If you’re a parent you know what we’re talking about. In this questioning stage our children’s non-stop inquires can indeed be kind of tiring as they ask, “Why this?” and “Why that?” and “What is this?” and “What is that?” and “Where are we going?” and “When will we get there?” and so on and so on.
Well, parents should be patient during this stage because children NEED to ask questions. If they don’t, they’ll never learn-they’ll never get the answers they require in order to grow up and MATURE.
Although this does remind me Brenda of the little boy who asked his dad how far away the earth was from the sun. His dad said, “I don’t know son.” “Well how far away is the earth from Mars?” I don’t know son.” “Well dad, how far away is the earth from Pluto?” “I don’t know son.” The little lad said, “Dad, you don’t mind me asking you these questions do you?” He said, “No son, of course not. I mean, if you never ask you’ll never learn.” Exactly!
I bring this up because the fact is ADULTS need to ask questions as well . . . and get some answers! You see, seeking answers for the questions of life is an important part of our SPIRITUAL growth and maturity.
I think Jesus inferred this in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, “…everyone who ASKS receives; and he who SEEKS, finds…”
Well, for the next few Word Alive programmes we want to do some ASKING and SEEKING together by studying the answers to some of the great questions of the Bible…
answers that WE need in order to FIND and RECEIVE the understanding WE require if we are to grow and mature as God’s children.
I don’t know about you-but I’m very excited about this study. There’s a lot of things that I both NEED and WANT to learn from the texts surrounding all these truly GREAT questions.
By the way, Word Alive is produced by Good News Broadcasting Association. We produce many Bible based programmes that go to radio stations around the world. If you miss a programme in this series we’ll have them recorded and available. We also have free transcripts which we will send to an email address. I’ll give you contact details at the end of the programme.
Now, our FIRST question in this study is literally the first recorded question ever asked by a human being-the question Cain asked God in Genesis 4:9-“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Over to our Bible Teacher, Dr Derek Stringer.
Now, if you can take hold of a Bible let’s look at the text surrounding it together. Genesis 4:1-16:
“Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”
Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.
The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favour.
So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 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.”
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?”
Now-in order to glean all the information possible from this question and its answer, we need to back up and take a close look at all that has happened in these nine verses, so let’s do so.
If you have your Bibles open you can see that our text picks up right after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. Shortly after that, Eve became pregnant and had their first child.
Now, of course, all parents have PRIDE in their new born children-they HOPE that their child will have a long and productive life. I know a few expectant parents right now are hoping this for their soon to be born children.
But to fully understand what happened here we must grasp the fact that no parents in all of history have ever had more HOPE for a child than Adam and Eve did at the birth of Cain.
Let me explain.
These two have just been expelled from Paradise. But before God told them they had to leave that wonderful place, He promised them a Deliverer. Remember?
Genesis 3:15 tells us that after the fall God told Satan that this Deliverer-who would come from the “seed of a woman”-would crush his head-destroying Satan and his works.
Well, as I said, after they left Eden Eve became pregnant-and of course Adam and Eve had never seen a child before. So, when it became obvious that life was growing in Eve’s womb, I believe they began to HOPE that this child would or could be the promised Deliverer-the One Who would crush the wicked, deceptive serpent and enable them to return to Eden.
They must have counted the months and days until finally the baby was born!
And one reason I think they looked at their child in this way was because of the NAME they gave him. They called him “Cain,” based on the Hebrew word which means, “acquired.” But in the context of their longing for the Deliverer to come, I think it is best translated, “I’ve got him!” or “Here he is!”
Another thing that leads me to this conclusion is the literal translation of verse 1. And to get to that literal translation first we have to realise that in the Hebrew, the words, “with the help of” which we find in verse 1-are not there in the original text. The NIV includes them because it is the way many translators think it should read but the words are not there in the Hebrew. And because they are not, the most literal wording of Eve’s statement in verse 1 would go like this, “I have brought forth a man-even the Lord!”
Now, of course Eve would not have been claiming to give birth to God. No, she just used the word for “the Lord” in the broader sense saying she brought forth “the one who gives life.” Well by putting all this together I believe the best translation for Eve’s statement would probably be this: “I have brought forth a man-even the Deliverer.”
Do you see why I say this? In Eve’s mind-in Adam’s mind-the life-giver had been born-the promised one who would destroy the work of the serpent and give them back the life they wanted most-life in paradise! When Cain was born, they concluded their banishment was over-that this child would destroy the work of Satan and restore them to life in the Garden of Eden.
And I think we can all understand how Adam and Eve felt.
Yes, they remembered how wonderful life in the Garden was and they longed to return it. Of course WE have no such memory to draw on-but inside I think we still have the same yearning our very first ancestors did. We all long for paradise.
I don’t know about you but the older I get the more I ache to be free of this fallen world and be in Heaven with my Lord and all my loved ones who are already there-I mean the more friends I bury as a pastor the more I want all this to be over!
Just the thought of a place where there is no more pain-no more sorrow-no more struggles-no more suffering and death-a place where I will see my Lord face-to-face-well it makes me impatient. It makes me want to say, “Hurry up Jesus! Come back today! I’m ready!”
So, I for one understand Adam and Eve’s impatience for God’s promised Deliverer!
Well, in due time a second son was born to the world’s first parents and he was named, “Abel” which means, “frail…” suggesting that the physical effects of sin were already becoming apparent in the human race. I mean, before the Fall-before Adam and Eve’s sin-everything was perfect.
But as Romans 8:21 says, since the fall everything has been subject to “…the bondage of decay.”
Since sin entered the world-because it did-there has been sickness and ageing and death.
In any case, Abel’s NAME suggests that he was frail and sickly-which is probably why, as verse 2 says, Cain, the stronger, became a FARMER-doing back-breaking agricultural labour whereas Abel, the weaker, became a SHEPHERD-quietly tending the flocks.
Another thing we should note is this-the NAMES of these first two children hint to the fact that there was an attitudinal DIFFERENCE in the way their parents looked at them.
Cain was the strong one-he was the favoured-the deliverer-the “Here he is!” CHILD.
Abel was the weaker-he was the “frail…other child.” And-it WOULD be very easy for them to favour Cain, if they believed he was indeed a child of destiny, designed to fulfil the great promise of God.
This brings a QUESTION to my mind. Could Adam and Eve’s longing for the Deliverer and their belief that Cain was indeed the promised one-could their favouritism have led them to spoil their first born?
Could their perception have led them to plant the seeds of arrogance and conceit in Cain’s heart?
That’s the question. Just keep that in mind as we study. And parents as you keep it in mind-ask yourself if you are teaching your child the importance of humility. Are you? Or would it be more accurate to say you are “raising a little Cain” at home?
Well, verse 3 says that a time came when both brothers-now fully grown-came to present an OFFERING to the Lord. And, this suggests that God must have given specific instruction to Adam, Eve, and their descendants when it came to offering sacrifices. For example, the words in verse 3 literally say, “at the end of days” meaning that God had appointed a particular time period at the end of which sacrifices were to be offered. Perhaps this was done on some sort of regular schedule-once a season-or once a year.
I also think that even then there was a special appointed PLACE for this act of worship. And here’s why I think this-In the closing words of Chapter 3 God set the WINGED CHERUBIM with a flaming sword at the gateway to Eden. And then, many centuries later, when God told Moses how to make the Tabernacle, He instructed him to include a mercy seat with CHERUBIM whose WINGS would meet right over this seat and this mercy seat was the place where offerings were to be placed.
Remember? The Day of Atonement was consummated here, when once a year, the High Priest brought in a lamb to sacrifice for the sins of all the people.
Well, in my mind it makes sense to conclude that this practice in Exodus originated in Genesis, here at the entrance of the Garden of Eden where this winged Cherubim stood with his sword. I think that it is very likely that the gateway of Eden was itself the FIRST mercy seat, where once a year Adam and Eve and their children were to come with an offering for the Lord. We don’t know this…but it seems to make sense.
Okay-verse 3 says that on one of these appointed times Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil-the fruit and produce he had harvested-as an offering for God-to this first mercy seat. But as verse 4 says Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
The Bible also says the Lord looked on his sacrifice with favour-He accepted it-but He rejected Cain’s offering.
At this point another question comes to mind-namely, “How did these brothers KNOW Cain’s sacrifice was rejected and Abel’s accepted?” Well Genesis doesn’t tell us-but we get a clue from reading the Biblical accounts of Gideon and Elijah. When these men offered to God, fire came down from heaven and consumed their offerings as an indication of God’s acceptance of their sacrifices-so that’s probably what happened here.
Fire consumed Abel’s offering-but did not even touch Cain’s-it literally received a cold shoulder.
And I feel like a little child at this point, because this brings ANOTHER QUESTION-a very important one to my mind-and perhaps yours-and here it is: WHY did God accept Abel’s offering but reject that of his elder brother?
Well, the Bible doesn’t tell us so we can only speculate-but there are at least three possibilities.
First, God’s response could have had to do with the fact that Cain and Abel had different ATTITUDES about their sacrifice.
You see, Cain must have known that, as Genesis 3:17 tell us, God had cursed the ground due to Adam and Eve’s sin. To give an offering from the cursed ground would have been an insult to God. It would be like our serving dinner to a guest on dirty dishes. So, it’s obvious that Cain’s offering reflected a lack of REVERENCE for God. But Cain’s offering also reflected his CONCEIT-his belief that due to his hard and careful work in his own strength he had produced something from the cursed ground.
This reminds me of an old Jimmy Stewart movie. Stewart plays a farmer during the Civil War and every time his family sat down to a meal he prayed the same proud prayer: “God, as You know WE worked the fields. WE sowed the seed. WE weeded the crops. WE kept the varmints away. WE harvested the crops. WE cleaned it, WE cooked it-why, if WE didn’t work so hard WE wouldn’t have any of this food…but we thank You for it anyway. AMEN.”
I mean, maybe God rejected Cain’s gift because like Stewart’s character in this movie, Cain was overly pleased with himself. Perhaps his offering was given in pride-
and as James 4:6 tells us, “God opposes the proud.”
This should remind us that whenever WE give to God-we do so as a symbol-a reminder of the fact that we would BE nothing and HAVE nothing if it weren’t for God’s grace. In other words, our offerings should be given in humility as a reverent act of worship.
And then another possible motive for God’s response to their offerings would be the QUALITY of the offerings themselves.
Verse 4 says that Abel brought “the first-lings of this flock and of the fat thereof” –
and in that day and age fat was considered to be the choicest part of an animal. So, in other words, this text tells us that Abel brought the best he had to God. But, on the other hand, nothing is said about Cain’s offering-just that he brought some of his produce. To me, this seems to infer that, unlike his brother, Cain kept the best for himself and gave God second-rate produce…or the leftovers.
This reminds me of a story I heard of a woman who said she always saved her USED tea-bags to send to missionaries. And don’t laugh because over the years I’ve seen the same attitude reflected in clothing drives for missions. Talk to charity workers and they will tell you that some of the clothes that get given are only fit for the dump.
Some givers are like Abel in that they care enough to send the best-but others are more like Cain in that they donate things that are worn out or torn-clothes that should be used as cleaning rags-not gifts for needy people.
If we are to enjoy our giving and make our Lord proud of our gifts we should be more like Abel. Whenever we give to God or to others in His name we should SACRIFICE and give the best-symbolic of our understanding of the fact that when God gave us His only Son-He gave us His best!
So, a good question for us all to ask ourselves is this: “When it comes to my tithes and offerings, am I more like Abel or Cain?”
And then, a third possible reason that God rejected Cain’s gift could have to do with the offering MATERIAL itself.
Cain brought the fruit of the ground but Abel brought the fruit of the flock. One brother brought VEGETATION. The other brought ANIMAL life.
And, in my mind this is the MAIN reason Cain’s offering was rejected.
You see, God had already begun to teach them that the purpose of these offerings was to atone for sin and that atonement for sin required a substitute-something had to die-a life for a life.
Do you remember? In the Garden, an apron of leaves was insufficient to cover Adam and Eve’s shame, so in Genesis 3:23 God provided them with animal skins-implying the death of a victim. Well, by the same token, the fruit of the ground was insufficient to cover Cain’s sin-and both Cain and his little brother would have known this. Their parents would have told them.
In fact, I believe God Himself would have told them-Referring to the first set of clothes, He told them that they needed to understand that sin was no little thing. God used these skins as the first of many object lessons down through the centuries to help them and their descendants realise that sin leads to death-and because it does a sinless victim must die in order that sinners might be pardoned. I mean, even these first sacrifices pointed forward to Christ-the spotless Lamb of God Who would come to die on the cross-and in that one sacrificial act, take our sins on Himself. So, when Abel came with the offering of blood he was honouring God’s instructions-but like a rebellious pupil Cain’s proud offering showed that he ignored them.
If nothing else, the record of God rejecting Cain’s offering should remind us that, as Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.”
That’s why Jesus came. He didn’t come to earth just to teach us good things. No-He came to die-to shed His precious blood for us because that was the price of atoning for our sins…and God loved us too much not to pay it.
Well now, verse 7 says that God patiently, graciously gave Cain a second chance to get his offering right-and he COULD have. Cain could have traded some of his produce for one of his brother’s lambs and sacrificed it. But his arrogance and conceit prevented him from doing so. Instead he became angry-angry enough to want his brother dead-angry enough to act on that desire and lure his brother into the fields where he, the first child born to humanity-commit the first murder-a premeditated, cold-blooded killing.
God of course knew what had happened-His eyes see all things-His mind knows all thoughts-but in His grace he gave Cain a chance to confess his crime by asking, “Cain, where is your brother?” And this brings us to today’s question-as Cain sarcastically replies, “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Well, what is the answer to this first question ever asked by a member of the human race? Was Cain responsible for not only his brother’s death-but also his life?
I think the answer to THAT question is obvious-but it brings another question to my inquiring mind…namely, “Are we OUR brothers’ keepers? Are you and I responsible for the needs of other people?” What do you think?
Are you and I obligated to help the lonely people in this world?
Is it our job to feed the hungry…to cloth the poor?
Do we owe anything to the downtrodden-the orphans-the widows?
Is it our job to minister to the sick?
Are other people’s problems our problems?
If we see a fellow Christian engaging in sin, is it our job to tell them-Do we have any responsibility for helping guide them away from sin and back to righteous living?
Well, I’m sorry if it overwhelms you but the answer to all these questions is YES-because as Christians, in every sense of the word, we ARE indeed our brothers’-and sisters’ keeper!
Let me quickly point out two basic facts that underscore this truth.
First God’s word TEACHES this….the clear teaching of the Bible is that we are our brother’s keeper.
James 1:27 says, “Religion that God the Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….”
1 John 3:10 and 17 says, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother…If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” It goes on to say that as Christians we are to, “…love not with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
James 2:15 says that if we see a brother or sister without clothes or food…and, “…do nothing about his physical needs…” our faith is a dead faith.
Isaiah 58 says that God approves of people whose faith in Him moves them to “…loose the chains of injustice…set the oppressed free…share food with the hungry…provide the poor with shelter…clothe the naked…”
We could go on and on-because as Deuteronomy 10:18 says, God, “…defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” and as His children, He calls us to do the same.
Think of it this way. As Christians, our business is to do God’s business and God’s business is people!
Whenever we see a brother in need, what we are really seeing is God inviting us to join Him in His work. So, whenever we come across a person in need we must realise this is a God thing-a Divine appointment! He’s calling us to join Him in doing what is primary in His heart-and help people.
The movie, The Four Feathers is the story of a British soldier who, rather than go to war, resigns his commission. His friends are shocked-and they show their belief that he is a coward by each sending him a white feather-which was the customary way to convey this message back then. Later in the film, this so called coward learns that his friends are in trouble on the battlefield…and he risks his own life and travels to Africa to come to their aid. In the process of tracking down his friends he is stranded in the dessert-dying of thirst. Well, an African man-a native of that country-comes across his unconscious body and nurses him back to health. Then he actually comes alongside him in his quest to help his friends. In spite of the bad treatment he had experienced because of his race, over and over again this man risks his own life to help. And, at the end of the film he’s asked why he has done this…why this African stranger has made someone else’s business his own. His reply is very moving. He says, “I did this…because God put you in my way.” In his mind-perceived human need was the same thing as God’s command to help.
Fellow Christian, the Bible teaches that we too should embrace this philosophy-whenever we see a need that we can meet-we must realise God is calling us to meet it. When God puts needy-lonely, hungry, fearful, sick, unsaved people IN OUR WAY, He is telling us to go to their aid.
Now-unfortunately when faced with human need-many of us look the other way-we look for an excuse not to help.
It reminds me of the story about the comic W. C. Fields. Toward the end of his life when he was bedridden and dying, a friend stopped by to see him and was surprised to find him reading his Bible. This friend new that Fields had no love for the Christian faith so he asked him, “Why in the world are you reading the Bible? Are you looking for answers?” And Fields replied, “No, I’m looking for loopholes.”
Well, when many of us read Jesus’ command for us to lay our lives down for our brothers in the same selfless way that He laid His life down for us, we too look for loopholes.
Like the religious people in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, when we encounter a brother in need we tend to look for excuses to pass by on the other side.
We give a lot of reasons for doing this but I think the most popular excuse is that we’re already worn out trying to take care of ourselves and we just want a break. We don’t want to get any more tired than we already are. Well, my first response to people who think this way would be to say, “Where do we get the idea that Christians are supposed to be well-rested?” The Bible doesn’t teach that-in fact it teaches that we’re here to work.
As Jesus said in John 9: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him Who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
In other words, rest comes later-comfort is what Heaven-not Earth-is all about. We are here on this fallen world to do God’s work-and as I said God’s work-God’s business-is people.
This life of ours is not a holiday. Heaven is the holiday. That’s when we move into the mansions God has prepared for us. Here and now-on this fallen world of which we are temporary residents-Christians SHOULD get tired! We can rest later! When we join God in His work of helping the needy, we will risk expending our time and money and energy-but that’s the way it’s supposed to be on this side of eternity.
C. S. Lewis once said, “The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is hell.”
And he’s right-it is dangerous to love-it’s tiring-costly even-but that’s what we’re here for. After all, we are called to DIE-to lay our lives down for our brothers. And you know-the ironic thing is when we DIE…when we give and give and give of all we have and are to help people-only when we DIE in this way do we truly begin to LIVE! That’s when life gets exciting!
The primary reason Jesus calls us to servant-hood is not just because other people need our service. It is because of what happens to US when we serve.
When we deny self and join God in His work by helping others-we truly begin to experience an abundant quality of life. This is because when we help the people God puts in our way-He provides us with His presence-His strength-His resources. So whenever we see a needy person and pass by on the other side-we’re not just passing by that person-we’re passing up a chance to literally work side-by-side with Almighty God! We’re passing up a taste of paradise-a chance to walk with God in His work-just as Adam and Eve walked with Him in the Garden of Eden.
So…we must be our brothers’ keeper because God’s Word teaches this…but also because our WITNESS depends on it.
You see, as I inferred a moment ago, not only are we responsible for people’s PHYSICAL needs-we are also responsible for their SPIRITUAL needs. As Christians it is our job to join our Lord-not just in feeding and clothing the poor-but also in seeking and saving the lost. And the fact is, people won’t listen to us tell them about God’s sacrificial love…until we sacrificially act to help them. To them our willingness to get our hands dirty and become involved in their needs is evidence of our experience with a loving God.
Somehow our unsaved friends sense that as 1 John 3:14 says Christians show they are Christians-they show they “…have passed from death to life…” when “…they love other people.”
And they are right, as Martin Luther observed, “Faith alone justifies, yet faith is never alone. It is never without love; if love is lacking, neither is there faith, but mere hypocrisy.” Loving our neighbours-giving of ourselves to help them-is indeed visible evidence of our relation to God.
A lady tells of engaging in a conversation with two couples one of which was Buddhist. About halfway through the conversation, one of the Christians lit up a cigarette and apologised-saying he was trying to give them up because he knew they hurt his testimony. The Buddhist woman immediately interjected, “Don’t worry about it. You see when one of our ranks becomes a Christian, we don’t watch the to see how well they live up to some self-imposed standard of piety. We watch them to see how they start treating people.”
And they DO watch-because the truth is many times we have to EARN the right to share our faith-and the way we earn it is by living it-and we LIVE it by “keeping” our brothers.
You are listening to Word Alive with Derek Stringer. This is a Good News Broadcasting Association production.
Great Bible Questions is the title for this new series and we’ve been looking at the first question in the Bible asked by Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Derek will be back in just a moment to round off today’s Word Alive. I just want to take a moment to give you our contact details because we like to hear from you. This series is recorded and for the price of the handling charge we’ll send the CD’s to you. We make the transcripts available free to an email address.
We come to that time at the end of the programme when we respond to all God is and all He has done. This is indeed a time of commitment-a time of offering. In fact, I think it would be good for us to think of this place as God’s “mercy seat” where He invites us to respond by giving to Him-and we want to get this right, don’t we? We want to respond as Abel did by giving God our best…by coming to Him with the right attitude!
So, ask yourself, right now…what do I need to give to God?
Is God calling you to join a church-to offer Him your time and talents to be used there-to get involved at a Church in the ministry to the hurting, lost people of this world?
Or-maybe your ATTITUDE about the needy people around you needs to change-neighbours, co-workers even beggars in the street who you have avoided. And you need to say, God I want to respond by giving my time and resources…my ears, my hands, my heart to help these people. I want to join You in Your work.
And then, maybe you are not a Christian.
You realise that you are a sinner-and that your sin separates you from God. You know, later in this chapter in Genesis God tells Cain, “The blood of your brother is crying to Me from the ground.” And in a similar way our sins cry out to God for justice. But the glorious news is justice has been done. Jesus has paid the price for our sins.
In fact, Hebrews 12:24 says that, “Jesus’ sprinkled blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” And that word is “FORGIVE! Father, FORGIVE!” Abel’s blood cries for vengeance but Jesus’ blood cries out for our forgiveness.
Today you can have that forgiveness….God can wash your sins away and forgive you and come into your heart and life.