Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:3-8
(3) And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
(4) And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
(5) But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
(6) And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
(7) If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
(8) And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

Socially, it did not take long for human lust to conceive sin and bring forth death (c/w JAM 1:15). The first murder of man by man, it should be noted, revolved around the distinction between false worship and true worship. Earth history will wind down with false worship killing those who do not conform to its system:

(Rev 13:15) And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

The religious service of Abel and Cain deserves further consideration. Abel obviously worshipped God in Spirit and truth, which God requires (JOH 4:23-24). God accepted Abel's offering. Why? Because Abel was a righteous man (MAT 23:35) who offered by faith, “ which he obtained witness that he was righteous...” (HEB 11:4). By contrast, Cain was “...of that wicked one...” (1JO 3:12); his religion and works testified that he was wicked. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto God (PRO 21:27); hence, He rejected it. NOTE: let it not be said that the ungodly are never religious; and mind that the issue in the account of Cain and Abel was not that they believed in different gods. The issue was how one should serve the true God. Hypocritical, self-righteous, proud Pharisees and sincerely humble, penitent publicans may be found in the same house of God (LUK 18:9-14), and some of the most bitter persecutions in history have been generated by false brethren, not just the heathen. Paul's perils, for example, were “ the heathen...[and] among false brethren” (2CO 11:26). Jesus warned His disciples that they would suffer at the hands of misled religious zealots: “...whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (JOH 16:2).

Notice that Abel brought to God “...of the FIRSTLINGS...” (GEN 4:4), a principle later codified in Moses' Law (EXO 13:2; NUM 18:15-17; DEU 15:19-23). Let believers consider:

(Pro 3:9) Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
(Pro 3:10) So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.

This priority of firstlings or firstfruits is not said of Cain and his offering (GEN 4:3). Also, though it is not expressly stated in Scripture that Cain's offering was less than the best of his produce, it is nonetheless a fact that substandard offerings are what the wicked tend to bring to God (if they bring anything at all). They are satisfied to give God the things in which they themselves have less interest: the blemished, the blind, the lame, the leftovers. Like Cain's offering, God does not respect them (MAL 1:8; LEV 22:17-25). Ironically, it seems that Cain's offering was in a sense “excellent” but Abel's offering was “...more excellent...” (HEB 11:4). Perhaps Cain saw his fruit of the ground as a kinder, gentler religion that only used renewable resources (for which he would no doubt win the praise of many even today). Perhaps he thought that bloody religion like Abel's was far from him: bloodshed perhaps appalled him (if it was that of an animal like that poor, innocent sheep). False religion prefers rather to milk and fleece the sheep (see 2PE 2:1-3). Perhaps it bothered Cain that his industry in tilling the ground (GEN 4:2) so as to make it flourish did not please God: “Should not my achievements account for something?” In this same chapter, we read that Cain was a builder (GEN 4:17) and his descendants were renowned as fathers of industry and arts:

(Gen 4:20) And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.
(Gen 4:21) And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
(Gen 4:22) And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.

Their specialties are the stuff of civilization, of human progress: the builders of a better society. Here then in GEN 4 was the germ form of the conflict between the children of faith and the children of fame which culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by those who were adamant that He was a threat to their ambitions and to society (JOH 11:47-50). Christ was “...The stone which the builders rejected...” (MAT 21:42). Matthew Henry once noted, “It is easier to build temples than to be temples to God.” Jabal, Jubal and Tubalcain (see above) are all names which denote stream or flow (they were Cain's stream of humanity), and so indeed, “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water...” (PRO 17:14).

Abel was the first recorded pastor (a herdsman or shepherd). Abel was also a prophet of God (LUK 11:50-51). As such, He would have been directed by the Holy Ghost in his sacrifice by faith (ROM 10:17 c/w 2PE 1:21). The prophets “...inquired and searched diligently...” (1PE 1:10-12) after the salvation which they knew inwardly must come through the sacrifice of an innocent Christ that would be the promised seed of the woman (GEN 3:15). Abel was obviously very close to that first promise and was moved by God in the direction of the gospel truth that without the shedding of blood is no remission of sin (LEV 17:11; HEB 9:22). Thus, he brought of the firstlings of his flock (GEN 4:4), likely a lamb without blemish (1PE 1:19). Abel's first concern in religion was the question of sin: his was a spiritual religion. His religion centered on what existed without man's input (sheep), not on what human efforts provided (produce from tilling). False religion always assumes the addition of human input superior and necessary. But Nadab and Abihu later died by adding “...strange fire...” (LEV 10:1-2), and whereas the traditions of men make the word of God of none effect (MAR 7:13), they do not make the wrath of God of none effect.

The call to worship had been issued. Cain had gotten to church bright and early, before Abel (GEN 4:3-4). Was he not a diligent man and his punctuality one more proof of his excellence? It may have been proof of his excellence but not his election: “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (MAT 20:16). Cain “...brought of the fruit of the ground...” (GEN 4:3) which required no bloodshed. Later we read that sacrifices of the fruits of the ground are offerings more in keeping with thanksgiving for earthly blessings (LEV 23:10-11; DEU 26:8-11). Note, therefore, the testimony of the gifts: for the righteous man, his worship of God is primarily concerned with the need for atonement and how to respond according to God's revelation. But for the wicked, his religion is concerned with the desires of the flesh. Observe that there is never a lacking of ungodly people who are very sincere to “...burn incense unto the queen of heaven...” for “...plenty of victuals...” (JER 44:17-19), or who “...sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous” (HAB 1:15-16), or who make silver shrines for Diana for “ this craft we have our wealth” (ACT 19:24-25). Of these, whose first concern is earthly things, it is said that their God is their belly, and their end is destruction (PHIL 3:19). Our foremost concern in religion ought, therefore, ever to be with “...the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1PE 1:11), and “...the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1PE 1:19-20). Let the offence of the cross (GAL 5:11) only be an offence to those who have no interest in it, but let the redeemed glory in it (GAL 6:14).

Observe also that acceptability of religion is not based on the outward appearance (JOH 7:24). Cain's offering was not bloody nor messy but neither was it accepted. God is to be worshipped in the beauty of holiness (PSA 96:9), not the holiness of beauty. It is the naked and sometimes blunt simplicity of obedience that God seeks (1SAM 15:22). Abel's offering was by faith (HEB 11:4) and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (ROM 10:17). Our worship, therefore, must ever be found in conformity with the Scripture (1CO 11:1-2). Simply put, Abel's worship was accepted because he was a righteous man who adhered to the revealed will of God concerning worship. But Cain's worship was rejected because his person was wicked and his works (including his worship) were evil---his will was his law; the revelation of God and his brother's “preachiness” about following God's order be damned (as in, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach [me]?, JOH 9:34)!:

(1Jn 3:12) Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.

An interesting observation about dominion may also be made from the story of Cain and Abel. Cain was the elder brother, the firstborn: his was a position of strength, dignity and power (GEN 49:3). Essentially, he, by birthright, had the rule over Abel (GEN 4:7). That God only accepted Abel's offering was an affront to Cain and he seems to have errantly assumed that acceptable worship and civil power were inseparable (a concept which birthed much tyranny in history). Likely, he, as when King Saul later saw the favor of God towards David, asked himself, “...and what can he have more but the kingdom?” (1SAM 18:8). Note that God does deliver dominion into the hands of baser individuals (DAN 4:17) who may continue to hold it if they conduct their affairs prudently (DAN 5:18-21; PRO 17:2). There is no indication in the Biblical record that Abel considered that since his religion was correct that he should automatically have secular dominion. But Cain, as authorities and powers have done throughout history, probably interpreted God's acceptance of the righteous man's religion as a threat to his secular power.

The Savior faced the same problem. Though His kingdom was not of this world (JOH 18:36), His arrival troubled Herod sufficiently for him to early seek to destroy Him (MAT 2:1-3). As noted earlier, His righteous example of obedience to God (He everywhere “...went about doing good...for God was with him” [ACT 10:38]) was perceived to be a threat to civil powers (JOH 11:47-48). Similarly, the early Christians, though maintaining fidelity to civil authority, were nonetheless viewed as potential enemies of the state. History tells us that all manner of calumny was levelled against them. They were basically accused of being the cause of all evil in society: even natural disasters were laid to their blame. Ungodly rulers have trouble understanding that the faithful children of God who won't compromise on religion are not the enemies of the state, but actually its best citizens. It seems that Cain had initiated the centuries-long dilemma of the powers of church and state. So “...Cain talked with Abel...and slew him” (GEN 4:8). Oh saints, beware those “talks!” Years later, the enemies of the church wanted “talks” with faithful Nehemiah but he saw through it:

(Neh 6:2) That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.

The wicked Jews wanted to get Paul out into the open for “talks” (but God frustrated their plans):

(Act 23:15) Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.

NOTE: When secular power wants to have “talks” with local churches, churches should be on guard. Silence is golden, and courteous refusal is silver. But if the church has already granted jurisdiction to the secular power because it has incorporated or is otherwise acting as if it were a creature of the state, the guard has already been dropped. NOTE ALSO: a true gospel church which has no status from the state can never go to secular court. The church is a spiritual body (1CO 12:27) and if the court presumes to have power over a spiritual body, it is claiming to be what Christ alone is to that spiritual body: its Judge and Master. If the court has that kind of power over a spiritual body, then it also must have that kind of power over any other free association of persons, and this is a plank of tyranny.

At the root of Cain's bitterness was the cancer of envy, before which no man can stand (PRO 27:4). Note that nothing more is needed to invoke the wrath of the ungodly than to be the object of God's favor. The very fact that Abel simply did what was right, and God having accepted it, was sufficient to expose Cain for what he truly was. Those who work righteousness are envied of their neighbors (ECC 4:4). The upright are an abomination to the wicked (PRO 29:27), and are hated by the bloodthirsty (PRO 29:10). The just, simply by fearing God, are a condemnation to the ungodly (MAT 12:41; HEB 11:7). Envy, left unchecked, as with Cain, will surely motivate the unjust to dispose of the just, thus eliminating the stigma of a superior standard. It moved the patriarchs against Joseph (ACT 7:9) the chief priests and elders against Christ (MAT 27:18); and the Jews against the apostles (ACT 17:5).

Cain, unwilling to do well and acknowledge God's law, and acknowledge that Abel was just in his actions, chose to eliminate the competition (GEN 4:8). Thus, the enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (GEN 3:15) claimed its first innocent victim. In the space of about six Bible verses, the subsequent history of mankind was enacted. It is something like this:

(Gal 4:29) But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.