raising Cain: the call for repentance


Raising Cain is an expression given to someone who causes havoc. We get the phrase from the Genesis 4, where we get a glimpse into the first family and the children they raised. The children of Adam and Eve were far from perfect. This is a tale of two brothers. Woven into this story are incredible lessons for parents, children, and everyday followers of God.

What’s in a name? [Genesis 4:1-2]

Biblical names have meanings. The biblical meanings of names are significant and often shape the life of the one who bears the names. Let’s meet our two brothers: The first brother is Cain. His name means ‘acquire, get, possess’. The second brother is Abel. His name means ‘vapor or breath’.  As we will see in the story their names have a predetermining affect on their futures.

What is the purpose of your work? [4:3-5]

In Genesis 1-2, during the days of created God set an example for man to live by—6-days a week man works the land God creates and the seventh day man worships the God who created the land which they work [1:26-28]. Both the brothers are hard workers. Cain works the land and Abel ranches the animals. They are generous workers. From an early age both brothers learn the value of giving God a portion of their labors for praise and worship. Work is a means of worship because work involves sacrifice. This is a great lesson for all laborers.

Your mission while working is to give God your best in time, effort, aspirations, career, and money. Come to God with something in your hands to worship God from rewards of your reaping. Both brothers recognize their work and rewards of their work come from God. Both brothers bring gifts of their labors to God. Cain brings the first fruits of his land and Abel brings the firstborn of his flock. Both brothers come with something in their hand, but also something in their heart.

God questions what you bring for worship [4:6-7a]

In Genesis 3:9-13, God questions Cain’s parents over their actions in the Garden; He does the same here with Cain. God loves to ask questions. Man seeks to avoid questions. Man’s motto is, “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” God asks, “Why are you angry? It’s all over your face. I see your heart. Will you do what is right and repent?”

Cain comes to God with full hands but a jealous heart of unbelief [cf. 1 John 3:12; Hebrew 11:4]. He looks at his bowl of Cheerios and then at his brother’s box of Omaha Steaks and thinks, “Wow, my offering is pretty lame,” and jealous grew in his heart over Abel. Was it that Abel’s offering was better? No. The mass of the offering in your hands does not matter a bit, but the manner of your heart before God does matter.

Do you compare your worship with others? When in church are you looking around at what others bring? Are you jealous because someone else has your is growing in their relationship with God more than you, better life [job, girl or guy] than you, appears more success than you? Are you obsessed with other people around you, rather than the only One whose opinion matters? Abel comes to God with a love for God in his heart. His offering is regarded because his heart is to please God. Cain’s offering looked religious, but his heart is not dependent upon God. Some Christians are a lot like Cain, even worse because they come to God with nothing in their hands. He at least comes with something in his hand, even though what he had in his heart was wicked and twisted.

What are the consequences of keeping a jealous heart? [4:7b-9]

If Cain does not get a handle on his jealousy it will handle him. God warns Cain, “Your sin will drive you insane.” Sin is powerful enough to drive one to insanity and death. Cain must have learned the desire for power and prestige from his mommy [cf. desire; Genesis 3:16b]. Do you notice the pride in Eve’s statement, “I have made a man” [4:1]? She didn’t make man, God did. Eve is trying to rule over her roost and her redemption, but Cain is not the promised Redeemer Seed [cf. 3:15].

The consequences of keeping jealousy in your heart will cause it to grow and spiral out of control. First, if you internalize jealousy you will be depressed. Second, if you externalize jealousy you will get violent [i.e. Cain]. Third, if you deal with jealousy through repent you will rule over it with self-control. If you are convicted of a jealous heart, repent, before it gets worse. And worse it did get for Cain. Cain invites his brother to the farm, kills him in broad daylight, and buries his bloody body under the ground. This is a premeditated murder. Jealousy led to insanity. Insanity led to Abel’s mortality.

God as Counselor and Judge [4:9-12]

Echoing God’s question in the Garden [3:9], God asks Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” [v.9]. And like his parents, He covers with a lie, “I don’t know! Am I Abel’s babysitter?” This should have been an opportunity for immediate repentance and restoration. Instead, God has to step in as the law enforcer, CSI agent, prosecutor, and Judge. Therefore, since Cain alienates himself from God, God alienates him from good farmland. Cain dishonors the dirt, and the dirt dishonors Cain [cf. 3:17].

What happens when you repent? [4:13-26]

I believe, Cain responds to God’s curse with a repentant heart, “My sin is greater than I can bear” [v.13]. The curse cracks the hard shell of Cain’s heart. He realizes and wakes up to the consequences of his sin. He knows he will have to move away [East of Nod = “wandering” alienation from God], be a fugitive, believes someone will track him down and kill him too.

It is not a popular opinion, but I believe Cain repents because God blesses him through protection [15-16, tattoo], gives him a family [17a], gives him a refuge city [17b], gives him another brother [25a], promises a Redeemer Seed [25b-26a], and brings a revival [26]. God is a good God—a gracious God. God gives Cain good gifts despite his sin.

In Genesis 4, you see Cain’s worst day. Lame Lamech gives you a look into where Cain’s sin could lead without repentance [vs.19-24]. I am glad that the Bible is an honest book describing the gruesome details of people’s lives. I could not image God putting my worst days in the Bible as an example for others to read and remember. God gives these examples to learn about His grace, so that in your worst day you can also have your best because God’s restoration follows repentance.

The story of Cain and Abel does not make sense until you put yourself into the shoes of Cain. You are Cain. You have killed your brother, Jesus. You come to God with empty worship and an unrepentant jealous heart. Jesus’ death offers you life and hope. Jesus’ death and blood cries out so that you would believe in your brother and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ [Hebrews 12:24].

Questions for Reflections and Application:

What are some of the lessons in this story for parents? Children? Or everyday followers of God?

What is the overall effect of sin’s mastery as this story is played out?

What do you think Genesis 4 is meant to instill in you? How does it impact you?

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