Cain’s Mark, God’s Mercy
There is not one unforgivable sin that you can commit while breathing. Whether people care to acknowledge it or not, God is always providing us with opportunities to bend a knee in humility towards Him. Some recognize God’s call as good and take that knee. Other’s see that call and defiantly reject God’s graciousness poured out for them, standing high from the tower of their own lives screaming words of rebellion out to him. Most who have bent a knee know what that’s like as God systematically dismantled our own towers. Even still, He might have a few floors to go for most of us.
Cain and Abel is another story of God calling out to the rebellious and sinful of heart, pleading with them to bend a knee in repentance. It’s another picture of God holding back his wrath and giving grace where none is earned or deserved. Do you see it there? Do you see God calling a sinner to repentance, not only once, but twice and even after that, protecting him from further harm?
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. 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.” Genesis 4:2-7
Some speculate that where it says, ” in the course of time”, God may have instructed Adam and his family in the art of regular blood sacrifices to cover sins. I don’t know if we can say that with certainty. I do know that God accepted different types of offerings which seems to negate that speculation. I think instead this is a matter of the heart and not just the heart but our response to what we know about our hearts. It’s about rebellion, it’s about rejection and ultimately, it’s about repentance.
I know we like to hold up Abel to a higher standard, but the truth is that Abel was a sinner. He was just as wretched, just as capable as doing wrong as the rest of us. He was tainted by sin and probably struggled like anyone one else. The difference is faith. It wasn’t good works that made Abel’s offering more acceptable to God than Cain’s. It was faith and it’s faith that fueled that acceptable offering. It is always faith and trust already present that spur us on. Abel holds his first-born of the flock up to God and God looks at it with favor. It is not the offering that brings God’s favor to shine on Abel. I would say its faith. Abel, just as prone to sin, comes to God in faith, gives up an offering in faith and trusts God by faith. Faith in what? The Christ to come. The offspring that will eventually crush the head of the serpent. Faith that one day, the taint of sin will be gone. From the very beginning, God wove a story of the coming Messiah through the experiences of his people and this truth was passed down through the word and by their lives.
Abel was sure to know of this truth and Cain as well. But, when Cain comes to God with his own offering from the fruit of the ground. God had no regard for it. Why? Well, if it was by faith that Abel’s offering was accepted (Hebrews 11:4), then it was Cain’s lack of faith that was really the issue. Cain’s heart was the center of the problem and we see this when God confronts Cain about it. Let’s understand this. God, the creator of all things, confronts Cain and calls him to repentance. He encourages Cain towards faith. He encourages him, as he does with all of us, to place his trust in the Messiah to come, so that he will do well and be accepted. This is the call God has always made to the world. Turn to me, I AM, your rescue. (and that last comma is in the right place)
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. 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.” Genesis 4:8-12
Despite God’s call, Cain would have none of it and allowed the sin in his rebellious heart to bubble over to action and he struck his brother down, murdering him. God knew immediately what was done and instead of acting with swift vengeance, God calls him to repent. “Where is Abel?” God asks, encouraging Cain to admit his wrong and bend a knee in remorse for his actions. When Cain would not, God finally punished him, which by our standards, does not fit the crime. Cain is cast out and made a wanderer. For all the worst possible worldly punishments for our actions, as Christians, we know that separation from God is far greater and carries consequences way beyond this life. This is what is happening to Cain. Even in his wickedness and regular rebellion, he heard God’s voice and had his ear. Now, that would all be gone. He got what his wicked heart always wanted, his own desires to do what he wanted and live as he wanted, even as God would call him to repent who knows how many times.
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. Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Genesis 4:13-16
It’s hypothesized by some, that Cain’s complaint here was only over his punishment and has nothing to do with his crime or separation from God. It certainly appears that way. Still, God in his kindness and mercy, hears Cain’s last cry and it is a cry, not a request. Cain is scared for his life apart from God’s protection. God in his mercy protects Cain. I can’t imagine Cain would have expected that in that moment. After all Cain had done, God marks him untouchable. He is letting people know this rebel, this murderer, this faithless coward is under his protection. There is still no repentance, no bent knee. There is no remorse for his action except for his own unprotected skin. God is protecting a sinner. Let that sink in as we consider how often people come and bend a knee to God late in life. My Pastor once shared a story of his grandfather coming to faith. My own mother, late in her life came to rest in Christ as savior and rescuer.
God in his kindness is giving Cain a lifetime to repent. He is like the prodigal father allowing his child to rebel. He is waiting for him to turn from his rebellion and bend a knee. He is giving him until his last breath to do that. Because of that, there is hope that Cain could be among the saints in glory.
We serve a gracious God. A God who lets us bend a knee not just in our youth but in our twilight. He doesn’t withhold it from us at 80 because we squandered our lives at 20. He calls us at every age. This is our hope. This is our hope when we came, and its our hope with loved ones old and young. Hold onto that hope, pray for them and trust God to use his timing to open up their eyes and ears to believe the truth of Christ, whom he gave to save the world.
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