The Way of Cain | Genesis 4:1-16
Brian Hedges | January 21, 2018
Well, turn in your Bibles this morning to Genesis chapter 4. We are beginning a segment of our study through the book of Genesis. We’ll be looking at Genesis chapters 4 through 11 over the next eight weeks.
While you’re turning there, let me just give you a little bit of context for this and why we are returning to this book. For, I guess, most of my ministry and all of my ministry here in our church I have believed that sequential exposition through Scripture is the best way to build up the church, to build up the body of Christ. And I’ve increasingly come to understand that we need a balanced diet in Scripture.
So there are lots of different approaches to exposition. Some pastors will take one book, like Ephesians, and spend multiple years. You might think of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who spent so many years preaching through Ephesians that those sermons now fill eight volumes! They’re really good sermons, but most of us preachers are not Martyn Lloyd-Jones (and I think our congregation showed quite a bit of patience with me a number of years ago when I preached 70 sermons through Ephesians! I actually really did that. I took, I think, us about three years with a couple of breaks.)
My approach has shifted a little bit over the years, and now what I like to try to do is limit us to shorter series but take a chunk of a book, take a few chapters from a book. So about 20 months ago we went through Genesis chapters 1 through 3. There were ten sermons on those chapters. That was in 2016; those sermons are now on the website. Since then we’ve been in the Gospel of John, where we will be returning in a few months; we’ve been through the book of Galatians last fall.
Now we’re coming back to Genesis, and the idea here is to get us in different parts of Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, different genres of Scripture so that we’re in narrative at times, we’re in the Psalms and poetry, wisdom literature at times, we’re in the prophets at times, the gospels, and the epistles as well. So today we come back to the book of Genesis.
Let me give you a quick recap of Genesis 1 through 3, just in two minutes. Let me just remind you of what we’ve seen.
(1) Genesis 1 through 3, first of all, shows us the Creator. “We believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” Genesis 1 through 3 makes that very clear, that God (and it’s the very same God who is the God of Israel, that is, Yahweh Elohim), he is the Creator God. “He is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything,” as we’ve learned in the New City Catechism.
(2) Secondly, the creation. Genesis 1 through 3 shows us that the whole creation, the created world, is the "theater for God’s glory," to use Calvin’s words, with man and woman created in God’s image as the apex of that creation. They are the image-bearers of God, God’s representatives on earth, and they are placed in the garden. That’s the focus, of course, of chapter 2.
(3) What was this garden, the Garden of Eden? It was a garden temple. It was a sanctuary on earth where God’s presence dwelt with humanity, and of course it was the scene of...
(4) the fall, which you have in Genesis chapter 3. In Genesis three this mysterious, insidious figure is introduced into the story, the serpent. He comes tempting and deceiving, and he is the one who leads humanity into sin, into rebellion against God, and the consequence of that, of course, is their expulsion from paradise. So when you get to the end of Genesis chapter 3, the man and the woman are outside the garden, which is now being guarded by these cherubim guarding it with a sword of fire so that they cannot come back into the garden to eat of the Tree of Life, lest they live forever. That’s the scene when we get to Genesis chapter 4, which gives us the familiar story of Cain and Abel.
Now it’s really interesting, I think, that the story of Cain and Abel is familiar to almost everyone, not least because it’s so familiar in children’s Bible story books and in Sunday school curriculums. But it’s not a passage that you hear preached on a lot, and I think in 25 years of ministry now; 25 years of ministry, and I don’t think I’ve ever preached a sermon on Cain and Abel. So, it’s not something we talk a lot about in “big” church, but it’s an important passage of Scripture that has a lot to teach us about the dynamics and sin and grace.
So that’s where we’re looking this morning, Genesis chapter 3, verses 1 through 16, so if you want to follow along in your copy of God’s word.
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’ And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 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, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’ Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 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.’ Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
This is God’s word.
Now, there are lots of firsts in this story. Here you have the very first human births, the births of Cain and Abel. You have the first family. You have the first family squabble and the first case of sibling rivalry, and it happens to be also in the context of worship, so you have the first record of worship and, right along with that, the very first worship war, between Cain and Abel. You have the first mention of the word “sin,” and of course, you have the very first murder, and what a murder it was; sin, the murder of fratricide, one brother murdering another.
This is also the very first case of the wicked persecuting the righteous, because Cain’s murder of Abel is religiously motivated, and it’s therefore the first record of the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, as prophesied in Genesis 3:15. And you have the first death, the death of Abel, who was both a saint (he is a righteous Abel), and therefore the first martyr in the Old Testament church, the Old Testament people of God.
Verses 1 and 2 just give us a little bit of setting and context. Let me read and comment before I give you the plan for the sermon. In verse 1 we read, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’” Cain’s name sounds sort of like the Hebrew word for “gotten” or “obtained,” so there’s some assonance here between those words.
Eve’s words here seem to be in response to Genesis 3:15, where the Lord had said that through the seed of the woman the serpent’s head would be crushed. You can imagine her hopes. I mean, here is the very first birth, the very first pregnancy. I mean, can’t you just imagine that, right there at the very beginning? She feels the kicks of this little baby and the anticipation, not knowing exactly what’s happening to her or what’s going to take place, and then she has this child, she delivers the child. “I’ve gotten a man with help from the Lord.”
You can imagine the excitement. Maybe she actually thinks, “This is him! This is the seed! This is the deliverer! This is the one who’s going to come and is going to crush the serpent’s head.” And how tragically disappointed she must have been at the outcome.
In verse 2, she bears another child, Cain’s brother Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a worker of the ground, so right there you get an important detail about these two boys, their vocation as men. Abel is a sheep-herder (that is, a shepherd), and Cain is a farmer.
And then the focus of the narrative from here on out is really on Cain and on God. Abel never even speaks, Cain and God are the only characters whose words are recorded, and the story follows along these lines: the brothers’ offerings and God’s response, that’s first; then Cain’s anger and God’s confrontation, then Cain’s murder of his brother in verse 8, and then God’s confrontation of Cain and Cain’s response.
After this, interestingly enough, Cain is only mentioned three other times in Scripture, each time in a negative context. The New Testament, in fact, seems to view Cain as paradigmatic of the wicked person, so that Jude, in his letter, warns of wicked and ungodly false teachers, saying to them, “Woe to them, for they walked in the way of Cain.”
So there’s something about Cain and his life, "the way of Cain," that shows us what’s most characteristic of evil, what is most characteristic of ungodliness, what is most characteristic of wickedness. It really shows us the patterns of sin, the dynamics of sin, and then just, kind of hidden in the details of the text, also some hints of God’s grace.
So, let’s look at this, the way of Cain, and I want you to notice three things as we work through the bulk of this passage. I want you to see:
I. The Worship that God Rejects
II. The Sin that Lies in Wait
III. The Blood that Cries for Justice
I. The Worship that God Rejects
You see the occasion of worship, the two offerings in verses 3 and 4: “In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of the flock and of their fat portions.”
So, two different kinds of offerings. We’re not given a lot of detail about the two offerings and why, as we will find out in the next verse, God accepts one and rejects the other. What are the differences between them?
Well, there’s some difference in just the nature of their offerings. Cain is bringing a fruit offering. He’s bringing an offering from the produce of his crop, whereas Abel is bringing a sacrificial offering. He’s offering the firstborn of his flock.
So some commentators have thought that perhaps God had already begun to institute animal sacrifice as the means of atonement for sin, and that God had revealed this and Abel, in response, offers a blood sacrifice, whereas Cain does not. But Scripture doesn’t actually say that, so we’re not sure that that’s the case, and it’s important to realize that the law of God prescribed both animal sacrifices as well as grain offerings. Both kinds of offerings were prescribed by God in the Torah. So, both could be approved. So, it’s probably not merely the nature of their offerings.
Perhaps more important is the quality of the two offerings. Abel brings the firstborn of his flock. That’s really important. Any Israelite who reads this would know that it was the firstborn that was consecrated to the Lord, and especially the fat portions, the best part of the offering, the best part of the flock. That’s what Abel brings.
In contrast, Cain probably is just bringing a token gift; not the firstfruits (we can infer by the absence of that term), not the firstfruits of his crop, but just bringing a token gift to God. So the quality of their offerings is different.
Probably the most important thing differentiating these two offerings was the motivation behind them. We get some insight into this in Hebrews chapter 11, verse 4, where we read these words: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
So this seems to be the biggest difference between the two men. Abel had faith, whereas Cain did not. Abel brings a sacrificial offering to the Lord, and he brings it in faith, he brings the very best to the Lord in faith. Cain brings a token sacrifice, and he doesn’t have faith; that is, he doesn’t have a deep trust in God.
So you see God’s response in verse 4, the second half of the verse, and then the first half of verse 5, “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Different translations word that different ways: “He had respect for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s,” or, “He was pleased,” that’s the New English Translation (NET), or you may be reading the NIV, “He looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but he did not look with favor on Cain’s.”
Here’s the bottom line: God was pleased with Abel, but not with Cain. He was pleased with Abel’s offering, he was not pleased with Cain’s offering. I think immediately there’s application for us here, just about worship. God accepts the worship of Abel, he rejects the worship of Cain. It suggests three application points for us.
(1) Here’s the first: we must worship God according to his will and not our own whims and wishes. The pattern in Scripture, over and again, is this: that God reveals himself to men, he reveals himself to his people, he describes how he is to be worshipped, and then we are to respond appropriately to that worship. God gives the pattern, God gives the revelation, and we respond. Worship is not left up to us, to just decide how we want to do it, do it any way we can. Worship is our response to God’s self-revelation.
That’s the first thing that we should learn from this. God does not just accept anybody’s worship. He doesn’t accept Cain’s worship. And just because someone says, “I worship God,” doesn’t mean they’re actually worshipping the true and living God. We only worship God when we worship God as he has revealed himself to be, according to the pattern that he has revealed in his word. We are to worship God as God decides, not as we decide.
We don’t have the liberty to just change anything we want to in church. There are certain things that belong in worship, there are certain things that do not belong in worship. We are to worship with song, we are to worship with prayer, we are to worship with the word, we are to worship at the table. These are things that God has instituted in his word. But there are other things that are not a part of worship, and it’s not up to us to determine what belongs and what doesn’t; God’s word gives us the pattern. That’s first.
(2) Here’s the second application point: God deserves our very best. He deserves our best! Abel offered his best, the firstborn of his flock; Cain did not. God received Abel’s offering, he did not receive Cain’s.
God deserves our very best. That means we are to give of our very hearts, our very selves most of all; that comes first. Remember Romans chapter 12, verse 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” That comes first. It’s giving ourselves to him.
But over and again in Scripture God is to receive what’s first. He’s to receive the best, the firstfruits, the firstborn. He is to receive the priority in our time, our attention, our love. God deserves our very best, not our second best, not our leftovers.
(3) And then third application point: true worship is always rooted in genuine faith. That’s important. We know from Hebrews 11 that Abel worshipped in faith and he was commended to God as righteous because of his faith, and it is Abel’s faith that continues to speak to us.
Indeed, two verses later the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). So we must come to God in faith. That is, we come to God not trusting in ourselves; we come trusting in him. We come believing in him, but then trusting in him with our heart of hearts. That’s what distinguished Abel from Cain.
II. The Sin that Lies in Wait
Well, Cain’s worship was not accepted, and Cain’s response set him on a collision course with tragedy. You see this beginning in verse 5, the second half of the verse, and this leads us to the second point, the sin that lies in wait. Worship was the occasion that triggered Cain’s sinful response and leads to this tragic murder.
Look at verse 5b, “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” So his very first reaction was one of deep anger because his offering was not accepted, whereas Abel’s was, and his face fell. That means he is dejected, he is cast down.
So the Lord comes to him in verse 6, “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’”
Now that verse, verse seven, is why I titled this point “The Sin that Lies in Wait,” because God here characterizes sin as a predatory animal. It shows us here the predatory nature of sin. Sin is personified as a power, likened to a predator. Sin is crouching at the door like a beast lying in wait. “Sin is crouching at the door; its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it,” you must master it.
The idea here is that sin is like a beast lying in wait for us, and we have to be careful; we have to be on our guard. It’s ready to ambush us at any moment. The Lord is confronting Cain with his anger and is saying, “Cain, watch out! You’re in a dangerous position.”
Even right here you see grace on the part of God, as he comes correcting and guiding Cain. Cain, of course, does not receive the direction. He doesn’t listen, and in verse 8 he commits the crime: “Cain spoke to his brother Abel, and when they were in the field Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” The beast has sprung. The monster’s awake, and now Cain is a murderer.
Now this, I think, shows us very important things about sin, the dynamics of sin and how sin works in our lives. It shows us not only the predatory nature of sin, but it shows us the progression of sin. Notice this. Notice the progression in Cain’s life.
His first sin is really the sin of unbelief. There’s something wrong in his relationship with God vertically, right? Unbelief in his worship. And then his reaction to God’s rejection of his worship is one of anger. The anger leads to dejection; his face has fallen, he is cast down; and that, then, leads to murder. There is a progression here. There is a development of sin.
This suggests several important insights for us. Let me give them to you. I’m going to give you four.
(1) First of all, it shows us that horizontal sins follow vertical sins. Sins against human beings follow sins against God. Now, this is so important when we think about sanctity of human life. We think about this catalogue of societal problems that we heard about in this video. If you think about all these problems, the issues of injustice, abortion, immorality, pornography, racism, human trafficking, violence, sexual assault; if you think about all these problems — and they are rampant — I mean, it’s worse now, it seems like, in our culture than maybe it’s been in 20 or 30 years.
You think about all these problems, the horizontal plane. They need to be addressed, but I want you to know: we will never deal with those problems until we deal with the more fundamental problem, which is a broken relationship with God himself. The horizontal problems flow out of the vertical problems. Cain murdered Abel because he was angry. He was angry because he didn’t trust God, because he didn’t worship God rightly, because he didn’t respond to God in faith and repentance. Horizontal sins follow vertical sins.
(2) Secondly, notice this, that sins start small and always get bigger. Sins start small and always get bigger. Do you remember how James talks about the conception and development of sin in James chapter 1? He says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire, and then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
There’s a development. It starts with a desire. The desire conceives, it leads into an act, and then the act, when it’s fully matured, results in death.
As I was thinking about sin as a predator, this is where my mind goes on these kinds of things, I started thinking about monster movies. Any of you ever see the original Alien movie? Okay, so I’m not recommending it, okay, if you’re squeamish, and it’s not a movie for children. But (and maybe this is the one justification for a movie like this) it gives you a picture of what sin is like. Alright? So, if you’ve seen it, you know that when they first encounter the aliens they encounter them in these eggs. It’s just an egg. And then there’s a progress through the movie as the alien morphs from one form to another until it’s this terrible, terrifying monster at the end.
You can see this in lots of monster movies. If you’ve watched the new show Stranger Things, which is kind of a hit right now, there’s the same thing in season two, where this little kid finds this little creature, and the creature, he wants to make it into a pet. All of his friends are saying, “No, don’t do that! No, don’t do that!” So he starts lying, he starts hiding, and before he knows it the pet has morphed into a beast, and then the beast into a monster.
Sin is just like that. You start with something small, and you just want to coddle it. You want it to be your pet. You think you can domesticate it, you think you can control it. Just a little lie, just a little indulgence of lust, just holding onto this grudge. But it’s a beast, it’s a monster, and it develops, one stage to the next. It gets worse and worse, until it becomes this terrifying, destructive monster inside.
That’s what happened with Cain. The Lord warned him of it! “Sin is crouching at your door. You have to rule over it. You have to rule over this, Cain; you have to beat this, Cain.” God is telling him. Cain ignores the warning, and the beast springs.
(3) This is one reason why internal sins are so deadly. This is the third application point. One reason why internal sins are so deadly, and you see this over and again in Scripture, especially in the New Testament, where Jesus himself presses home the true intention and application of the law. You remember this, in Matthew chapter 5, verses 21 and 22. He says, “You have heard that it was said by those of old, ‘You shall not murder. And whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Why does Jesus put such severe consequences on careless words, these insults? Why does he seem to equate hatred in the heart, or anger in the heart, with murder? Because Jesus knows that sin never stays small, because Jesus knows that sin in the heart is a seed that always grows and develops into something else.
John Owen talks about this in his book on Mortification of Sin. He says that every act of lust would be adultery if it could. Every act of hatred, every spark of hatred would be murder if it could. Every spark of covetousness would steal if it could, if there were no limits, if there were no constraints. If there wasn’t common grace and special grace to hold it back and mortify it, put it to death, sin would always go in that direction.
C.S. Lewis also comments on this in, I think, a very helpful way. This is from Mere Christianity; this is the one long quote I’m going to read this morning. Lewis says,
“People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules, I’ll reward you, and if you don’t, I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that this is the best way of looking at it,” he says. “I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.
“That explains what always used to puzzle me about Christian writers; they seem to be so very strict at one moment and so very free and easy at another. They talk about mere sins of thought as if they were immensely important: and then they talk about the most frightful murders and treacheries as if you had only got to repent and all would be forgiven. But I have come to see that they are right. What they are always thinking of is the mark which the action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure - or enjoy - for ever. One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both. Each has done something himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it. Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again: each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not. The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside, is not what really matters.”
That’s cause for profound soul-searching, isn’t it? What choices are we making that are turning the central self, the central part of our souls, away from God? Where are we nurturing the beastly nature of sin in our hearts and lives? How are we changing as persons? Are we changing into better, more and more Christ-like people, or are we changing for the worse?
(4) And so, we have to heed the warning of Scripture. The Lord tells Cain he must rule over the sin. As New Testament believers, we know that we have the resources to do that, because in Romans chapter 6 Paul reminds us that if we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his death, and we are raised to walk in newness of life, we have died to the power of sin, and if we’ve died to the power of sin it doesn’t have authority anymore!
I like to think of it this way: sin does not have authority, but it does have influence. Okay? It doesn’t have authority; it does not rule you, if you’re a Christian. Sin’s dominion is broken. Paul says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). It has no authority, but it does have influence.
You could say it like this: It’s not the President, but it is resident. The President has constitutional authority, but a seditious mole in the White House has no authority — but has a lot of influence. That’s what sin is like. It has no authority over you, but it does have influence, and therefore Paul says don’t let sin reign. Don’t let it rule.
Romans chapter 6, verse 12: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” Don’t let it reign! What do you do with it? You put it to death, Romans eight, verse 13. Or, to quote my favorite dead theologian, John Owen, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” We all have work to do, don’t we? The sin that lies in wait.
III. The Blood that Cries for Justice
Well, it leads Cain to murder, and that murder then leads to a confrontation with God in verses 9 through 16, and this leads to the third and final point of the message, the blood that cries for justice.
(1) First of all, look at the confrontation in verses 9 and 10. It’s actually something like a trial scene. In fact, Puritan commentator Matthew Henry saw this as a trial. He says the arraignment is in verse 9, and then Cain’s plea, also verse 9, and then his conviction is in verse 10, and his sentence is in verses 11 and 12.
So, in verse nine you see the Lord come to confront Cain. Verse 9, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’” You remember that in Genesis three he had said to Adam, “Where are you?” and now he comes to Cain, “Where is your brother?”
Cain answers, also verse 9, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” So Cain adds to the sin of murder the sin of deceit and evasion of personal responsibility. I think there was an opportunity, right there, for Cain to repent. There was an opportunity right there for Cain to confess, for Cain to acknowledge his sin, and he doesn’t. He heaps sin upon sin. It shows the hardness in his heart.
And the Lord in verse 10 says, “What have you done? The voice of your brothers blood is crying to me from the ground.” It shows here the heinousness of shedding innocent blood, which we cannot help but think about on a day like today, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. The blood of the innocent cries out to God for justice! It is wrong, the shedding of innocent blood, and that is true in whatever form it is shed, but not least of all through abortion.
(2) This leads to dire consequences for Cain, verses 11 through 16. There are three consequences.
First of all, he is cursed from the ground. Look at verse 11. God is speaking, “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened up its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength.”
This is an echo of Genesis 3, verse 14, where the serpent was cursed, and then verse 17, where the ground was cursed. It echoes that, but it develops and takes it further. This is the first time in Scripture where a human being is cursed, where God actually pronounces the curse on Cain himself, and it shows Cain’s identification here with the serpent. That’s why the New Testament, the apostle John in First John chapter 3, says that Cain was of the wicked one. He was of the wicked one.
So it echoes Genesis 3, and then it foreshadows God’s curse on all who will disobey the law, Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 19: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”
God has set before Cain in this passage life if he will do what is right. He did not do what is right, and therefore the curse is upon him. So he is cursed from the ground, and I think this means, very practically, that this farmer now will no longer be able to yield a crop. He will no longer have success in seeking his livelihood. He will endure more hardship.
The second part of these consequences are seen in the second half of verse 12, a life of wandering and exile. Verse 12, “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” From this time forward, Cain is a vagabond. He is an exile. He is a wanderer. He is a fugitive.
I’m reading right now through Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings again, which is just pure delight, my happy time every night — or almost every night. I was struck again, reading about the description of Gollum. You remember the creature Gollum that had the Ring for all those years. And you remember the back story of Gollum is that he was a hobbit-like creature, Smeagol, who, out of greed, out of covetousness for the Ring, killed Deagol. And then the Ring began to destroy him, it began to unravel him over the years. It gave him power, but it made him malicious. He became crooked and malicious.
There’s a passage there, I just looked it up again this morning, and it goes like this: "He became very unpopular and was shunned by all his relations . . . He took to thieving, and going about muttering to himself, and gurgling in his throat. So they called him Gollum, and cursed him, and told him to go far away; and his grandmother, desiring peace, expelled him from the family, and turned him out . . . He wandered in loneliness, weeping a little for the hardness of the world . . . he journeyed by night up into the highlands, and he found a little cave out of which the dark stream ran; and he wormed his way like a maggot into the heart of the hills and vanished out of knowledge."
What a picture! This is always what sin does. Sin always breaks down relationships. Sin always leads to exile. Sin always leaves us wandering; it always makes us vagabonds. It always makes us fugitives. Sin will always bring this profound loneliness of soul. It is the inevitable result of unrepentant sin.
Cain was the first prodigal son, but sadly, his story did not end with a return to his father’s arms; it ends with him in the land of Nod. The word “Nod” means wandering, or wanderer. He just ends in wandering. That’s his life.
Well, Cain replies to God in verses 13 and 14. “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today way from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Cain is frightened, but notice he’s still not repentant. He just says, “This is too much! You’re punishing me too severely; now anybody who sees me is going to kill me.”
And God says, “No, I’ll mark you so that no one will kill you. If anyone takes vengeance they will receive sevenfold.” God reserves justice for himself, “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ say the Lord.” We don’t know what that mark was. Was it a tattoo or some kind of mark on his face? It was something that would show people that Cain was under this divine protection; he could not be killed.
Now, it’s interesting that later in Scripture God will prescribe the death penalty. In the ancient civilization, he describes a death penalty for those who shed blood, in Genesis chapter 9. He does not do so now. We may wonder why that is. Perhaps it’s to limit the widespread shedding of blood and violence in these early years of human civilization.
But the most tragic thing of all, you see in verse 16, is that Cain is banished from God’s presence. This is the third part of the consequence. Verse 16, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
The word “presence” here is the Hebrew word for face, so it connotes the idea of God’s favor or his face or his goodwill. In fact, Cain has already said this: “Behold, from your face I shall be hidden.” He lost the presence of God. He lost the fellowship of God. He’s banished from God’s presence. This means that he loses God’s grace. God’s face, in Scripture, often connotes God’s grace.
In fact, one theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer, says, “God’s grace is his face shining.” You might think of Numbers chapter six and the Aaronic blessing, “The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” "The face of God represents his presence, his graciousness, his kindness, his favor" (Vanhoozer). That’s why the psalmists sometimes pray, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:3). And Cain has lost that. He’s away from the face of God. He’s away from the presence of God. Those are the consequences of sin, those are the consequences of all sin.
(3) This is a pretty bleak picture, isn’t it, this picture of Cain, the sinner, the wicked way of Cain? But I said at the beginning there are hints of grace, there are hints of the gospel in this passage, and so I want to end on this note: consolation, our consolation. What is our consolation?
Well, this third point of the sermon I called "the blood that cries for justice," because of Abel’s blood, remember? Abel’s blood crying out from the ground to God. But did you know that the New Testament connects this to something else in this wonderful passage, Hebrews chapter 12, verse 24, where the writer says, “You have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
You see, Abel’s blood cried out for justice. It was the cry of outrage, of accusation. But Jesus’ blood cries out that justice has already been satisfied. Rather than a voice of accusation calling for our condemnation, the blood of Jesus is a voice of intercession that cries out for our acquittal, for our justification.
You remember that great hymn by Charles Wesley? He says,
Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary.
They pour effectual prayers,
They ever plead for me.
‘Forgive him, O forgive,’ they cry,
‘Nor let that ransomed sinner die!’
The blood of Jesus cries out. It cries out for forgiveness. It cries out for our reconciliation. It cries out for us to be restored to the face of God. Sin is what expels us from the face of God, but the blood of Jesus Christ covers our sin, cleanses us from sin, so that we are restored to the face of God, we are restored to his presence, we are brought back into fellowship with God.
Here’s my last monster illustration of the sermon, okay? One of my favorite old stories is Phantom of the Opera. I love the book, by Gaston Leroux, and I love the play. I liked this when I was a kid and have seen it a couple times live; it’s a beautiful play in many ways. If you remember it, the Phantom is this mysterious figure who haunts an opera house, and he tutors this young protégé, Christine, a singer. But he eventually commits murder. He’s a deeply distorted individual.
And you remember that he hides behind a mask, and it’s kind of a mystery. What’s behind the mask? What’s the face behind the mask? There are a couple of times in the play where the mask comes off, where Christine rips the mask off his face and she sees that he is terribly deformed and disfigured.
As you dig into the story (this is especially true in the book, but you get hints of it in the play), the Phantom has endured this his entire life. He was born deformed. He says, “A mask [was] my first unfeeling scrap of clothing.” The first thing his mother ever gave him was a mask.
So here’s this tormented soul who has become as deformed in character as he is deformed in face, but the turn of the story, this is the climactic moment of the play, is when Christine freely — he’s in love with Christine, and she’s terrified of him — and there’s a moment in the play where she freely takes off the mask and gives him a compassionate kiss, and that’s what melts his heart. That’s what changes him, so that he lets her go, and he haunts the opera no more.
Brothers and sisters, ever since the Fall we have been hiding our faces. Like Cain, we are banished from the face of God, we’ve been our hiding our faces, we’ve been hiding behind a mask, and the gospel comes and tears the mask off so that Jesus can stoop down, kiss us in our deformity, cleanse us with his blood, so that his blood shouts for our forgiveness and his kiss transforms us into his image. The gospel declares to us the mercy-speaking voice of Jesus’ blood and displays for us the smiling face of our Father.
Let me end with these words, wonderful hymn words from the old hymnist William Gadsby. He said,
Mercy speaks by Jesus’ blood;
Hear and sing, ye sons of God!
Justice satisfied indeed,
Christ has full atonement made.
Jesus blood speaks loud and sweet;
Here all deity can meet,
And without a jarring voice
Welcome Zion to rejoice.
‘All her debts were cast on me,
And she must and shall go free.’
Peace of conscience, peace with God,
We obtain through Jesus’ blood.
Jesus’ blood speaks solid rest;
We believe, and we are blest.
‘All her debts cast on me,
She must and shall go free.’
Gracious Father, we confess that sin has distorted our souls, that too many times we have harbored these seeds of sin in our hearts. We have harbored the anger, we have harbored the lust, we have harbored the greed. We have let it fester and develop into something bigger, something beastly, something monstrous. And all of us are in some place along this spectrum. For many, your grace has broken in and you have broken the thralldom of sin, you have broken the shackles, you have broken sin’s dominion, so that we have been decisively freed. For us, the word comes strongly this morning, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies.” Give us grace to obey that, give us grace and will and strength to fight our sins and to put them to death.
Give us all this morning the consolation of knowing that our sins are forgiven, and they are forgiven through the blood of Jesus. We thank you that his blood speaks better things. We thank you that his blood is sufficient to cover our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and that if we confess our sins you are faithful and just to forgive us. We thank you that the blood of Christ speaks mercy, that it speaks loud and sweet, that it speaks peace to our troubled hearts.
As we come to the table this morning, we pray that we would come eating the bread and drinking the juice with eyes not on the physical elements, but eyes on the realities which these elements represent, the reality of Christ crucified and risen and resurrected and reigning for us. May we, this morning, look to Christ in faith. May we confess our sins to Christ in faith. May we receive the assurance of Christ’s pardon by faith, and may we be strengthened by Christ our Savior, even as we take the bread and juice. So draw near to us now in these moments. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.