Genesis 4: 1-16
Two Brothers - A World of Difference

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Both Sermons today will look at the theme of worship. In a sense, both sermons will be the same. The pattern of this passage is repeated throughout history, even today. Join us again this evening to hear similar themes from the New Testament.

Scripture Reading Genesis 4:1-16 NIV
4 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so e; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Two sons, two brothers, two children of the original parents, they were Adam and Eve’s family. Both of them made by God in their mother’s uterus, both of them formed by God’s intimate attention and care. Both had Adam and Eve’s genes, both characters developed interacting with the genes and characters of Adam and Eve and the care of God. Though they were out of the Garden, God was still present to them, walking with them, paying attention to them, caring for them.

Cain and Abel, equals in brotherhood, sonship, equal in every way before God.

But maybe not so equal in their family.

Cain was the first born. With him Eve celebrated in praise and said “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man!” And so she called him Cain, which (in the original language) sounds like acquired, to get, and has the overtones of a treasured relationship or possession. By the name, it seems that Adam and Eve deeply loved this little child created by God, acquired with God’s help.

And then came a second son. Was he as beautiful, smart or athletic as Cain? We don’t know. Was he planned, hoped for? We don’t know. Was he an accident - well, not in God’s eyes. What we do know is that Adam and Eve called him Abel. A name that tells of less regard, inferiority, in the original language Abel means a “mere breath”, a vapour, worthless, a nothing. In this first family, it appears there was no fear of favouritism, the parents values came through even in the names they called their sons.

About the dynamics of growing up, the play together, the sibling rivalries, the conflicts and tensions between these two, we can only imagine, we are told nothing. We can only assume a normal progression for two young men, one favoured by his parents, the other second rate. But in their growing up, God walked with them, God valued them both, his embrace consistent, his faithfulness unchanging.

Cain, the first born favoured one, did the manly thing. He took over from his father, doing the hard work of tilling the soil and harvesting, by the sweat of his brow. Adam was pleased. “Look at how he knows how to work.” As Cain excelled at farming the land, as his fields increased in their return, he felt his father’s smile, the approval, the pride of his parents. Cain knew that he was the better son.

Abel however, just took care of some sheep, his flock managed and healthy, but as throughout the scripture, shepherds were often despised and outcasts, we have a hint here that Abel was fitting right into his role in the human family. “I’m so glad he’s out of the house and out of my hair!” Eve might have said. Abel, a vapor, insignificant, transient.

Cain and Abel, like their parents who walked with God, worshiped. Appropriate worship. Worship that expressed thankfulness for all the good things that God did for them. And one of the ways they expressed that worship is by sacrifice. If you study the concept of worship throughout the scripture - it is always defined by sacrifice. And so we to offer sacrifices of praise. Cain and Abel, over the course of time, choose to say thanks to God for his good faithfulness to them.

Abel choose his best, his own favourites from his flock, the first born of the sheep he cared for, the best cuts, rib-eyes, sirloins and t-bones, and gave them to the Lord. And the smoke arose to heaven.

Cain, now possibly rich, definitely well to do in the family having inherited the farm also choose to give thanks - he took some of his grain, as good as any other, he roasted it over an open fire, and the smoke arose to heaven.

But the barbecued steaks were what caught God’s attention. And as they worshiped, Abel, the “worthless” one felt God’s smile, God’s thank you, God’s presence. Cain, the favored one, the deserving one, the one who worked hard for this grain too, felt... “nothing.”

That is the setting - two brothers the same, equal, but in their family a world apart, and now in terms of the attention of God, two worlds apart.

And Cain was not accustomed to not receiving attention. Where his parents had poured attention on him, now God’s disfavour felt like an undeserved blow that exposed his expectations and demands, even from God.

And his heart started burning with anger. His favoured world had been upset. God had turned things up-side-down. The outcast was in and the privileged one put out. Anger started growing furiously, like a weed digging its roots deep into the soil, into the rocks of his heart, cracking, breaking open, exposing what was really there - “I am the favoured one, I deserve, I belong, I am the best.” What was in his heart did not coincide with God’s evaluation. People can make mistakes, God doesn’t. Cain’s anger started looking for a victim.

In worship - it would have been pointless to blame his parents for their favouritism and the expectation they created. Cain felt that favouritism was right and justly deserved. It was pointless to blame God - after all, God is God, there are no mistakes in what he does. His actions are just in every way. Blame himself - that was an option that Cain would not look at. That he had brought the lesser offering should not make any difference, after all, he deserved better from God. As he looked inside, he could not agree with God’s evaluation. There was only one place left to focus his anger - on the brother who made him look bad, whose offering made his look like a lesser offering.

God came and made the appeal - do what is right - offer your best, your very best and you will be accepted. Come to me with your broken undeserving heart...

But Cain could not. And what he refused to see is that sin was at his door. The serpent of anger who can get through the smallest of cracks was hissing at the door, waiting for that foothold to open, where he could get in to come and own him and destroy what virtually everything that Cain was. Cain had pushed the door to far open, he became passive with regard to his anger, refusing the introspective work that would help him see himself.
Satan got the foothold.

Meeting his brother in the field, his rage became a satanic storm that killed the one God favored, God embraced. Cain, by force, excluded Abel from his life. Abel’s blood soaked into the ground, and the earth, tasting Abel’s blood, let God know what had happened.

“Where is your brother?” God asked.

Cain revealed his heart. In the end, it was all about him, his status, his well being, his peace, his comfort. Not his brother...

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In his world - there was one person who really mattered. It was Cain. And the world was there to serve him. Keeping his insignificant brother was nothing. Slaying him in a field was getting rid of an inconvenience. Now God would have to favour him, he was the only one left.

But what Satan, the father of lies never does is tell us the truth about the consequences of our actions.

Now the one who had grown up favoured, became the one who was excluded, put out, not wanted. Mom and Dad, would they want a murder in their house? No. Now the favoured one was cast out, not welcome, to be avoided. Community demands that we care for one another, that we are brothers keepers, keepers of their lives and reputations, keepers of their well being and their emotions, keepers for their benefit. Cain excluded his brother and in the process excluded himself from being a brother, from being part of community.

But even more so, though the ground had once favoured his green thumb, now Cain was himself cursed. The ground would no longer submit to his good will and work. Where he tilled the ground and sowed his seed, only weeds would grow. He would have no place to call his own, he would become an anxious, restless Nobite - a person who wondered the earth with no place his own, no community that accepted him, no loved ones to keep him, watch out for him, care for him - except for God - who gave him a mark so that no one would take his life. By excluding his brother, he excluded himself painfully shaping his life for the rest of his existence.

As we hear this story, we discover that Cain was a man who refused to do hard heart work. He refused the introspective gaze that saw the true condition of his heart, the sinfulness and weakness shared with parents and brother, the humility that honestly acknowledges our sinfulness and desperate need for grace, grace from others and grace from God. He saw himself as not like his brother, he was better, more deserving, more worthy of being favoured, more worthy of being accepted. In not being willing to do the work of the heart by which we see that in truth, our commonness in humanity is our sinfulness, our all falling short of the glory of God, Cain excluded his brother, and in the forced exclusion, excluded himself from family, from community, from the world... but, now, I have a wonderful mysterious story to tell.

There was another favoured son, blessed by his father for the hard work he did in creation. There was a favoured son, accepted in every way, embraced by his father, his community, deeply loved. He had brothers and sisters, but they were all Cains, excluded because they deeply failed, even refused their Father’s expectations and would not do the heart work. But this favoured son could not just relish in his Father’s love, instead, he choose to be a Cain’s keeper, a brothers keeper - and to do that, he choose to be excluded. In pursuit of his brothers and sisters, he followed them, he became a restless wonderer - foxes and birds have homes they call their own, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head - he became an excluded Nobite in pursuit of the excluded ones.

He came to his brothers and sisters and said - let me be your keeper, come to me, I will give you restless wondering ones true rest, and at the same time he said “repent” - if you do what is right, will you not be accepted. But those brothers and sisters, Cains all of them, could not accept him as the favoured son, would not accept his keeping, and so they choose to exclude him, crucify him, nail him to a tree accursed. But in crucifying him, they nailed him to a cross, with arms open wide, and those arms open wide were the embrace of God, saying to all of us Cains, I love you, come home, come back, come to my acceptance through my son, come to my blessing, come to my favouritism.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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