If I were to come up with a new title for Genesis, I would call it “Somebody has to pay.”
Imagine a child playing baseball in a vacant lot next to a neighbor’s house. He hits a long fly ball out of the lot and through the plate glass of his neighbor’s picture window, crashing through the neighbor’s glass coffee table. On the table is a large bottle of ink, which overturns and starts flowing onto the neighbor’s white rug. The neighbor’s cat, startled by the noise, goes to investigate, and tracks ink all over the house.
Now we are faced with two serious problems. The first is this--how do we keep the mess from spreading? Someone has to catch the cat and sweep up the glass before it gets trampled all over the house. The second question is this—who’s going to pay for this? It may be the neighbor, the kid, or his parents, but somebody has to pay!
That’s the way it was after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Once sin entered the world, it ruined everything! They sinned, but it didn’t stop there. Their sin was made worse in their son. Not only that, but the mess was continued in their descendants, running down through the generations, and multiplying in both intensity and effect until this very day. The mess is still spreading.
We try to stop it. We pass laws, set up rules, and regulations to try to contain sin. We urge people to go to church and be nice, and all that helps. But even if we succeed in containing the effects of sin for a while, we still can’t cure it. It’s not enough to just manage sin, we have to reverse it—otherwise we’re all doomed, unless there is a remedy for sin.
The Old Testament laws were aimed at containing and controlling our sinful nature, but they could not cure it. They could only contain it. It’s not until Jesus arrives on earth that we see anything which can actually reverse the effects of sin.
From the first day after the fall, people were looking for that remedy to arrive. In Genesis 3:15, God cursed the serpent, saying
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This “enmity” between the seed of Eve and the serpent is a child, who was the seed of the woman. It is a promise of the Messiah, who will finally reverse the effects of the first sin. We read this passage and know it refers to Jesus, because we’ve already read the end of the story. The promise of the “seed” of the woman is a prophecy of the virgin birth. But Eve didn’t know that. It would have been the most natural thing to consider her firstborn son to be that “seed” that would interpose himself between Satan and humankind.
She named her firstborn “Cain” meaning “I have gotten a man from the Lord”. This name suggests what she must have been thinking. God promised a child who would stand between her and Satan. Now she had a child. Cain was going to save her. Thus, Cain, became the first “antichrist”—not one against Christ but one who is viewed as a replacement for Him.
Eve isn’t the only woman ever to see her children as her personal savior. We all hope our children will not follow our mistakes, but will redeem our family name. But our sins effect all our generations. God says in the Ten Commandments that He will bring punishment for sin to the third and fourth generation. This is not so much a direct action of God as a consequence for the actions we have made. Our children suffer when parents break God’s law. The sins we commit will expose our children to misery. We are free moral agents, but we are all affected by original sin. Our sins in turn affect everyone around us.
The reverse is also true. Our righteousness and goodness becomes an example to our children. As we obey God, honor Him, and keep His commandments, we can make life better for our children. But unless we give our children godly influence and training, then they are likely to be worse, not better than we are. That’s why it’s important to raise our children in the faith. Even if we do give them all the right instruction and training and are the right example to them, they will still manifest sin, because they live in a sinful world and have sinful parents.
Adam and Eve didn’t understand that at first, because this was the first time. They thought their firstborn son was perfect. But sin is in us all, and Cain was not the messiah. This original sin was manifested in him, especially in his relationship with his younger brother Abel.
Abel was an unfortunate boy. His name in Hebrew can be translated “steam” “vapor” “breath” ----even “useless” or “nothing.” Cain was special in his parent’s eyes, but Abel was nothing special. He was just an afterthought. They had already gotten a man from the Lord, this one was just a spare.
Cain was the favored son. He became a farmer like his father, inheriting the family business. Abel took care of the animals. Since they were vegetarians, the animals were kept for wool or domestication. Abel was purely secondary. It was less important work. Cain was doing the important job. They must have thought that even God favored Cain over Abel. Imagine then the shock when Cain discovered this was not the case!
Once day the two offered sacrifices to God. Cain offered the fruit of the ground. Abel offered up an animal. God had regard for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s. Abel received praise for something he did, while Cain received nothing.
Jealousy is a horrible sin, but it is really the same thing as pride. Pride is not how we view ourselves, but how we view other people. Whether we are good or bad, blessed or cursed, it doesn’t depend on how we compare to others, but how we stand with God. God’s rejection of Cain’s sacrifice had nothing to do with God’s acceptance of his brother’s sacrifice. The two sacrifices were independent. Jealousy and pride are born when we look away from God and look at others. It’s no longer good enough or God to give us what we need and want. We must have what other people have. Our happiness depends on being better than other people. This is the root of our unhappiness with God, and of all the wars and strife in the world. We think that because someone is rich or beautiful or loved, then they must have taken something away from us. But if someone is prettier than I am, it says nothing about my worth. If someone is uglier than I am, it does not make me more beautiful in God’s eyes.
Jealousy is irrational. It assumes a correlation that does not exist. Your poverty doesn’t make me rich, and your wealth doesn’t make me poor. Your sin doesn’t make me better in God’s eyes, and my sin doesn’t make you worse. Jealousy is based on the idea that God only has a certain amount of blessings to give. If we don’t get something, then someone got our share. Cain thought God should give him all the blessings. So, Cain reasoned that if Abel got a blessing that day, then it was at his expense. That’s why he killed his brother.
Cain had never seen anyone dead. He didn’t know what “dead” was. He never understood the impact of his actions of murder. Do any of us really understand that a single act can echo down into the decades and centuries? Do we understand the cost of a single act of disobedience? Someone has to pay, and will pay for years.
Cain tries to cover it up. He buries his brother in the field. When he is asked about him, he lies. He pretends nothing is wrong. But God knows, and soon everyone else knew it, too.
God asks Cain what he’s done. He knows the answer already, but he is giving Cain an opportunity to confess. Instead, Cain lies to God. God is angry with Cain in a way, expressing that anger in harder words than he did with his parents.
Cain cries out, “My punishment is too great to bear!” He’s not so much remorseful as afraid. When you sin, are you sorry, or just afraid of the circumstances? It’s not enough just to be afraid. There needs to be some empathic knowledge of the pain you have caused. The only sorrow Cain feels is for himself.
Somebody has to pay, and Cain is paying for his parent’s sins. God makes a mark on Cain’s forehead, which was a mark of God’s protection, not His judgment. It was a sign not to touch him, but neither could he live in the society where he had sinned. He had to go out. Sometimes when we sin, we can’t go home.
But this is not the only payment. Sin continues to get worse. In 1924, we read the story of Lamech, Cain’s great, great grandson. He brags to his wives.
I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.”
He’s not even remorseful. He thought he was safe from harm, because God protected Cain. Cain’s sin became the excuse for his own.
All the great sinners in the world---Cain, Nimrod, the Sodomites, the Amorites, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Huns, the Nazis, ISIS—even you and I, can trace our line back to that first act of disobedience in the Garden. Someone had to pay, and we will keep on paying forever. But it all stops at the Cross. Jesus Christ is the payment for sin. He is where it all stops. Cain may have thought he was the end of it, but he was just the beginning. It is only through the cross that payment will be made once and for all.