As a child in Sunday school, I heard the story of Cain and Abel many times and always sided with Abel, naturally.
Abel was the righteous one. He offered the right sacrifice. He earned God’s respect.
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. – Genesis 4:3,4
Cain was not so righteous. In fact, with all his faults and frailties, I think he was much more relatable than Abel.
As Adam and Eve’s firstborn, Cain may have been a happy, obedient boy before his little brother came along. But it’s apparent that a seed of annoyance within the child put forth a root of jealousy within the man.
And the jealousy grew, until it burst into a bloom of rage.
But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. – Genesis 4:5
As a parent, I am always moved by the next few verses, in which God responded to Cain’s anger as a perfectly loving Father would. He was direct, yet gentle. He didn’t denigrate Cain or join him in the fray.
Rather, God directed Cain to look inward and correct the real problem.
And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. – Genesis 4:6,7a
Perhaps God had outlined exactly what he expected concerning offerings, and Cain simply disregarded God’s direction.
Perhaps God would have been pleased with Cain’s offering, had it been given from a pure heart. (Several commentaries support this line of thinking.)
Either way, God saw the sin in Cain’s heart; and in that moment, it was clearly seen on his face as well.
At that point, Cain could have redirected the course of his life. He could have fallen to his knees in humility and cried out for forgiveness. Sin purged, he would have been drawn back into fellowship with God.
But instead, he hardened his heart. His rage grew brighter and hotter.
And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. – Genesis 4:8
As punishment for Cain’s crime, God banished him from his family and condemned him to wander the earth. But in his mercy, God marked Cain in some way, so that no one could kill him in retaliation for Abel’s murder.
Thus concludes that chapter of Cain’s life story.
Though not a happy or heroic tale, it contains invaluable lessons about jealousy and pride, as well as God’s mercy.
What speaks to you about this tragic story? Do you have any recommendations for my next character study?
I welcome and appreciate your comments and suggestions.