The Story of Cain and Abel
J. R. Miller
Cain was the first child born on earth. The coming of the first baby, is always an important event in a home—but the birth of the first child in the human family, was an event of peculiar importance. Mothers have many dreams and hopes for their babies. The first mother had her dreams. She seems to have been expecting that her son would be the "seed of the woman" referred to in the promise of the bruising of the serpent's head. When she saw the beautiful new-born child, she said joyfully, "With the LORD's help, I have brought forth a male child!" The mothers will best understand her glad hope, what expectations filled her heart. She forgot the pain of her travail—in her joy that a child was born. It is sad to think how this first mother's dreams were disappointed. Instead of becoming a godly man, his life an honor to his parents—he proved a wicked man, who brought sorrow to his home!
At the beginning of the story of the human family, we find both good and evil. Two children of the same parents, have in their hearts dispositions that differ in every way. They had different tastes, which led them to different occupations. One become a farmer, tilling the soil, and thus providing for his own necessities. The other, with peaceful tastes, became a shepherd.
The two sons differed still more radically in moral character. Cain developed wicked traits. He was energetic, ambitious, resourceful, a man who made his mark in the world, a builder of cities, a leader in civilization—but a man of bad temper, selfish, morose, cruel, hard, resentful. Abel was quiet, affectionate, patient. The world now would call him easy-going, not disposed to stand up for his rights, meek, allowing others to trample over him and tread him down in the dust. Cain was the kind of man who today wins the world's honors, who gets on in the world, grows rich, is enterprising, becomes powerful and rules over his fellows. Abel was the type of man described in the Beatitudes, poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, a peacemaker, unresisting, bearing wrong without complaint, not striving for mastery. Abel was the kind of man that He was—who, at the end of the ages, appeared as the true Seed of the woman, whose heel was bruised by the serpent, but bruised the serpent's head, conquering by love.
Both the sons were worshipers of God, though here, too, they differed. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground for his offering; and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock. Some suppose that Cain's offering was unfit in itself, inferring that God had already instituted the offering of blood, as the only acceptable worship. We do not learn this, however, from the Bible narrative; we are told only that the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering—but unto Cain and his offering He had not respect. Then in the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that it was faith in Abel, which made his sacrifice more excellent than Cain's.
We learn at least—that God must be worshiped in the way He has commanded. We learn also that the acceptance of worship—depends on the heart of the worshiper. Cain's heart was wrong—and Abel's was right. The publican went down to his house justified, because of his penitence and sincerity; the Pharisee received no blessing, because there was no faith in his prayer. God cares nothing for forms of worship; He looks into the heart and is pleased only when He finds love, faith, and true devotion there.
"Cain was very angry." Why was Cain angry? Was he angry with God for not showing respect to his offering? Did he think God had treated him badly? If the anger was against God, how very foolish it was! What good could it do? It would be most silly for a man to be angry at the waves of the sea, or at the storm, or at the lightning. Would the waves, the tempest, or the thunderbolt mind his rage? It is infinitely more senseless, to be angry with God!
Or was Cain angry with Abel because he had pleased God—while he himself had failed to do so? It seems, however, from the record, that he was angry with Abel. Why? What had Abel done? He had done nothing, except that he was a better man than his brother. Was that reason enough why Cain should be angry?
Superiority always arouses envy, opposition and dislike. We must not expect to make ourselves popular—by being great or good. "To show your intelligence and ability, is only an indirect way of reproaching others for being dull and incapable." It was Abel's favor with God—that made Cain hate him.
Joseph is another striking example of the same hatred of the good—by the bad. It was not his pretty coat that made his brothers so bitter against him—but that which the coat represented, the superior qualities which had made Joseph the favorite of his father. Envy is a most unworthy passion. It is utterly without reason. It is pure malevolence, revealing the worst spirit. Cain was angry with Abel, because he was good.
"Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him!" Genesis 4:8. See here, the fearful growth of the evil feeling in Cain's heart. It was only a thought at first—but it was admitted into the heart and cherished there. Then it grew until it caused a terrible crime! We learn here, the danger of cherishing even the smallest beginning of bitterness; we do not know to what it will grow!
Some people think lightly of bad temper, laughing at it as a mere harmless weakness; but it is a perilous mood to indulge, and we do not know to what it may lead. In His reproof of Cain, the Lord likens his sin to a wild beast lying in hiding by his door, ready to leap on him and devour him. This is true of all sin which is cherished in the heart. It may long lie quiet and seem harmless—but it is only a wild beast sleeping!
There is a story of a man who took a young tiger and resolved to make a pet of it. It moved about his house like a kitten and grew up fond and gentle. For a long time its savage, blood-thirsty nature seemed changed into gentleness, and the creature was quiet and harmless. But one day the man was playing with his pet, when by accident his hand was scratched and the beast tasted blood. That one taste, aroused all the fierce tiger nature, and the ferocious animal flew on his master and tore him to pieces!
So it is, with the passions and lusts of the old nature, which are only petted and tamed and allowed to stay in the heart. They will crouch at the door in treacherous lurking, and in some unguarded hour—they will rise up in all their old ferocity! It is never safe to make pets of tigers! It is never safe to make pets of little sins!
We never know what sin may grow into—if we let it stay in our heart. "It came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him!" That is what came of the passion of envy in Cain's heart! It was left unrebuked, unrepented of, uncrushed—and in time it grew to fearful strength. Then in an evil moment its tiger nature asserted itself. We never know to what dreadful stature—a little sin may grow. It was the apostle of love who said, "He who hates his brother is a murderer." Hatred is a seed—which when it grows into its full strength—is murder!
We can easily trace the development of this sin in Cain. First, it was only a bitter and hurt feeling, as he saw that Abel's sacrifice was more pleasing to God than his own. But by and by in uncontrolled anger, Cain rose and murdered his brother!
We need to guard especially, against envy. Few sins are more common. One pupil recites his lesson better than another, and the less successful one is tempted to all manner of ugly feelings toward his fellow. Unkind things are said about the scholar who gets along well.
Envy is classed among the "seven deadly sins," and one has said that of all these, it most disturbs the peace of mankind. "All the curs in the street are ready to attack the dog that gets away with the bone!" "It is the tall cedar, not the tiny shrub, which will likely be struck by lightning. The sheep that has the most wool—is soonest fleeced! Envy follows every successful man—as close as his shadow. While David kept his father's sheep at home—he might sing sweetly to his harp in the fields without disturbance. But when he comes to court and applause and greatness caress him, malice and spite dog close at his heels wherever he goes. Let us guard against the beginnings of envy.
The Lord asked Cain to account for his brother. "Where is your brother?" We all are our brother's keepers, in a certain sense. In families, the members are each other's keepers. Parents are their children's keepers. The older brothers and sisters are the keepers of the younger. Brothers are their sisters' keepers—and should be their protectors and benefactors. Sisters are their brothers' keepers—and should throw about them all the pure, gentle, holy influences of love. Each one of us is in greater or less degree—a keeper of all who come under our influence. We are certainly each other's keepers—in the sense that we are not to harm each other in any way. We have no right to injure anyone; and we are under obligation to do as much good as possible to all about us.
We shall have to account for our influence over each other, and for all our opportunities of doing good to others. One of the most significant words in our Lord's parable of the Judgment, is that in which the king is represented as saying to those on his left, "Then He will also say to those on the left—Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in; I was naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not take care of Me." Matthew 25:41-43
There is no more serious teaching in the Scriptures than this of our responsibility for the lives of others—not for members of our own families only—but for everyone who belongs to the human family.
After Cain had committed his crime, he thought of its enormity. "What have you done! Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground!" People do not stop to think beforehand, of the evil things they are going to do. They are carried away by passion or desire for pleasure, for power, or for gain—and do not see the darkness of the deed they are committing. But when it is done and they turn back to look at it—they see it in all its shame and guilt.
If the young man who is tempted to embezzle would go on and look at himself as a convict in prison, his name blackened, his family ruined—would he do the evil thing? The experience of Cain ought to teach everyone to ask before doing any wrong thing, "What is this that I am going to do?" Sin brings curse! Even the very ground is cursed, when remorse is in a man's heart. Even the flowers, the trees, the birds, and all beautiful and innocent things, seem to whisper shame and curse to his conscience.
"My punishment is too great to bear!" Sin is always a dreadful burden. It may seem pleasant at the moment—but afterward the bitterness is intolerable! A man gratifies his evil passions for a time and seems happy—but the result is shame and remorse—penalty greater than he can bear. Cain would have given all he had—to undo the sin he had committed—but he could not. He could not bring back the life he had destroyed. His dead brother would not answer his cry of grief. Though one suffers from the law, no punishment for his sin—he yet bears punishment intolerable in himself.
People say they do not believe in a hell of fire, that a God of mercy would not cast His children into such torment. But sin needs no literal flames, to make its hell. It brings its torment in itself. It is not that God is cruel—it is sin that is cruel. We cannot blame God for the punishment which our disobedience brings; we have only ourselves to blame.
Someone said in bitterness, "If I were God my heart would break for the world's woe and sorrow." God's heart did break—that is what the Cross meant. Sin is indeed a heavy burden. Many are driven to suicide by remorse. Some become hardened, all tenderness in them having been destroyed. But it will not be until the sinner gets to the next world—that he will know all the intolerable burden of his sin and its punishment. Then there will be no escape from the awful load, no hiding forever, and no getting clear of the terrible burden.
In this world, there is always a way of escape from sin's punishment. Christ bore sin and its punishment, and all who flee to Him will have the load lifted off!