This year, I’m following a chronological Bible reading plan. We’re not hitting every chapter and verse, but we’re doing a sweeping overview. And the view from here feels different.
Throughout Genesis, we’re hitting the highlights, the pivotal chapters of moving the story of the promise along, and I’m seeing over and over just how big (and constant) people’s mistakes are.
But we already knew that Cain makes a big, big mistake. In fact, the Sunday School takeaway from the story was “Be like Abel; don’t be like Cain,” which I always assumed meant “don’t kill your brother…or anyone else.”
A warning against murder is good, but it misses the true warning, the one that applies to each of us when, like Cain, our hearts pull away from God.
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 contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”Genesis 4:6-7
Be like Abel and give God His due first and cheerfully, yes. But if you don’t, check yourself.
God knows Cain, so He warns him.
God loves Cain, so He warns him.
We don’t get the words that God “will also provide the way of escape” from sin until 1 Corinthians 10:13, but we see the promise here, right from the beginning. In warning Cain that sin is waiting for him, God provides an escape, a turning point. He knows what is in Cain’s heart toward his brother, and he is saying, “You don’t have to do this.”
But just as we so frequently fail, Cain doesn’t listen. He kills his brother, the first recorded murder, and doesn’t fess up to it until God calls him out and curses him.
Everything in the narrative makes sense up to this point to our earthly minds: brotherly competition, anger and jealousy, revenge, a solved whodunnit–with trial and conviction thrown in for good measure so we can wrap up the story fast. But God doesn’t just mete out swift justice and move on from Cain. He hears him.
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 on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.Genesis 4:13-14
Yes, Cain will be a wanderer and unable to work the land that yields both food and satisfying, God-imaging labor, but God shows mercy in protecting him from being murdered. From suffering the fate he inflicted on his own brother.
Cain does not deserve this protection. He has not earned it, and we do not know if his future actions will show a changed man. But the gift of protection has nothing to do with Cain’s efforts; it is a mercy from God.
And this is the story God tells over and over in His Word and over our lives if we’ll cry out to and follow Him: He takes in and saves the screw-ups, the down-and-outs, the wrong, and the broken.
God didn’t give Cain what he deserved, and through Christ, he doesn’t give us what we deserve for our mistakes and wrongdoings. And that is good news.