A sermon preached on Genesis 4, July 14, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week four of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the whole book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
I. Seeing the Effects of Sin
“The serpent’s temptation to the woman was that she should doubt God’s word. It seemed in the context so unreasonable that God should have made this one small prohibition. The serpent sets her faith and trust over against her common sense, and forces a gap between, through which he will soon drive a coach and horses.” (The Message of Genesis 1 – 11 by David Atkinson, pg. 84)
So it is with this gap in place that humanity moves out eastward from the garden. This direction will become symbolic throughout chapters 1-11 for humanity moving away from God further into sin. Cain will move further east – into the land of Nod (which means “wandering”) before chapter 4 is up. But before that happens, we see the gap created in the Garden widen as disobedience to God becomes the murder of a brother. Most of us are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel, but I wonder if we realize what’s happening: in these two brothers, two lines are being established. On the one hand, the line of sin and on the other, the line of promise. As Augustine would say, the city of man and the city of God. Put it a different way: chapter 4 tells the next phase in the history and story of human sin, but it also tells of the grace of God in the midst of that sin. That’s what we’ll see in every section of this chapter.
II. Cain & Abel’s Offerings (vs. 1-5)
“3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
The question we naturally want to ask here is, why? Why wasn’t Cain’s offering accepted? Did God just have it out for him? Some have indeed chalked it up to capriciousness on God’s part. But if we hold the story of Genesis together, I believe we’ll be able to see this more clearly.
As Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, they would have held on to two things very closely: 1) the judgments laid upon them by God because of sin and 2) the promises God made as a remedy for that same sin. As Hebrews 11 tells us, one son, Abel, offers his sacrifice up in humility and faith in the promises of God, but the other does not. Do you know what Cain’s name means? It means “get” or “acquire.” Even as Eve names Cain, there seems to be some arrogance on her part here – “I have gotten a man with help of the Lord.” “We’re working together on this project of redemption, God!” she seems to be saying. Maybe she even thinks that Cain will be the promised Messiah.
On the other hand, Abel’s name means “frailty” or “nothingness” – a portent of his short life, but also, perhaps, his attitude in worship. Cain, as Bruce Waltke points out, “looks religious, but in his heart he is not totally dependent on God, childlike, or grateful.” (Genesis by Bruce Waltke, pg. 97) Perhaps this even more – perhaps Abel’s choice of sacrifice reflects his dependency and faith in God’s promises, especially as expressed in the (sacrificial) coverings given to Adam and Eve by God.
And here is the point where the application begins. Friends, the only act of worship or labor or creativity or music or service that is acceptable to God is the one empowered and blessed and lifted up to the Father in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Our sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, inside and outside the church, must be given as only an “amen” to the already finished work of Christ.
III. The Murder of Abel & Cain’s Punishment (vs. 6-16)
Otherwise, we open ourselves up to the same heart of jealousy we see develop and overwhelm Cain in verses 6-16.
So, again, what began as a quest for freedom and autonomy from God now develops into murder. Sin is overwhelming Cain, who is a representative of humanity apart from God.
IV. The Line of Cain (vs. 17-24)
Now, we get even more detail on this in verses 17 to 24 where Cain’s line is described. What do we see here? On the one hand, increasing knowledge and increasing violence. Now tell me that couldn’t just as easily describe the world in 2019!
On the one hand, we have the four great cornerstones of culture and civilization: Architecture, Agriculture, Music, and Technology. Humanity, in a sort of “yes/no” kind of way, continues to fulfill the mandate given by God at creation: to be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth, and have dominion over it.
But on the other hand, this line is spiraling down in violence and sin. Lamech is a sort of case and point of this. He writes a poem, and not a particularly nice one. He writes about how he collects wives like property. By the way, when folks ask questions about the polygamy described (not prescribed) in the Old Testament, they often miss that right here, polygamy is shown to be a rejection of God’s marital plan. But to continue on, Lamech then brags about how he is even more violent than his father Cain because of the way he killed a man, perhaps even a child. As David Atkinson says, Cain my have succumb to sin, but Lamech exults it.
Jesus probably was probably thinking of Lamech’s “seventy-sevenfold” retaliation mindset when he said that Christian brothers are to forgive each other “seventy-seven” times rather than get even
V. Seth: The Line of Promise (v. 25-26)
But there, with Lamech, Cain’s line ends. And in the very next verse, we hear of the interruption of grace. Into increasing sinfulness grace overwhelms. Hear with me now the Apostle Paul saying over these lines, “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Hear also the humility of Eve – there is no more synergism from her: the credit goes to God alone.
VI. Conclusion: Cain, Abel and Jesus
The child who trusted God’s promises was killed, but the line of promise could not be killed, and so Seth is marked out as the next descendent in the line of redemption.
I’ve found that sometimes some of the kids’ Bibles that we have at home do a better job of getting to the heart of Scripture than do some of the commentaries. So, I’ll end with this quote from The Gospel Story Bible.
“Even though Abel didn’t deserve to be killed by his brother, his death couldn’t fix the problems that sin brought into the world. But one day, another son of Adam, one of his long far-off grandchildren … did fix things. Like Abel, Jesus was killed even though he didn’t deserve it. But when he died, Jesus’ blood was able to take away the curse of sin for everyone who believes in him. That’s why the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski, pg. 8)
And so to God: the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, be glory and honor now and forevermore. Amen!