain was to be the fulfillment of that.  Abel was born after Cain with no real recorded comment from Eve.  I imagine his birth was "routine."  Yes, she was glad she had another child, but probably nothing extra special as Cain was.  The Bible does not say this specifically, but in terms of seeing Cain as a son of promise and him being the first born son, Cain got a lot more attention.  Unfortunately (and we will see this come to be), all that extra attention went to Cain's head.  He, I believe, became what we would consider today a spoiled brat.  If you are not convinced that Cain was favored, his name meant "possession" as in something of substance.  Abel's name means "breath", which has no substance.  Names generally mean something in the Bible, and so I do believe that we can glean that their names signify their importance to Adam and Eve. 
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.  Genesis 4:3-5 NKJV
At some point in their lives, each brother made an offering to the Lord.  Cain made an offering of the the crops he was in charge of and Abel made an offering of the firstborn of his flock. Abe's offering was accepted. Cain's was not. 

There are many theories of why Abel's sacrifice was accepted and Cain's was not. The most popular was that Abel's was a blood sacrifice whereas Cain's was a sacrifice of his own works.  And while that does fit the symbolism of salvation by the blood of Christ and not of our own works, it runs into problems when we learn later in God's word that there are acceptable agricultural sacrifices from the works of man's hands.  The reason, as given in Hebrews, was faith.  Note that Abel gave the firstborn of his flock, where Cain just gave of the fruits of his field. Abel's sacrifice was more excellent as it was given in faith, whereas Cain's was given out of abundance and pride.  Being the firstborn son of promise, Cain was probably used to just being treated as through he were greater.  His offering was probably abundant and glamorous with all the pomp he was capable of, but it lacked faith.  His sacrifice was of his own works, not in that his was made of his hands, but because he wanted his sacrifice to stand as a work of his hands.  Abel offered in faith, acknowledging that the Lord provided and the Lord will continue to provide.  Cain offered in pride, saying "Look God what I did and will continue to do for you."   We can know that because Cain was angry that his sacrifice was not accepted.  He was not humbled, he was not challenged, and he was not contrite. He was angry.  He expected that his sacrifice to be accepted.  He expected his sacrifice to be greater than Abel's.  He felt his sacrifice deserve to be accepted.  He had the entirely wrong heart. 
So the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 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."   Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV
And now we see the grace of God.  Cain made his bad offering even worse by being angry.  God could have come down in anger at Cain (who should have known better).  Instead, God comes down to gently correct him and give him a chance to repent.  God asks him why he is sad and angry, and that he can just try again.  God tells him that he can offer another sacrifice in the right heart and all will be forgiven.  God is telling Cain (who is angry for not being accepted) how to change that and be accepted.  God is telling Cain how to get rid of his anger and get that acceptance that he wants.  God warns him to not let this sin brewing in him to get control, but to repent and come back to where he should be.  God has this same promise for all of us who go astray.  God is saying "Hey, come back to Me, I can forgive you and restore you." God tells us that we can restore that damaged relationship just by coming back to Him.  It is a mystery to me how many of us, instead of going after that relationship that we know we want, we react out of spite and in the spirit of Cain.
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.  Genesis 4:8 NKJV
Cain killed Abel in the first recorded murder in history.  And why did he kill him?  He could not get passed the fact that Abel was closer to God than he was.  He was envious of what Abel had and instead of humbling himself and doing what God required to build that deeper relationship, he killed the object of his envy.  How often do we react in that same spirit?  How often do we see someone with a better relationship with the Lord and instead of humbling ourselves and seeking after God for that same relationship, we try to tear that other person down.  So many of us so many times try to find fault with someone with a great relationship with God because we are envious of that relationship.  I have to confess that I have even been guilty of that myself at times.  Now, though, I look to those men and women as examples and I seek God to see how I can obtain that kind of relationship.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground.  Genesis 4:9-10 NKJV
What is amazing is there here God still gives Cain a chance.  God was not questioning Cain regarding Abel because God did not know, He was questioning Cain to give Cain a chance to confess.  God says that if we confess our sins, He will forgive our sins.  Cain make the futile attempt at lying to God.  His response is a quote we all know. "Am I my brother's keeper?"  Not only does he lie, but he argues with God.  What he is saying is "I don't know and why are you even asking me."  May we never be so disrespectful to speak to God in that manner.  God knows where Abel is and tells Cain that his brother's death cries out for justice.  God tells him that he will be judged. 
"So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth."  Genesis 4:11-12 NKJV
For murder and lying to God, this is actually a pretty light punishment.  Cain deserved death, God was merciful.  God did have a special relationship with our early ancestors that seems to be much like He has with us in Christ today.  This would be more of a chastisement than a judgment.  God is saying that you will have to rely on others for food and you will be shunned from the community.  And now we see the spoiled brat come out in Cain.
And Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear! 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 4:13-14 NKJV
Even now, Cain still can not get his heart right.  He tells God it is too much to bear, that others may kill him, that no one will like him.  He just can not get out of his head that he is the favored son.  He just can not humble himself even now.   Let's review the acts of Cain.  First he gives a sacrifice in the wrong heart and gets mad at God for not accepting it.  God tells him how to correct that to restore that relationship.  Cain reacts by killing the object of his envy, his own brother.  God confronts Cain and gives him a chance to confess and be forgiven.  Cain lies and speaks disrespectfully to God.  God pronounces a rather mild judgment to Cain considering the crime.  Cain complains about the judgment.  Cain is so full of himself, he does not even understand that he is being judged for a murder he knows he committed! 
And the LORD said to him, "Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him. Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.  Genesis 4:15-16 NKJV
If this is not a testament to the patience of God I do not know what is.  After complaining of his judgment, God shows even more mercy.  He promises Cain that he life would be spared.

I know I said in the beginning that this would be about Abel, but most of my writing has been about Cain.  The reason for that is that most of the Biblical account involves Cain.  However, this really is all about Abel.  God told us in Hebrews that this account only exists so that we can see the faith of Abel.  So if not for the faithfulness of Abel, Cain's sin would never have been known to the rest of us.  If not for the faith of Abel, we never would have seen God's mercy on Cain.  It may not seem like Abel has much a part to play here, especially since he was killed early on, but the reality is that the acts of a righteous man have effects that we may never know or understand.   The faithfulness of Abel led to God preserving this account of His great patience and mercy for all time.  We know not what our faithfulness will accomplish even long after we go home to the Lord. 

We really need to take this message to heart.  First of all, we need to give to the Lord out of faith.  We need to recognize that what we have comes from the Lord and all of it needs to be available for His service.  God may call on you to give greatly, we must have the faith that God will meet our needs no matter what He asks of us to sacrifice.  For Abel, it was ultimately his life.  We also need to know that if we do go astray, that our reaction should be to humble ourselves and return to God.  God will forgive our straying and lead us back into that intimate relationship with Him that we so cherish.  And we must also realize that when God gives us those chances to repent and confess, it is our choice to take that chance.  If Cain was able to humble himself, this would have been an entirely different history.  Cain chose to harden himself against God and, in the end, he was judged.

Cain's name means possession, which is something of material substance.  Abel's name means "breath", something of no material substance.  That was Eve's plan.  God saw things differently.  In the end, all our possessions, all our material wealth will burn.  We can not take it with us and it will not survive the fires of judgment on earth.  "Breath" on the other hand means life.  God breathed the breath of life into Adam at Creation.  That breath of life from God is eternal life.  All of us will exist eternally as that breath of God will never die.  God is the source of life and God can not die.  The choice is if we will spend that eternity in His presence or in judgment.  In the end, what the world saw as valuable (our own possessions) was inferior to the free gift of God (our eternal life). 

It was not the act of offering that made Abel righteousness, it was the faith behind it.  It was not the sinful pride of Cain or even the murder of Abel that ultimately judged Cain, it was his refusal to humble Himself before the Lord in confession and repentance.  We are all faced with those same choices in our lives almost every day.  Choose faith and, like Able, God will do great things through your faithfulness.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.  Romans 12:1-3 NKJV

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