In one of the most poignant moments in the Bible, God himself- knowing that Cain was already embracing the darkness- tried to pull him back:
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7)
I love Genesis 4. Known mostly for the Cain and Abel story, it reveals more about the early days of our sojourn here than any other chapter in the Bible. There is a lot of information there.
The story begins with the announcement of the arrival of the brothers Cain and Abel. “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” (4:2)
A little about those professions. In the beginning, people were vegetarians (Gen. 1:29). Which meant that a keeper of sheep was providing a limited spectrum of products from a certain point of view. There was wool. There was milk. There were a couple of agricultural uses, such as manure for fertilizer, and a flock could be brought in to clear cut a pasture.
So other than an occasional chunk of cheese and a fall sweater, to Cain, this leading sheep around might have seemed like a slackers game. Particularly when we consider that Cain was a farmer, a task that was very labor intensive and often frustrating, because the ground had been cursed (3:17-19) as punishment after the fall.
I mentioned how much information is in Genesis 4. The biggest lesson we learn is that the same gospel has been preached from the beginning. Before the Sinless Sacrifice for guilt came to Earth, the law of sacrifice- in similitude of the sacrifice of the Firstborn- was instituted.
This practice was given to the children of Israel in the Mosaic Law- and they were already familiar with the ritual before then. Abraham practiced sacrifice, as did Job, just to name a few.
We see in verses 3 & 4 that sacrifice was already practiced. And because of its purpose being the symbolism of the innocent blood being shed for sin- we realize there is another important purpose for Abel’s sheep: For the sacrifice.
Cain- who was probably resentful from time to time when he was hot and sweaty from his tasks and could see Abel and his sheep sitting under a shade tree- was probably further aggravated when he realized he would have to go begging to Abel in order to obtain a sacrificial lamb.
As we all know, it is in these moments of discontent that the Serpent appears. Based on what the Good Book tells us- and a little artistic license from one who has a little experience with temptation- I imagine a conversation similar to this one occurred:
“Why so serious?” Satan hissed to Cain.
“It is time for the sacrifice,” muttered Cain. “I’ll have to see what sheep boy wants for a lamb. He’ll probably want all my strawberries.”
“That is not fair!” Satan declared. “Does God not see how you sweat to bring wonderful fruits, while your brother rests day by day with his sheep? No, he need not profit from your labors. You are a tiller of the ground. Bring the first fruits of your labors- God will respect your sacrifice for it is an offering from your hard works”
“But it must be a blood sacrifice in memorial of the sacrifice to come,” Cain replied.
“The Lord has cursed the ground because of your father Adam. Yet, through hard work you bring forth much fruit. That is something to be respected,” Satan said.
“Does God yet mock you and require you humble yourself to get a lamb from your younger brother who rests all the days? No. He will see that your offering is better.”
As we know, Cain was rejected. His rebellion and disobedience were not respected, while Abel’s was.
Cain was humiliated and very angry. So angry that “his countenance fell.” (4:5) I once wrote an article about countenance (with a cheesy Star Wars intro that probably chased people away). I explained it thusly:
Notice how God asked Cain two questions (1 why art thou wroth? That was due to the expression on his face- he was obviously angry. The second question is where the distinction is made- why is thy countenance fallen? Cain had more than an angry face- he was affected by this anger to the point it was obvious in attitude, appearance, and what we call vibes. A negative energy that is expressed and is impactful. The holistic person- body, soul, spirit- is observed through your countenance. And Cains was “fallen”
Knowing full well that Cain was getting bad advice, God simply, lovingly, and starkly laid it all out for him; the essence of the matter:
If you do well, you will be accepted.
And, conversely, if you don’t do well- sin lieth at the door. (4:7) You will not be accepted.
I like to think that if I was being called out by the Lord, I would have- if not the good sense- at least the proper fear to say something like “I’m very sorry Lord” and/or “I will do it better next time”. Cain did not respond in this way.
He acted out of anger, shame, guilt, jealousy, pride, and covetousness- instinctive dark emotions he had been harboring and nurturing- and killed Abel. He entered into a covenant with the ‘murderer from the beginning’. (John 8:44)
And then, unremorseful, he rejected God. He lied about Abel’s whereabouts and then defiantly asked “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Acceptance is a natural human craving. We seek acceptance from our family, friends, peers, and colleagues. It provides emotional security, social support, and mental assurance. We should also crave God’s acceptance. It provides spiritual assurance, support, and security. Being accepted is being saved.
Scriptures about accepted:
Acts 10:35- But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.
Romans 14:17-18- For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
Ephesians 1:6- To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
2 Corinthians 5:9- Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
Remember always- God cannot accept you if you do not accept him and the Savior he sent, his son Jesus Christ.
Next Sunday: the dark covenant