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Life on the snake’s path – Genesis 4

by on November 17, 2014

(continuing our series on Genesis 1-11, titled ‘How Did We Get Into This Mess?’)

As we read this story its meant to ring a lot of bells for us. Cain and Abel’s story is much like their parent’s from chapter 3. The snake was lying in wait for them, now sin is crouching at door waiting for Cain. In each story God warns them. But both are mastered by sin. Both times sin alienates the family from each other. In both God confronts them: “Adam, Where are you?” “Cain, Where is your brother?” God speaks a curse on each sin. And both are driven away from the presence of God, to the East.

It’s like the kids are repeating the same story over again. The writer wants us to notice what it’s like when you take sin’s path. The scenery is all the same. In fact, the road goes in a loop, you find yourself stuck in the same destructive patterns, doing the same stupid things over and over. A father is violent with his child. The child grows up and he is violent with his child, and with his wife also. Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian youths, so Palestinian militia kidnap Israeli soldiers and kill them. And so, outraged, Israel kills more young Palestinians. And so the cycle goes on. Never any change. Women who have been abused by men tend to drift into other abusive relationships again and again. The merrygoround of sin goes around and around. And we humans get stuck on it, trapped in a neverending loop.

But not everything here is the same as before. There has been development. Let’s take a look at the new things that happen.

Adam and Eve have these two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain probably means ‘smith’, a metal worker.  if you’re going to plough the ground you need some metal tools. Later we meet his descendant Tubal-Cain, v.22 Tubal probably also means smith. And in fact we’re told Tubal-Cain is a metal worker, he made or sharpened all kinds of bronze and iron tools.

What we’re seeing here is the start of technology. Mankind has always had technology, the ability to make things and create tools. One of the most important technological breakthroughs was the discovery of metal. Metal made much better tools than they had before: harder and sharper. If you were a shepherd like Abel you didn’t need technology, but for a farmer like Cain metal was a precious commodity.

And we are going to find out what Cain and his tech-savvy offspring do with their sharp metal.

Both sons make an offering to God. Abel’s offering was accepted. but not Cain’s. It seems his heart was not right. God warns Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

This is the first time the word sin is actually used in the bible. But it’s pretty similar to the snake from the last chapter, isn’t it, lying in wait for Cain like a hungry animal waiting to devour him. Cain is going to need all his strength to overcome it.

But Cain ignores the warning, just like Eve did. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in pastoral ministry, it’s that people do not listen to advice. Usually they’ll do the opposite to what you suggest. It’s like with your kids. Don’t stick your finger in that flame Asher it will hurt you. So what does my little boy do immediately? I’ll just check if Dad’s right…I very rarely give advice for that reason. Do you know anyone who talks to the people on TV. You know, someone’s in danger, and they yell out, watch out, he’s going to get you! Those peope on the TV, they never listen do they. They just keep acting out the script. We humans are a bit like that – since Adam and Eve chose the path of the snake, we just keep acting out the same script, sin is directing the show. No amount of advice from outside seems to make any difference.

The trouble with walking sin’s path is that it leads downhill. Cain’s parents ate forbidden fruit, but look where sin takes Cain. Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.

Now we find out why Cain was not accepted. Adam took the fruit into his stomach, but the sin of it went to the heart. Now it turns up in his son’s heart also. Cain reveals the contents of his heart for all to see: Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.

Eve was going to have pain and difficulty about producing children, here it is: One of her children has murdered another one. What could be worse? And the last words we ever hear from Eve’s lips are: Cain killed him.

Notice it calls Abel ‘his brother’. Seven times in this story he is called Cain’s brother, it’s pushing this in our faces, this is his family, the one he’s supposed to love and look after. The person closest to him in the whole world. That’s the one he strikes down. Adam blamed Eve and embarrassed her. Cain blamed Abel and murdered him. And you know a large proportion of the violence and abuse in our society goes on in the family. The perpetrators are relatives, often close family members. This story is spot on.

But things have got worse since chapter 3 haven’t they. You see, Cain is walking the path his parents set him on: the snake’s path. And when you’re walking the snake’s path, it leads down and down, it seems to have no bottom, down into madness and destruction. ‘Anyone who sins is a slave to sin’, said Jesus. That’s what sin is like: you can get on the merrygoround, but it won’t stop again to let you off, you’re trapped. and it goes faster and faster.

God comes to call Cain to account. Adam at this point had hidden in the bushes, he told God ‘I’m afraid.’ But look at Cain. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain answered, “I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Cain talks back to God, he’s full of aggression. Cain would like to be a hard man.  And now our world is full of young men who are trying to be hard, isn’t it.

Now we get the first recorded prayer in the Bible. Remember the creation was supposed to be one great song of praise and celebration towards God. Listen to the prayer now: And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!

This is Abel’s prayer: the first recorded prayer is a cry of distress, a cry for justice. Coming up from the ground. We were supposed to care for the creation: instead our violence polluted it. Now the ground is full of blood. The blood of innocent people murdered. And it cries out to God for justice.

It’s a pretty bleak picture. Things have got worse in just one generation. Mankind destroying not only himself, but the world as well. But you know, most poeple in history in most times and places would have said, yes that’s the world I know. The story rings true. We’re still doing it today. The thing that’s so helpful about this story is it explains how we got into the mess we’re in. It makes some sense out of our crazy world. There is blood spilt on the ground, the blood of countless millions murdered. And do you think there can be any peace for us as long as the ground is saturated with blood and crying out to God? There can be no peace until there is justice.

From → Bible talks

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