• Lori

Genesis 4: A Chance to Come Clean

Updated: Apr 22

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

In the first story of life outside the garden (Genesis 4), the earth’s first parents were given two sons. As the boys grew up, Abel became a shepherd and Cain cultivated the ground. Meat and vegetables, blankets and clothes. Even outside the garden, Eden’s first family had all of the basics.

Except, it seems, a healthy family life.

When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift — the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. (Genesis 4:3–5a)

I can read faster than I can think, so I must admit these verses caused me some consternation at first. When I read about Cain gifting some grain, I thought, “Good job, Cain,” while Abel, who led some cute little lambs to the slaughter, lost some points with me. I couldn’t understand why God would favor Abel’s offering over Cain’s.

Until I spent a little more time studying the Bible and a little less time watching Dr. Pol.

I learned that while both gave some, Abel gave his first and best. I learned that, for God, offerings are a serious — and for us, a telling — thing. Cain, it seems, just grabbed some grain from the edge of the field while Abel searched for the plumpest, healthiest, most beautiful lambs in his flock. And I have a feeling that after Cain filled his bucket he drug it to the altar, while Abel and his little lambs skipped all the way. And therein lies the difference.

But herein lies the danger: Cain didn’t seem to have a clue why what he did wasn’t OK.

This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected. (Genesis 4:5b)

Now, that seems a very natural reaction — it happens to me regularly — but I’ve learned that when God and I are at odds, it’s time for me to ask some questions.

Most of the time when I ask God a question, He answers me with a question, and most of the time another word from Him isn’t necessary. His question alone is a dead giveaway that something’s amiss.

So what do you suppose God expected Cain to do? Go back, measure out more grain, and lug it up the hill? Not likely. My best guess is that God was prompting Cain to deal with his attitude.

He asked Cain two questions: “Why are you angry?” and “Why are you offended?” then immediately offered the solution: You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! (Genesis 4:6–7)

It seems God didn’t count Cain’s sad attempt at an offering a sin. His instruction seems to indicate it wasn’t game over. His warning had an “if,” and if there’s an “if” there’s a “then,” and where there’s a “then” there’s time for another outcome. Cain still had the chance to change. God’s caution that the sneaky serpent was lying outside indicates that Cain was still safe.

God’s directive was a message of hope, not condemnation.

But Cain didn’t get it. He could have thrown his offense outside with the serpent, but instead, he ignored God’s warning. Sin whispered in his ear and he listened. He didn’t master sin, so sin had its way.

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)

Once again, God came with a question: “Where’s Abel?” Now, this is sounding familiar. It seems God was dealing with Cain the same way He dealt with Cain’s parents: giving him a chance to come clean.

But Cain’s response wasn’t much different than his parents’: he made an attempt to divert God’s attention. He answered God’s question with a question that wasn’t really a question, but an attempt to avoid an answer: “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

Seriously? Who did he think he was dealing with? He didn’t just throw out a lie, but a quarrelsome question as well, and it’s clear he wasn’t asking in search of the truth.

As with Cain’s parents, God sent him into exile, to the east of Eden, even farther away from the garden. Out there, Cain no longer had a home or vocation. Homeless, without purpose, he was a wanderer living in fear. Most tragic, he was outside of God’s presence, where things could have been redeemed. All for the lack of two words: I repent.

Yet even away from God’s presence, he wasn’t outside of God’s protection. Though subject to God’s justice, he was the beneficiary of God’s mercy: the Lord marked him with a warning to anyone wanting to kill him.

God didn’t hate Cain; he hated his attitude. He loved Cain enough to ask the question: “Why get angry when I correct you?”, and then provide the answer: “Here is a chance to repent. Adjust your attitude, give your offering more thought, and when I ask you a question, come clean.”