The Mark of Cain

Genesis 4:9-15
9  Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10  And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.
11  “So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
12  “When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”
13  And Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!
14  “Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.”
15  And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.

I had occasion recently to speak to a young man about a theft he had committed. The fellow had stolen some collectors cards from a store, brought them home, and then after they were found, he hid them again and lied to his parents about hiding them. The sad irony is that, like Achan after the battle of Jericho (Joshua 7), this young man had to hide the very things that he coveted and stole; he could not even enjoy them publicly, lest everyone know his sin. I did indeed tell this young man about the story of Achan, and of how Jesus saves us from the death we deserve for our sins, but it also occurred to me that starting so young at theft and deceit is something that could leave a mark on his life–a mark like the mark of Cain.

I know there are many who will point out that it was the Lord who put the mark on Cain, so that others would not kill him for his crime. But when I look back at Cain’s several sins, I realize that the mark on him is less a physical mark than a spiritual mark, and it is one he put there himself.

Genesis 4:3-8
3  And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD.
4  Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6  So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
7  “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
8  Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

So where was Cain’s first sin? He didn’t respect or love the Lord enough to bring Him a true offering. Cain brought what he felt like bringing, whereas Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. Already, Cain was showing his true colors. And then when he saw how the Lord didn’t respect his offering, he got angry.

I often ask myself and my children why we get angry. There is, of course, righteous anger, the kind of anger that comes from seeing someone wronged and the perpetrator getting away with it. Righteous anger can lead to righteous behavior, as we stand up for the things and people God loves. A good example of righteous anger is David when he first saw how Goliath was insulting Israel and the Lord God. (1 Samuel 17:26-29) Righteous anger comes from our love for God and for our fellow man. David’s righteous anger led him to courage beyond all of Israel’s armies, to face the giant of Gath with nothing but a sling and five stones.

But the anger Cain felt has anything but righteous. It was an anger born of frustration and embarrassment, an anger that had more to do with being caught treating someone wrong than at seeing someone else doing wrong. I see Cain’s anger all the time in children as they lash out in impatience at a sibling, as they throw a toy to keep from sharing it, as they rant and cry when they don’t get their way. I see Cain’s anger when children don’t get their way. Cain was angry because he thought the little he did should have been good enough, and he was angry because his brother Abel did something more. Cain’s wasn’t righteous anger, it was selfish anger.

Look at how the Lord reacted to Cain’s anger. God didn’t lash back at Cain, He told Cain to keep his anger in check and to “do well.” God uses this same language throughout the book of Deuteronomy, when He says that if the Israelites keep His Word, then it will “go well” for them. The Hebrew word used is about causing happiness and about blessing others and being blessed. The Lord is essentially saying, “If you bless others, then you will be accepted.” As we can see from subsequent events, Cain didn’t rule over his sin, and so instead of changing his way and doing well, he let his anger take over and committed the first murder.

James 1:13-15
13  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
14  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Sin brings forth death. Cain’s sin brought forth the death of his brother Abel. Achan’s sin brought forth the death of thirty-six Israelites. David’s sin brought forth the death of Uriel AND the first child of David’s and Bathsheba’s adultery. The sins of the kings of Judah brought forth the defeat of Jerusalem and slavery for the Jews. Sin has deadly consequences.

But Cain wasn’t finished sinning. Bringing a lackluster offering and killing his brother were not enough. He then decided he had to LIE about it. Wow, how childish is that! Every time I read that passage, I remember all the times I have asked my children about something I KNOW they have done, and they invariably answered, “I don’t know…” But Cain doesn’t just leave it there, he adds insult to his lie: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” His insolence just makes you want to lash out and say, “Yes, as a matter of fact, you ARE your brother’s keeper!”

Ultimately, the Lord calls Cain on all his sinning, cursing him to wander the earth as a vagabond, never even able to produce fruit from the ground again. How’s that for an appropriate punishment: the man who once though it was okay to shortchange the Lord from the fruit of his farming, now he can no longer gain ANY fruit from the ground! With this punishment, Cain finally realizes the enormity of his sin, and he says “I shall be hidden from Your face,” knowing that he can no longer depend on the Lord to protect him or help him. Cain is certain he is going to die, but the Lord does one last thing: He marks him so that others will NOT kill him. In the end, Cain IS protected.

The Lord didn’t want any more unnatural death, no more murder, no vengeance by men. But while the Lord’s mark was enough to protect Cain from the punishment of other men, it was not enough to prevent Cain’s children from committing the same sin. Five generations later, one of Cain’s descendants–Lamech–committed murder. Lamech repented and confessed, and proclaimed that he, too, would be avenged seventy-fold if pursued for his crime. (Genesis 4:23-24)

Yes, the Lord put a physical mark upon Cain to protect him from vengeance, but there was a stain of sin upon Cain’s heart. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul. Cain showed how little he loved the Lord first by bringing an unrespectable offering and then by lying to the Lord. And Jesus told us that the second greatest commandment is like the first: to love our neighbor as ourselves. Cain certainly didn’t love his brother, as shown not only by the murder but also by his cavalier attitude in claiming he was not responsible for his brother’s keeping. All the law and the prophets depend on those two commandments from the Lord, all our expectation of blessing from the Lord depends on us keeping those simple commandments. Cain marked his own heart by breaking those commandments and allowing sin to rule his life. And that mark upon Cain’s heart passed down through generations to lead to more sin and death.

But we need not live with the mark of Cain upon our lives. We need not carry the sins we are taught by our fathers and mothers into our lives nor our children’s lives. And, as I told that young man who stole those cards and lied about it, we need not let the sins of our youth become the seed for the sins of our adulthood. We can change. Yes, there will be consequences for our sins, but we need not keep on sinning. God gave Cain an opportunity to repent, to change his ways, and yet Cain instead gave in to temptation and desire, and he eventually sinned even more than he had before. The Lord warned Cain what he needed to do to keep from sinning, to be accepted by the Lord: “do well.” How do we do well? We follow those two greatest commandments: we love the Lord with all we have, and we love others as we love ourselves.

Romans 8:1-2
1  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
2  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Loving the Lord can be hard when we keep living by the flesh. When we try to make a religion out of doing good and trying to satisfy the Lord by what we do, then we are traveling the path of Cain. Cain DID bring an offering before the Lord, but his offering did not show respect for God. Cain’s offering wasn’t made out of love. But when we have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, when we focus on His Spirit, then every offering we make of time and money and service to the Lord IS an act of love. As Paul said to the Corinthians, we can do all sorts of wonderful things, but if we do not do them out of love for God and our fellow men, then they mean nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) And Jesus Himself said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) We show our love for God by doing His will, by loving the things He loves, and by hating the sin that is in our midst.

Loving others can be even harder, because we face so much opposition to love. People are spiteful, jealous, prideful, angry beings–a lot like Cain! But Jesus told us what we needed to do, however hard it may seem:

Matthew 5:43-45
43  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44  “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Matthew 6:14-15
14  “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15  “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Love and forgive? Considering the severity of some of the sins that are committed against us, is that even possible? On our own, it is not possible, but with Christ, it is possible. Left to our own devices, we might go through a twelve-step self-help program of leaving our past behind and moving on, but that mark, that stain, that unforgiveness would still be on our hearts. And the mark of sin would also still be on the heart of the person who hurt us. How can they be healed unless it is by the love of Christ? And how can WE be healed unless it is by the love of Christ? How can the mark of Cain be removed–the mark upon the hearts of sinners–unless it is erased by the blood of the Lamb of God? How can we be blessed–“do well”–unless we ourselves bless?

Cain was marked by his own sin, and he and his descendants lived with that for generations. Cain did not love the Lord, did not care for his brother, and only when he was faced with punishment for his sins did he realize that the greatest punishment would be to be outside the Lord’s protection.

2 Peter 3:8-9
8  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God doesn’t want vengeance, we wants repentance! He wants us to leave behind the sin that so easily entangles and instead look toward Him, to love Him and our neighbors, to change our ways and be born again as new creations. There is no need for us to keep on sinning and say we are “only human,” because when we live in the Spirit we are MORE than human! We need not be saddled with the stain and guilt of our youthful sins, nor need those sins determine the path of the rest of our lives. With the help of Christ, we can rule over sin and the flesh, and we can live in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can be forgiven by forgiving, blessed by blessing. If we truly want to change this world, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as marked like Cain but instead realize we can be sealed by God to “do well” and leave all sin behind.

Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have washed away the mark of Cain from my life, that I need no longer live as I once did. I thank You that by loving and forgiving others, I find myself loved and forgiven. I pray, Holy Lord, that others will repent and seek Your face, that they will give up the persecution and recriminations, that they will stop thinking they can only live one way–the way of their flesh–and instead find that there is great peace in living in Your Spirit. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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