It was the dawn of Time, the very earliest hour of civilisation, and the World was young and virgin and beautiful. In the East, the sun was beginning to rise red and glowering over the distant hills. A cool mist hung over the fields and the forests, bathing the lush vegetation with dew. But in the midst of all this primitive, wild beauty, the menacing shadows of sin lurked within the heart of Man!
It had now been nearly 130 years since the creation of the Earth (Genesis 4:25; 5:3) and since they had been driven from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had settled down to a simple agricultural life. They also began to have many children. Their two eldest sons, born shortly after they had left Eden, were Cain and Abel. Cain, the firstborn, worked hard tilling the soil while Abel cared for the family's flocks.
Their first tiny settlement was not much more than a collection of rough buildings built out of sun-baked mud bricks. Near to the large central house was a sheep-pen and a few other smaller houses. Nearby was a wide, extensive garden and beyond that was a rich field of wheat, shimmering gold with the first rays of morning sunlight.
Slowly the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, driving away the morning mists, and soon Cain was out in the wheat field with his sturdy scythe. All morning long as Abel watched over his sheep on a nearby hilltop, Cain laboured, felling the golden grain.
By noon the small field had been harvested, and Cain, sweating and soiled from his work, strode down the path towards the big house. Eve and some of his younger brothers and sisters were churning butter and preparing the noon meal over a stone oven.
Cain was dousing himself with a waterpot of cool water when Abel came in from the fields, set down his shepherd's staff, and washed his hands. Drying the water from his muscular sun-burned body, Cain jeered, "How was your day sitting up there in the shade, Abel? When are you finally going to do some good hard work for a change?"
Abel replied meekly, "My work may not be as hard as yours, but I do have to be there to watch and care for the flock, and I use the time to pray to the Lord and ..."
Cain snorted, "You call that work?! Ha! If you really want to obey God and please Him, you ought to spend a day harvesting grain or hoeing and planting in my garden!--Don't you remember what the Lord commanded father when He sent him from the Garden?: 'The Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground!' (Genesis 3:23) Right? Not to sit around staring at sheep!
"And you're also breaking another one of God's direct commandments! He said--and I quote--'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread!' (Genesis 3:19) I'm out there sweating, but I can hardly ever remember you working so hard that you were sweating when you came in to eat!"
Eve stopped for a moment and turned from her cooking to listen. "Cain," she chided, "your father and I appreciate all your hard work, but without your brother's care of the flocks, we wouldn't have any milk or butter or cheese, or our warm woolen blankets for the cold nights or even our clothes."
"Yes, mother," Cain muttered, "I suppose you're right. He isn't entirely useless." He whipped his towel over a nearby rail and giving one last spiteful look at his brother, strode towards the gardens that he had spent so many years diligently tending.
His chest swelled with pride as he made his way between the rows of well-kept greenery. "What a beautiful product of hard work!" he gloated, looking around. "The work of my hands!" To his right, great mature melons, cucumbers and squash lay ripening in perfect rows beneath the shade of date palms and fig trees. To his left were beans and tomatoes, and an untold number of other vegetables and fruits ripe for harvesting.
"God may have cursed the ground because of mother's and father's sins, but you'd never know it by looking at my garden!" he smirked. "Under my diligent care it has truly become blessed!" (Genesis 3:17,18) Suddenly he had an inspiration: "Ah, yes!" he thought, "that would be perfect!" Leaving his garden, he returned to the house where everyone was eating around the table. "God has blessed my hard work so much," he announced, "that I decided that I'm going to make an offering to Him today!"
"That's a good idea," father Adam said, "you truly have a lot to be grateful for."
"Father," Abel said respectfully, "I'd like to make an offering to the Lord too, for He has kept our flocks safely and increased them so that we have an abundance of milk and cheese and wool."
"Yes, of course, I think now would be a very good time for you both to show Him your thankfulness. I'm sure He would be pleased if each of you offered a lamb to Him."
"A lamb?!" Cain retorted, his eyes wide with surprise, "Abel can offer a lamb if he wants, but God has blessed me with the fruit of the Earth and with grain!"
"Yes, I realise that, Son," Adam said calmly, "yet, as you know, the Lord has always required us to sacrifice a lamb to Him to show our love and our thankfulness, not only for His care and supplying of all our needs, but also to show that we depend upon His mercy. All of us have sinned and deserve to die, but if we obey Him and sacrifice a lamb, then in His mercy He forgives us."
"Well, I haven't sinned!" Cain said, his eyes flashing. "I've obeyed God and worked very hard! Besides, I don't have any lambs!"
Eve suggested sweetly, "Well, perhaps your brother Abel would give you one of his lambs in exchange for some of your ..."
Cain jumped up angrily from the table, "No!" he shouted from between clenched teeth, "my field, my garden, that is where I have laboured, that is where I have sweated, tilling the soil--as God commanded--so that is what I will give as an offering to Him!"
That afternoon, Cain built a stone altar in front of the house. He piled dry wood on top of it, then defiantly stacked pumpkins and melons, as well as several armfuls of grain and baskets of all kinds of fruit and vegetables on top of that.
Angrily, he looked over to where his brother Abel had built a small rough stone altar on a nearby hillside. Quietly, Abel tied a small lamb, one of the firstborn of his flock, and gently placed it on the wood on top of his altar. Then he prayed, "Lord, I thank You for Your mercies which are new every morning. Thank You for Your care and protection, for providing for us, and...." Kneeling down, he wept, "Thank You for loving us and forgiving our sins!"
Then he rose, and taking a knife in his hands, sacrificed his lamb to the Lord. He lit the firewood on the altar, and soon the sweet savory smell rose up into the heavens in a thin column of smoke. It was a gift of gratitude from a humble, obedient heart, and the Lord was pleased.
Angrily, Cain held a flaming torch up, and praying loudly so that all could hear him, he said, "O holy just God Who rewards those that obey You and labour righteously in their might and their strength!--Look upon the fruit of my works and be pleased!" He then thrust the torch into the branches! Proudly he stood back and watched the blaze grow, but he was surprised to see a black cloud rising from the burning vegetables. The wind changed and suddenly the smoke came blowing his way in foul-smelling black billows. The Lord was clearly not pleased!
Coughing and waving away the choking smoke, Cain stomped off furiously into the fields. It was a long time before he was civil enough to demand of the Lord why He had refused His offering. Suddenly, a quiet, authoritative Voice spoke to him:
"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 what is right, then sin is waiting at your door, and desires to have you!"
Cain didn't answer. Instead, he clenched his fist and his brow knit in an ugly scowl. Slowly, ominously, he stalked back towards the house, and walked over to where Abel had just finished praying before his altar.
Cain stood towering over him, his hoe in his hand. "Abel," he said in a calm, controlled voice, "let's go out to the field. I want to talk to you."
Surprised, Abel looked up. "Of course," he said, rising to his feet. Together, the two brothers slowly climbed up a nearby freshly-plowed hill until they were out of sight of the house.
Suddenly, in one swift blow, Cain raised his hoe high over his head and brought it down with all his might!
It was done! He gazed at his dead brother's lifeless body for a moment, then feverishly began digging a hole in the ground. He threw Abel's corpse in it, and covered it with dirt. It was then that he saw that his hands were covered with his brother's blood! He dropped his hoe and raced down the field toward the sheep's water-trough to wash off the evidence of his crime.
Suddenly the stern Voice of the Lord froze him in his tracks: "Cain! Where is your brother Abel?"
Defiantly, Cain snapped back, "I don't know! Am I my brother's keeper?"
The Voice then took on an angry tone: "Cain, what have you done!? Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground! Now you are under a curse and driven from the Earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand! When you work the ground, it will no longer yield you an abundant harvest! You will be a fugitive and a vagabond on the Earth!"
Then the Lord drove Cain out from His presence, and Cain, taking his wife with him, fled into the deepening shadows of the night, Eastward across the plain toward the desolate land of Nod.
(Note: We know Adam and Eve had other children at this time also because Eve was "the mother of all living." Therefore, Cain's wife had to be one of his sisters and the men he fled as a fugitive from were his other brothers.--Genesis 3:20; 4:14,17)
(1) Cain was religious, very religious. He even sacrificed to God and claimed to worship Him, but like so many very "religious" people from then till now, he believed he was righteous in himself, and could earn his Salvation with only a little help from God. Many people claim to worship God and depend on Him for Salvation, but work so hard to try to earn it that they figure that they deserve it, with or without God's help. But Ephesians 2:8,9 says, "For by grace (undeserved mercy) are you saved through faith; not of yourself! It is the gift of God; not by our own works, lest any man should boast!" (See also Romans 11:6.)
"Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Hebrews 11:4), because by what he did he showed he was trusting God alone to save him. He knew only God was righteous, so depended utterly on God's mercy and forgiveness. (Romans 7:18; Titus 3:5)
(2) From the very beginning, the Lord had specified that a sacrifice for sin had to be a blood-sacrifice, a lamb. (Genesis 22:7) Jesus, God's Son, was the final sacrifice, "the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the World." (John 1:29) Jesus died and shed His blood to save us from our sins, and that is the only way we can be saved!--not by our own trying to "be righteous" by keeping religious laws, but by God's loving grace and mercy. (See Galatians 2:21.)
(3) Like Cain, so many supposedly "good" people are self-righteous, merciless, hateful, bitter and unforgiving toward their fellowman, yet they still claim to love God. But God's Word says, "If any man say, 'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar: Whoever hates his brother abides in death and is a murderer." (1John 3:11-15; 4:20) Jesus warned that if we hated our brother, that God would not hear our prayers or reward us for our hard work and sacrifices. (Psalm 66:18; Matthew 5:23,24) Without love, all our "good works" mean nothing at all. (1Corinthians 13:3)
(4) The Bible tells us that Cain slew Abel "because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." (1John 3:12) Why did God count Abel's deeds righteous? Because he was humbly obeying God, and showing his utter dependence on Him! This made such a fool out of the hard-working Cain who was trying to earn his own Salvation, that he killed the man whose simple faith in God had exposed him! This was the beginning of the persecution of the true worshippers of God by the self-righteous religionists, a persecution which has continued raging down through the centuries to this present day! (See John 16:2,3 and Galatians 4:29.)
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I know I'm not good or righteous enough to earn my Salvation. So I thank You for loving me enough to die on the cross for my sins that I might be saved. Help me to depend entirely upon Your mercy and forgiveness. In Jesus' name. Amen.