“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” (Voltaire)
Not sure if I agree with that entirely but it is often more difficult to ask a good question than it is to give a good answer. There are plenty of questions that spring out of today’s reading; hopefully we will find some helpful answers.
What was wrong with Cain’s offering? I’ve been a Christian long enough to have heard plenty of sermons and sometimes I’ve heard preachers say that Abel’s sacrifice was a blood sacrifice whereas Cain’s was not, so God looked more favourably on Abel’s. Personally, I do not see it that way. They were offerings not sacrifices and Cain was a man who worked the soil after all. We do know a couple of things; first Abel’s offering was one of faith (Hebrews 11:4), and secondly, God sees the heart so the problem was not with the offering itself but with Cain’s heart. We can see this in Cain’s response. He is at first angry with God and then later, even though he had been warned by the Lord, he murdered his brother Abel. It’s sobering, our worship may be technically ok and may look good but God sees through any pretence.
Why does God ask questions when he knows the answers? We’ve seen this before when God called out to Adam and Eve ‘where are you’ when of course he knew exactly where they were. Here, the Lord asks Cain ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ We see the pattern continue in the ministry of the Lord Jesus where he asked questions regularly when he certainly knew the answers. It seems God is asking questions to make Cain, in this case, think through what he had done. Cain had a question too ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ the Lord didn’t answer Cain’s question directly but in challenging him to listen to the cry of Abel’s blood for justice, the implication is clear, yes you are your brother’s keeper. This week the news has been full of migrants from the Middle East and Africa dying in unseaworthy boats and inadequately ventilated Lorries. Their blood cries out to God for justice too and he hears them. Perhaps he is asking questions of us.
What was Cain’s mark? Just as sin meant banishment from Eden for Adam and Eve, so it brought banishment from the community for Cain. Sin will always lead to exclusion from God, either we will be excluded from his presence to spend an eternity of separation from him or we place our trust in Jesus who was excluded for us on the cross. Some commentators suggest that Cain must have shown repentance since God is merciful to him by giving him the mark for protection. The literal translation of; ‘the Lord put a mark on Cain’ is, according to Zondervan NIV Commentary; ‘and he appointed to Cain a sign’. We do not know what the sign or mark was but it was a merciful gift to Cain.
Who was Cain’s wife? Or for that matter, who were the people who might have killed Cain? There are three important pieces of information that could easily be overlooked. First, Eve is the mother of all the living (3:20), second, Adam and presumably Eve had other sons and daughters apart from Cain, Abel and Seth (5:4) and finally, they lived a very long time (5:1-32). If we take these together we see that each person could well have had many children since their lives were very long and it would not have taken long for the human population to grow. Since everyone is descended from Adam and Eve, they must have married their close relatives. This would not have been sinful as the Law was not given until much later.
Where is the hope? It’s another tragic story without much joy but again there is a ray of light. Abel’s blood cried out and God heard the cry but in Hebrews we read this;
“To Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24)
The blood of Abel cried out for justice but the blood of Jesus cries out forgiveness. It means once we have come to him our sins are forgiven, whatever they may have been. The blood of Jesus cries forgive and for sinners like me, that is a better word.
Your blood speaks a better word
Than all the empty claims I’ve heard upon this earth
Speaks righteousness for me
And stands in my defence
Jesus it’s Your blood
What can wash away our sins?
What can make us whole again?
Nothing but the blood
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can wash us pure as snow?
Welcomed as the friends of God
Nothing but Your blood
Nothing but Your blood King Jesus (Matt Redman)