Today’s study on Cain and Abel gives us a number of things to mediate on and grow in.
1. The importance of giving God our first fruits
Our reading in Genesis 4 reveals that our sovereign Creator “had regard” for Abel’s sacrifice of the firstborn of his flock, while He did not approve of the elder brother’s gift of produce (Gen. 4:3–5a). Some have thought that God disregarded Cain’s offering because it was not a blood sacrifice. But this doesn’t work, because the Lord did accept grain offerings on many occasions (see Lev. 2) so that the poorest in Israel could have their sins atoned by them.
The point of concern is that Cain did not bring to God the first fruits of his harvest. In this, his heart was not wholly committed to the Lord, and thus he kept the choicest of his labor from God. This shows his lack of faith. This was his sin and showed Cain’s wicked heart, which we see shows itself more clearly in his murder of Abel.
This is a good point to stop and consider if we are guilty of pridefully assuming that anything we bring to the Lord is acceptable.
As Abel’s example proves, true worshipers of God will give the first and best of their time, money, and possessions to Him.
John Calvin says this about when God sees false worship: “Combined with gross and manifest mockery of himself, it is not surprising that he hates it and is unable to bear it.”
If we do not give that which is costly, the Lord is not pleased with our praise. Do you joyfully and freely and sacrificially give of your time, money, and efforts to the spread of the gospel and make much of the name of Jesus? Abel’s example and Cain’s opposite example give us a great framework to consider the heart behind the way we dedicate our best to God in the area of time, talents and money.
2. We are our brother’s keeper
Genesis 4:9-12 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 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.”
It is easy for us to see the crime of murder and even Cain’s lying to God about his brother’s whereabouts, but hidden in his sin is a heart that all-too-casually disregards his responsibility for the wellbeing of his brother.
An Israelite’s brother had the primary responsibility to rescue him if he was in trouble according to Levitical rule. Additionally, Leviticus says life is in the blood (17:11), and so the most defiling substance possible is the shed blood of an innocent person.
This fact is what makes his disregard for Abel particularly horrendous.
We are our brother’s keeper! God has adopted us into His eternal family, and we are to show great love in laying down our lives for each other. This is a call to sacrificial love.
Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The word “interests” here could be anything. John Piper says it well: “So it could be, ‘Let each of you look not only to your own financial affairs, or your own property, or your own family, or your own health, or your own reputation, or your own education, or your own success, or your own happiness—don’t just think about that, don’t just have desires about that, don’t just strategize about that, don’t just work toward that; but look to the financial affairs and property and family and health, and reputation, and education, and success, and happiness of others.’”
In other words, this is a way of saying the words of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matt 22:39). So a Christian makes the good of his brother the focus of his/her interest and strategy and efforts. How are you keeping your brothers? Fighting for them? Walking with them? Serving them?
3. Confess your secret sin, because it’s not a secret to God.
Cain refused to confess and repent when confronted with his sin. God graciously gave Cain a chance to confess his iniquity, but he was too hardened in his sin to submit. Again, John Calvin comments on how this passage warns us when we are convicted of sin. Though the Lord no longer confronts us audibly, “let those, therefore, whose consciences accuse them, beware lest, after the example of Cain, they confirm themselves in obstinacy.” We must not harden our hearts as Cain did.
Cain was sorely mistaken when he thought he could get away with this horrendous act, for God said that Abel’s blood cried out for justice in Genesis 4:10. The verb rendered “crying” here is the same word used elsewhere to speak of the pleas of those who have met injustice.
Exodus 22:22-24 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless
When the God—the great Judge of all—punishes Cain, He puts on display what He promises by His word: that He always hears His faithful servants’ cries for vindication. This promise is fulfilled in Christ, who was vindicated by God in His resurrection (see Rom. 8:11; 1 Tim. 3:16). In says in Hebrew 12:24 that for the saints, the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than Abel’s. At Calvary, the blood that demands judgment on and destroys the wicked becomes for us a cleansing flood.
Let us always be aware of God’s all-seeing power. Though our flesh may try to convince us that we can sin in secret, God knows every evil deed we commit, even if no one else on the planet finds out. How have you sinned against the Lord in private? We should come clean in confession before the Lord about these things. Not because He doesn’t know what they are, but because confession allows us to agree with God that sin is indeed sin. It allows us to show right remorse for our transgressions and to begin our path towards real repentance.
4. Live by faith
Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain …
At the end of Hebrews 10, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that it is by faith that we preserve our souls and are saved (Hebrews 10:39). In Hebrews 11, we find many examples of persevering faith. It is important to remember that persevering faith is not something that we create in ourselves. We only possess true faith if God has sovereignty given it to us (Eph. 2:8 & Phil 1:29). In verse 4 of Hebrews 11, known as “the Faith Hall of Fame,” we read, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.” Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel’s offering was done in faith, implying that Cain’s was not. God had regard for Abel because he had faith; but Cain, though outwardly obedient, lacked such faith.
Do you trust that God will provide for you if you give Him your best—your first fruits? Do you believe that God will really give you all that you need if you lay your life on the line for Him? Take some time to look at the things you can offer to God: time, money, or relationships. If you have been holding back in any of these areas, seek to give of them in ways that truly reflect trust in His provision.
It is amazing to me to see all the things we learn from this short testimony. God’s word is so rich. May it continue to shape us and convict us and cause us to worship Him with our whole lives!