Genesis 4 - What Can You Live Without?

Jan 1, 2012 by: | Series: Genesis | Category: Sunday Worship Scripture: Genesis 4:1–4:26 Tags: Cain, Abel, murder, sacrifice, blood, grace, repentance

[Text: Genesis 4]

We left off Genesis at the end of chapter 3. God revealed himself in chapter 1 as the powerful and good Creator and in chapter 2 we saw how he loves to live with His people in covenant – a relationship with promises of benefits for faithfulness and consequences for rebellion. Chapter 3 showed us the rebellion against God’s goodness in full swing and yet we saw a promise that it would not always be that way. Now in chapter 4, the consequences of rebellion show up even in the children of our first parents…but so does the grace of God.


What can you live without? That could be a pretty long list, couldn’t it? I could live without the presence of a few extra pounds. I could certainly live (and I often do) without the presence of broccoli. Living without a cell phone would be more of a stretch sometimes, but it might actually be kinda nice. At some point, however, the list gets tougher to stomach. Could I live without running water? Well, I guess so, but spending all day collecting water can be miserable work. How about the presence of heat in winter? Yes, but that would get pretty miserable, too.

Let’s go another level down. Could I live without love? What if I did not have the presence of my family? What if they were stripped from me and I was forever denied their presence? Many are forced to live that way; friendless, loveless; not knowing and not being known by another human. Yes, I could live. But misery would be my close companion. We were made to live in the presence of love. Without love all of life is bitterness and misery; strife and discontent.

This text illustrates in vivid detail our need to live in the presence of God. It shows the misery of life unaffected by the beauty of God. But through the broken mess of Cain’s life we also see a gracious God offering peace and hope even to a murderer if only he’ll receive it. At the same time it teaches us, just like it taught Israel long ago, how we might enjoy the presence of God. We’ll see it as possible by three things:

By embracing Him with our heartsBy repenting when we run awayBy worshiping Him with His people

I. The Scriptures don’t always inform us through positive propositions. In this case, it mainly instructs us through Cain’s negative example to invite the people of God toward a positive response. So, as we consider Cain’s angry heart, let’s look at how we enjoy the presence of God by embracing Him with our hearts.

In v. 1-5 we are told about two brothers.

- Now, we don’t know how much time has past since Adam and Eve chose fruit over God, but God’s promise of an offspring of the woman who would be victorious over evil and brokenness must have been fresh in her mind. You can almost hear the hopefulness in her voice when she says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And not just once, but twice, she bears sons. I would imagine that her mind is racing, thinking that God’s promises were about to come true. Maybe she would have looked longingly at the horizon where she knew her true home, the Garden, to be.

- As the boys grow, they both engage in noble work, together working to fulfill God’s command to take care of creation and make it flourish.

- As the boys grow, they come to the LORD to offer him something in worship. Verses 4-5 tell us that Abel’s was accepted, but Cain’s wasn’t. Cain’s offering wasn’t pleasing to God. Why?

- Some speculate that the kinds of offerings give us the clue, but I’m not convinced. Even later in the OT, after the sacrifices acceptable to God are told in detail, both of these fit. The text does note in particular that Abel’s sacrifice was of the firstborn of the flock and of their fat portions, that is, the best of the best and simply notes that Cain brought the fruit of the ground. That may hint that God favored Abel’s more costly sacrifice, but I’m not sure about this being the difference either. Under the later sacrificial system, provision was made for the poor farmer who couldn’t afford a lamb and beyond that, the scriptures are clear that even the best animal money can buy isn’t enough to force God to accept it.

- No, I’m convinced that the difference was in their hearts. The text leads us in that direction:

But let me put it in perspective first: Tina: “I’ve been in what I thought was a “relationship” for the last three years with a man who psychologically abused me . . . I’m trying to recover but due to the lack of understanding from friends, family, authorities and mental health professionals I’ve withdrawn from almost everything and everyone. My fear is that my Perpetrator will return and offer me that understanding to lift my spirits long enough for him to get whatever it is he is wanting . .. usually money …. a meal …. or sex. As always, as soon as he gets what he wants he will leave or start tormenting me with his little comments and lies to confuse me . . . Usually the gifts are the last resort when none of his other tactics work to suck me back into his twisted world. They are not expensive gifts ... but they are clever gifts. He knows me and he knows me well . . . why does he know me[?] . . . because it gives him the advantage.”[1]

Now imagine this man’s anger if she were to refuse his “gift.” I can only assume that because his heart is not truly embracing this woman, but only trying to manipulate her through giving gifts, then he would be furious.

It was the same way with Cain. He didn’t get the outcome he expected, so instead of asking God what he could do differently, he became so angry that he murdered his brother in jealousy.

Abel’s heart had embraced God and his worship and offering was out of the overflow of his heart. He knew the LORD, knew His promises and loved him. When they heard this story, Israel was being given a system of sacrifices so that their sins could be covered over and they could enjoy living with their God in peace. They were going to face a real temptation to use those sacrifices as a means of controlling God and letting their worship be merely what they do; not be the overflow of their heart. Inherent in this story is a call to examine our hearts to see if what we give to God is coming from an attempt to control Him and make him owe us forgiveness or if what we give to God comes from a heart level love for Him (not just what He might give to us).

That doesn’t mean that we abandon the right forms of worship that God has given us. We must worship Him like He tells us to and not in ways we make up for ourselves. But to have a call to worship and sing songs of praise and make confession of sins and hear a sermon and serve the Lord’s Supper and sing a doxology is to no avail if your heart has not embraced the God who has ordained those things. To enjoy His presence we must embrace Him with our hearts.

II. And we must also repent when we run away from Him. As the story continues in v. 6 we see God twice coming to Cain, giving him opportunities to receive grace.

- Responding to Cain’s anger, God offers hope: “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 for you, but you must rule over it.”

- What did God mean by suggesting Cain will be accepted if he “does well?” What would that have looked like?

- If your boss or parent asks you to do something well, what is the first question that you should ask? I think a good question would be, “How do I do it well?” I had to ask that when I worked for an insulation company in Wisconsin… “Tell me what “doing well” looks like.”

- Seeking that answer would have been good on Cain’s part. It would have been like repentance and could have opened the door for him to enjoy the presence and forgiveness of God, but instead anger overtakes him and jealousy of his brother leads him to murder.

- And after he kills his own brother we see no godly sorrow in Cain. What we do see is a conversation much like God and Adam’s in chapter 3; God asks a question and Cain, like his father, tries to hide from God.

- But God knows what has happened. Justice would have dictated that God kill him on the spot. But He mixes mercy with His justice: Cain will live, but he’ll wander the rest of his life.

- And God has more mercy. When Cain complains about God’s justice (yikes!) saying that it is too much, God kindly marks him (somehow) and promises to protect him. But God’s judgment on Cain is in keeping with Cain’s heart and lack of repentance. God sends him away from his presence. This isn’t so much a geographical shift (the whole earth belongs to the LORD). It tells us about the state of Cain’s heart. There is no repentance, no sorrow. So, he wanders from God just like he’s been doing in his heart all along.

- It isn’t hard to get the message the people of Israel would have heard. God is a big God, offering grace, even to rebels like Cain, if only they would accept it and let the mercy of God lead them into repentance.

- Where are you running from the presence of the LORD? Let me ask it this way, have you repented of any sins lately? Some sins are obvious ways of running from Him. Sexual sin, gossip and anger held in our hearts toward our brothers are all running from God toward other things that bring only misery. But are you running from him by going through the motions of worship, expecting him to bless you just because you showed up? I have to answer that question, too. The good news is this: Even if the answer is yes, I’m running from God, the good news is that God offers acceptance if we embrace him with our hearts. He is patient with rebels like Cain and God’s patience is meant to lead us back to him; to give up on running away and run toward the grace that has been shown to us in Jesus.

- Jesus is our true older brother who instead of killing us was killed for us. We are accepted not because of our sacrifice, but because he was sacrificed for us. Our worship is pleasing to God because Jesus embraced God with his whole heart. In him we enjoy the presence of God fully because He is the presence of God, Immanuel, “God with us,” who we have been celebrating these past four weeks.

In Jesus we enjoy the presence of God

- By embracing Him with our hearts

- By repenting when we run away

- And we also enjoy his presence by worshiping Him with His people

We see this twice in Adam’s family here. In v. 1-4 we see it in the hope Adam and Eve put in God; that He was still in covenant with them and He was still their hope. We know it because Cain and Abel both knew of the LORD and knew that He was to be worshipped. We see it in the end of the chapter when having essentially lost both of their sons, they honor the LORD at the birth of Seth and trust that although the promise of God’s final victory tarried; hope was alive because of this child. So they waited and they worshiped in the presence of God by calling on His name.

The difference between Adam’s family (going down through Seth) and Cain’s family is presence of the Covenant God. Though just as broken and sinful as Cain, Adam and Eve hoped in God and worshiped in His presence with Seth and his children (and possibly many others). Their hearts embraced Him and his promises are their hope. But look at Cain’s family. There is no mention of the LORD in the account of his family. They are a family outside of the presence of God and it shows. Sin is unrestrained outside of the presence of God, even if some aspects of the image of God remain in their creativity. But beautiful things can be used for ugly and distorted purposes (like Lamech’s skillful song in a high style celebrating his proud vengefulness).

So, what can you live without? Cell phones? Coffee? Heat? Even Stick Boy? Yes. Can you live without the presence of God? Yes, in a way. But see the misery it brings. But from sin and misery Christ has set us free and only in Him can we enjoy the presence of God. So let’s embrace Jesus with our hearts. Let’s repent when we run away from him and receive the grace he offers. And let’s enjoy his presence among us by worshipping him with his people.

[transition to the Lord's Supper]

The meal before us is a tangible reminder of God’s presence already among us and his promise made on the cross: I will care for you...

[1] From on 12/29/11