The Depth of the Spread of Sin (Gen 4:1-15)

Author’s Note: I am preaching through Genesis on Wednesday nights. Here I will present edited notes in blog form. You can listen to the sermon below and download it here. May God be glorified and His people edified. Comments below if you like.

We move on now in our study of Genesis to the fourth chapter — Genesis 4 — where you might say we begin the rest of the story. Through Adam, sin has entered into the perfect world God created, and death through sin. The serpent has been cursed, the woman has been cursed, the man has been cursed. All of creation has been cursed. The man and woman have been driven out of the Garden of Eden by God; the perfect, sinless, communion, the fellowship they knew with God, be it ever so briefly, being corrupted. Everything in the world has been corrupted.

And yet there is no lack of hope. God has promised already, in Genesis 3:15, the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. One day Satan and sin and death will themselves be dealt a fatal blow. So moving on from Genesis 3, on the one hand we are looking forward to the day that will happen, but on the other hand, until then, sin is in the world, the wages of sin is death, and since all who come from Adam will be born sinners, we see the spread of sin… the spread of sin.

If you want an overarching theme to Genesis 4 that’s it: the spread of sin. Let’s begin by reading our text: Genesis 4:1-15… 

Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.”  Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to theLord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

We do indeed see the depth of the spread of sin here. In just about every way, this account represents a decline even from what happened in the Garden of Eden. There man died spiritually and now, ejected from the Garden, this account shows him taking his own shovel to make his grave a deeper grave.

Even so, like with father and mother, Adam and Eve, the story of their sons begins with hope — you could even say a measure of redemption. The man has relations with his wife Eve, she conceives and gives birth to Cain, and Eve’s response is a believing response, one with which she credits God. Literally she says, “I have gotten a manchild with the LORD.” YHWH made man, and now with the help of YHWH, I have made a second man. She rightly considered Cain, whose name means gotten, the work of God.

Then verse two, she gives birth to Abel, whose birth is recorded with less fanfare than his older brother’s. Abel’s name, by the way, means vapor or vanity. Perhaps as time passed Eve began to realize more and more how badly the curse had affected the world, or perhaps this name was an unwitting prophecy from Adam of his son’s life span. Nevertheless, Cain is born, then Abel, and then we are given the occupations of each, with, interestingly, Abel’s listed first. “Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” Cain’s work provided food, Abel’s provided clothing, and likely the animals used for sacrifice, as it becomes clear in our passage that after man left the Garden sacrifice very quickly became an act of worship to God. Atonement… or covering… as we saw at the end of Genesis 3, required the shedding of blood.

It would also appear, though it is not revealed in particular, that there was a regular time and place at which men were allowed to meet God. Henry Morris, in his book The Genesis Record, postulates the place may have been “the door of entrance to the garden where the cherubim guarded the way to the tree of life.” I don’t know about that. Could be. But there does seem to have been some regular scenario by which men formally worshiped God.

And so it was at one of these times that Cain brought fruit from the ground as an offering to YHWH, while we’re told in verse four that Abel brought “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but,” verse five, “for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.”

Now we are told flat out why in Genesis 4 why God preferred Abel’s sacrifice to Cain’s. There was certainly nothing wrong with Cain being a farmer, and there is certainly nothing inferred in the text as there being anything wrong with the fruit itself that Cain brought as a sacrifice. Hebrews 11:4, though, written 4000 or so years later, does give us the reason: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith.” Abel’s sacrifice was brought to God in faith, by faith. And every inference of Scripture we find suggests that Cain’s was not.

“The sacrifices of God,” David would write about 3000 years later in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God and a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” A broken and contrite heart, beloved, is desperate, and does not seek sufficiency and righteousness in and of itself. It cries out to God instead. It knows it is not righteous in and of itself and thus cries out for God’s provision of righteousness, which we know today to be found only through Jesus Christ.

Of course, Cain and Abel didn’t know the name of Jesus, but they certainly would have known that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. They certainly knew from their parents what a disaster their sin had caused. And they certainly knew from father and mother that they were to call upon the LORD, cry out to God, and seek Him.

Abel knew God was worthy of the best of who he was and what he had, and that is seen is the distinguishing descriptions of their sacrifices. Abel brought the first, the best, of his flock as a blood sacrifice before the LORD. Cain, meanwhile, brought fruit, the implication being it wasn’t his first, it wasn’t his best, it just was what it was. Cain’s sacrifice was all too often what marks our own service and giving as unto the LORD… what we can afford… what we don’t mind sparing. Whereas the worshiper went out of his way to please God, the other simply discharged a duty. That seems to be Cain’s sacrifice, and why God did not regard it, have respect for it. We certainly see later on in the Law of Moses, as the sacrificial system is established, that worshipers are required to bring their best before God.

And that Cain’s sacrifice was not brought in faith, in utter dependence and reverence for God, is seen in that, when God didn’t like it, Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. He couldn’t hide in his face his displeasure… his disdain for God, and God’s judgment, and his probable disdain for his brother, with whom God was pleased. The unbelieving world is marked, beloved, by disdain for God, His judgments, and His people.

God speaks to Cain in verses 6-7 — part interrogation, part instruction. First the questions: Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? The questions are designed to elicit a confession of sin from Cain — confession and repentance. This is his opportunity. And he should seize the opportunity now because of the instruction in verse seven: “If you do well,” that is, if you obey My word, “will not your countenance be lifted up?” God here establishes blessings as the result of faithful obedience. If you do well in obeying God from the heart, you will master sin. On the other hand, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Sin is personified as an animal here. Think a lion. Satan is later described as a roaring, seeking whom he may devour. That is the picture here: Sin is hunting you, Cain. Its desire is for you. Its hungry and wants to devour you, consume you… but you must master it.

It should also be noted — and I don’t want to get into a Hebrew lesson tonight, but — the Hebrew of Genesis 4:7 here, and Genesis 3:16, where the woman is cursed, is very similar. It’s clear in Genesis 4:7 that the Lord was warning Cain by reminding him of the fatal outcome of the fall.

Then, to add to things, verse eight: “Cain told Abel his brother.” And I believe there is much more to this than meets the eye. And why might that be? What do we know about Abel from the rest of Scripture that might lead us to understand more of what might have happened in this talk?

Well I’ve already mentioned how Abel is spoken of in Hebrews 11. He is the first man mentioned in the long line of the godly spoken of in that chapter, sometimes called the Hall of Fame of Faith. Cain, who lacked that faith, no doubt resented the relationship his brother had with God. But even worse, Jesus in Luke 11:51 calls Abel the first of the Old Testament prophets, which means he wasn’t just faithful, but received God’s word by divine revelation and preached it by God’s power. And can there be any doubt that he and his older brother had conversations? Verse eight actually says Cain told Abel his brother. He told Abel about all of this. And there’s no doubt that, as a prophet, as a godly man, as a brother… Abel would’ve counseled Cain about his attitude. He would’ve lovingly warned his brother to repent. But Cain refused it… and disobeyed.

Still in verse eight: “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” As the late British Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner wrote, “Whereas Eve had to be talked into her sin by the serpent, it appears that Cain would not be talked out of his intended sin, even by the Lord Himself.” Or by his own flesh and blood, his brother. Cain was jealous of his brother… of his relationship with God, perhaps of his prophetic office. He despised the message, so he killed the messenger.

Abel becomes the first to die (physically), and also the first to die in faith in God, the first to inhabit what later comes to be called by Jesus “Abraham’s bosom,” or “Paradise.” In the Old Testament it is spoken of as a place in the heart of the earth, but it is a spiritual place, not a physical place, where the faithful souls of those who await the coming of the Savior reside. Abel became its first inhabitant. As for Cain…

“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’” which again, is not asked out of ignorance. God knows what has happened. No creature is hidden from His sight. It’s a rhetorical question, once again asked to elicit a confession, even repentance. But no.

“And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Cain lies first. He knows where Abel is — physically, at least. Then, the implied answer to his question is yes, of course. He was his brother’s keeper. And we know this because of what we see all over the word of God, most specifically from the mouth of Jesus, where the second greatest commandment, right after loving God with all we are, is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Beloved, in this world where lots of things are none of anyone else’s business, where we compartmentalize which parts of our lives we will share with others, you better believe that your spiritual well-being is my business, as mine is yours, since we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Anyway, whereas Adam and Eve responded to their sin with confession and repentance, Cain does not. He heaps judgment upon himself with more wickedness. His conscience is seared. His heart is hardened. And God will judge.

Verse ten, God says, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” Note the words to Me here. It’s no empty sentence that the blood of Cain’s victim cries out. There is Someone there to whom it cries out, and it’s God. Thus, God will no longer speak to Cain with mercy, but only judgment. Cain may have shut Abel up, but he could not silence the voice of his brother’s blood, and his insolent response to God — lacking all compassion, confession, or repentance, would bring about the retribution of God, who later says of Himself in Exodus 34:7 that He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.

Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.

God’s words — “You are cursed from the ground” — are a dramatic reversal from the wording in 3:17, where the ground is cursed on account of Adam, the point being that Cain will be banished from the land — and thus cut off from family — and the fertility of the soil wherever he goes will be hindered dramatically. Whereas Adam would eat bread by the sweat of his face, for Cain the ground itself would withhold its strength from him. Cain won’t be able to produce the very fruits from the ground by which he had formerly sought to worship God with. Likewise, those who are deceived into thinking they can earn favor with God, earn salvation, by their good works, by the things they do, by the fruits they produce, will ultimately find that they can only produce thorns and thistles before God. And so it would be for Cain. The curse gets escalated for this son of Adam who was, in fact, the seed of the serpent. He will be a vagrant, a wanderer, for the rest of his life.

How does Cain react?

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

There is sorrow here, beloved, but it’s not godly sorrow. It reminds me of when one of my daughters does something to hurt one of their sisters and they get punished, and they cry, but it’s clear they are sorry they got punished, not sorry for what they had done. That’s Cain here, on a much worse scale, of course. He’s sorrowful, but he is not in the least repentant. Cain does not have what the apostle Paul later writes about in 2 Corinthians 7:10: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.” No… Instead, Cain has what Paul calls “the sorrow of the world,” which “produces death.” Cain’s sorrow is because his punishment is going to be too great to bear, not that he has sinned against God and then committed fratricide.

And he’s not at all concerned about what he has done in the past. He’s only worried about what is going to happen him in the future, as if physical death is worse than the judgment God has already passed on him.

Even so, in verse 15 we see that sometimes, often even, God shows grace and mercy — giving what a sinner doesn’t deserve and not giving him what he does deserve. God shows Cain what you might sometimes hear called common grace. God gives saving grace to everyone whom He saves, but He gives common grace to every sinner in that He doesn’t wipe us out the moment we commit one sin. Here, God extends common grace to Cain, not in that He is going to save him, but that He puts some sort of mark on Cain as a warning that whoever decides to avenge Abel is going to be punished “sevenfold.”

God, thus, becomes the protector of the worst of sinners, even murderers, setting a precedent for a provision He later makes in Israel, not for premeditated murder but for those guilty of manslaughter, unpremeditated killing. God gives them cities of refuge within the land that they can go to and not be avenged, because ultimately, Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine, and retribution. In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.” Paul repeats part of the verse and the principle in Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Cain will be allowed to live… but he will not live his sin down, if you understand the distinction.

We will pick up in verse sixteen next week, God willing, and whereas in the first fifteen verses of Genesis 4 we see the depth of the spread of sin, next week we’ll see the breadth of the spread of sin; not only by location, as Cain goes out from the presence of YHWH and settles in the land of Nod, but through the passage of time, as Cain has descendants.

But there are a few applications from all of this I want to touch on before we close.

You must realize that you are as much a sinner as Cain was. Maybe not to the depth of murder, but as James writes, to him who obeys the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all. Beloved, we are born sinners, like Cain was, and we sin, like Cain did. So our need is great. Our need is monumentally great.

You must realize that, as a sinner, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you. Sin is constantly hunting us, beloved, but as the people of God we must be acutely aware of its existence, of its prevalence, of our frailty… and we must hate sin like God does. I’m reminded of Psalm 119:9-11 here, “How can a young man [or anybody actually] keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” Beloved, the love of God and holding tightly to His word crowds out the room sin has to pounce on you, on us. So we must love God and love His truth.

You must be your brother’s keeper. You must love your neighbor as yourself. You must love one another. First John 3:11-12: “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother.” We must love one another. Everything less is of the evil one, beloved. Nevertheless, number four…

You must know that the righteous (the righteous in Christ), the faithful, will be opposed by the wicked. Why? Well let me finish 1 John 3:12: “And for what reason did he [Cain] slay him [his brother]? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.” Both types of people — the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent — the faithful and the unfaithful, the righteous and the wicked, were present in the progeny of Adam and Eve, were present in Israel throughout the Old Testament, and are present in the assembly here that gathers for worship. And we, you, must know that righteousness will eventually, inevitably, and in different ways be opposed by the wicked… because those who father is the devil, those in darkness, hate the Light, for their deeds are evil.

Realize you are a sinner, like Cain. Realize that sin is crouching at the door and wants to devour you, which Cain ignored. Know you are your brother’s keeper, which Cain rejected. And know that the righteous will be opposed by the wicked, as Abel [and more so God] was opposed by Cain.

But ultimately, beloved, realize that all of this is remedied for those who believe by the blood of Christ. To quote Henry Morris once more, “The seed of the serpent was quickly striking at the seed of the woman, corrupting her first son and slaying her second, thus trying to prevent the fulfillment of the protevangelic [the first gospel promise]… right from the beginning of human history.” But Jesus wins. He has already won. As Allen Ross writes, “Abel’s blood, even the best and dearest, never brings salvation in the presence of God, instead it increases the burden of the curse. But Christ’s blood,” and now he quotes from Hebrews 12:24, “Christ’s blood ‘speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.” Whereas the blood of Abel cried out for judgment of the wicked, the blood of Christ cries out for the forgiveness of every sinner who repents and believes in Jesus.

So may we not be as those who Jude, the brother of Jesus, says go the way of Cain. Those who “revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain.” May we instead, beloved, set about a different way, a way shown by the One who is the Way, Jesus, to faithfully obey God as an act of worship, loving Him with all we are, being fully satisfied by what He has provided us in Christ, and promised us in Christ. And… may we love one another, being our brother’s keeper. May we be Christians. May the depth of the spread of sin among us be quashed by His redeeming blood.

Father, this is our prayer to You. May sin be repented of, and if not, then judged by You. May we be a people who are holy, as You are holy. May we, like Abel, be those who faithfully live by and proclaim that which You have revealed by Your word. Cause us, Father, to hate sin like you do, knowing anything less is, in practice, a repudiation of the perfect sacrifice of the One who became sin for us, Jesus, in whose name we ask these things. Amen.

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