Right now the Christian community is responding with grief, anger, and shock about the unveiling of another Christian leader whose sin has found him out. My interest is not in adding to the finger pointing, but rather to step back and gain wisdom–or as the Bible says, take heed lest you fall. My mind goes back to Genesis and another great moral failure.
The biblical account of the first recorded murder is one that demonstrates the fact that the descendants of Adam and Eve inherited the sin nature of their parents. Some people get hung up on the type of sacrifice that Cain offered when in reality the issue had largely to do with Cain’s heart. But there are more lessons to learn from this account. I’d like to highlight three lessons we learn about sin from the short account of Cain in Genesis 4.
- We are both responsible for our sins as well as eventual victims of it (Genesis 4:7-8)
““If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”(Genesis 4:7–8, NASB95)
Everyone generally agrees about Cain’s need to be held responsible for his sin. It is clear-cut: Cain killed Abel (v. 8). There were only two people there in the field, and only one walked out. No passing the buck here like Cain’s parents did when they were asked about eating the forbidden fruit.
But something more is revealed in this account about the nature of temptation. Sin is depicted as a stalker. In verse 7, like a tiger waiting to pounce upon its prey, sin is crouching—hunting for Cain. This is the way sin is in some ways. It is personified as a hunter looking for our weakest and most vulnerable moments-those unguarded times-and then pouncing to take advantage of them.
Prov. 1:10-19 speaks about the lying promise of sin—like a parasite, it kills its host. It says:
“My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause; Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, Even whole, as those who go down to the pit; We will find all kinds of precious wealth, We will fill our houses with spoil; Throw in your lot with us, We shall all have one purse,”
My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, For their feet run to evil And they hasten to shed blood. Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” (Proverbs 1:10–19, NASB95)
Hear the Lord’s words to Cain-sin wants to rule over you, it wants to enslave you. You must rule over it, but you cannot master it in your own strength, without Jesus. But with Christ, you can have victory over sin through the power of the Spirit.
2. Sin not only seeks to destroy you, it seeks to destroy the very things that you love most (Vv. 12-14)
““When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.””(Genesis 4:12–14, NASB95)
Obviously Cain didn’t love his brother or his family all that much, so we aren’t talking about that loss here, although we wonder if Cain ever missed his brother. But we do see that Cain did love two things, and they were interrelated:
First, He loved himself. Listen to his wining about the punishment he received for killing his brother (vv. 12-14). No remorse or repentance is in his complaint, only that the punishment is “too great to bear.”
Second, He loved his job as a farmer. God cursed the land for Cain. The land he farmed would no longer produce for Cain the way it had before. Others could till the soil and it would yield a harvest, but it would no longer produce a yield for Cain. At one time he loved gardening and the harvest so much that he only gave his second best to the Lord in worship. His job had become an idol for him. Now God forcibly removed it from his hands.
So, the sin that Cain did not want to flee from destroyed him and his selfish loves. Although he didn’t receive the death penalty for his sin immediately, if he was unrepentant to the end of his life, he would extend his penalty into eternity.
The same can be said about others and their chasing after an idol that would eventually destroy them:
- Samson lusted after Delilah.
- David lusted after Bathsheba.
- Amnon lusted after Tamar.
- Solomon lusted after many women.
- Ahab lusted after a vineyard.
- Gehazi lusted after riches.
- Israel lusted after other gods.
- Judas lusted after money.
And in every instance, the thing lusted after was the very thing that destroyed the lover. You and I are not better.
3. Our sinful attitudes and habits are not kept to ourselves, but are shared with our children and their children (Genesis 4:17-24).
After his banishment, Cain went on to have a family of his own, and that family grew until only five short generations later the sinfulness of Cain had grown by leaps and bounds (vv. 17-18)
By the time of Lamech, we see in this ancestor of Cain:
- Polygamy (v. 19)
- Pride (vv. 23-24) (he actually wrote a poem about his sin!)
- Violence and murder (vv. 23-24)
Cain’s ancestors (and the testimony of human history) are a visible record of how sin affects a family–sometimes for generations. This isn’t an excuse for sin, but it demonstrates for us the power of influence and example.
We have heard about genetic diseases that are passed on to family members. That’s why they ask questions about our parents and family on medical questionnaires. One form I once filled out asked if I had any family members who had mental instability. I was tempted to answer, “Who doesn’t?”
We need to remember that in our example, we will pass on our lifestyle, our fear and reverence for God and whatever attitudes we have about sin. These attitudes and examples will have an influence, and in some ways, you will be held responsible. Cain’s name even comes up in his great-great-great grandson’s poem about his own wickedness. Isn’t that interesting?
The flipside of this negative influence was Seth (Gen. 4:25-26). Seth was the son that replaced Abel. In a very real way, Adam and Eve had lost both sons on that fateful day in the field. Abel was murdered and Cain was banished.
Now Seth would replace Abel. Seth means “appointed.” God had appointed Seth to replace Abel as the godly son. Seth would have an influence too—on his son Enosh. It was after Enosh, perhaps because of his influence, that people began to call upon and worship the Lord.
The headlines of a fallen leader should be a sobering thing to us. They should cause us to examine our own lives. And they should serve as a warning that we must heed. Sin is crouching at the door. Will we seek the Lord’s help in mastering it, or will we allow this beast to take control and bring us to ruin as well?