It has been said that history is a space in which Cain’s acts ultimately became assault rifles, smart bombs and thermonuclear weapons.
Why is humanity the way that it is? Why do we do the things that we do? Why are we always fighting and warring and having conflict after conflict? Many answers can be offered, but we find the biblical and accurate answer in the Old Testament book of Genesis.
Things started happily enough. Adam and Eve had their first child. It was the first pregnancy, and now things were different. Maybe Adam was looking at Eve and saying, “What are you eating? And why are you knitting little socks all the time? What is going on with you?”
The day came and their first son arrived, whom they named Cain. Cain means “acquired,” which also could be translated from Hebrew, “I have gotten him.”
Then their second child was born, whom they named Abel, which means “frail.” This would suggest that the physical effects of sin already were becoming apparent in the human race. So it would appear that Cain was strong, and then along came Abel, who was not as strong as his brother. It also would appear that Adam and Eve perhaps favored Cain over Abel by virtue of the very names they gave to their sons, and this produced problems.
One day, the brothers brought their offerings before the Lord. God accepted Abel’s offering, while Cain’s offering was rejected. The Bible tells us that God “did not respect Cain and his offering” (Genesis 4:5 NKJV). There was no faith in the offering Cain was bringing to the Lord.
We are told in the New Testament book of Hebrews that “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). As far as God is concerned, motive is everything.
It is all about the why. Why do we do what we do? Why do we pray? Why do we worship? Why do we give? God looks at the why. Because one day when I stand before the judgment seat of Christ, it will not be about quantity. It will be about quality. It won’t be about how much I did as much as it will be about why I did what I did. God is looking at the motive of it all.
The problem was that Cain was full of himself. There was no faith in the offering he was bringing to the Lord. So God accepted Abel’s offering but did not accept Cain’s.
That made Cain angry. God could see where it was headed, so he lovingly reached out to Cain with a question: “Why are you so angry? Why do you look so dejected?” (Genesis 4:6 NLT)
Here is what Cain should have said: “I am angry because you accepted my brother’s offering and not mine, and it isn’t fair. And I am proud and jealous and envious.” If Cain would have said that, it would have been the truth.
But interestingly, Cain did not respond to God. Rather, he evaded the question. So God gave him a stern warning: “You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master” (verse 7).
God was saying, “You are flirting with disaster. You had better throw on the breaks, because sin is like a wild beast, and it is ready to pounce.” Do you ever watch those nature programs on television? The zebras or antelopes are running in a herd, away from a lion that is chasing them. And who gets caught? It is always the one that is lagging behind the rest.
In the same way, sin is crouching at our door. For some, it is already across the threshold. So we have to be careful. We have to keep our guard up.
Cain didn’t do that. He was not mastered by God, so he became mastered by sin in many ways. We don’t know exactly what caused him to murder his brother, but I think it is safe to say that envy and jealousy played a part. Shakespeare called envy the green-eyed monster. And the green-eyed monster of envy can strangle us.
A literal definition of envy is a malignant or hostile feeling. It is being angry when someone has something that we don’t have. Envy has been defined as a small-town sin; it breeds on proximity. We envy our neighbors. We envy a brother, a sister, a coworker, or someone who has worked at the job as long as we have, and they get the promotion. Unchecked envy can be a major problem. And in Cain’s case, envy led to the murder of his brother Abel.
As a result, God put a curse on Cain, telling him that he would be a vagabond and a fugitive. Cain protested, saying his punishment was more than he could bear. But he never repented of his sin. He only expressed remorse and regret.
The Bible actually warns us about “the way of Cain.” Jude 1:11 says, “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain. …”
If you want to be a miserable person, then be an envious person. You will put yourself in a place of vulnerability, as Cain did, and you will face the repercussions.