Cain and Abel - the Story of Every Man Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
I came across a quotation worth repeating: "If an ancient Hebrew rode the time machine to the front door of a church one Sunday morning, and understood what we were doing, he would not expect us to come out alive!" The writer was referring to the great care that the High Priest of Israel took in preparing himself for entry into the Holy of Holies. This is something for us to watch out for. God is longsuffering - He has to be - because to some extent, we’ll always get it wrong. Sometimes God says, "No, that’s not what I want you to do." That’s how we learn God’s will for us.
Cain decided what he was going to do, acting on his own understanding. Worship for him was a formal matter. He wanted to acknowledge God and thank him for the blessings of life. The modern equivalent is rather like coming to church for the thanksgiving service and thanking God for all the blessings of life. It’s the thing that’s done every year in any decent community. Well, one could say that’s what did happen, but now even that’s being forgotten!
Cain would remember the worship practices of his parents. It was the expected thing so he did it. So many people have a recollection of the Christian heritage of a previous generation and they continue its observance in a mechanical way, thinking it’s going to do them some good. Perhaps they mumble a few prayers or listen to "Songs of Praise", but a vital ingredient is missing.
Abel had a better motivation - he came to worship "by faith". What does that mean? It means worshipping God in a way that’s pleasing to Him. There’s no doubt that both Cain and Abel had been taught by their parents as to how God was to be worshipped. Abel acted on these clear instructions from God, but Cain ignored them. That made all the difference in their motivation. Abel wanted to please God while Cain was careless and went about worship according to his own ideas.
Human beings have an inborn need and desire to worship as we know from the practices of our primitive ancestors. Mankind has always worshipped something or someone. But where do we get our instructions for worship? The only real source is in the Bible, the Word of God. If we don’t submit to God’s revelation (the Bible) we’re bound to go wrong. If we fail to follow its guidance we’re followers of Cain. This leads us to the reason why Abel’s offering found flavor while Cain’s didn’t. It was because of the:
TWO SACRIFICES OFFERED THAT ARE SO DIFFERENT.
We’re told that: "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." What was so wrong, that God couldn’t accept Cain’s worship, while Abel found favor with God? Both brought the fruits of their labor - Cain probably brought some cereal crop such as wheat and Abel offered a lamb. There’s a definite emphasis in the words used in our text, that Abel offered his best - "the fat portions … of the firstborn" - in fact, the best of his best. His was an offering of consecration, a sacrifice that was costly to him. That’s certainly a plus for Abel, but there’s a more profound reason why his offering of a lamb was acceptable to God and why Cain’s harvest gift didn’t find acceptance by God.
When we approach God, not even our best or costliest gift is adequate. The reason is that we are sinners. We have nothing worthwhile to offer. The prophet Isaiah acknowledged that "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are as filthy rags" (64:6). Abel knew this to be true for him. He approached God in the light of the teaching he’d received from his parents - that true worship of God must be made on the basis of the sacrifice of a life.
When Adam and Eve had fallen into sin in the Garden, God gave them a great promise.The seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, but in so doing, his heel would be bruised (Gen 3:15). It’s true that Abel didn’t know that the Lord Jesus Christ would be that "seed of the woman" and that He would be "pierced for our transgressions … and crushed for our iniquities" (Isa 53:5). But he did know and believe in the tradition of sacrifice. He knew that God had clothed his parents in skins, the result of the death of animals and the shedding of their blood. That’s why he approached God by way of sacrifice which anticipated the atoning sacrifice that only Jesus could offer for the sins of the world.God, in His mercy and grace, could see that Abel wasn’t relying on his own significance and value. That’s why God was able to accept his offering and the writer of Hebrews was inspired to record: "By faith Abel was commended as a righteous man."
Cain also approached God, but quite differently. His thinking went like this: "I’ve done well and I’ll give something to God from what I’ve worked for. He’ll be pleased with it." Well, God wasn’t pleased because Cain had offered his self-righteousness and self-confidence. He was like the picture that Jesus gave of the Pharisee who went to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem. "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men … or even as this publican. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get" (Luke 18:11,12). Self-satisfied, self-contained and pleased with himself, his worship was meaningless to GodBut there’s worse than that when we think of:
TWO REACTIONS THAT ARE SO DIFFERENT.
We don’t know how God made it known to Cain that his offering didn’t find favor with Him. He was far from pleased. In fact, we’re told: "So Cain was very angry and his face was downcast." What is to blame is his reaction to the Lord’s response. He wasn’t blamed for his mistake. God asked him why he was angry and upset. He asked, "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" He was told where he’d gone wrong; the responsibility was his; and God said, "You must master it."
There’s nothing like a disappointment to bring out our true nature. Our guard is down and our unhappiness becomes obvious to those around us. The "old man" of our evil nature comes to the forefront. Cain’s anger towards God is then transferred into jealousy toward Abel. "The Cain within us" is seen in our envy of others’ gifts. Cain is seen in our resentment of others’ service to God, especially if they appear to be more successful than we are. How hard it is to rejoice in others’ gifts, when we wish they were our own!
C S Lewis in his "Screwtape Letters", which is the imaginary account of a senior devil giving the benefit of his experience to fellow tempters, has Screwtape saying, "Religion can still send us the truly delicious sins. The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt more successfully as on the very steps of the altar." Any pretense of brotherly love that Cain had for his brother was swept away as a fit of jealousy came over him. But somehow he kept his cool while seething within himself. He was going to deal with this "goody goody" brother of his! Cain didn’t master the wild beast that raged within him. It began to devour him. Resentment and jealousy turned to deceit.
"Cain said to Abel … ’Let us go out to the field’ … and he killed him." There were no human witnesses but God saw the horrible act and immediately challenged Cain: "Where is Abel your brother?" The unrepentant Cain answered rather disrespectfully: "I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?"
There’s a powerful drama by J B Priestley titled, "An Inspector Calls". It tells how a young woman died in tragic circumstances. The story revolves around a wealthy home. A police inspector calls and asks to see the members of the family. Every one of them was denying any involvement with the victim. But each of them, in different ways, through uncaring behavior, mistreatment, pride, greed, and selfishness had contributed to her misery and eventual death. They are eventually and reluctantly forced to admit to a guilty conscience. They were "my brother’s keeper", just as we are if the "Cain spirit" is in our hearts.
That was Cain’s reaction, but what about Abel? He was dead physically but alive in spirit. Jesus Himself confirmed in Matthew 23:35 that Abel was numbered with the martyred prophets of Israel, and the writer to the Hebrews states: "and by faith he still speaks."
The story of his faithful achievement speaks to us today in his Viewpoint of Life, his Motivation for Worship and the Sacrifice he Offered.
Abel’s attitude towards life and possessions and his commitment to God in worship speak volumes to us. But another verse in Hebrews (Hebrews 12:24) says that he speaks still more clearly by reminding Everyman of the most important offering of all, "the sprinkled blood of Jesus"
Yes, the story of Cain and Abel is the story of Everyman and I could add Everywoman. Those who are like Abel, and have trusted only in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus should have no fears, but the "Cains" of this world can be sure that the "Divine Inspector" will call: "Where is Abel …? What have you done?" The consequences of that confrontation will be awful. It’s for us to decide in the footsteps of which brother we should follow.