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The Way of Cain

Genesis 4:9 (ESV) … “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Cain did not allow himself to be mastered by God and so became enslaved by the devil. Sin had its way with him, and he became the first murderer. What a murderer he became! If we were to speak in modern legal terminology, we would not be able to claim that Cain was guilty only of negligent homicide or second-degree murder or any other category that might lessen his offense. This was absolute, premeditated murder—murder in the first degree, “murder one.” Cain plotted Abel’s slaughter and then pulled it off. He said, “Let’s go out to the field” (v. 8). Then, when they were in the field out of sight of others, “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

But Cain was not out of sight of God. God sees everything, and God saw Cain. He said to him, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Think how evil this reply is. It contains the first lie and the first human question in the Bible. The lie was Cain’s denial that he knew his brother’s whereabouts. He knew perfectly well. But so greatly had sin mastered him at this point that he not only lied; he lied to God, no doubt thinking that he could get away with it. How greatly sin had worked in less than one generation! It is true that Adam and Eve had tried to shift the blame when God had confronted them with their sin on the occasion of the fall. But they did not lie; they told the truth even though they were trying to escape from under it. But now Cain lies, and the lie is to God.

Second, he asks a question—the first human question in the Bible—and this is even worse than the lie. So hard is his heart that he now suggests that his brother, whom he killed, is not his responsibility. If something has happened to Abel, it is his own fault. In this world of dog-eat-dog, it is every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.

Do I hear the voice of modern man in Cain’s cruel question? I think I do. A woman is murdered in New York while more than thirty neighbors hear her screams and ignore her cries for help. In Oklahoma City a woman gives birth to a baby on the sidewalk while similarly calloused people ignore her cries and merely gaze on her plight from the window of a cozy corner tavern. These stories could be multiplied indefinitely. Although many people do answer such cries for help, this only reinforces the cruelty and sin of the many more who do not.

My final thought is from the New Testament where the Bible speaks not only of Cain, which it does in three places (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12; Jude 11), but of “the way of Cain,” which those who are of God must avoid (Jude 11). What does this mean? It means that although Cain’s case is a sorry one, it is sorrier even than this in that it has become a pattern for many persons who have followed him. If you are walking in Cain’s way—if you have rejected the way of salvation provided for you through the shed blood of Christ, refusing to accept responsibility for your own state or the state of others—heed the warning of God and turn back while there is still time. Reject Cain’s way. Take the way of Abel who, though he was killed, nevertheless had testimony of God that he was righteous (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51; Heb. 11:4).

God says of Abel, “By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Heb. 11:4). Let Abel speak to you and follow his example.[1]

[1] Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 254). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

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