Genesis 4 8&9 “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
The unique horror of murder is that it terminates violently that one unrepeatable life which is God’s gift to each person. The Lord has made it clear that there is no reincarnation of the soul. On the Mount of Transfiguration the three apostles saw Moses and Elijah. God had brought them to earth from heaven. The souls of neither of those great men had transmigrated throughout the generations popping up every century in one person after another. Moses still lived on as one unique and massive personality; he was still Moses 1400 years later, while Elijah was still Elijah the greatest of the prophets seven or eight centuries after he was on earth. One single life we live, and then death, judgment and the eternal state. The Bible teaches this, that it is appointed for men to die once. Death is not a process, it is an event. We each have just one lifetime in this world, one life to breathe its air and see its glories, one life in which to seek mercy from God for our sins through his Son Jesus Christ, and then we must all give account for that one life to the God in whom we’ve lived and moved and had our being. There is no possibility at all of the soul dodging this encounter with God by being sent back and reincarnated in the form of some other person, or as a rat, or as a worm in the belly of a water buffalo. One life we are all given; one identity each of us possesses; one person with one personality made to live as long as God himself. So, I am saying that it is a fearful deed for anyone – for a suicide bomber for example – to terminate the life of himself and others. How iniquitous to destroy that one life which is the gift of God to another man. The Lord alone has that prerogative. Thou shalt not kill. That word would be enough.
It is a solemn business to die at any time, to die in a hospital with kind nurses and doctors to help us, to die surrounded by our families, to die in good old age – even then death is still very solemn, but to die in the twinkling of an eye, unprepared, being hauled before God to hear from his lips our eternal destinies – that indeed is a serious matter, but that is how Abel died. Let us see how it is described to us in our text; let us first see the deceitfulness of Cain.
1. CAIN WAS A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.
You see how Cain approached Abel; “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out into the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (v.8). How did Cain approach Abel? As a murderer? No, as a brother; “Let’s go out into the field.” It is the language of brothers. Abel trusted his brother and went with him. Do you see Cain’s strategy, that he didn’t say, “I’m going to kill you my young brother. Come outside with me because I don’t want your blood on the carpet when I cut your throat.” He never hinted at that. “Let’s go and look at the fields and crops and herds.” His voice was the voice of a brother; his heart was the heart of a murderer. The man who invites the girl back to his house says, “Let’s have a cup of coffee in my place.” He doesn’t say that he is going to seduce her. He never mentions her husband or her fiancé. He doesn’t discuss sexually transmitted diseases that can leave a woman unable to have children. He doesn’t talk about AIDS. He doesn’t refer to unwanted pregnancies and abortions. As they drive to his house he doesn’t turn the conversation to some future guilt, shame and regrets that will never leave her. He just talks about them having a cup of coffee together.
The drug pusher gives a free sample to a young person; “you’ll feel great if you take this. It will really help you to dance. You’ll lose your inhibitions.” He doesn’t mention the growing dependency; he doesn’t talk about the cost of a drug habit; he doesn’t raise the subject of prison and how your family can be destroyed by your addiction; he doesn’t talk about the way your brain can be affected permanently. He just says, “Do you want to feel really great?” Few people’s lives were ever ruined through hearing the truth. It’s deceit that makes them junkies. Cain lied to his brother. “Let’s go out into the field,” he said. His additional sin was the sin of omission, what he failed to tell his brother.
Then we are told what happened in the field, that Cain attacked Abel. There was a rope maybe, or a knife, or a hatchet, or a club. There was certainly blood. There was the first blow, the cry of surprise, the fear, the terror, the shout for help into an empty void, the awful pain, the increasing darkness as the blows kept thudding in. It started with the suggestion, “Let’s go out together,” and it ended with murder.
David’s terrible fall started with a walk on his palace roof, but then the king became a peeping Tom. The man of many wives stole the one wife of a brave young man; David abused the wonderful longsuffering of God. The man who wrote the 23rd Psalm sent for Bathsheba. He could have argued with himself – or with the servant he sent to do his dirty work – that she seemed a particularly interesting and attractive woman, but the end of the relationship was pregnancy, the murder of her husband, the death of the child and the enemies of the Lord showing their contempt for him. David’s shame lives on still, just like Cain’s.
This first murder in history was murder of the first degree. The crime was not manslaughter. Cain didn’t plan to teach his little brother a lesson by beating him up – “You’re getting a little too uppity boy!” Biff! Bang! Wallop! No, it was not a beating that went too far. What happened was not an accident. It was certainly not self-defense. It was not a sudden flare-up of temper – it was all planned carefully, “Let’s go out into the field.”. This killing was not retaliation. It was deliberate, premeditated murder. Cain had purposed the killing ahead of time. He began to talk to his brother, “Hi Abe, how’re you doin’ today? Come out to the field for a moment I want to show you something.” And there and then he struck down his kid brother. Moses writes that Cain began to attack him, and then he killed him. It is all strangely contemporary, isn’t it? Aren’t the majority of murders committed within the family? The headlines in the Times on Wednesday (August 9, 2006) were, “Knife Attacks Surge.” The article said that attacks in which knives were used during a mugging rose by 73 per cent in the past year. It said that a third of all school children claimed to have carried a knife in the past twelve months. Cain lives on today
2. CAIN MURDERED HIS BROTHER IN SPITE OF DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENTS AND WARNINGS.
Remember that Cain was the son of parents who had really known the Lord and walked with him and had had great experiences of him. I can turn that like this, let’s not say when we hear of people behaving like demons, “If only they had had parents who had known the Lord.” Adam and Eve had known the Lord. They had talked with God and he with them. They had known the best of all possible times. That was the kind of home in which Cain was raised. As the first man ever born of a woman his mother would have spoken to him about her first memories. No one could better sing from the heart these slightly modified words of William Cowper than Cain’s mother;
“Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view of [the Lord] and his Word?”
Cain heard of the mighty Creator in all his goodness and glory from the lips of his parents Adam and Eve. Remember they were only a few years old when he was born – the youngest parents on record, with the memories of Eden’s bliss and the stupidity of their rebellion fresh in their minds. You cannot say that if only Cain had been the son of parents who knew God intimately then all would have been well. I have told you often that it takes more than privileges to save a sinner.
Neither may we sigh, “If only Cain could have heard the word of God. If only he had heard it powerfully, entreating him to do what was right, and warning him of what might happen if he did what was wrong. If only a preacher full of the Holy Ghost had come to him and told him of the dangers of sin crouching at the door wanting to have him how different things would have been.” That is the sort of comment we make. Young people go astray and we blame ourselves. Children from the church end up in prison or on drugs and we blame the preacher; “If only the preacher had spoken with the Holy Spirit . . . if only there were revival then this would never happen. We only have ourselves to blame . . .” So we beat ourselves up and tear ourselves apart, and what began as the tragedy of a young person determined to leave the church and go his own way becomes the opportunity for the enemies of the pulpit to lay it all at the preacher’s door. “If only he had spoken to the boy. If only he had spent more time with him. If only he had prayed for him more. If only he had been a better pastor. If only he had been a more powerful preacher . . .”
Cain had benefited from all of that hadn’t he? Both the gospel of mercy and the warnings of the law he’d heard. God himself had spoken personally to him. Cain couldn’t have heard the perils more clearly. He couldn’t have heard of the consequences of ignoring sin more powerfully presented to him. Listen to God pastoring Cain, “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’” (vv.6&7). In other words, “Don’t be angry with God rejecting your views of religion. Do what is right. Even you, with your angry, loveless, murderous heart – you’ll be accepted if you do what is right. Turn to God by a lamb – just like your brother – but if you don’t do what is right then as you walk away from me with Abel today then let me tell you this, that sin is crouching at the door, and sin desires to have you. Master your sin Cain, or your sin will master you!” That was the message that came to him from God. The Lord had spoken to him passionately, and clearly, and lovingly, and personally, and still he went out from that meeting and killed his brother.
What privileges you have had! How much gospel preaching, and how much knowledge you’ve got. How much praying has gone on for you and yet still you’re not listening. Won’t you listen to the warnings of the Word? Do you know that as a young man Arthur Pink began to dabble in the occult? He was attending seances and communicating with the dead and was considered to be the future leader of those beliefs. Let me tell you that trying to communicate with the dead is like entering the deepest darkest dungeon without the light of a candle. Arthur’s Christian father became very concerned about him. Arthur arrived home late one night returning from one of these exciting meetings, but his father was waiting up for him. He spoke to Arthur quietly and briefly. This is what he said to him, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Provs. :14:12). His father’s words came to Arthur Pink with divine power, and they stopped him in his tracks. For the next few days he sought to know this God for himself, and to gain the mastery over occultism before it mastered him, and he succeeded. He gave his life in obedience to God and became a changed person.
Cain, however, refused to listen to God. He was of his father the devil. John tells us that Cain was of that wicked one and slew his brother. Of whom are you? In other words, to whom do you belong today? Everybody here belongs to someone. All who claim they are free spirits are being blown along by the spirit of the age. Nobody free! All are slaves to sin. Everyone here will walk home with God or with sin. No third alternative. No middle way. How fearful, that the choice is the one or the other. Walk with God! Master your sin before sin will master you. Cry to God for help, and do not cease until you know he has answered your prayers.
3. GOD STILL SPEAKS TO US AFTER WE’VE DONE THE VERY WORST THING.
You hear one person saying about another, “I’ll never speak to him again.” God never acts like that. After we have sinned as badly as it were possible for men to sin God still speaks to us. You remember how the Lord spoke to Peter after he had cursed and sworn that he didn’t know Jesus. God didn’t send a bolt of lightening straight away to kill Cain. Fools want that to happen don’t they? Instant justice on the baddies, and because it doesn’t happen they dismiss God. There have been defiers of God who have publicly blasphemed. Atheists have cursed God on a stage in a meeting, and then they have challenged God to smite them dead for insulting him, and when nothing has happened they have turned to their audiences and scoffed, “What sort of God do you believe in? If he is a righteous God and an all powerful God as Christians believe why doesn’t he strike me dead?” I will tell you why, because he is also a patient, good and forgiving God, and you can thank him over and over again for this, because if he were not longsuffering he’d have struck dead you or me long ago. Today is a day of grace when he offers murderers like Cain acceptance if they do what is right. It is because of his mercy you’re not consumed. His goodness to you is in order to give you time to repent of your sins. That is why he brought you to this point in your life to hear these words.
There was an occasion when the great New Testament scholar, Gresham Machen of Princeton, went to hear evangelist Billy Sunday preaching in Philadelphia in 1915. The attendance at every meeting was 20,000 people, in fact Machen had to get a ticket to ensure he could gain admittance. After the meeting Machen wrote to his mother and told her how very impressed he was with Billy Sunday’s preaching. Billy’s text was 2 Samuel 12:13, “And David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord hath also put away thy sin.” Machen wrote, “The total impact of the sermon was great. At the climax the preacher got up on his chair – and if he had used a stepladder, nobody could have thought the thing excessive, so dead in earnest were both speaker and audience! The climax was the boundlessness of God’s mercy, and so truly had the sinfulness of sin been presented that everybody present with any heart at all ought to have felt mighty glad that God’s mercy is boundless. In the last five or ten minutes of that sermon I got a new realization of the power of the gospel.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, Eerdmans 1955, p.223&224)
So after this dastardly murder God in his mercy didn’t confront Cain with a sword of judgment, but with words. The LORD spoke to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (v.9). God wants to talk to Cain about what he has done. It is the last thing Cain wants to talk about. There are a million things Cain would like to talk about. He has an opinion about them all, an educated opinion; he can talk eloquently and at length about the sky and the ocean, plants and animals, fish and birds, crop rotations and fertilizers, music and metals. He wants to talk about stuff like that, especially to God. Imagine you and God talking together, and you could say to God, “Where?” Where did sin come from, and where did Lazarus go during the three days he was dead, and where in our bodies are our souls located, and where is heaven, and where is the congregation of greatest blessing in all the world today, and where is the greatest preaching to be found? We’d be glad of the opportunity of putting God on the spot and asking him ‘where?’ We’d like to bring God our lists and tell him what the conversation is going to be about. We’d want him to answer our queries promptly, and that he would confirm all our prejudices.
Who are you speaking to? When we meet God our mouth will be stopped and we will stand guilty before God. The very angels themselves don’t know where to look when they’re in the presence of God – and they’ve never sinned! We, alas, drink iniquity like water, and that’s going to the theme of the conversation. God asking the questions and ourselves silent before him. I saw an interview with the Port Talbot born actor Anthony Hopkins in which he said when he appeared before God the first thing he would do would be to ask God, “What was all that about?” No you won’t Anthony Hopkins! You won’t say a word. God will ask you the questions. You know only too well what life is about, all men know; it’s about fearing God and keeping his commandments. God will talk to us about our sin. We might want to talk about philosophy, but God will talk about our sin. We might want to talk about politics, but God will talk about our sin. We want to talk about education, but God will talk about our sin. We want to talk about music and self-worth but we’ll be silent after three score years and ten of talking. It’s time for God to speak.
We might refuse to go to a church where the preacher preaches about sin. What do men say about such a fellow? “He goes on and on and on about sin.” We want to be consumers, and find a place where our own beliefs are reconfirmed every week, that I’m OK, and you’re OK, and everyone is OK. And if the preacher doesn’t do that then we move on and find someone who will affirm our very own prejudices. But no true Christian preacher can do that. All of us faithfully and regularly have to talk to people about the plight they are in, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
There was a very fine Christian preacher named John Marshall who preached for forty-five years in Hemel Hempstead. He served God there, and he changed the lives of people for the better. He was also a lovely personality, and I’m missing him even now as I think about him because he died three years ago, and often I come across people talking about him. They were talking about him over a meal in Mississippi last month. Mr. Marshall spoke to children in Hemel Hempstead, and one of the children he spoke to is named Andrew Doggrell. He has in fact written down an account of how, when he was only four years of age, he recalls Mr. Marshall speaking to him – just like God spoke to Cain:
These are “the first words that the Holy Spirit said to me through Mr. Marshall. I remember him saying, ‘Children, did you know you can come to Christ?’ Then he paused and his manner changed. With a stern look on his face he cried, ‘Do you know you are a sinner? — lost, without God, bound for eternal punishment in hell — where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?’ He went on with words of entreaty that I cannot remember. This brought a tear to my eye, which I was quick to brush away for fear any member of my family might see. There was then another deafening pause which I couldn’t bear, as the silence gave my heart time to ponder eternity. Then he leaned forward in the pulpit and he said softly, as he reached both arms out wide, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Christ Jesus welcomes you to come unto him, did you know that? You, yes, you!’ He concluded by inviting sinners to pray for a repentant heart and, as though reading our thoughts, he gave us this dialogue: ‘Oh I want to come, but I don’t know how to pray!’ ‘Well, tell Almighty God — I’m a bad, bad person. I hate all the wrong things I have done. I need you so much but I don’t know you, help me Lord! I know you said whoever comes to you I will not cast out. Come to Him before it is too late.’” (John E. Marshall; Life and Writings, by John J. Murray, Banner of Truth, 2005, p.59). That is what I mean when I say that every real preacher is like God, and he questions people about their sin.
So Cain sinned like we all have sinned, and God came and spoke to him, as he speaks to all of us. God starts to probe us, and make us think. “Where is your brother, Abel?” We all know where Abel was, and Cain knew where he was, and God knew where he was. It wasn’t information God was seeking, it was conviction and confession. Abel was lying dead in a field. “Where is your brother?” God is asking us where is the person we’ve hurt today. The person we hated, where is he today, the girl whose heart we broke, the wife or husband we left, the children we abused, where are they today, the people we failed to love? Can’t you look back in your mind’s eye, and see all the people you have hurt during your life, and don’t you ask, “I wonder where are they now? How are they doing today? What will it be when I take what I did to them to the throne of Judgment? How can I find mercy from God?”
4. CAIN TRIES TO BE CLEVER WITH GOD.
“‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Cain murdered his brother and then lied to God. “Huh! I have no idea where my brother is,” he said. The very idea, being interrogated about the whereabouts of his brother. “Who is the Lord that he should ask me questions? Get off my back.” It happens everywhere today, doesn’t it? The police bring a man in for questioning. “I don’t know,” he says. The headmaster sends for a boy who has been bullying smaller children, “I don’t know a thing about it,” he says. “Where is the money?” “I don’t know,” they say. Men and women hurt other people. They steal and injure and rape, and when they are asked questions about it they say, “I don’t know nothing.” Later they get more sophisticated and say, “I want my lawyer here before I answer any more questions.”
They plead ignorance, but they know. You plead you don’t know God but you do know him. Anthony Hopkins and all mankind know God’s eternal power and divine nature; “What may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Roms 1:19-21). Don’t say, “I don’t know,” to God. We all know far more than we are prepared to acknowledge. We are clamping down on the truth in our defiance of God because it is so inconvenient to give up the sins we love and the lifestyle that suits us, and take up our cross and deny ourselves and follow Jesus Christ day by day. It is not for our ignorance that we will be condemned but for our refusal to respond to the knowledge we have. Jesus Christ has come and preached the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord has raised the dead. He spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him. When he died as the Lamb of God he prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” On the third day he rose from the dead and transformed the lives of milksop cowards. He poured out his Spirit and for two thousand years he has been filling the world with the knowledge of himself, not by the sword and holy wars and suicide bombers but by his word lived out and declared by his people. Through the message of Jesus’ cross every Christian here has been saved. You know this; so you are without excuse. Why aren’t you a Christian? Don’t say, “I don’t know.” You know why. You love yourself and your own way of life too much. Jesus Christ doesn’t matter enough to you. Why have you sinned as you have? Don’t say, “I don’t know why.” Take responsibility for your life, for your actions and your sinful ignorance and take it to God.
Then notice that Cain said more, that he answered back to the Lord, that he tried to be a smart Alec to the Lord. “‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (v.9). That’s his pose! How indignant he is; “Am I responsible for other people?” Men come and hear us preach and they say at first that they “admire our sincerity and our zeal and our eloquence,” oh yes, they can dish out their complements when it serves their cause. They could wish they might believe, they say, but when we press them, and tell then they are without excuse for not believing, that it is a sin not to trust in Jesus Christ, that God will accept no plea of ignorance, then they begin to be angry and outraged. “You are entitled to your opinion and I am to mine.” No. We are only entitled to receive the truth God offers us, not opinions. Everyone in hell has their opinions still, while all in heaven have bowed to the truth. “What is truth?” God’s word is truth says Jesus Christ.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” No you are not, but you are your brother’s brother. You have a brother and you must give account to God for how you are dealing with your brother. This is a moral universe. None of us live in a vacuum; we live and move and have our being in God. What you’ve sown that you must also reap. We must give account to God for the deeds done in the body. All those sinners who have stolen from their brothers, and defiled their brothers, and abused their brothers, and scorned their brothers, and ignored their brothers must answer for it to God. Many have done it secretly, but to God they must give an account.
How is it between you and your brother? Have you loved your brother as yourself? If you haven’t then you’re a sinner. Haven’t you knelt down and washed the feet of your brother? Then you are a sinner. Haven’t you turned the other cheek when your brother has hit you? Then you are a sinner. Haven’t you failed to forgive your brother seventy times seven? Then you are a sinner. Have you lusted in your heart for your brother? If you have then you are a sinner. Have you idolized your brother and worshipped him and copied him? Then you are a sinner.
What happens to sinners? Does the Son of God Jesus Christ say that they go to hell? Didn’t he speak in the sermon on the mount of two roads, one very narrow and just a few find it. It is entered by a narrow gate, so narrow that you and your sins can’t both get through. You have to leave your sins outside at the cross of Christ. Let Jesus take care of your guilt and shame and then set off down the narrow road that leads to life. There is a broad road and it leads to destruction, and many are going along it. Nearly everybody in your school, or in your university are going along that road. All your neighbours seem to be going along that road. Everybody in the media seems to be going along that road. The famous sportsmen and the TV personalities and most of Hollywood, and all the gurus of our age are going along that broad road. I don’t hear of them talking of Jesus Christ and that he is the best of all friends, and that he has changed their lives and given them a joy and peace they never had before. They are not saying that they love his day and his people and his word, but most of all his shed blood. I don’t hear them saying things like that.
I hear them saying, “I don’t know . . . Am I my brother’s keeper?” I don’t hear them say, “I didn’t love my brother; I hated my brother and have done him terrible harm. God forgive me for what I did to my brother. Help me to do right. Pardon me for my sins.” Say it! Ask God to forgive you for what you have done to your brother. Ask him to forgive you in Jesus’ name. Keep asking him until you know he has heard you, until you know that he has pardoned you, and then set off on the narrow road with us, of all those who love their brothers as they love themselves. You can do it by the new strength that he gives you.
August 13th 2006 GEOFF THOMAS