Brothers

Scripture: Genesis 4:1-16

Title: Brothers

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • God’s grace for Cain
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Yesterday was ANZAC Day – NZ’s national day of remembrance for war veterans

  • 2015 also marks 100 years since Australian and NZ troops landed at Gallipoli during the First World War
  • Gallipoli is something of a sacred memory in the hearts & minds of New Zealanders and Australians
  • Some say it is where we forged our identity
  • In reality though Gallipoli was a military disaster for both sides, with over 100,000 men killed in total and many more wounded

A lot is made of Gallipoli, in NZ & Australia at least, but we don’t hear much about the Armenian genocide which happened around the same time

The Armenian Genocide was the Ottoman Empire’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic homeland within the territory of present-day Turkey.

  • The starting date of the genocide is conventionally held to be the 24th of April 1915, the day before the ANZAC’s landed at Gallipoli
  • Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and Ottoman Greeks were also targeted for extermination [1]
  • It is thought that more than 3.5 million people (Armenians, Assyrians & Greeks) were killed over a 30 year period. [2]  That is a lot of death
  • One can’t help wondering if the genocide might have been less extensive had the ANZAC troops succeeded at Gallipoli

Why am I telling you this?

  • Well this morning, in view of the ANZAC’s and the Armenians, our message looks back to the first known murder in Genesis 4
  • On the surface this story appears to be about Cain killing his brother Abel
  • But looking a little deeper we see it also has something to say about God’s grace. From Genesis chapter 4, verse 1 we read…

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’ Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ 10 The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’ 13 Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’ 15 But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

God’s grace for Cain

About 17 or 18 years ago now, when we lived in Tauranga, I was at the hair dressers getting my hair cut

  • In the course of the conversation it came out that I was a Christian – at which point the hairdresser went very quiet for a few moments before telling me she couldn’t believe in God because so many wars had been caused by religion
  • Perhaps she really believed what she was saying or perhaps it was just an excuse to avoid the inconvenience God creates – I don’t know
  • But there is a perception among many people that religion is responsible for war

To my mind this is not a very accurate way to think about it

  • Saying that ‘religion is responsible for war’ is like saying ‘wood is responsible for forest fires’
  • Yes, the wood of religion can fuel the fire of war but it isn’t the tree which strikes the match
  • Sadly some people hijack religion for evil ends

Although Cain doesn’t exactly hijack religion in Genesis 4, the context of his murder of Abel is religious

  • Abel kept flocks and Cain grew crops
  • Cain brought some of his crops as an offering to the Lord
  • And Abel brought fat portions from some of the first born of his flock
  • These offerings were not for the forgiveness of sins
  • They were an act of worship – an acknowledgement that God was their boss, the one in charge, the one responsible for their crops and flocks

Verses 4 & 5 tell us that the Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour.

It is unclear what the text means exactly by “God’s favour”

  • What is clear is that Cain was upset to miss out on it
  • As most people know, if you have a group of children and you don’t treat them all the same then there will be protest…
  • “That’s not fair – why did he get two scoops of ice-cream when I only got one?”

So why did God show favour to Abel and not to Cain?

  • Was it because there was something wrong with Cain’s offering?
  • Some people over the centuries have suggested that God favoured Abel’s sacrifice because it involved the shedding of blood, while Cain’s didn’t
  • But that idea doesn’t really wash – later in the Bible God condones and even prescribes grain offerings, so it can’t have anything to do with blood
  • Others point out that Abel’s sacrifice included the fat portions of some of the first born of the flock while Cain’s offering gets no special mention, which might suggest that Cain’s grain was substandard
  • Possibly, but the text of Genesis 4 doesn’t actually criticise Cain’s offering

It seems to me a mistake to make God’s favour dependent on Cain’s (or Abel’s) sacrifice – after all, God’s favour is not earned, it is given

  • Neither Cain’s (nor Abel’s) offerings were adequate in themselves to earn God’s favour
  • As the song goes, were the whole realm of nature mine, would be an offering far too small [3]

 

Jesus told a parable about some workers who were hired by a land owner at different stages of the day

  • When it came to the end of the day the land owner paid everyone the same amount, whether they had worked all day or just the last hour
  • When those who had worked all day realised this they grumbled against the land owner, but he answered them…

‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for what I paid you? Take your wages and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’    [4]

God is free to show favour to whoever he wants

  • That doesn’t make God unfair – it just makes him generous
  • And if Cain is to become angry & envious due to God’s generosity then that tells us pretty clearly, the problem is with Cain, not with God

 

The writer to the Hebrews (in the New Testament) says…

  • By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did… [5]
  • This indicates that faith is the key issue, more than the offering itself
  • Abel made his offering in good faith (trusting God) and God credited his faith as righteousness
  • Whereas Cain made his offering in a way that somehow lacked faith

In verses 6 & 7 the Lord says to Cain…

  • ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’

God’s message to Cain seems to be…

  • You have a choice between reconciliation and alienation
  • Between peace and anger – choose reconciliation, choose peace
  • Face the problem and put things right before it is too late
  • We often think of God’s grace as the ambulance at the bottom of a cliff (fixing us up after we have crashed)
  • But here God’s grace (for Cain) is a warning sign at the top of the cliff

We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5…

  • Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. 

Sadly Cain ‘yields to the waiting rage’ [6]

  • As Derek Kidner points out, ‘…while Eve had been talked into her sin [by the serpent], Cain will not have even God talk him out of it…’ [7]

Verse 8 tells us how Cain responded to God – by inviting his brother (Abel) out into the field and killing him

  • There is no wrestling with his conscience – just cold blooded, premeditated murder
  • Cain is angry because God has not accepted his offering so he destroys one made in God’s image
  • This murder reveals Cain’s lack of faith

Fortunately the way of Cain is not the only option available to us when it seems that God has rejected our offering

  • Let me tell you the true story of a man who offered himself for missionary service only to be turned down, twice

Paul Brand was the son of a missionary couple

  • Like his parents he also aspired to mission work and trained as a carpenter in the hope of travelling overseas to build schools and hospitals in the name of Jesus (as his father had done before him)
  • After completing his apprenticeship Paul approached J.B. Collin, the president of the mission council, and asked to be accepted for service in India
  • But despite being a ‘missionary kid’ and despite having carpentry skills Paul was judged unready for the kind of work the mission required
  • He was told he needed more preparation
  • Paul Brand writes, “I was crushed. God’s will had seemed so clear to me and now this key person was standing in my way.” [8]

Cain would have killed the mission director but not Paul Brand

  • After a short period of figuring things out he enrolled in medical school, counting his four years in the building industry a waste of time
  • Then, on completing his general medical training, Dr Paul Brand presented himself once again to the mission board
  • And once again he was turned down
  • This time the interference came from the Central Medical War Committee of Great Britain
  • They rejected his application to work in a mission hospital on the border of Nepal and instead ordered him into the bomb casualty clearing services in London (this was during the Blitz of World War 2)
  • Dr Brand continues his own story…

“Impatiently biding my time during the forced delay, I studied for higher qualifications in the field of surgery. Twice my good plans had been stymied, once by a wise and godly mission administrator and once by a secular committee of bureaucrats. Each time I had felt shaken and confused. Had I somehow misread God’s will for my life?”  [9]

As it turned out, those rejections and set backs were God’s hand directing Dr Brand’s life

  • Eventually Dr Bob Cochrane in India convinced the Central Medical War Committee to assign Paul Brand to a new medical college in Vellore, India, where Dr Brand received a call from God to work with leprosy patients
  • His carpentry skills became invaluable both as an orthopaedic surgeon and in setting up a carpentry workshop for his patients
  • God doesn’t waste anything

Just because God doesn’t accept your offering the first time, doesn’t mean he is finished with you

  • If Cain had had the faith to keep trusting God, when his offering had not been accepted, imagine the good God might have brought from it

It’s striking, isn’t it, that God doesn’t stop Cain

  • While God does warn Cain, he doesn’t control Cain
  • God does not interfere with human free will, even when the choices we make are destructive
  • By the same token God also holds us to account for the choices we make
  • Freedom always comes with responsibility

As Walter Brueggemann writes…

  • “The story would have Cain discover that life with the brother is not lived in a void but in relation to God…
  • …whoever violates the brother must face God”  [10]

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’

  • ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

 

Cain lies to God – denying any responsibility – he is without remorse

  • God’s response, from verse 10, makes it clear that, yes, we are supposed to be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper
  • Looking out for each other is part of what it means to be human

 

10 The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’

 

Abel’s death affects God – it moves Him

  • God is concerned for justice for Abel, so there is a consequence for Cain
  • But the punishment is not ‘an eye for an eye’ or ‘a life for a life’
  • God does not kill Cain here
  • The punishment is somewhat less than the crime deserves
  • The Sensible Sentencing Trust would not be pleased
  • God shows mercy to Cain as well as to Adam & Eve who would have lost two sons if God had chosen to kill Cain

In a word the punishment is exile

  • This was a punishment the Jewish people were all too familiar with
  • To be exiled is to lose almost everything
  • In exile a person loses their family, their home, their land, their work, their routines and consequently their security
  • The prospect of exile is frightening

From verse 13 Cain’s words reveal what is in his heart

  •  ‘My punishment is more than I can bear…’
  • “Cain responds with self-pity instead of repentance…” [11]
  • He talks about God driving him from the land when in fact it is Cain’s own actions which alienate him

Cain has lost touch with the truth and so he adds to what God has said

  • ‘…whoever finds me will kill me’
  • This  reveals Cain’s fear
  • He is more afraid of other people than he is of God
  • To fear the Lord is to have an accurate perception of reality – to know in your heart of hearts that God is more powerful than anything else
  • To fear the Lord is to be more concerned with what God thinks than with what other people think
  • ‘Faith in God’ and ‘fear of the Lord’ are two sides of the same coin
  • To fear the Lord is to know Him and to trust Him

Despite the fact that Cain shows no remorse for what he has done and no ‘fear of the Lord’, God (in his remarkable grace) still promises to take care of him

  • God puts a mark on Cain so that no one would kill him
  • We don’t know what that mark was, much less whether some people still carry that mark today, but that’s beside the point
  • The point is: God’s concern for justice (for the innocent) is matched by his grace for sinners

We see God’s grace for Cain throughout Genesis 4

  • Firstly, God tried to persuade Cain to reconcile
  • And when Cain ignored God’s warning and murdered Abel, God showed mercy to Cain
  • God did not take Cain’s life but instead protected him and gave him descendants of his own who made all sorts of advancements in technology and industry

When we reflect on the Bible as a whole we notice that Cain is not the only killer that God extended his grace to

  • Moses, Samson, David and the apostle Paul, to name a few
  • All killers at some point in their life and yet used by God, but not without  being broken, humbled and purified in the process
  • God is gracious in a way that fills us with wonder if we pause long enough to think about it

 

Conclusion:

There is so much violence in our world today – the spirit of Cain seems alive and well

  • But it won’t always be that way
  • Listen to what the prophet Isaiah says about the future
  • A note of hope to finish with…

In the last days…

  • The Lord will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
  • Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.  [12]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Genocide

[2] Barnabasaid magazine for March/April 2015, page 8.

[3] Line from the hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’

[4] Matthew 20:13-15

[5] Hebrews 11:4

[6] Refer Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Genesis, page 62.

[7] From Derek Kidner’s commentary on Genesis, page 74.

[8] From Philip Yancey’s book, ‘Stories for the Soul’, pages 69-73.

[9] Ibid

[10] From Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Genesis, page 61.

[11] Refer Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis, page 98.

[12] Isaiah 2:4-5

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