Illustration: Killing has been around a long time. In Scripture, the first murder was recorded in the book of beginnings. In Genesis 4, Moses recorded that Cain murdered his own brother, Abel:
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. 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.”
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?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen 4:3-10, ESV).
Why was Cain’s offering rejected? What was it about Cain’s nature? Obviously, Cain’s anger was a recurring sin pattern in his life. He resented being questioned by God (v.9). He did not honor God faithfully. He did not trust God. He does not seem to have had faith in God as God had revealed himself. Yet God told Cain that sin was crouching at his door. The question was simply this: Who would rule Cain’s life, God or Satan? Cain was repeatedly pictured as angry, resentful, and obstinate. He was described as “angry” and “against.” He opposed God; he resented God; and he persisted in his rebellion. Cain was a textbook adversary. In short, Cain did not have faith in God or in God’s good will. He was a natural rebel postured against the revealed will of God.
Abel, on the other hand, was characterized as honoring the Lord. He kept God central in his thinking, his life, and worship. My own view with regard to how God treated the two brothers differently hinges upon Abel honoring the Lord with the “firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (v.4). Abel was pictured as a devout man, a man called by God, a man with a will to honor God via obedience. In short, Abel was a man of faith in the revealed will of God. And his life demonstrated that.
What happened because of what rebellious Cain did? What became of the murderer? Did God immediately exact justice upon him? No. But that would have been completely just. God demonstrated patience, grace, and mercy. God cursed the murderer Cain (Gen 4:11) and made him a wanderer and fugitive (v.12). But what should astonish us still more is the mercy and grace of God when he marked Cain (v.15).
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.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken of 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” (Gen 4:13-16).
The murderous brother Cain became the sorrowful pariah. He cried out to God because he (Cain) knew that other people would want to execute him for the sake of justice. And he was rightfully fearful. Yet what happened? Did God turn Cain over to the mob? No. Did God abandon him? No. Did God give Cain immediate justice for first-degree murder of his own kinsman? No. God marked him. The mark preserved Cain’s life from those who would otherwise take it. Cain, the angry young man, the murderer, the one who scoffed at the idea of being his brother’s keeper, was shown mercy by God.
Takeaway: Centuries later,the ground still cries out from all the murdered, all the hate, all the sin. And still rebels try to flee from God, from justice, and from the sins that crouch at our doors. And yet what has God done? Has he executed immediate justice upon us for harboring murder in our hearts (1 Jn 3:15)? No.
What God has done is immeasurably more profound than that. Rest assured, he has executed justice. But he marked another One in our place. He condemned the spotless lamb (Jesus) so we dirty sheep (rebellious sinners who repent and believe) might be made clean. The mark, you see, was not just a mark upon Cain for his temporal protection, but the mark was the curse that Jesus became in the place of individual sinners who respond, like Abel, in faith and obedience.
The NT records it this way:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 4:13).
I don’t know how we can look at history, or study the tragedy of Cain and Abel, or see how the ground still cries out due to our sin, or look at God’s acts of restraint and mercy over centuries, or study the life and work of Jesus Christ, and then think on the cross of Christ … and not be moved to repentance and faith. It is a hard heart indeed that persists in resisting God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It may sound banal or saccharine or irrelevant to some contemporary readers, but rather than fret about that, it seems wiser just to point. You see, once you understand who God is, who we are (and the fact that we’re a lot more Cain-like than Abel-like), you will marvel at this reality—namely, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). He who has ears to hear, let him hear.