This semester I have been slowly—very slowly—working my way through Genesis in a study with two friends, Eunmee and Seohee, who are from South Korea.
This week, we looked at Genesis 4:1-16. Because English is not their native language, we read the passage in simplified English. We looked carefully at each word, reading and re-reading the passage several times. My original intent in doing this was to ensure the girls clearly understood the text. Yet, as we read, I realized I was the one who needed to get the full understanding. How many times have I read this passage or had it read to me without completely comprehending the importance of it?
Cain gave merely “an offering” to God, while the Scriptures tell us Abel offered “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” While it seems good that they both gave something to God, there is a strong implication Cain merely gave something to give something, while Abel gave the best of what he had.
Eunmee asked me, “Why Cain didn’t give as Abel did?” I didn’t know. Greed, maybe? Laziness? As we re-read these verses, I realized Cain had a poor view of God. If he truly treasured God, he would have given his best—the finest he had. This was first personal application: Do I have a high or poor view of God? Do I offer the best of my time and my resources? Or do I give when it’s most convenient for me to do so?
God accepted Abel’s offering, but God rejected Cain’s, upsetting him. God questioned Cain’s anger and said: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” God very plainly told Cain why he was displeased with him. God gave him a warning: Sin exists; it wants to overpower you; be on your guard.
The first murder
Then, in the very next verse, we find out Cain killed Abel.
And in the verse after that, Cain lies to God about killing Abel.
Of course, God knew all this and said, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” God, being a just God, punished Cain by making him a “fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Overwhelmed by his punishment and showing true remorse and repentance, Cain says, “Whoever finds me will kill me.”
Here is where it gets crazy. God, being a merciful and loving God refused to let this happen. “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” God even put a mark on him to distinguish him so that no one would kill him.
Think about it. Cain offered God less than the best, didn’t listen to God’s explicit warning about sin overtaking him, killed his brother, and then lied to God. But God still had his back.
Identifying with Cain
This is where it hit home for me. Often when I realize how gross my sin is and come to a point of real repentance, I identify with Cain. “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” But God shows favor and goodness to me. He not only forgives me, but also protects me. He shows me more grace and mercy than I deserve.
God even put a mark on Cain so others would know not to mess with him. I had always thought God put the mark on him as a way of announcing to the world his sin. But really, the mark was a way of protecting him. God is so good. God is so gracious.
Why did Abel have to die?
When studying the Bible with non-Christians, I always ask them what bothers them about the passage. Both Eunmee and Seohee gave the same response. Why did Abel, the innocent bystander, have to die? It seems he did everything right.
The truth of the matter is that others’ sins negatively affect us. This doesn’t mean we are in the wrong.
At the end of the study, this is what lingered in my mind. I thought of the ways others have hurt me and the ways my life has changed due to their bad choices. I was angry and hurt again.
Then it became extremely personal: How does my sin negatively affect those around me?