We open our Bibles for our study tonight to the fourth chapter of Genesis, the book of beginnings. Genesis chapter 4. As we come to chapter 4, we come to the story of Cain, the first person born in the world. Adam, you remember, was created by God directly and then Eve was created by taking material from the side of Adam.
Cain is the first person born into the world, and so with the birth of Cain come a number of firsts. The first birth, which therefore constituted the first family. The first sibling follows soon after with the birth of Abel, and some even believe they were twins, although that can’t be verified in the text. We have the first birth, then the first family, the first sibling. We also have the first family disaster.
The story of Cain also reveals to us the establishment of society and shows us the flow of sin into human history. We have in the story of Cain the first crime and the first opportunity for vengeance. We have in the story of Cain the first act (after the fall) of worship, the first sacrifice, the first expression of hypocrisy, the first occasion of false religion, the first act of self-righteousness, and the introduction of common grace.
The story of Cain, then, carries with it a lot of firsts. But the main theme in the story of Cain is to introduce us to the first reprobate, the first unbeliever. Cain, then, is the prototype of a doomed person. He is the prototype of the lost sinner. And God always has clear purposes when He records for us stories in the text of Scripture, and the account of Cain is given here in some detail in order that we might get a complete characterization of the typical unbeliever. And so we call this Cain the prototype of the doomed.
Just last week, I had the opportunity to be in the great city of Milan (or Milano) in Italy. And there are in that city many remarkable things to see. There is the massive Cathedral of Milan. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. The basement, or down below the basement, of that cathedral is interesting for it was there, beneath the cathedral in Milan in that massive square, that Ambrose (the great preacher) baptized St. Augustine, who really was the one who influenced both Martin Luther and, in particular, John Calvin with regard to the Reformation.
It is also the city of Milan that contains the great masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci called “The Last Supper.” We had the occasion to go and see “The Last Supper” in the little church where it was originally painted by da Vinci as a fresco on the wall. It is just recently opened to celebrate the year 2000, which is a very important year in the Catholic church. It is a jubilee year, and there are certain doors to cathedrals that if you walk through them during this year, you get absolution from your sins. And they’re clearly identified outside the cathedral with a sign that says, “This is one of those doors that provides absolution.”
Well, in connection with the absolutions and the doors and the jubilee, they also finished the restoration of the great painting of Leonardo da Vinci. What makes that painting so great is that it was a great leap forward in art. Art with da Vinci went from being one-dimensional to being three-dimensional. He was such an incredible intellect, such a great scientist, that he figured out how to give depth to painting. Up until that time, everything was flat and one-dimensional. But with da Vinci, you have depth, you have the perception of depth. You have angles, you have shadows, you have transparency, you have light moving across in all different shades that gives the illusion of a three-dimensional picture.
In fact, when you stand and look at the flat wall where the fresco of “The Last Supper” is, you think you’re looking down a long room and through a window to an outdoor scene. That’s how marvelous it was. Even in its restored condition, it has some of that character. When we walked into this place, we were in several little anterooms, and on the wall there were close-ups of certain elements of the painting, close-ups, for example, of one of the apostles’ garments reflecting its color in a tin plate that had been painted by da Vinci on the table.
There were little close-ups of a transparent glass through which you could see a person behind the glass or a part of a person. There were at small little blow-up pictures of a cup that cast its shadow on the table. These were very innovative things. And so you look at the little bits and pieces as you go in. And we were ushered into the room to see this masterpiece, and we were taken up to be very much in front of it, and some of the detail was pointed out to us. But it was after that that the guide said, “Now step back about 30 or 40 feet, and you’ll get the perspective that da Vinci wanted you to have.”
This was the dining room of the monks who were in that place, and “The Last Supper” was painted there because this was the place where they ate their meals. And the dimensions of the picture made it appear as if Christ was at a table at the end of the room, eating with his disciples, and the window was behind him where they could look out into the scenery of the countryside around. And it’s really not until you step back 30 or 40 feet and look that you are captivated by the dimensions of this incredible work. There’s reason why it has been hailed as a great masterpiece.
And there’s a sense in which that is sort of a metaphor for what I want to do with the fourth chapter of Genesis. We’re going to look at detail. We’re going to see some of the little bits and pieces that are a part of the minutia, as it were, of the chapter. But always, we want to step back and get the big picture, and the big picture here is what God wants to communicate to us.
Well, God is a God of great detail, and that’s what makes the big picture so clear, as da Vinci was the master of detail, and that’s what made the big picture the incredible masterwork that it is. We’re going to look at detail but only in reference to a better understanding of the big picture, and the big picture is the portrait of a doomed man. That’s what I want you to see even in the detail of this text.
Now, the story of Cain is the story of a reprobate, a story of an impenitent man. It is the story of the undelivered, the doomed soul, the rejecter of God’s gracious salvation. Even the New Testament comments on this account. In the epistle of Jude, verse 11, we read, “Woe” - or curse or damnation - “to them. They have gone the way of Cain.” And Jude is associating false teachers who are under divine judgment with Cain.
In 1 John 3 and verse 12, we read this: “...Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” So the New Testament, then, identifies Cain for us as one who is associated with the damned in Jude and one who is associated with the evil one himself, who is Satan, in 1 John chapter 3.
As we remember, at the end of the third chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve came to repent. They came to believe the promise of God and they were justified - so was Abel. Abel is called righteous, as I just read in 1 John chapter 3 and verse 12. Abel was a believer. Abel believed God and it was accounted to him for righteous. And he trusted in the promise of God, as did his mother and father, Adam and Eve.
The contrast, then, comes here in chapter 4 with this reprobate, this impenitent by the name of Cain. Now, we know he is the subject of the section, the first half, verses 1 to 16, because his name is given 14 times actually in the first 17 verses. His name is repeated there in verse 17 for the 14th time. This is the story of the reprobate Cain. Now, beyond that, it isn’t really necessary for me to give you any more introduction, just to repeat that here is the prototypical unbeliever.
Let me read the account to you. “Now, the man had relations with his wife, Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. And she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.’ And again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part, also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions, and the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering.
“But for Cain and for his offering, He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you but you must master it.’ And Cain told Abel, his brother, and it came about when they were in the field that Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and killed him.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel, your brother?’ And 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 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 cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you, you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.’
“And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me.’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain lest anyone finding him should slay him. Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
So is the story of Cain told by the Holy Spirit through the writer Moses. Cain’s history defines both the character and the conduct of an unregenerate person, of the doomed sinner. And as we look at these verses and, as I said, looking at some of the detail along the way, always our perspective will be the big picture, the portrait of a doomed sinner.
Now, I’m going to give you several elements of this portrait, several components. All of them are negative except the first one. Only the first element in the presentation of the account of Cain is positive; all the rest are negative. And while the first is a hopeful beginning, in verse 1, his mother says, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord,” the last is tragic. Verse 16, “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord.”
The story begins with a hopeful beginning, and that’s the first point: Unbelievers have hopeful beginnings. This is the first thing to note about Cain as a prototype of an unbeliever. Verse 1 says, “Now, the man” - that’s Adam - “had relations with his wife, Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. And she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.’” Everything about that is hopeful, isn’t it?
The man is Adam. He had relationship with his wife. The actual Hebrew word, yada, means to know. The man knew his wife. That is sort of a euphemism for sexual relations, to know, to know in an intimate way. It is repeated again, if you look at verse 17, and Cain had relations with his wife is again yada, Cain knew his wife. And if you go down to verse 25, it’s repeated again, and Adam knew his wife again, and she gave birth to a son; this time, the son’s name was Seth. In each case, yada is used.
You will find it also in chapter 19, verse 5; chapter 38, verse 26, as a euphemism for sexual relationships, to know. This is typical because even in the New Testament, you remember that when Mary was pregnant, the Bible says, “Joseph had not known her.” In fact, in Matthew 125, it says he kept her a virgin after she had been given a child by the Holy Spirit and was carrying the holy child in her womb, he kept her a virgin, it says, and was not knowing her. So “knowing” speaks of intimate relations in the human sense, those relationships within a marriage that are the most intimate of all.
And by the way, the word “know” is also used metaphorically of intimate relationships. For example, in Amos 3, verse 2, God says, “Israel only have I known.” And what He means by that is not that they’re the only people He knows about in terms of cognition or awareness, but they are the people with whom He has an intimate covenant relationship. And in John chapter 10, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them.” It doesn’t mean that only believers are known to the Lord in terms of awareness, but it does mean it is with them that he has an intimate relationship.
So the word “know” is the word of intimacy. And it is appropriate to take the liberty, I suppose, to translate it, “The man had relations with his wife. She conceived in the purposes of God and gave birth to Cain.”
Now, the word Cain – qayin in the Hebrew - carries the idea of a craftsman. It carries the idea of a smith. A smith is usually associated with someone who works with metal, who works with (in ancient times) bronze or iron. Someone who is a refiner of bronze or iron (or even a refiner of gold and silver) could be a qayin, referring to a craftsman. But the Hebrew language even uses that word to refer to what is made by a craftsman. So that qayin can also mean a formed thing, a thing formed by a craftsman like a spear or like a sword. Literally a formed thing, a made thing.
And that’s what she says here, she says, “I have gotten a made thing, something made from the Lord” - something created by the Lord, something from the Lord - “and I have named it that made thing” - that formed thing.” It is interesting that one of Cain’s descendants (down in verse 22) is Tubal- Qayin, and Tubal-Qayin was the original metalworker, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron. And so Eve names the child the formed thing, the thing made with the help of the Lord. This is a hopeful beginning.
The Bible tells us, of course, that all human life comes from God. It is not just a matter of biological process, it is God who gives life. It is God who places the soul, the eternal living soul, in the human body. It is God who works the miracle of the creation of new life. And Eve knew it. She knew it was not some evolutionary process. She said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” Some suggest that the Hebrew could actually better be translated “I have created a man” or “made a man with the Lord.” In either case, Eve, the mother of all living, knew the child was born by the power of God operating in her and in that child.
The verb gotten, cana, used about 80 times or more in the Old Testament, it means to acquire something. To possess something, so she says, “I now have, I have now acquired something that God has made along with me.” This is a wonderful, hopeful beginning. A gift from God, life, and maybe - just maybe she thought that this was the seed that had been promised back in chapter 3, verse 15. The seed of the woman who would bruise the head of that despicable serpent that had led her into sin and, therefore, her husband into sin and, therefore, the whole human race into sin and, therefore, caused them all to be expelled out of Eden.
It’s certainly reasonable to think that this could have been the fulfillment of that prophecy, for God had told them, “I’m going to send through the woman a seed who will bruise that serpent’s head.” It wouldn’t have been any kind of stretch for her to have believed that this child was going to be the one promised to defeat Satan.
So everything began with such wonderful promise. And then in the goodness of the Lord, according to verse 2, she gave birth to his brother, Abel. Blessing upon blessing. Now, it’s interesting - Cain was named that formed thing that she and God had formed together, but Abel has that quite interesting name. Abel is the Hebrew word hebel. Interestingly enough, it means a mere breath. A mere breath. It has Hebrew associations with words in Sumerian and Akkadian that lead us to believe that it means a mere breath, and it expresses the brevity of life. And in the case of Abel, it was indeed very, very brief. But for all of us, compared to the eternality of God, life is brief.
Psalm 144, verse 4, “Man is like a mere breath. His days are like a passing shadow.” Job says in Job 7:16, “My days are but a breath.” Solomon, the writer, the preacher, writes Ecclesiastes, says, “Life is vanity of vanities. Emptiness of emptiness.” James says, “Life is a vapor that appears a little time and vanishes away.” And in particular, this is true of Abel.
Abel’s life was but a breath. We don’t know, actually, how long he lived because there’s no determined time before this incident which involves his murder actually occurs. But measured against the long spans of life before the flood, Adam himself living 930 years and people, also - many people living for centuries of time, Abel’s life was but a brief breath.
But it must have been like any home and yet not like any home. I mean we have joy in our homes when children are born, but can you imagine the joy in that home when two children were born and those were the first two ever born in the history of the world? And this was a fulfillment to Adam and Eve that God was still going to bless them, that God was going to cause Eve to be the mother of all living, that God had not obviated that original command to multiply and replenish the earth? That God had given Eve to Adam that he might reproduce and raise a generation of those who would know and love God and be blessed by Him?
So this was a great event, and I say that at the beginning, life has so much hope. Is there anything more wonderful, more joyous, more exciting, more hopeful than the birth of a child?
It tells us a little more about these two boys in verse 2. “Abel was a keeper of flocks but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” Some people through history have tried to pit these two sons against each other and tried to somehow classify these two professions as being good and evil. That isn’t the case. They’re both very noble professions. Taking care of flocks was a very noble thing to do. There were very many noble shepherds in the Old Testament, Jacob and Joseph and Moses and David. And, of course, the imagery of a shepherd is put upon the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
And there wasn’t anything second-class about taking care of crops. Taking care of animals was a noble duty and responsibility and so was taking care of crops. Even our Lord presents himself as the true farmer who sows good seed and brings in a fruitful harvest. And there are others in the Bible who plied their trade as farmers - some of them among the prophets. So they both had noble responsibilities, and that’s how life sort of broke down. You either took care of the animals or you took care of the crops.
It all started out so hopeful. They had two boys and one went into one area of responsibility necessary for life; the other, into the other area of responsibility necessary for life. But that’s where the positives end. And that’s where they end for unbelievers. It all starts with such hopeful beginnings. Wonderful celebration at birth, all those early years of joy, all the wonderful happiness of childhood. All the birthday parties and all of the expressions of joy that parents generate at every turn as they watch the development of those precious little ones. It all starts out so hopeful.
But that’s really where it ends. It didn’t take long, apparently, for Cain’s character to be revealed and for Abel’s to be revealed as well. And interestingly enough, the revelation of their character is manifest in an occasion of worship. It’s when you get into the environment of religion, it’s when you get into the environment of worship, when you get into the environment of belief systems and faith that the manifestation of character really comes clear. We find both Cain and Abel in a place of worship, and we find that Abel’s worship was acceptable and Cain’s was seriously flawed.
And that takes us to the second point. First point, unbelievers have a hopeful beginning. Secondly, unbelievers offer unacceptable worship. This is characteristic of apostates. This is characteristic of the impenitent. This is characteristic of the doomed. It is not that they are irreligious, it is that they offer unacceptable worship. And unbelievers, generally speaking, throughout the history of the world have been religious.
In fact, the whole of the human race is incurably religious. You can go to the darkest corners of the world through human history and you’re going to find people worshiping something - the sun, the moon, the stars, animals, reptiles, insects, a rock, a tree, a waterfall, a river, a lake, a mountain, an image of their own making, or even worshiping themselves. But man is incurably religious. He has to attach his worship somewhere. And Cain was a worshiper. Cain was religious. Verse 3 says, “It came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground.”
“It came about in the course of time” is indefinite, it doesn’t tell us how long, it doesn’t tell us how old these boys were, we don’t know whether they were 15, 25, or 100 - the end of some undetermined time. Probably, if I have to lean one way or another, I lean to the fact that they were young and their character would have manifested itself early. In fact, a person’s spiritual character will manifest itself immediately upon adulthood. So they probably had reached the age of maturity, where they could have decided about their response to the Word of God the promises of God.
You say, “Well, did they know about it?” Let me tell you, I would guess that the two most potent evangelists for trusting God who ever lived would be Adam and Eve. Can you grab that thought? Who better understands what it means to be lost? Who better understood what it meant to fall victim to Satan? How many times do you think Adam sat those boys on his knee, how many times do you think Eve sat them down at the table, and told them what Eden was like? What the garden was like? Who told them what they forfeited by their sin - how many times?
How many times did they plead with them to believe God and not Satan? How many times did they plead with those boys to put their faith in the promises of God because the promises of God brought joy and blessing and the promises of Satan brought death and destruction? I can’t imagine anybody better equipped to get that message across than the two people who were thrown out of paradise.
When we evangelize somebody, we can only tell them what it’s going to be like, from what the Bible says, in heaven. They could tell them what it was like because they were there. And I know that a mother like Eve would have pled with her boys to trust God, and a father like Adam would have done the same. And how many times had they recounted the story? I’m sure Cain and Abel could have told the story in every single detail about how the fall occurred and how wonderful it was in the garden and how sad it was that they couldn’t go back.
And they knew full well about the angel with the flaming sword in every direction to keep anybody from ever going in there. Many times they had been told to trust God and to believe his promises and to repent and believe that God was going to send someone who would bruise the serpent’s head and overthrow this usurper and bring back paradise. And they were no doubt told that you need to honor God. You need to show respect, worship toward God. And so Cain brought an offering. This is an act of worship. It probably comes not only from a command from his parents but very likely a command from God.
Not recorded in Genesis, but we can assume that God had commanded such offerings; otherwise, how would they know to bring them? Now, the word offering here is minha in Hebrew and it’s a word later used in Leviticus to refer to the offerings that the Lord instituted in the Mosaic law. Such offerings became a regular part of the Levitical system of offerings. You can read about even grain offerings, offerings from the crops in Leviticus chapter 2.
So they were out of Eden, they couldn’t go back, but they could still worship. And it was right to worship God because God could be worshiped wherever they were, really. We learn in John 4 that God is not confined to Mount Gerizim, He’s not confined to Jerusalem, but God is to be worshiped everywhere in spirit and in truth. Likely because God had told them he wanted sacrifices, there had been an altar built. And to that altar comes Cain and with him the fruit of the ground. He brought what he had raised.
There’s no reference to whether it was the first fruits - which later on in the Mosaic law God demanded, the first part of the crop that comes in - which is a real act of faith because, you know, it might be the only part - but you give it to God and you recognize Him first, and the promise of Scripture is if you do that, God will make sure the rest of the crop is good and fill your barns. But you had to trust God and be willing to sacrifice the first fruits - and not just the first fruits but the best of the first fruits is what God required.
And I’m sure that they were very aware that God wanted the best, but it makes no statement with regard to the nature of what Cain brought. It doesn’t say he brought the first of a given crop, it doesn’t say he brought the best, it just says he brought of the fruit of the ground. And by not saying it, it’s almost as if the commentary is that he didn’t bring necessarily the first or the best. But more significantly, he didn’t bring an animal sacrifice. And I’m convinced that God had instructed them to bring an animal sacrifice.
There had already been a demonstration of the need for substitutionary death to cover the sinner back in chapter 3, verse 21, when the Lord God had to slay an animal to make garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothe them. And you remember that was a picture of substitutionary death of an innocent victim to provide a covering for the sinner. I think with that, God instituted the substitutionary death principle. And I’m sure that God had communicated that as the kind of sacrifice that he wanted brought. So here you have Cain giving no recognition that he is a sinner.
In fact, his offering is a self-righteous one. He is bringing what he has produced out of the ground. It appears to have been an offering of self-righteous human achievement. There are only two ways you can approach God. You approach God, offering him what you’ve achieved; or you approach God, realizing that you deserve death, and you recognize that by offering a sacrifice in death as a symbol of the need for a substitute who can die in your place by which your sin can be covered.
Apparently, Cain didn’t have any recognition of his sin, and that becomes very clear as the story goes on. Apparently, he didn’t think he needed substitutionary death on his behalf. He didn’t need to depict the reality that he was a sinner worthy of death who needed an innocent substitute to die in his place. So here is the first example of false religion. Here is the first example of the religion of human achievement, where somebody gives to God what they produced with no recognition of the necessity of atonement by substitution and death. Here is false religion. Here is self-righteousness.
Later on, as I said, in the Levitical law (you can see it in Deuteronomy 26 as well as Leviticus 2) grain offerings were prescribed by God. Grain offerings were to serve as reminders that God was the source of all their food. They were thank offerings. But the primary and necessary offering was the animal sacrifice because it is that which spoke of the need for substitutionary death for sin.
Then the account turns from evil, wicked, self-righteous Cain to righteous Abel (verse 4) and Abel, on his part, brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. Now, this is very different. He brought animals. But not just animals. His minha, his offering, is actually the fattest of the firstlings - the best of the best. The emphasis here, then, is on the quality of that offering as well as the character of it. What we see with Cain was he brought something which reflected his own achievement with no particular regard for its quality.
On the other hand, Abel brings the best of the best, offering an animal as a symbol of his own need to have his sin covered by the death of an innocent substitute. And, of course, animal sacrifice becomes clearly defined in the Mosaic law in the book of Exodus and all on through the book of Leviticus. And all of those animal sacrifices were simply pictures of the one sacrifice that actually takes away sin, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And so I think it’s important to realize that God must have given them instruction regarding animal sacrifice - and not just animal sacrifice but the best of the best, the spotless lamb, which so wonderfully depicts Jesus Christ. This is a sacrifice that recognizes sin and death and the need for a substitute. Abel did what was right. His was the true expression of worship rather than Cain’s. And the end of verse 4, here’s the most notable thing at this point. “The Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering.”
Now, please notice carefully, this is very careful language and I want you to understand it. “The Lord had regard for” means he accepted it. And he had regard for two realities: for Abel and for his offering. And there’s a reason why those are made so carefully distinct. First of all, God had regard for Abel. That means for his heart, for his spirit, his attitude, the man, his faith - that’s the inside. God always looks at the heart, and here was a man who worshiped God with his heart. Here was a lover of God. Here was a believer in God. Here was a man with a righteous heart.
And that’s why it says, the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering. That’s the outside, the animals, the fact that offered what God required. First John 3:12 says, “His behavior was righteous.” What that means is he did what was right. And how do you do what is right? You do what is right by doing what God has said to be done. There had to have been a revelation of what was right. And as I said, the pattern of substitutionary sacrifice had been established in chapter 3, verse 21, and Abel was faithful to it. Both elements were necessary for an acceptable offering.
The heart of Abel was right, God had regard for Abel, and the sacrifice of Abel was right, God had regard for his offering. And then it says in verse 5, “But for Cain and for his offering, he had no regard.” And again, you have the same two realities. God had no regard for Cain. That’s the inside, the man, his heart. And he had no regard for his offering, either. That was the fruit of the ground, which he brought. Cain’s heart was evil. He was of the evil one. He was walking in a way that Jude associates with the damned and the doomed and the false.
The New Testament makes it absolutely clear that he was evil. He belongs in the same category - Jude 13 - as Balaam, as Cora, who rebelled against the Lord. He is associated in Jude 13 with all the false teachers for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever. So Cain is the prototype of the doomed. Religious, sure - man is in incurably religious, and the world abounds in false religions, and they are all the religions of human achievement, right? You do something moral, you do something ceremonial, you achieve something, and you offer that to God as the payment for your salvation, your ticket to heaven. That’s the religions of the world.
On the other hand, there is Abel, and he is a true worshiper. He comes, realizing he’s a sinner, realizing he’s worthy of death, seeing in the sacrifice the image of a necessary innocent substitute to die in his place to cover his sin as God had shown him through the story no doubt told him by his parents about how God killed an animal to cover them and their shame.
So what you see with doomed people is a hopeful beginning but very soon a pattern of unacceptable worship. And worship is characterized by self-righteousness. They get involved in all kinds of religion - but not the truth. You know, in the climate today, there’s this idea that we all ought to accept everybody’s religion. God doesn’t do that. He only accepts the truth, that true worship looks at substitutionary atonement of a sacrificial Lamb - namely, Jesus Christ - who alone can take away our sins - all the rest is damning, false religion.
Now, let me give you a third point and I’ll stop and we’ll take the rest next time. Unbelievers have hopeful beginnings. They offer unacceptable worship. And thirdly, they resent the true worshipers. This is pretty typical. The world hates true believers. They hate us because of our narrowness. They resent the fact that we say this is the truth and everything else isn’t. They resent our righteousness. They resent our goodness. They resent our virtue. They resent the blessing of God.
They love their sin, they are religious but they love their sin, and the righteous are a living rebuke to them. That’s why you see in the world in which we live today, they want to keep us out of the public discourse, don’t they? They want to keep the Bible out of the schools, the Bible out of politics, the Bible out of social life, the Bible out of the culture, the Bible out of everything.
It’s like Darwin said, “I don’t reject the idea of God, I just reject the God of the Bible.” “I don’t want anybody telling me this is the truth. I don’t want anybody telling me I’m a sinner, this is sin, and I’m on my way to hell and I need to recognize that God provided a substitute to die in my place, Jesus Christ, who will take away my sin.” That’s what they reject. They resent the true believers. And that was Cain. They are but the children of Cain. Verse 5, “So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”
Unbelievers get angry about believers. They get angry over the true believers. They get angry over those who say, “This is the truth and this alone is the truth and this is the only way of salvation.” Cain is self-righteous and he is stubbornly self-righteous. He lacks any contrition, he lacks any remorse, he’s not sorry that he brought what he brought, he’s not sorry that he didn’t do what his brother did, he’s not sorry about his disobedience but rather he becomes angry and he becomes angry with his brother and he becomes, really, ultimately angry with God. And he is saying, “I really can’t deal with a God like you. I can’t deal with such a narrow God.”
If he was a true lover of God, if he was a true believer, if he had genuinely come to know salvation, when his sacrifice was rejected, he would have been broken. He would have been heartbroken. He would have been literally devastated and shattered and catapulted into deep sorrow over God’s displeasure. But he isn’t, he’s just mad. He’s just mad. He’s angry about the narrowness of Abel, he’s angry at God because God has not accepted him as an equal. “What kind of God are you that favors Abel over me?” He’s very angry with God.
In fact, the Hebrew implies the idea of inward heat rising up into his face. He’s getting furious. He’s the prototype of the unbeliever. The unbeliever is angry at believers, true believers. He’s angry about the fact that we say this is the truth and everything else isn’t, that this alone saves and nothing else does. And he’s ultimately angry with the God of Christianity, angry with the God of the Bible. And it tells us he was so angry that his countenance (or his face) fell. This is a man whose anger has reached the point of despair.
Again, characteristic of those who reject God, love their sin, they’re angry with God, they’re angry with the Bible, they’re angry with the God of the Bible, they’re angry with the people of the God of the Bible, they’re angry with the proclamation of the Scripture.
In our world, the society of Cain still exists, and they work feverishly and angrily to obliterate the God of the Bible and the people who proclaim the Bible from social influence. They don’t like us intimidating them. Once a person becomes fixed in unbelief like Cain, they resent the message of the truth. So here is Cain. God has given us this clear portrait. And as we step back, we see exactly what an unbeliever, a doomed man looks like. Hopeful beginning but comes to the place where he offers unacceptable worship and resents those who truly worship God as God desires to be worshiped.
The next thing that Cain demonstrates about unbelievers is that they reject the Word of God. We’ll wait until next time to look at that. It’s in verses 6 to 8.
Father, we look again to the Scripture and we find that it opens up to us so many profound insights. The simple story of Cain is rich with instruction and it translates right into our day. For as there were those who walk in the way of Cain, long after, in the days of the New Testament, there are still many today who walk in the way of Cain. Unbelievers, offering unacceptable worship and resenting those who truly worship you as you have commanded in Holy Scripture.
Father, we thank you for this picture because it needs to be clear in our minds, that we might - even as you did with Cain - go to such people, confront their sin, and call them to turn rather than perish. We thank you that we are, in a spiritual sense, in the way of Abel. Not by anything that we’ve achieved, but by the recognition that we can’t achieve anything, and like Abel, we recognize that we need a substitute to die in our place and to pay the penalty for our damning sin.
We thank you for your grace to us, and may you extend that grace to many more through us as we come across those people in the way of Cain and direct them to the way of righteous Abel. Use us, Father, in that regard in ways that perhaps we can’t even now know as you bring people across our path and prepare their hearts by your spirit. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
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