Cain, Abel & Seth: The Victimization of Expectation

Cain, Abel & Seth: The Victimization of Expectation

Part 2 of “The Tree” – a study of Jesus’ family tree.

Genesis 4

What makes Star Wars timeless and great, in my opinion, is that the film shares some of the important themes from the Great Story.   In the Great Story (the story of redemption in the Bible), the great serpent and antagonist entered into the Garden where man and woman enjoyed true love with both God and each other, they were tempted to sin against God by the Serpent.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit that God commanded them not to eat and God cursed all of creation because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion. 

With the rebellion of Adam and Eve came death and the vandalization of Shalom (God’s peace).  Every experience of life would, from that moment on, become a reminder of death.  For Adam, he would labor by sweat and blood to bring life from the ground; for Eve, she would painfully labor with sweat and blood to bring forth life from her womb.  But in the shadow of evil and death, God gifted Adam and Eve with a promise – a prophecy – that the great serpent would one day be destroyed:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you strike his heel.”

(Genesis 3:15)

So who or what is the serpent?  In Harry Potter, he is the Dark Lord Voldemort. In The Lord of the Rings, he is the Dark Lord Sauron.  In The Wizard of Oz, he is the Wicked Witch of the West.  In The Matrix, he is Agent Smith.  In The Chronicles of Narnia, he is the White Witch. In Superman, He is Lex Luther.  In The Dark Knight Returns, he is the Joker.  And, in Star Wars he is Darth Vader and every evil Sith Lord before and after him.

After Luke Skywalker defeated Darth Vader, who happened to also be his father, it seemed as though balance was brought to the universe.  What we learned from the seventh Star Wars movie in the trilogy, The Force Awakens, is that Han Solo and Princes Leia had a son whom they named Ben.  Because the force was strong with Ben, they sent him to be trained by his uncle, Luke Skywalker until Ben was seduced to the Dark Side by Supreme Leader Snoke, while giving into the temptation to be as powerful as his grandfather, Darth Vader.  Ben took on a new name as a champion of the Dark Side: Kylo Ren.  Needless to say, the expectation Han and Leia had for their son to grow into a force for good under the tutelage of Luke was victimized by pride.

The expectation Adam and Eve had for their son, Cain, was not unlike that of the expectation Han Solo and Princes Leia had for their son.  When it came to the worship of Yahweh, Cain brought a portion from his labors from the ground, while Abel brought “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” in worship to the Lord.  Both men were raised by Adam and Eve to worship their Creator, but between the two sons, there was a difference in how they worshiped the Lord, and how God responded to their worship. 

After Adam and Eve were forced out from the Garden due to their rebellion, God began to move through human history to bring forth the promise He made to Adam and Eve, and as He did, He provided more details of what that Seed would do for, and with, a cursed creation.  God vowed to honor and keep the promise He made to that first couple, but only in His own time. 

God Honors Worship that is Motivated by Love… Not Duty

The offering that Cain and Abel brought to the LORD was their way of thanking God; it was their way of worshiping Him for all the good that He brought into their lives through their respective occupations.  Cain was a farmer, so he brought the produce of His work to God, not because God needed it, but as a way of worshiping Him.  Abel was a shepherd, so he brought a portion of his labor before the LORD as an offering.  In verse three we are told that Cain brought his offering, “In the course of time...” which is probably a reference to the end of the agricultural season.  So, this was not the first time Cain or Abel worshiped God through their respective offerings.

Abel’s offering was that of the “firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.”  The reason for the detail here is that Abel’s offering was thought out, carefully prepared, and the best of what he had to offer God, while Cain’s offering was not.  The point is that Cain came to God on his own terms, while Abel came to God on God’s terms.  Cain’s offering was motivated out of obligation and duty, while Abel’s was motivated by reverence and love.  We know Abel’s offering was motivated by his love and reverence of God for two reasons: First, according to verse 5, “…but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.  So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”  The second reason is found in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” 

What I find amazing about this story is that God did condemn Cain  for his poor worship, but instead instructed him as to how his offering could be accepted just like his brother’s was: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (v. 7).  Cain could have responded to God’s displeasure with repentance and humility by seeking God’s forgiveness, but he continued in his anger and ignored God’s warning.  God personified Cain’s sin as a beast seeking to destroy him just as it did to his mother and father.  Instead, Cain was mastered by his sin and acted upon his anger with the murder of his brother:  “Cain spoke to Abel his brother.  And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” The beast of Cain’s sin was not sitting at some door, the beast was the problem lurking within his own heart, and it produced a hatred for his brother that resulted in the first murder. The great evil of Cain’s sin was not just that he killed an innocent man, but that he killed one who was made in the image of God.   

God’s Love Compels Him to Keep His Promises

After Cain murdered his brother, God did not wait for Cain to find him, but came to him instead: “And the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’  He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’”  Cain, not only murdered his brother, but lied to God.  Cain was familiar with his parent’s story and knew that there was no hiding from God, but the nature of sin is irrational.  Cain thought that his sin would go unnoticed by God Himself, and then he thought he could fool God.

Cain’s calloused answer to God regarding his brother is deafening. Yet the LORD approached Cain anyway: “What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.  And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength.  You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (vv. 10-12).  Cain failed to consider that, although dirt covered the corpse of his murdered brother, the blood of Abel screamed for justice, and that is what God gave Cain.

As is so common with sin, Cain’s relationships would be forever affected by his sin.  Where once he enjoyed and was skilled at bringing life from the earth, the earth would now be his enemy.  Cain’s response: “My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden.  I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (vv. 13-14). 

The amazing thing, to me, in this story is that even after the murder of his brother and his calloused and deceitful response to God, God heard this murderer’s cry for mercy.  Not only did God hear Cain, God responded to Cain with grace:  “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so!  If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’  And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.  Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (vv. 15-16).

We are not told what became of Cain, nor are we told how it was that there were other people on Earth besides Cain, Eve, and Adam; the story is not concerned with filling in the details, but only concerned with explaining how it is we are the way we are today.  We are told that Cain’s wife accompanied him and they had a son by the name of Enoch.  Four generations after Cain murdered his brother, we discover that his great-great-grandson Lamech and his children were even more evil than he was, and that things only got worse.

Application

I can’t even begin to imagine what Adam and Eve must have experienced when their firstborn son murdered their youngest son.  When Cain was born they had nothing but high expectations for him in light of the promise of God; he was the one to crush the head of the serpent.  With the judgment of Cain, Adam and Eve were essentially childless and the promise God made to them in the Garden seemed to be void.  

In light of Adam and Eve’s sin, there was redemption, forgiveness, and even salvation.  But for Cain, he would wonder the earth cursed; his life would never be the same.  What we learn from his life is similar to what we learned from Adam and Eve:  Sin is always costly, never delivers what it promises, wrecks shalom, brings unwanted shame, and robs you of joy. 

When it comes to sin and temptation, the Bible says: “…but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15; NIV). 

Cain’s problem is our problem, sin is the wild beast that desires you and me, but we must rule over it.  How does one rule over sin?  You rule over your sin with your first line of defense – your mind, the word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Permit me to give you three verses that give us three ways to fight against our own sin in a way that Cain failed to do:

  1. The war over your sin is first won or lost in your mind.  We read in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 the following, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”  What we learn from this verse is that if there is to be victory over your sin, there first must be victory in your mind.
  2. The war over you sin is not a dead-end where there is no escape from it.  We read in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  Cain could have changed his behavior if he was truly interested in his worship to be pleasing to God, or he could have gone to his mother or father for helps and advice, but instead he decided that killing his own brother was the best option.
  3. The war over your own sin is not just an issue of your flesh, but also spiritual in nature.  Regarding our struggle against our own sin, the Bible states: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12).

When all seemed dark and hope seemed to slip into the despair of the curse, Eve became pregnant with a third son who they named Seth, which means “appointed.”  Eve’s response was not that she had, “gotten a man with the help of the LORD” but “God has appointed for me another offspring” (v. 25).  With the birth of Seth, we are told that, “people began to call upon the name of the LORD.”  In other words, unlike the bloodline of Cain, where the worship of Yahweh was nonexistent and evil permeated the earth, the bloodline of Seth yielded the same spirit that was present in Abel, which demonstrated a love for Yahweh and a desire to worship Him.  The promise God made to Adam and Eve would eventually be fulfilled not through Cain, but through Seth’s bloodline.  As S.A. Sacks once wrote: “Hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of shattered dreams.”  Out of the shattered lives of the first family, God brought hope into the world again through Seth, but, more specifically, through the promise of a deliverer.  

Abel is a picture of innocence whose heart belonged wholly to the God of all Creation.  The slaughter of Abel, as an innocent representation of the God he served, was a foreshadowing of the one who would come through the bloodline of Abel’s younger brother Seth.  Listen to Hebrews 12:24, “…and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”  Abel’s shed blood screams for vengeance, while the innocent shed blood of Jesus screams forgiveness and complete atonement.  Abel’s blood screams: Judgment!  Jesus’ blood screams: Salvation!  When Abel’s blood was shed, it stained the ground, because of Jesus’ blood was shed, our sin can be washed away so that we can be made righteous. 


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