Today we’re continuing on with our lesson from Genesis 4, discussing the tragic downfall of Cain.
Remember that both Cain and his brother Abel had come offering sacrifices to the Lord, Cain bringing “some fruits of the soil” and Abel “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” (Genesis 4: 3-4a)
Now “…the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4: 4b-5a)
This was not a matter of personal taste. This was not God playing favorites. The reason He rejected Cain’s offering was because He saw Cain’s heart; he was participating in religious rituals out of obedience, not out of love or reverence for his creator.
It was this perceived slight that caused Cain’s fiery anger, resulting in the premeditated murder of his brother Abel at his hands (Genesis 4: 8), his open mocking of God’s questioning (Genesis 4: 9), and his eventual dismissal from God’s presence (Genesis 4: 12, 16).
As we discussed in the last #wellnesswednesday, Abel’s murder was a travesty; Cain’s heart, however, was a tragedy. He never repented. He never asked for forgiveness. He never mourned. He grieved his punishment (Genesis 4: 13-14) but he never once grieved his sin, either towards his brother or towards God.
In the midst of moment, where we truly see the depth of Cain’s hard, unrepentant heart, we also see God’s.
“…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: 15)
Cain’s heart has no room for God, but God’s had more than enough for him. His love and mercy triumph, even in His discipline, and He marks Cain in such a way as to protect him from anyone who might seek vengeance for Abel.
That is our God. A God who loves us when we don’t deserve it. A God who shelters us when we don’t deserve it. A God who protects us when we don’t deserve it.
Not because of who we are. But because of who HE is.
And yet Cain, instead of recognizing the mercy of his Father and turning back to God, retreats even further away.
I weep to think of those who do the same thing today. Whose hearts are so broken, so hard, and so distant, that they will not allow the mercy and love of God to break through. For those who are so caught up in their own predetermined view of who they are, what they’ve done, or who they think God is, that they willingly close their eyes to the Truth standing before them with arms wide open. For those who see God’s discipline through the lens of anger or hate, rather than a pathway to repentance and restoration. For those who turn away.
And for all the times I’ve done it myself.
Because, as we see with Cain, the further we get from God, the more tangled in sin we become.
God had told Cain he would become a “restless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4: 12b) And yet in Genesis 4: 17, we read that Cain built a city in which to settle his family. Perhaps Cain didn’t trust God’s promise to protect him; perhaps he thought he needed physical walls rather than a spiritual mark to ensure his safety. Or perhaps he was simply proving his independence and self-sufficiency apart from the Lord. Genesis 4:17 tells us he named the city Enoch, after his son. Glorifying and memorializing his line and what he considered his accomplishments, rather than God’s.
Even to the very end of Cain’s life, we see him elevating himself over God…and passing that legacy of self-righteousness and sinfulness right on down through his descendants.
In fact, its in Cain’s direct line that we see the first instance of polygamy mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 4: 19 tells us that “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.”
Only four chapters into the history of God’s creation, and we already see the effects of sin upon one of God’s most precious designs: the institution of marriage. In open defiance of God’s plan for a man and woman to be united as “one flesh” (Genesis 2: 24), we see Lamech marrying two women. Indifference and independence matured into flat out defiance and disregard. We see this especially in Lamech’s speech to his wives in Genesis 4:23-24, in which he boasts about having killed a man and makes a mockery of God’s mercy, claiming that his ancestor Cain was protected after murder–how much more so will he be!
What started with Cain’s detached act of faux worship deteriorated in only a few short generations into open, willful, arrogant opposition to God’s design, God’s mercy, and God’s love.
Sin not only begets sin. Sin begets greater sin which begets even greater sin. A downward spiral on the world’s worst rollercoaster.
Keep in mind that it was not God who cursed Cain’s line into this position. It was choice after choice after choice, made first by Cain and then by those who followed after him, to deliberately choose a life outside of God’s plan. Even though Cain had been under a curse because of his actions, God still placed upon him a mark of protection; His love and mercy were placed upon Cain in a physical, tangible way–a reminder of who he was and WHOSE he was.
And yet Cain still continued to choose himself, a legacy he passed down through his line for generations.
The good news is that, just as Cain was free to choose, so are we! When we sin, when we make a choice that leads us from God rather than toward Him, when we turn inward rather than upward, we always have the choice to turn back. We don’t have to keep going along the path that leads us deeper into sin’s entanglement, the one that could affect not only ourselves but those who come after us.
We always have the choice to turn back. But that’s the kicker: we have to choose.
Our sinful hearts don’t like to be told they’re sinful. We don’t like to be called out for bad behaviors and attitudes or punished for our misdeeds. Anger is so much easier to feel than shame.
But shame is what saves us! Shame is what leads us back to the arms of Jesus, whose blood was spilled on the cross to wipe away that sin, that shame, that grief, and restore us into a right relationship with God.
Imagine how the story in Genesis 4 would be different if Cain had taken that first rebuke from God all the way back in verse 6 and, instead of walling his heart with anger and resentment, had allowed himself to feel the shame of his actions.
Where would that shame have taken him? Where would it have taken his descendants?
Shame is a symptom of a heart longing to be reunited with its Creator, who recognizes the barrier that was erected after the fall. Anger may protect your heart from the pain of shame, but it will never heal you.
It will never lead you home….where the arms of Jesus are waiting to turn that shame into rejoicing.