Cain and Abel both bring God an offering. God is pleased with Abel’s offering but refuses Cain’s. Genesis doesn’t tell us why, but it tells us how Cain responds: he gets mad (Gen 4:5). 

Refusing to Engage

God speaks to Cain, offering him a chance to reflect and learn. “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:6-7). 

How would you respond? If you give time, energy, and money for God and he doesn’t respond how you want, would you sulk? Or would you reflect and learn? 

Cain never engages with God. Instead of reflecting on God’s question, he wallows in rage and murders his brother. “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” (Gen 4:8). 

Once again, God asks Cain a question: “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen 4:9). Cain tries to talk his way out of this one, but Abel’s blood cries out against him and God knows (Gen 4:10). God tells Cain, “So now you are cursed, alienated from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood you have shed. If you work the ground, it will never again give you its yield. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth” (Gen 4:11-12). 

Cain appears overwhelmed and cries, “My punishment is too great to bear! Since you are banishing me today from the face of the earth, and I must hide from your presence and become a restless wanderer on the earth, whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen 4:13-14). To paraphrase Cain’s answer: “This is too much. I’d rather die.” 

Cain is not willing to engage with God. He is unwilling to learn. Every time God invites him into a conversation, Cain shuts him down.

Wandering in the Dark

Death seems like an appropriate consequence for Cain. After all, sin leads to death (Gen 2:17) and anyone who “sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image” (Gen 9:6). Death seems appropriate, but God refuses Cain’s request.

God doesn’t bring the axe down quickly, rather, he again invites Cain into a conversation. He gives Cain a chance for reflection, a chance to engage with God and learn the lesson he needs. Cain rejected the first invitation and lashed out at God by murdering Abel. Now he rejects God’s second invitation by asking God to kill him. It was easier to disregard God and stew in his self-righteous anger. He refuses to submit to God’s lesson. He would rather die in his pride than learn to live humbly before God. 

Instead of giving Cain the death he wants, God sends him wandering. “In that case, whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” And he placed a mark on Cain so that whoever found him would not kill him” (Gen 4:15). Chase Replogle, author of The 5 Masculine Instincts: A Guide to Becoming a Better Man, says:

These are the consequences of refusing God’s lesson. These are the consequences of Cain’s immaturity and prideful reaction. Isolation, loss of strength, and endless wandering are always the outcome of our refusal to submit and mature. Cain was carried away from God’s presence to the land of Nod. In Hebrew, it is the place of wandering.

Cain refused God’s lesson. The sin crouching at the door never pounced because he walked right into it (Gen 4:7). As his heart grew hard, his way became dark.  

Humbled and Teachable 

I can relate to Cain’s desire to avoid God’s lessons or outright refuse them. Whenever my parents corrected me, I would nod my head without truly listening. I wanted the lesson over quickly. We can bring that same attitude to our walk with God. 

To become holy, we must be teachable. If we want God’s lessons to be short and simple, we’ll quickly become bitter. God often moves at a different pace than us. 

Peter picks up the imagery of God’s warning to Cain of sin crouching like a hunting animal and counsels Christians, “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Pet 5:8). I’ve never fought a lion, but I imagine it demands more than one brief talk or one workout to be fit for the fight. Staying sober-minded and alert requires a commitment to be constantly taught by God. There are no cutting corners or looking for the easiest path. It requires the humility to be open for deep and often uncomfortable reflection before God. 

Why would we make this commitment? Peter answers by sandwiching this commitment between two promises. 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you. Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world. 

The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while. To him be dominion forever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-11)

In contrast to the darkness of Cain’s isolation, Peter illuminates the glories of God’s grace to the humble. In his pride, Cain turned from God into the dark. Peter learns from Cain and calls Christians to walk in the light of humility before God. To be teachable, and to stay alert, we must first be humbled.

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