Genesis 4 – Am I my Brother’s Keeper?
Here’s an obvious question to ask at this time of year – what does harvest mean to you?
If you’re anything like me, and find that the meaning of most parts of the year is set by your childhood, then maybe, like me, it’s a mixture of the start of Autumn, leaves on the ground, going back to school, tinned food parcels and, of course ‘We plough the fields and scatter’.
This evening we’ve been celebrating harvest with some familiar hymns, and some beautiful music, as we celebrate God’s goodness to us.
At harvest we traditionally bring gifts for others – it may have changed from tins to toiletries, but the thought is the same. And therefore it is very appropriate tonight that we’re looking at Genesis 4, as we read about what were perhaps the first harvest offerings ever made to God, by Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel.
We’re in Genesis 4 – on page 6 of your bibles in the chairs, as we look at Cain’s question –‘Am I My Brother’s Keeper’
Remember where we are in our progress through Genesis. We’ve looked at God’s work in creation – and last week we looked at the Fall – the point where Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and therefore were cast out of the Garden of Eden.
And tonight we begin with the continuation of Adam and Eve’s story – look at verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 4:
Genesis 4:1 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.
Two sons are born to Adam and Eve. And immediately, knowing what has gone before, we wonder what will these two sons be like? What will happen to the human race – after all, we have a vested interest in the outcome. We want to know what is going to happen next – things in chapter 3 got pretty bad – will they get better or worse.
Well as we shall see, things get worse. We read of two men tonight, two main human actors – Cain, and his Great Great Great grandson Lamech. Two human beings who both have Heart problems.
So let’s look at those problems tonight, as we seek to find out more about ourselves as human beings – and see what God has to say.
1. Cain’s heart problem – ‘Am I my brother’s keeper’? (v2-16)
The narrative starts well enough. We discover that Cain was a farmer, whilst Abel was a shepherd. All well and good. And they both bring offerings to God, v3-5:
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 favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
Both bring offerings to God. One from his grain, one from his flock. Yet God looks with favour on only one of the offerings – why would this be?
Because God likes Shepherds and animal sacrifices better? Unlikely. No. Look carefully at the different offerings. Cain brings – some of his fruit. Abel brings – the firstborn of his flock.
Cain knows he should make and offering to God – but it’s not especially high on his list of priorities. He’s a busy farmer. But he puts a bit aside to give to God.
Abel however recognizes that it is God who supplies his every need – and therefore it is only right that he should acknowledge this by offering to God what God has given him – the firstborn of his flock.
Cain may have been indifferent to God before – but he’s really not happy when his offering is unacceptable. But God challenges him:
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."
God knows why Cain is angry. Cain looks at Abel, whose offering has been acceptable, with anger and jealousy. And God rebukes him – don’t be jealous and angry – do the right thing. Because if you don’t do what is right – you will do what is wrong – and sin will gain a foothold in your life. And not just a foothold – sin will gain mastery over you.
And that is exactly what happens to Cain:
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.
There is a lot of dialogue in this chapter – but Abel’s murder is described very simply. Cain lured his brother into the field – a sure sign of premeditation – and killed him.
Sin has mastered Cain. He has allowed his anger to fester and grow – and he has decided to remove the thing that is making him angry – his brother Abel.
And just as he did with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, God confronts Cain:
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"
And Cain attempts to lie to God – attempts to shift the question, by suggesting that it’s not his problem.
Cain is not his brother’s keeper – Abel doesn’t need looking after like a child does – but Cain should have been looking out for his brother – not killing him. And as Adam and Eve found, you cannot hide from God:
10 The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.
God knows everything. Cain may only think of himself, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t know what is happening.
Have you ever played peek a boo with a small child? Noah and I sometimes play after bathtime. He covers his face with the towel, I say – where’s Noah – he pulls the towel of his face - and so on – he would play for hours.
A small child covers his face with a towel, and because he can’t see, thinks he can’t be seen. But he can be seen.
Cain sought to largely ignore God, to box God off – to lie to God – Because he wasn’t really that interested in God, he thought God shouldn’t care. And after all, what Cain wanted, Cain deserved to get.
Cain was indifferent to God – and Cain was selfish.
But God sees everything, and as we learn from verses 11 to 16, he cursed Cain to be a wanderer. Look at verse 14:
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."
Cain recognizes what his punishment means. He will be driven from his home and his family and his land – he will wander about, and any of his family that find him will kill him.
God won’t allow Cain to be killed. But Cain will be forced away from God – but then, Cain was fairly indifferent to God anyway. And he will be forced from society – but then Cain’s a pretty selfish guy.
Cain’s attitude is summed up in that question ‘Am I my Brother’s Keeper’ – he seeks to avoid responsibility for others. And he lies to God – he has so little regard for who God is, that he is prepared to lie to his creator, if it suits his purposes.
Again, like Adam and Eve, Cain is easy to condemn. With good reason I am sure that we would say we are not as bad as him.
And yet what does this passage teach us about ourselves here?
Can you identify with Cain’s selfish indifference?
Cain brought offerings to God – He did what he thought he was supposed to do – but his heart wasn’t in it. Are we just going through the motions some times – coming to church, perhaps even every week, going to home group even, and yet not really seeking to take to heart what we hear or read. We do what we as supposed to do – yet we are just going through the motions.
And then when seem to be finding favour with God – to be happy and contented in the Lord, to enjoy their service – we’re cynical and angry. We look on – and wait for them to become discouraged. Perhaps we mock their earnestness. And we are angry with them, when we should really be looking at our own hearts.
Have you experienced such feelings of resentment? Do the blessings others have cause you to become angry rather than to rejoice and desire to follow their good example?
And like a small child – do you assume that God can’t see you when you are not looking at him? That when you are indifferent to him, he should be indifferent to you? That really we should be able to carry on exactly as we please – consulting God when we want, on our own terms, and only really to tell him, as Cain does, that he’s not being fair.
Cain’s example teaches us not to be indifferent to God, and not to be selfish – but to be thankful to God like Abel was, and to care for what is our responsibility. To care for our brothers and sisters in Christ – to seek to nurture them, not to dislike them out of selfishness because they are new or different or seem better than we are.
2. Lamech’s heart problem – ‘If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times’ (v19-24)
Then we come – briefly – to Lamech.
We trace the family line from Cain, and end at the seventh generation after Adam – Lamech. We hear of Lamech’s two wives – a clear decline fcrom the standards of Genesis 2 – and his children’s achievements. Human beings are making progress, but the implication here is that human progress is tainted by Cain – and Lamech’s sin.
And then we read what Lamech said to his two wives:
23 Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."
Things don’t get better after Cain. They get worse. Human beings get further and further away from God.
A man wounded Lamech – and so he killed him. And he sings about it.
Knowing something of Cain’s story he compares himself with Cain – and glories in his ability to overact, and to gain revenge in a way that is completely disproportionate to the crime.
Lamech is cruel and egotistical. Because he is Lamech he can kill at will – and sing of his achievements. What a contrast to the poem we had at the end of chapter 2, where Adam sings of the glories of Eve!
If Cain was selfishly indifferent to God, Lamech is much worse – he is arrogant in his unbelief.
He seems to have no conception that God might be watching – that God might hold him to account. He wanted to do it – he did it.
Laid bare as it is in Genesis 4, Lamech’s attitude is so obviously wrong that it is hard to believe that anyone could think like that. But we know that people do. We know that sometimes we do. And so we need to resolve, with this passage in mind, not to live as if God wasn’t there.
In Genesis 4, Human beings may be making progress as musicians, and metalworkers and herdsmen. They may be building cities – civilization may be growing and developing. But human beings still sin. And many of them – certainly Cain’s children – seem to have completely forgotten their creator.
3. Where is God in all this? (v25-26)
Lamech’s song paints a sorry picture of a fallen world. So is there any hope here? Where is God in all this?
Look with me at verses 25 and 26, as we begin to see some reasons for hope.
25 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him." 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.
In this passage we see three reasons for hope.
Firstly, God can be known.
People began to call on the name of the LORD.
Despite the Fall, despite things continuing to get worse, people were able to call on the name of the LORD.
Perhaps, like Abel, they understood that they should be thankful to God. Men like Enoch, who we hear about in chapter 5 verses 21 to 24, men who walked with God – and who went to be with God.
Those who sought God, found him. God can be known.
Secondly, God knows us
God has not withdrawn from
our world, and left us to our own devices. He
God knew Cain’s heart – he knew that Cain was angry, and that he would face great temptation.
God knew that Cain had killed Abel – nothing can be hidden from God
God knew that Cain would need to be protected – so he marked him.
And if God knew all that, we can be assured that he knew what Lamech was up to. God has not abandoned his world. He knows everything that happens – as we see in Matthew 10 verses 29 and 30:
Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
God knows his world intimately.
God knows us – and God can be known. But there is still the stumbling block of our sin – which puts a barrier between us and God. But God has a plan for that as well.
Thirdly, God has a plan.
Look at the genealogy again at the end of chapter 4 – and also see how it continues in chapter 5 – from Adam to Noah, via Seth.
And then look at Luke chapter 3 verses 23-38. I don’t intend to read this genealogy out – but you can see how Christ’s line is traced from Joseph back to Adam, the Son of God.
As we saw last week in Genesis 3, God had a plan to defeat the serpent – and that plan was that Jesus Christ would come. Jesus, God’s son, adopted by Joseph.
As we sang a few minutes ago – God is working his purpose out. And that purpose extends from Genesis 1 right through the bible, through Seth, through Noah, through Abraham, through David – to Jesus.
Jesus came to deal with our sin. We saw last week that just as all sinned in Adam, so in Christ, all can receive forgiveness of sins.
In Jesus Christ, the barriers are broken and we can know God. We can be confident that he knows us, and that he knows our needs. We can be confident that God has a plan, and that we are a part of it.
So as we bring our gifts to God at harvest, we bring them willingly. We bring our first fruits. We bring our lives as an offering to God. Romans 14:7-9
Romans 14:7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
We live to the LORD because Christ died for us. We reject the lifestyle of Cain and Lamech, and we seek to follow the Lord – we do not look down on our brothers and sisters, but we seek to build them us as we serve God together. We seek to keep one another, as we are kept by Christ.
3rd October 2004