Genesis 4
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Another "genesis" is now described, that of sinful society, which prepares the way for the description of the rising kingdom of God.

I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF MORAL EVIL IS CONTEMPORANEOUS WITH HUMAN SOCIETY. We must still bear in mind that the aim of the narrative is not scientific, but religious and didactic. The sketch of the first family in vers. 1 and 2 is plainly an outline to be filled in. The keeper of sheep and the tiller of the ground are out in the broad world. We are not told that there were no other human beings when they were grown up. Probably from their employment it is meant to be inferred that the human family had already grown into something like a community, when there could be a division of labor. The production of animal and vegetable food in quantities can only be explained on the presupposition that man had increased on the earth. Then, in ver. 3, we are led on still further by "the process of time."

II. THE COMMUNITY OF MEN, THUS EARLY, HAS SOME PROVISION FOR RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. The two men, Cain and Abel, "brought" their offerings apparently to one place. The difference was not the mere difference of their occupations. Abel brought not only "the firstlings of the flock," but "the fat thereof," an evident allusion to the appointment of some sacrificial rites. The Lord's respect to Abel's offering was not merely a recognition of Abel's state of mind, though that is implied in the reference to the person, as distinct from the offering, but it was approval of Abel's obedience to the religious prescription which is in the background. The Lord remonstrates with Cain when his countenance fell and he was wroth. "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door" (croucheth like a beast of prey ready to be upon thee). This may be taken either

(1) retrospectively or

(2) prospectively - sin as guilt, or sin as temptation; in either case it is at the door - not necessarily a welcome guest, but ready to take possession. Sin forgiven, temptation resisted, are placed in apposition to acceptance. "Unto thee shall be his desire," - i.e. Abel's, as the younger, - "and thou shalt rule over him," i.e. the natural order shall be preserved. Notice - 50. Divine love providing acceptance in the Divine order, in which religion is preserved, and natural life, with its appointments.

2. Divine mercy rescuing a fallen creature from the results of his own blind disobedience.

3. The righteousness of God maintained in the disorder and passion which spring out of human error and corruption. Sin is at the door; judgment close upon it. Yet God is justified though man is condemned. There is no great sin committed but it has been seen at the door first.

4. Doing not well precedes the direct presumptuous sin. "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." Cain was warned by God himself before his fallen countenance darkened his heart with crime and stained his hand with a brother's blood. What a picture of the gradual degradation of the conscience. Notice -

(1) The disobedience of a Divine commandment in some minor point.

(2) Sense of estrangement from God - loss of his "respect unto us."

(3) Sullen, brooding enmity against God and man.

(4) All these culminating in the violent outbreak of self-assertion, his own works evil, his brother's righteous, therefore he bated him. Ver. 8 is again an epitome. The talk of the two men with one another may represent a long period of angry debate. "It came to pass," on some occasion, in the field, the angry thoughts found their vent in angry words. "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." The first blood shed had a religious occasion for its origin. The proto-martyr was slain as a testimony to the truth. Mark the significant omen for the subsequent human history. Marvel not if the world hate those to whom God shows special respect. The type is here of all religious wars. The Cain spirit is not mere bloody-mindedness, but all defiance of God, and self-assertion, as against his will and word. Infidelity has been as bloody as superstition. Both meet in the same perverted worship of self. - R.

How terrible this question to the murderer! He thought, perhaps, his act was hidden, and strove to put it out of mind. Perhaps did not anticipate effect of his stroke; but now brought face to face with his sin. "Where is Abel?" He knew not. He knew where the body lay; but that was not Abel. Had sent him whence he could not call him back. "Where is thy brother?" is God's word to each of us. It expresses the great law that we are responsible for each other's welfare. "Am I my brother's keeper?" some would ask. Assuredly yes. God has knit men together so that all our life through we require each other's help; and we cannot avoid influencing each other. And has created a bond of brotherhood (cf. Acts 17:26), which follows from our calling him "Father." What doing for good of mankind? Not to do good is to do harm; not to save is to kill. Love of Christ works (Romans 10:1; 2 Corinthians 5:14).

I. WE ARE CALLED TO CARE FOR THOSE AFAR OFF. "Who is my neighbor?" We might answer, Who is not thy neighbor? Everywhere our brethren. Thousands passing away daily. Abel, a vapor, the character of human life (Psalm 103:15). Whither are they going? And we know the way of salvation. Light is given to no one for himself only (Matthew 5:13, 14). We are to hold it forth; to be as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). It is God's will thus to spread his kingdom. Are we answering the call? Test yourselves (cf. 1 John 3:17). Deliver us from blood-guiltiness, O God. Thank God, the question speaks to us of living men. There are fields still to be reaped. The heathen, our brethren, claim a brother's help. How many varieties of Cain's answer: - You cannot reclaim savages; you just make them hypocrites; we must look at home first. And the lost masses at home are our brethren. Oh, it is in vain to help them; they will drink; they hate religion; they only think what they can get from those who visit them. Test these objections. Single out in thought one soul; compare his case with yours. You have instruction, ordinances, influences; and he the darkness of heathenism, or surroundings of vice. Yet Christ died for that soul. Can you let it depart without some effort, or even earnest prayer?

II. WE ARE CALLED TO CARE FOR THOSE AROUND US. For their sake, watchfulness and self-restraint (cf. Romans 14:15). We teach more by what we do than by what we say. The loving life teaches love; the selfish, ungodliness. Inconsistencies of Christians hinder Christ's cause. What art thou at home? Is thy life pointing heavenward? "None of us liveth to himself." "Where is thy brother?" - M.

Notice -

I. The Divine APPEAL TO CONSCIENCE, affording opportunity to repentance and confession, and therefore to the exercise of mercy.

II. THE BLINDING EFFECT OF A GREAT SIN. The man who Anew that God knew all persisting in a lie, and insulting the Divine majesty at the very throne of judgment, i.e. defying God by the monstrous extravagance of self-assertion, which is the effect of indulged sin, not only hardening the heart, but filling it with a mad desperation. So we find great criminals still, to the very last, adding sin to sin, as though they had come to think that the deeper they sunk into it the more chance they had of escaping its punishment, or by daring the whole extremity might the sooner know the worst.

III. There is great significance in the INTIMATE CONNECTION SET FORTH BETWEEN THE CRIME AND PUNISHMENT OF CAIN AND THE EARTH AND THE GROUND. The blood speaks from the ground, crying to God. Cain is cursed from the ground. The ground opened her mouth to receive the brother's blood. The ground refuses to serve the murderer. On the earth he shall be a fugitive and vagabond. From the face of the earth he is driven. His punishment is greater than he can bear. Surely all that is intended to place in vivid contrast the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of man; the one witnessed by the steadfast earth, with its unbroken laws, its pure, unfallen, peaceful state, with its communities of creatures innocent of all sin; the other witnessed by the cursed, wandering, suffering, hunger-pinched, miserable man, flying from his neighbor, flying from himself.

IV. As in the expulsion of man from Eden, so in the expulsion of Cain from society, there is MERCY MINGLED WITH JUDGMENT. The mark set upon Cain by the Lord was at once the mark of rejection and the mark of protection; it threatened sevenfold vengeance on the murderer of the murderer; it was an excommunication for the sake of the sinner as well as for the sake of the community. We must not expect to find in these primeval records more than a dim intimation of the Divine mind. But here, at the outset of the human race, there is the germ of that distinction and separation among mankind on the moral and spiritual ground which really is the essential fact of the kingdom of God. "The blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel." Yet it is a good thing that God should say to us, in however fearful a manner, that that which is destructive of human society, which rises up against a brother's life, which hates and works out its hatred in cruel act, shall be, can be, separated from the world into which it has come, and cast out. We must look at the whole narrative from the side of the Abel element, not from the side of the Cain element; and the blessed truth contained in it is that God purges society of its evil men and evil principles, and makes its very martyrs' blood to be a consecration of the earth to proclaim his righteousness. We have not to answer the question, How about Cain? He is protected from violence. He is permitted to repent and return, though for a time an outcast. Out of the conflict of the two worlds will come forth the purpose of God - evil separated, good eternally triumphant. - R.

Society without the Lord. The banished Cain and his descendants.

I. MULTIPLICATION apart from Divine order is no blessing.

II. CIVILIZATION without religion is a chaos of conflicting forces, producing violence, bloodshed, working out its own ruin. Compare France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Arts of life may grow from a mere natural root. Music, mechanical skill, scientific discovery, and invention, in themselves contain no moral life. Luxury turns to corruption, and so to misery.

III. RELIGION IS THE BASIS OF SOCIAL PROSPERITY. It is the true defense against the "inhumanity of man." Lamech, with his artificial protection against violent revenge, suggests the true safety in the presence of the Lord and observance of his commandments. - R.

The reappearance of the redeeming purpose. The consecrated family of Adam. The Divinely blessed line of descent preserved leading onward to the fulfillment of the first promise. "Then begat, men to call upon the name of Jehovah."

I. THE COMMENCEMENT OF REGULAR WORSHIP, possibly of distinct Church life.

1. The name of the Lord is the true center of fellowship - including revelation, redemption, promise.

2. The pressure of outward calamity and danger, the multiplication of the unbelievers, the necessary separation from an evil world, motives to call upon God.

II. RENOVATION AND RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGIOUS LIFE WORKS OUT GOD'S BLESSING ON THE RACE. The separated seed bears the promise of the future. See the repetition of the message of grace in the names of the descendants of Seth, "the appointed."

II. The worship which was maintained by men was ENCOURAGED AND DEVELOPED BY REVELATIONS and special communications from Jehovah. Probably there were prophets sent. Methuselah, taking up the ministry of Enoch, and himself delivering the message to Noah, the preacher of righteousness. It is the method of God throughout all the dispensations to meet men's call upon his name with gracious manifestations to them.

IV. THE PERIOD OF AWAKENED RELIGIOUS LIFE and of special messengers, culminating in the long testimony and warning of Noah~ preceded the period of outpoured judgment. So it is universally. There is no manifestation of wrath which does not vindicate righteousness. He is long-suffering, and waits. He sends the spirit of life first. Then the angel of death. - R.

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