Last week, we discussed Cain and Abel: the differences in their hearts and God’s attempt to reach out to Cain before his sin carried him away. Today, we’ll look at the effects of Cain ignoring the Lord and what they might mean.
So, picking up where we left off in Genesis 4:8-15…
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; 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.
A few things immediately jump out at me here. For one, God comes to Cain in the same manner He came to his parents after their sin: with a question. But instead of it being, “Where are you?” it was “Where is your brother?”
When my mom was a kid, Grandpa would taken her to the corner store to trade empty glass Coke bottles in for gum and candy as a treat for her and her cousins when they visited. Every once in a while, Mom got the urge to get some on her own. Grandpa was no fool. He knew where the bottles went missing to, but he came to her with the question, “Do you know what happened to the Coke bottles? Seems like we had more of them than that.”
God often comes to us with questions instead of immediate punishment. It’s another way He tries to offer us grace, to let us come clean on our own terms before He lays out the consequences. Instead of taking advantage of this, Cain employed his parents’ defense mechanism: “It’s not my fault!” Not only that, but he very closely follows his father’s example. When Adam was questioned about his sin, he laid the blame not only on his wife, but on God: “It’s that woman YOU gave me, Lord!” Cain basically does the same when he asks God if he’s his brother’s keeper. I can almost see the sneer on Cain’s face as he implies that God should know Abel’s location because He is Abel’s true keeper.
So, for continuing his father’s blame game, Cain carries his father’s curse: expulsion and unruly earth, this time so much the worse since it won’t yield anything. At least Adam could expect a return for his hard labor. Cain could no longer get anything in return. With Adam’s sin, we received the Law. With Cain’s we see the utter hopelessness of our condition apart from the Lord, and another example of how nothing we do means anything if it is not for the Father.
Now under a curse, Cain quickly goes from tough guy to whiny baby. “My punishment is too harsh!” Not only that, but he also fears that the same sin he committed will be revisited on him. Does that sound familiar? One of the funny things about being innocent is that you don’t expect people to hurt you because you wouldn’t consider doing such a thing to them. The more innocence you lose, the deeper into sin you wade, the more fear you accumulate wondering whether so-and-so is going to do to you what you did to them or someone else.
But the most incredible part of this whole passage to me is God’s grace. Many times we see God wipe people off the face of the earth for smaller sins that Cain committed, even in New Testament times. God could have quite justly smote Cain for murder or at least sent death through someone else’s hand like He did with the Israelites. So what’s with the protection plan?
I wish I had an answer. Was it so Cain would live out for a long time the curse he was under, feeling daily the pain of being a wanderer and a failure at what used to be his livelihood? Was it so he would be an anathema to whatever neighbors he came across? The Bible doesn’t describe the mark he received, but I imagine it was unsightly if it made people afraid to kill him.
Or…..was it a picture of grace? I hope my personality is different enough from Cain’s that this would bother me more than it may have him, but if God had spared me from having my sin revisited upon me in kind, especially an irreparable one, it would make feel incredibly convicted and guilty. It would make me weep and mourn over the consequences, and it would draw me into a deeper understanding of just how undeserving I am of God’s mercy and how much I needed Him. Was this God’s point?
I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Him when I get to heaven I guess. But it makes for great food for thought.