GENESIS 4:1-16

JUNE 8, 2008


My mom says Iím her sugarplum.

My mom says Iím her lamb.

My mom says Iím completely perfect,

Just the way I am.

My mom says Iím a super-special, wonderful terrific little guy.

My mom just had another baby.



I wonder if Cain - when he was just a little guy - had similar feelings when Abel was born?  Did he ask, ďWhy?Ē  And I wonder if it was just a coincidence that the first recorded act of murder occurred between siblings?  After all, we know that sibling rivalry is quite normal and very universal.  We see and hear examples of it all the time.

For example, take the couple who gave their three year old some paper and crayons and asked him to draw a picture for them.  The three year old replied coldly, glancing at his baby brother, ďNot until you get rid of that kid!Ē

Or how about the time the car-pool children were talking about the worst thing that had ever happened to them.  One mentioned falling out of a tree.  Another mentioned breaking an ankle.  Another mentioned having poison ivy break out all over her body.  Then it came to Richardís turn to share.  He said, ďThe worst and most terrible thing that ever happened to me was that my sister was born.Ē

Or take my two children - please!!!!  Iím kidding, they are great kids, now grown and on their own, but when they were younger they were fiercely competitive with each other from grades to driving ability to card games and it took years before we saw a change in that.

Yes, sibling rivalry is quite normal and very universal, but in addition to being normal and universal, we also know that some sibling rivalries can be very intense - in fact more intense than other sibling rivalries and we also know that certain factors contribute to this intensity.  And by the way, all three intensifying factors were present in Cain and Abelís relationship.

The first intensifying factor is the ďfirstborn factor.Ē  Generally speaking, a sibling rivalry is more pronounced for a first-born child than it is for a second or third born child.  Of course, it makes sense.  After being on center stage, firstborns become accustomed to having mom and dad to themselves, and when another child comes along that child is often viewed as an intruder, taking away the firstbornís turf.  Parents may see a second child as providing a playmate or a companion to firstborn Waldo.  Little Waldo, however, views it as someone stealing some of his parentsí love.  Remember that Cain, in the story of Cain and Abel, was a firstborn.

A second factor which affects the intensity of a sibling rivalry is the size of the family.  Usually, the smaller the family, the more intense the rivalry.  If you have only two children you may know of what I speak.  I am constantly amazed at how creative my two children were in putting each other down.  Their cutting remarks almost became an art form, albeit a cruel one.  If Cain and Abel were anything like my Josh and Jenny, it comes as no surprise to me that one day Cain punched out Abelís lights.

A third, and final, intensifying factor is the same sex factor.Ē  A sibling rivalry is more intense between two or more children of the same sex.  When I first heard of that factor, I thought of the scar on my wifeís back.  Trudy got it from her sister Susan.  Susan bit Trudy during one of their many childhood arguments.

Well, all in all, given these intensifying factors, Cain and Abel were prime candidates for an explosive relationship.  But murder?  Can we hang it all on a rivalry between brothers?

Or was there something about Abel that sort of grated on a person?  Frederick Buechner, former Presbyterian pastor and best-selling author thinks so.  In his book  Peculiar Treasures Buechner writes,


Abel was like his sheep - the same flat, complacent gaze, the thick curls low on his forehead, a voice like the creak of  new shoes when he prayed.   His prayers were invariably answered, his flocks fattened, and the wool fetched top price.  His warts disappeared over-night.  His advice to his brother was invariably excellent.  Cain took it as long as he could and then he let him have it with a pitchfork.


Or was it just a big mistake?  We assume that when Cain invited Abel out to the field that it was for the purpose of killing him, but thatís something we read into the story.  The text does not say that.  It could be that something happened in that field that set off Cain.  After all, thus far in the Book of Genesis, there is no such thing as death, and therefore no way by which anyone could clearly imagine what death might be.  Cain could have easily struck Abel in an instinctive reflex of his anger.  Who can say that he had any deliberate purpose to end his brothers life?

But then, there is Cainís smart alecky reply after killing his brother, that mucks up everything.  Cain doesnít seem to show any remorse over his brotherís death.  When questioned about his brotherís whereabouts   he answers like a snotty middle schooler.  He says, ďAm I my brotherís keeper?Ē  If you have a middle schooler in your home, youíll know the exact tone of Cainís voice.

So then, why did Cain kill Abel?  That is just one of the questions our text raises and calls us to fill in the blanks.  Maybe Cain was a hothead.  Maybe he was a cold blooded murderer.  Maybe his parents liked Abel best and when God seemed to favor Abel also, that was all it took to send Cain over the edge.  Whatever the reason, however, we cannot say for sure.

And thatís not the only question this story raises and then asks us to fill in the blanks.  Take verse 14.  If Adam and Eve were the first two humans, and Cain and Abel their only offspring, from where did all these other folks come?  Explain that one!  And what about the mark of Cain in verse 15?  What was the mark?  Was it a funny twitch, or a Gorbachev birth mark or was it a particular skin color as so many racist groups believe?  And also, what about verse 4?  How did Cain and Abel know one offering was acceptable and one was not?  Did God drop a big ďGood Housekeeping SealĒ from heaven or did God consume one offering and not the other, like God did when Elijah battled the prophets of Baal?  Again, we are left to fill in the blanks.

There is one question, however, that the text does raise for which the author adequately fills in the blanks.  The question?  What made Abelís offering more acceptable than Cainís? The answer could not be clearer.  Listen to the story once again. Verses 3-5:


 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an  offering of

the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of

his flock, their fat portions.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his

offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.  So Cain was

very angry and his countenance fell.


Now let me tell you what some folk have said in attempts to explain these verses.  For example, Old Testament scholar John Gibson says this story is simply a tough lesson in Godís grace.  Gibson claims there was nothing inherently better in Abelís offering than Cainís that God simply chose, as God would later choose Jacob over Esau, to favor one and not the other.  Of course, we might say, ďThatís not fair!Ē  But what do we say to our children when they say to us, ďItís not fair?Ē  We say, ďTough, life isnít fair,Ē and Gibson says thatís the lesson of the story.  Get used to it, life isnít fair, so like Cain we are not to pout or question  Godís grace, for it is Godís prerogative to call whom God wants to call and bless whom God wants to bless.

Others have said, it has nothing to do with Godís freedom to bless whom God  wants and not bless whom God does not want to bless, but rather it has to do with worship.  Specifically, that when it comes to worship, God prefers blood offerings rather than cereal offerings.  Thatís why God sent a Son and not a box of Wheaties to take away the sins of the world.  This text is seen by some then as a tool to instruct the people of Israel as to how to worship God best.  Sort of an endorsement for blood sacrifices in worship.

Actually, the reason for rejection and acceptance had nothing to do with Godís grace or blood offerings.  It had to do with something else.  By that I mean, look at the word ďanĒ in verse 3.


In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground.


Cain brought an offering - not necessarily the best, not necessarily the finest, just an offering.  We get the sense he brought something like brussels sprouts and lima beans.  It was an offering, but it was nothing like barley and strawberries.  It would be like offering time during the service.  You reach in your wallet or purse and you have a dollar bill, a five dollar bill, a ten dollar bill, a twenty dollar bill, a fifty dollar bill and a hundred dollar bill.  You give the five - ďanĒ offering, not the best, not the finest, but ďanĒ offering.

Now note another word in Verse 4.  Note the contrast.  Note the word ďfirstlings.Ē


And Abel for his part brought the firstlings of his flock, their fatted portions.


In other words, like the fatted calf in the prodigal son story, Abel brought nothing but the best.  With Cain we get the sense that he gave some leftovers.  Sure Cain gave, but a spirit of sacrifice, a going out of oneís way for God was not there.  Abel, on the other hand, gave only the best, the fatted portions from his firstborn sheep.  No leftovers here.

Why was one more acceptable than the other?  It was a matter of attitude.  Abel was the first cheerful giver, Cain the first reluctant one.  In accepting one and not the other God was attempting to teach Cain a valuable lesson about the spirit of giving - to hold things loosely - but Cain would have nothing to do with it.  He chose to blame Abel rather than look at his attitude toward giving.  We have the same thing with us today.  How often we have heard people blame the church for talking too much about money and possessions, as a ruse for refusing to give cheerfully and sacrificially.

In thinking about the spirit of giving, I want to close with a story from Bruce Larson.  We are using his book, My Creator, My Friend as the inspiration for this series.  I would recommend it to you, but itís out of print, and on the matter of giving he relates a wonderful story.  He writes,


Many years ago when my wife Hazel and I were struggling financially, we decided to give her mother an expensive gift.  We were leading a tour to the Holy Land, and in Jerusalem we bought her a beautiful eighteen-carat gold cross which she wore for all her remaining years.  A year or so later, I saw in a magazine a picture of some children doing Swedish folk-dancing in the streets of Lindsborg, Kansas.  I knew my mother would love that picture.  I

have never before or since commissioned any original art, but I wrote to the artist and asked her to reproduce that picture for my mother for her birthday.  My mother was simply delighted with it.

Both of those dear women are now dead.  One morning as we were sitting having coffee in our kitchen, I noticed Hazel wearing the gold cross that we had given her mother.  On the wall of the family room portion of the kitchen is the picture we couldnít afford.  Both of those sacrificial gifts are now our possessions.  I thought to myself that this might be a preview of eternity.  Your heavenly home may be furnished with all the things you have given away in this life.  Those things are somehow eternal, while the things we keep for ourselves are transitory.  The Bible speaks of storing up for yourselves treasures in heaven, and perhaps thatís how it works.[1]


I should have re-titled the sermon.   I should have titled it, ďWhen You Care Enough to Send the Very Best.Ē  Maybe itís not too late to change it.  Amen.


[1] Bruce Larson, My Creator, My Friend, Word Books (Waco,TX), 1986.