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Reaping the Whirlwind

Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me

The Two Seeds (The Spread of Sin into the World)

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 2, 1998

Genesis 4:1-16

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Please turn in your Bibles to Genesis 4 as we continue our study in the foundations of the faith. We have seen God's glorious work of creation accounted in Genesis 1. We've seen more specifically the special relationship established between the Lord and Adam in Genesis 2 and the stipulations of the covenant of works in Genesis 3. We have seen that fellowship disrupted, and really from Genesis 3 all the way to about Genesis 6:8, we have a study in sin. The nature of sin. The consequences of sin. The misery always connected with sin. Whereas Adam and Eve anticipated divinity as the result of their sin. in fact, misery was their wage. So tonight we come to Genesis 4, verses 1 through 16, and we see here especially the sad story of the consequences of Adam's sin in the life of his own family. Let's hear God's holy and inspired word, beginning in Genesis 4, verse 1:

Genesis 4:1-16

Our Lord, again we ask this night that the Spirit would open our eyes to see this truth and not only to understand it, but to see it applied to our own hearts. We ask that the Spirit would search us out, and that we would see the correspondences between the lessens of the Scripture and our own lives and circumstances. May we be obedient to Your truth. May we be nourished by Your truth. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

This chapter reveals to us the consequences of sin and the reality of death. Over and over in chapters 3 and 4 and 5 we have confirmed the reality of the curse which God had pronounced to Adam even before the first bite was taken of the fruit when he said, "In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Death now is everywhere and we’ll continue to see that expanding in the created order. But the curses of God upon Adam's disobedience now come to rest in his own family life. But I want you to see that even in this poignant story of sin and of misery, we have a picture of patience. The patience of God, even with an unrepentant sinner, and we even see inklings of the mercy of God with an unrepentant sinner. And it is not the last time that we will see that in Genesis. For instance, when we come to the story of Esau. Again, we will see the Lord in His mercy allowing for blessings of a sort to rest upon Esau even in his rebellion. Now this passage moves forward in five or so scenes, and I'd like to direct your attention to them tonight.

First of all, if you’d look at verses 1 and 2, we see here the gift of life, right in the shadow of the curses of God because of the sin and rebellion of Adam and Eve, children are born to the couple. And we see here God's goodness displayed to Adam and Eve. And we also see an appropriate, believing acknowledgment of God's goodness and providence by Eve. So we see God's goodness in the children, and we see Eve respond in a godly manner to the birth of the children. I want you to note several things in verses 1 and 2. You note, of course, the use of the word "know" for sexual relations there. And that phrase "to know" conveys the fully personal level of a true sexual union. And Eve is immediately aware that she would not have had these children were it not for the Lord. For the Lord's gift and favor gave her these children. Notice her words, "I have gotten a child with the help of the Lord." Now we're not sure; Eve may have been thinking that her son, Cain, was the answer to the promise that had been given in Genesis 3:15. If that's what she was thinking, there was no one who had ever been so mistaken as Eve. But we can at least see her hope that the Lord will answer the promise that He gave in Genesis 3:15 to crush the serpent's head by her seed. And so she calls out to the Lord and acknowledges that it is the Lord who had given her children.

The names of Cain and Abel are interesting. The name Cain is similar to a Hebrew word qana which means to get, and so there's a play on words when she says I have gotten a man child by the help of the Lord, and she calls him Cain. Abel's name, interestingly in Hebrew, means vanity or a mere breath. And we can see perhaps in that a hint of the shortness of his own life. Though he was a righteous man, yet his life was snuffed out in undue time. The occupations of Cain and Abel are listed. Cain is a tiller of the ground. Like his father, he's the first born son, following in his father's footsteps. Abel is a shepherd. He pastors animals. And so we see these two occupations at the beginning. No apparent conflict, even though there are often times conflicts today and in times past between farmers and those who keep animals because of the issue of grazing lands and planting lands. But there's no hint of conflict between these two brothers because of their occupation. It will not be their occupation which brings division, it will be the truth of the Lord which brings division between these brothers.

Now we are given here a good example of how believers ought to thank God for the blessings in this life in Eve's response. And we see here the work of grace in Eve's heart by the Lord as she clearly acknowledges that it's the Lord who has given her her children. And we also see in this passage the goodness of God. Derek Kidner says, "Eve's cry of faith lifts this situation out of the rut of the purely natural to its true level, the spiritual." In other words, she sees that even in the birth of a child, this is not something merely according to natural processing. It is something which the Lord Himself has given to her as a gift. And so even in what we might consider an earthly or temporal blessing, Eve is ready to recognize a spiritual gift from the Lord. And that's a lesson for all of us. Well, so far in verses 1 and 2, we see the gift of life.

But then in verses 3 through 5 we have recorded for us the worship experience of Cain and of Abel, and we see God's acceptance of Abel's offering and God's rejection of Cain's offering. Now I want you to see here the distinction that God makes in our worship. He wants our hearts, and He is ready to judge some worship acceptable and some not. In this passage the family is gathering for worship. Cain and Abel both bring offerings. This reminds us, by the way, that in this time when there was no nation and no established priesthood, the family was the basic religious unit. And Adam as the head of the household would have been the household priest. We see this even in the time of Abraham, where Abraham acts as a priest on behalf of his family. Now that principle of family religion is never lost in the scriptures. Family religion continues to be a core component of how we are to live as believers, even though now the Lord has drawn us into a church as a body and given us ministers, the father still has those responsibilities in the household of spiritual leadership. At any rate, Cain and Abel come together and they bring offerings. And though often times people focused on the fact that Cain brought an offering from the soil, and Abel brought an animal sacrifice that involved blood, and they've made an argument that there was a difference between the nature of the sacrifices themselves that made Cain's unacceptable and Abel's acceptable. The text itself doesn't hint at that. In fact, we're not told explicitly why God rejected Cain, and why God accepted Abel's sacrifice. There are only two hints in the passage as to why. So let me say this.

First, we need to recognize that since the passage did not tell us the exact meaning of God's rejection of the sacrifice, we shouldn't go too far in speculation. Nor should we think that God is arbitrary. There is nothing arbitrary about the action of God in Genesis 1 through 11. There are always reasons. The Lord just didn't choose to share with us explicitly what His reasons were. But that having been said, there are two hints in the text. Isn't it interesting that though nothing is said about Cain's offering, look at the words of verse 3: "He brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground." That's all that is said. Of Abel's offering, two more details are given. Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. There seems to be a hint that there was a costliness in Abel's sacrifice which spoke of his own faith in the Lord and his devotion to Him. Secondly, in Cain's response to the Lord in verse 5, we detect the hint of arrogance. And you say, "Yes, but that's after the Lord had rejected his sacrifice and he was angry." But I say to you, if the Lord came to you and said, "That sacrifice is unacceptable," and you responded in anger to the Lord God of heaven and earth, wouldn't that be just a little bit prideful to think that you know better, that you know justice better than the Lord of the universe? And so in the passage itself, we see a hint that Abel's sacrifice was one of great proportion. He gave of the first of his flock. He gave of the back portions of his flock, and we see an arrogance in Cain. But that's the only hint that we have in this passage.

Now the New Testament helps us here. And there are two passages, and I'd invite you to turn with me to them. First of all I'd like you to turn with me to Hebrews, chapter 11. In Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 4, the author tells us that the faith of Abel was decisive in the Lord's receiving of his sacrifice. Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 4: "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, though he is dead, he still speaks." And so it is intimated there that Abel came to the Lord in faith. Whereas, Cain did not. Then if you’ll turn over with me to I John. I John, chapter 3. In I John, chapter 3, verse 11, we read: "For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." So John's point is to drive home the command of Christ to love one another. And then in verse 12 he says: "Not as Cain who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous." And so the New Testament first of all tells us that Abel came in faith offering this sacrifice and secondly that Abel was a righteous man, and that Cain's heart was not right with the Lord.

But I want you to see that in the passage here in Genesis 4 what brings division between Abel and Cain? The division is brought about by the presence of God. The division is brought about by Cain's exposure to the truth of God in worship. That is what disrupts the peaceful relation between the two seeds. Now listen to me closely. You remember when we said in Genesis, chapter 3:15, God promised to establish enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent? Now here are two brothers who, as far as we know, have been getting along just fine. What does God do? He establishes enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The seed of the serpent suddenly, in recognizing God's rejection of his sacrifice, hates the seed of the woman and strikes out against him to bruise his heel. So once again we see God's establishment of enmity between His people and the people of the world for their own spiritual benefit. As Kidner again says, "Here we see for the first time the deadly antipathy of carnal religion to spiritual religion." The carnal man cannot abide to be in the presence of the spiritual man. Why? Because it is convicting. It's convicting to be in the presence of a spiritual man. It's just like how you feel when somebody breaks the curve in your class. You don't rejoice about the fact that that person did so well on the test. You resent it. He blew the curve. We’d all have five points more if it weren't for that person who studied so hard. And so, also in things spiritual, the carnal man resents the spiritual man.

Notice again in verses 6 and 7 that even after Cain's unworthy sacrifice, the Lord in his patience and mercy comes entreating the sulking Cain. Here we see God's appeal to Cain and God's warnings to Cain. "Why are you angry?" the Lord comes to Cain saying. The Lord, in humility, manifests humility, the Lord God of the universe comes to plead with Cain who's angry because he thinks the Lord has been unjust with him. And the Lord pleads with him. He appeals to reason. And his concern for Cain is just as strong as his concern will be later for truth and justice. The Lord is genuinely concerned about Cain. Cain's face has given him away. His countenance has fallen. You can see the anger; you can see the resentment in his face. And the Lord says to Cain that if he will do well, if he will repent, he will find restoration. But He warns Cain that if sin masters him, danger will result. By the way, this passage where the Lord speaks these words in verse 7, "If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." reminds us of at least two other passages in the New Testament which teach us about how sin entraps us. And then once is sin intertwined in us, it expands to greater and greater and greater seriousness. Let me turn you to James, chapter 1, as one example. James, chapter 1, beginning in verse 13, says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then, when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." Can you hear the echo of God's words to Cain? Cain's sin is crouching at your door. Sin is ready to pounce upon you like a wild animal is ready to pounce upon its victim. And if you do not master it, it will lead you into greater danger than you are already in now. Think of Paul's words. If you’d turn with to Romans, chapter 7. In Romans, chapter 7, there Paul speaks of this same entrapping character of sin, the same expanding character of sin in Romans 7, verse 8: "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." And so sin taking opportunity in Paul took advantage to produce coveting of every kind. This passage here reminds us of the entrapping and the expanding consequences of sin. But even as we see Cain's sin escalating, we see God's patience and mercy displayed in coming to speak with Cain.

Then again in verses 8 through 12, the fourth scene in this passage. We see Abel's murder, and God's sentence against Cain. In verses 8 through 12 we see the results, the consequences of sin that has been nursed. You know how sometimes we are tempted to nurse a grudge. We have been offended. And what do we do? We work it over and over and over in our minds, and we become more and more bitter, and we begin to contemplate how we will be vindicated and how we will get revenge and this is precisely what Cain has done. So the Lord comes to Cain and says, ‘Cain, let it go. Master that sin, master that bitterness, master that resentment, for it will dominate you.’ What does Cain do? He allows the bitterness to grow and grow and grow. And finally, in verse 8, we see him slay his brother. Isn't it interesting that the first death in the fallen world was a murder. The very first death in the fallen world was not a death by old age, it was a murder. We see here the fruition of God's curse against Adam for his sin. "And the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die." And not only death, but in this case the murder of his first born son. What must Adam and Eve have thought standing over the dead body of their son, Abel? And so we see the consequences of sin.

Isn't it interesting, too, that whereas in Genesis 3 we had seen the animal, the serpent, exercise dominion over the covenant keepers, now we see sin exercise dominion over Cain. Sin now dominates Cain. And again in verse 9 God comes looking for Cain just like he had come looking for Adam after his sin in the garden. But notice Cain's disregard for both his brother and for the Lord: ‘Cain, where is your brother?’ ‘I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?’ No love for man there. No fulfillment of the second table of the law there. And an insolent response to the God of the universe. That's what you see in verse 9. No love either for man or for God.

And so in verse 10, the Lord begins to utter a curse. And in verse 11 we see the full force of that curse. Now you are cursed from the ground. The curse here is directly against Cain. You remember we said that God in His mercy had not directly cursed Adam or Eve. He had never said ‘Eve, you are cursed,’ or ‘Adam, you are cursed.’ The word to Adam was, ‘Adam, the ground is cursed because of you.’ But now the word to Cain is, ‘Cain, you are cursed apart from the ground.’ So there is a direct cursing of Cain. And he is sentenced to toil and wandering. Cain, who had been a tiller of the soil, a farmer, is now told that the ground will no longer yield for him because of his sin. Adam had been told that because of his sin it would be harder to reap benefits from the ground. Now his son, Cain, is told the ground will not yield from you at all. You are to be a nomad for the rest of your life. And isn't it interesting later on that Cain is sent where? To the land of Nod. And what does Nod mean? Wandering. He is sent to the land of wandering. That is his curse. Now the ground will not yield for him. And once again we see that sin only brings more misery. Misery for the victim's family and even misery for the perpetrator. Does this sin relieve Cain's angst? No. It increases it. And so we see the consequences of sin nursed.

And then finally in verses 13 through 16 we see the hardness of an unrepentant heart, and we still see the patience and forbearance of the Lord. Cain, in verse 13, protests God's sentence. Lord, this is too harsh. The hardened man speaks against the Lord. Isn't there a contrast here? Cain and the rich man of Luke 16: ‘Lord, this isn't right. Lord, at least give me a drop of water on my tongue. Lord, I don't deserve this.’ And the thief on the cross speaking to the other thief as he mocked the Lord, ‘Stop your mouth,’ he says. ‘We deserve to be here, but He does not.’

Isn't that a contrast between a hardened heart and a repentant heart? The hardened heart says ‘Lord, your sentence is unfair.’ The repentant heart says ‘Lord, your mercy is undeserved. Your sentence is fair. It's your mercy that is undeserved.’ And that is always the case. Whenever we hear someone declaring that the Lord's sentence is too harsh, we may be sure that we are listening to an unrepentant heart. Because a repentant heart knows that if we were to receive what we deserve, we would all be under the condemnation of God.

And yet God's concern for those who have lost, Adam and Eve, and for the innocent victim, Abel, is only matched again by His concern for the sinner. He applies a mark to Cain. He says Okay, Cain, you’re afraid you’re going to be the victim of murder. It would seem to be only just. But He says that you are afraid that you’re going to be the victim of murder now. Your conscience is bothering you, so I'm going to put a sign on you. This sign was not a sign of disgrace. It was not like a scarlet letter; it was a mark of safe passage to protect Cain from having the same fate befall him as he had perpetrated against his brother. As Kidner says, "This is almost a covenant. It is the utmost that mercy can do for the unrepentant." God, even in the hour of Cain's unrepentance shows mercy towards him.

What should our posture then be towards the sinner? Should we not desire to see the mercy of the Lord visited upon the sinner and see the sinner called back into the presence of the Lord. At any rate Cain, because he is hard of heart is turned out from the presence of the Lord. This isn't the first time that someone's been turned out from the presence of the Lord. Adam and Eve in the previous chapter had been turned away. And it won't be the last time. Ishmael and Esau are both said in this book of Scripture to be turned out from the presence of the Lord, and to go away from the presence of their brothers.

What do we learn from this? We learn, friends, that repentance is a grace. Cain did not lack for opportunities. Twice the God of the universe came to Cain and offered him every opportunity to show contrition and yet there was only hardness of heart. Why? Because he lacked the moral capacity to change. Only God can change hearts. If we are hardened in our own hearts, we cannot save ourselves. Now what's the word of hope in all of this passage. In this dark passage, is there a word of hope for us? Yes, there is. For even in the picture of sin that we see here in Genesis 4, we are reminded because of our complete ruin, that our only hope is to look away from ourselves and to look to God for redemption. And so even as we learn of sin and misery in Genesis 4, we are reminded that God is able to redeem us out of that sin and misery by his own right arm. Let's look to Him in prayer.

Our Heavenly Father, this sad passage stared at intently, concentrated upon with rigor breaks the heart. And it breaks the heart not only because we can imagine what it meant to that family long ago; and not only because we know the rest of the story in human civilization, but it breaks the heart because we see ourselves. We know ourselves how envy and hatred lead to murderous thoughts in the heart. We see the truth of this passage because we see it in our own hearts. Now by your grace, protect us from the seed of the evil one and conform us to the image of Christ. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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