The Consequences of Sin
The Consequences of Sin
Let me begin this morning by asking: What does sin do to the human heart? Sin has consequences. Last week we saw how Adam and Eve’s sin found them out. The natural consequences of their sin were a fall from innocence and irreparable damage to their relationship with each other and with God. We also saw God’s judgement on them. He removed his blessing from them, at least in part. The woman was told that the joy of children would be mingled with the pain of childbirth. The man was condemned to living outside the garden—to living in a place where the cultivation of his food would not come easily. And while God did punish their sin, we also saw God extend a measure of grace to Adam and Eve. He created them to be in fellowship with himself and even though they rejected that fellowship, we see that he continued to love them and to want that fellowship restored. He promised them a future Redeemer, who would one day come through the woman’s offspring and we saw him sovereignly turn their hearts away from Satan and back to himself. But was that the end of the effects of sin?
We all know that it obviously was not. In the next few chapters what we’ll see is that despite God’s grace, humanity’s sin problem is actually going to get worse, not better. Yes, God has set the wheels of redemption in motion, but in the meantime the Serpent still has power and will subject humanity to his will. In fact, we’ll see two lines here. We’ll see the line—the seed or offspring—of the woman, a line in which God will graciously work to bring about the Redeemer. And we’ll see the line—the seed or offspring—of the serpent, a line of people who ally themselves with sin and with Satan and in whom sin will only get worse and worse. The story set these two lines up in Chapter 3. Now in Chapter 4 we’ll see them actually take shape. Look with me at verses 1 and 2.
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.
Names had much greater significance to ancient people than they do to us. We’ve already seen that with “Adam” and “Eve”. We’ll see it with their children too. We’ll also see that humanity’s understanding of our place in the world and of God’s grace has a lot of room to grow. After they leave the garden Eve becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy. She names him “Cain”, a name connected with the Hebrew word for “acquire” or “create”. But notice her justification for the name: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” This would have grated on Israelite sensibilities. You might remember back to Chapter 1 and especially to our look at the meaning of “Sabbath”. God created the world with order. He set natural processes in place that bring things about, but that doesn’t mean he’s unplugged from his creation. You and I might plant a garden and attribute its growth to the fact that we planted and watered and weeded. Ancient people would have thought the same thing, but they also understood that even though they had their part to do, the ultimate growth of their crops was due to God, who is active in those natural processes and who, if he desires, could just as easily hinder the process. In their understanding, God did the work and it was human beings who helped.
In the case of Eve’s naming of Cain I’m reminded of a picture I saw posted on the Internet recently by a friend. It was the old Wold War II poster of Rosie the Riveter with her “We can do it slogan”, except that in this image, Rosie is obviously pregnant and the slogan was changed to, “I make people. What’s your superpower?” Let me be clear: God has given women a great blessing in giving them the ability to bear children, but it’s not a superpower. It’s a natural process that God has established in his creation. The “superpower” belongs to God who is still the one ultimately behind that natural process, who established it and sustains it. Eve’s statement is a bit like the statement of the poster. She prides herself on having produced a son. She gives God credit as her helper, but she sees it as ultimately her work. As her faith and her understanding of God grow, we’ll see her thinking shift. When Seth is born she fully acknowledge him as a gift from God. We’ll see human understanding of God’s role in Creation grow even more when Seth names his own son “Enosh”, which means “man in weakness”. Not surprisingly, Seth and Enosh are the fathers of God’s faithful line.
In Abel’s case, his name foreshadows his early demise. “Abel” means “vapour” or “breath”. If Cain is the father of those who try to claim God’s position for themselves, Abel is the father of all those who get the short end of the stick. Look at the latter half of verse 2 through the first half of verse 5:
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.
Abel grows up to be a shepherd and Cain grows up to be a farmer. Both of them bring offerings to the Lord from the fruit of their labour. The storyteller blanks the details of the offering and how Cain and Abel knew to bring these them. The Hebrew word that’s used for both offerings describes a gift to give deference and honour. It’s possible that the idea of sacrifice for sins could have been included, but the text doesn’t give us enough information to draw that conclusion. Whatever the case, Adam and his sons made these offerings to God because they knew their place before him and wanted to honour the One who was not only their Creator, but the one who had also offered them mercy when they sinned. I’ve often wondered if, when God killed the animal to make clothes of skin for Adam and Eve if he might have taken the carcass and also taught them how to offer a sacrifice. We don’t know. What we do know is that, at the least, they were recognizing God’s holiness and sovereignty by bring him some of their produce as an offering; Abel offered God animals from his flock and Cain offered him produce from his harvest.
But there was a problem. The story tells us that God found Abel’s sacrifice pleasing, but that he had no regard for Cain’s. Again, we don’t know how God showed his acceptance. An old tradition from the Fathers that says that God sent fire down to consume Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Whatever the case, Abel’s offering was pleasing to God and Cain’s was not. Why? The popular reasoning that goes along with this story is that Abel was offering a blood sacrifice and that Cain was not. We get this idea because we know that only blood can cover sin. The problem is that there’s no indication here that this is an offering for sin. In fact, later on, when the law is given to the Israelites through Moses, this particular sort of offering was specified to be made with grain. It was made in addition to blood sacrifices for sin. So we can be sure the problem wasn’t the actual thing being offered. A bushel of grain was just as good as lamb.
We can see the problem in what the text tells us specifically about Abel’s offering and what it doesn’t say about Cain’s. Abel gave “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions”. Abel didn’t wait until all his ewe’s had given birth and he could count up his lambs and decide how much he could afford to give to God. He knew and acknowledged that they all came from God and so he offered God back the firstborn. And the text also says that he offered the fat portions. The fat portions were the best part of the lamb. In contrast to Abel, we’re told that Cain simply brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground.” Abel’s offering was remarkable; there was faith and devotion behind it. Cain’s offering was unremarkable. Abel brought the best. Cain brought what he thought he could afford.
Let me put it in modern terms. Abel knew that he owed his life and everything he had to the grace of God. He loved his Creator and he wanted to thank him for his gracious provision, so he committed, before he ever received his paycheque, to give a generous percentage to God right off the top. In contrast, Cain felt obligated to give something. Maybe he knew that he owed it to God or maybe he just felt the pressure to do it because his brother and his father made offerings to God. Whatever the case, his heart wasn’t in it. He got his paycheque and he spent it on himself first—maybe even on stuff that we admit he really needed—and then he gave from what was left over. Do you see the difference? Abel made an offering in faith. He didn’t know how things would turn out that year. Maybe half of his flock would die in a summer drought; he had no idea what would happen, but he deliberately gave generously and in faith. His offering showed not only his devotion to God, his thankfulness to God, but his faith in God. In contrast, Cain gave what he knew he could afford, he kept the best for himself, and he gave only what he knew he could afford. There was no faith behind Cain’s gift. Bruce Waltke writes, “[Cain] looks religious, but in his heart he is not totally dependent on God, childlike, or grateful.”
Because Cain’s gift wasn’t motivated by faith it was unacceptable to God. How often are we the same way? How often do we keep the best for ourselves and give God a token? Brothers and sisters, Abel and Cain show us the difference between true and false religion. True religion sees the love of God for us. True religion sees God’s provision day to day for our physical needs and sees Jesus Christ shedding his blood on the cross for our spiritual needs and holds nothing back God. True religion is rooted in faith that as God has already provided, he will continue to do so. False religion is all for show, or at best, seeks to quell God’s anger over our sins by making token efforts of religiosity and good works. The first is pleasing to God; he hates the second.
Cain had a decided advantage over us. The text doesn’t say specifically how, but Cain knew that his offering was unacceptable. Maybe fire came down and consumed Abel’s offering but not his. Again, we don’t know how Cain knew, but he knew. And that means that God gave Cain a very deliberate chance to fix the situation: to adjust his attitude, to grow his faith, and to do the right thing. But that’s not what Cain did. Look the second half of verse 5 through verse 6:
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 for you, but you must rule over it.”
Instead of doing what he knew to be right, Cain got angry and “his face fell”—that’s an ancient Hebrew way of saying that he became depressed. How often does this happen to us? We know we’ve failed to live in faith; we know we’ve sinned; or we know there’s some good we should have done, but we failed to do it and instead of making things right, we get angry that things aren’t going our way and then when they get worse, not better, from our doing nothing to change we end up spiralling down into depression and self-pity.
And yet in God’s response to Cain we see just how gracious and merciful he is. God doesn’t kick us to the curb when we sin or when we fail to please him. He never stops loving us. And so we see him coming to Cain to urge him to change and to warn him to watch out so that his sin doesn’t get the better of him: “Cain, why are you angry and depressed? You know what’s wrong. You know that your offerings aren’t acceptable because they show your lack of faith. Do what you know is right and everything will get better. But be warned: you’ve put yourself in a dangerous place. Sin is waiting at the door to eat you alive—to consume your soul. Either it’s going to master you or you must master it!”
But Cain doesn’t listen. He’s too mired in his sin and in his self-pity. He sees his brother’s healthy relationship with God and becomes jealous. And of course the more Cain sees Abel doing what is right it only serves to condemn him. Since he’s not willing to turn his own life around, Cain does to Abel what the wicked so often do to the righteous: he decided to do away the person whose example was so convicting.
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?” (Genesis 4:8-9)
Think how God came to Adam and Eve after they had sinned and how, by his line of questioning, he allowed them to convict themselves. He does the same thing again with Cain. God knew what had happened, but he comes to Cain asking about Abel: “Where is your brother?” Cain’s defensiveness gives away his guilt and his response, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” shows his lack of remorse or repentance. Cain has truly become the seed of the serpent. When the Jews told Jesus that Abraham was their father, he corrected them:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
We see this for the first time with Cain who murdered and then lied to God in an attempt to cover it up. But God will have none of it. Look at verses 10-12:
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.”
If it seems like this just happened, it’s because it did just happen in Chapter 3 with Adam and Eve. As he did with Adam, God calls Cain’s attention to the specifics of his sin and then pronounces judgement and what the consequences will be. And as with Adam and Eve, Cain’s punishment fits his crime. Adam sinned by eating, so his punishment was that from that time forward he would have to work hard to get the ground to produce his food. Every furrow he scratched in the ground and every heavy bucket of water he carried to his crops reminded Adam of his rebellion against God. Cain’s sin began when he failed to trust God for his provision and so God takes away from him the ability even to work the ground—he curses him to be a fugitive and a wanderer. But again, see God’s grace at work. Cain refused to acknowledge God as his provider so God now places Cain in a position where he must trust entirely in him to provide.
Cain’s punishment also foreshadows Israel’s punishment. Remember, these first books of the Bible were edited and put together in the form we now have them during the time that the Jews were living in exile in Babylon. They wanted to know why they had been removed from the land God had promised to them. God’s exile of both Adam and Cain helped to explain the Jews’ own exile. Disobedience results in the removal of God’s blessing and it means forfeiting his promises. Adam sinned and was cast out of the garden. Cain sinned and was cast out even further. The people of Israel and the people of Judah had rebelled against God too. They had lost faith in him. They had trusted in themselves, and God had let them be exiled to a foreign land. The more we rebel against God and the more we show our lack of trust in him, the more he will put us in positions and places that will either harden our hearts against him and confirm us in our rejection of him or that will turn us back to him in faith and repentance. Even when he punishes us, God never stops working to turn our hearts back to himself.
This was the time for Cain to repent and to turn back to God in faith. Instead of confessing his sin and repenting, Cain whines and whimpers about his punishment.
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.” (Genesis 4:13-14)
Cain still doesn’t have any faith in God and he’s still wallowing in self-pity. He just murdered his brother and all he can think about is himself. And yet this is so often the human condition. John Dillman, a policeman, tells a true story of two men and their get-rich-quick scheme. One of them developed a relationship with and married an innocent young woman and then took out a large insurance policy on her life. While on their honeymoon, he took her for a walk. He had arranged for his accomplice to drive by in a rental car and as his friend did so, the man pushed his new wife into the path of the speeding car. Of course, the insurance company was suspicious, investigated, and the two men went to trial. What really struck Dillman as unbelievable during the trial was the utter lack of remorse on the part of the two men. They complained how the police were interfering in their lives, pursuing them, interrogating them, charging them. They complained that they were the real victims and that they deserved consolation, not punishment. Does that sound a little like Cain? He murdered his own brother, but his only real concern is for his own skin. He still doesn’t trust that God can or will take care of him.
The remarkable thing is how God responds in mercy and grace even as Cain continues in his self-centredness. Look at verses 15 and 16:
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.
In a few chapters we’ll see God instituting the death penalty:
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)
God gave that command to Noah, but it seems like it should have been applied to Cain. Cain became angry with God and chose to deface God’s image by murdering his own brother. Didn’t Cain deserve death? Yes, he did. But remember: the Bible is God’s story. It’s his revelation of himself to us. He created us to know him. Adam and Eve walked and talked with him in the garden. They knew truly knew God. But because of our sin we now live separated form him; we live outside the temple. And so God has chosen to make himself known to us again through his Word. He caused it to be recorded for us first in by the prophets in the Old Testament as they revealed him, his character, and his desire to redeem his fallen people. The Word Written prepared the way for God’s revelation of himself in the Word Incarnate—in Jesus Christ—who fully reconciles us to God.
Brothers and sisters, we may know this as “the Story of Cain and Abel”, but ultimately this is God’s story—a story he tells us that we might know him again. He reminds us here that he is the God who said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19, cf. Romans 9:15). In our self-righteousness we’re outraged by Cain’s sin and we call for justice, we call for blood. But through his pardoning of Cain, God reminds us that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). God truly wants to be in fellowship with his people. His goal is for us to live in his presence in faith and we see that even as he punishes sin, his goal is to draw men and women back to himself.
There’s a reason why the text doesn’t tell us how Cain responded. Did he turn back to God? Or did he continue on in his sin? We don’t know. But, dear friends, it doesn’t matter when we remember the point of the story: God wants us—you and me—to know that he is as committed to loving mercy as he is to justice and holiness. The lack of a response from Cain puts you and me in his shoes. Just like him, we have all sinned against our loving Creator. God calls to us: “Jesus, has done well for you. Trust him, receive my forgiveness, and turn from your sin. Live in my presence by faith.” You and I now have a choice: Will we harden our hearts and continue in our sinful rebellion? Or will we ask for his gracious mercy, will we turn from our sin and look to Jesus and his cross?
Let us pray. Gracious Father, we confess our sins and our lack of faith to you. Forgive us for the times when we fail to trust you. Forgive us for the times when our religion is just an outward show of piety or tokenism. Turn our hearts to you. Help us in our unbelief and grow our faith. As we live with the consequences of our sins and lack of faith, Father, give us eyes to see your loving hand at work, chastening us and calling us back to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.