Zev Porat

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Learning From Interaction: Genesis 4:1-8

The interaction between people has always fascinated me for some unknown reason. I tend to watch people as they go about normal activities and relationships, analyzing the interactions people have with one another and general behavior patterns. Before you write me off as a freak or label me as a creep, think about something: How much can you learn about humanity by watching other people interact with their spouses or children in public, or watching the behaviors of the next generation? I guess you could call me a "people watcher" but I have learned a great deal from taking note of the behaviors of those around me. For instance, when I was a teenager, I took notice of marriages where the husband and wife had a genuine respect for one another that flowed into their public interactions; their speech was kind, gentle, and considerate even when they had differing views. I also took note of marriages where the couple's disdain for one another spilled into the public arena. I also observed parent/child relations, exchanges in the server/customer interactions at restaurants, even the manner in which people carried and presented themselves in public. These observations caused me to develop, among others things, a mental list of what I wanted in a marriage, how I want to interact with my future children, and how to interact with complete strangers. There are also lessons to be learned from the interactions between biblical characters.

In Genesis 4 we read the account of the interaction between brothers Cain and Abel. After Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden of Eden, the Bible records Eve giving birth to two sons. Adam and Eve named the first son Cain and the second son Abel. Upon further reading, we understand the boys learned and specialized in different trades. Cain "worked the soil" meaning he planted and harvested crops. Abel managed flocks of animals. A plain reading of the account does not express the amount of time that passed between the births of the boys, the early childhood of the boys, nor the familial interaction during this unspecified amount of time. However, their upbringing was not the purpose of the passage. Genesis 4:3 begins, "In the course of time…" thus signifying a reference to the life of the boys until this particular point in their lives, which proves critical to the purpose of the passage. Therefore, as the boys grew physically, learned a trade, and harvested a byproduct of their respective work, they brought a portion unto the Lord as a sacrifice. Genesis 4:3 tells the audience how Cain brought "some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord" (NIV; All Scripture comes from the NIV unless otherwise noted). Genesis 4:4a informs the reader of Abel's offering; he offered the "fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock." Genesis 4:4b-5a, then, reveals a distinction God made between the two sacrifices. Able and his offering received the favor of God while God viewed Cain and his offering with disfavor. This contrast comes from the type of offering given by each man. Abel gave the best portions of the best animals from his flock while Cain simply gave God "some" of his harvest. Because of this unfavorable response from God, Cain became very angry. God spoke with Cain in Genesis 4:7 and told him the obvious truth, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?" Instead of seeking to do what was right, Cain allowed his anger to overtake himself and he lured his brother into a field and killed him.

This story is more than a sibling rivalry gone horribly wrong. This is a narrative about one man who honored God with the best of what he had to give, and another man who gave less and chose not to accept responsibility for his less than appropriate actions. Thus, there are two different angles to this story. First, Abel honored God by giving God his best sacrifice and received God's favor. Second, Cain directed his anger for his failure at his brother; thus, Cain refused to accept the responsibility for his own actions and it led him to take away the life of his brother. According to 1 John 3:12 Cain murdered Abel because Cain's actions were evil. Thus, Cain viewed his brother's righteousness as the conviction for his own evil and Cain sought to eliminate that conviction. The righteous thing for Cain to do would have been for him to change the desire of his heart and worship God with an acceptable sacrifice that extols the holiness of God. In other words, Cain could have honored God with his worship and enjoyed fellowship with God again.

If we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our ultimate purpose is to honor God with everything we do. Much like Abel, we are to bring the best of what we have and lay it down before God as a sacrifice for His use. Sometime this is what happens. However, more often than not, we fall into the category of Cain in that we go, do, and are pulled in a million different directions and God gets some of what we have when we have the unction to give it to Him. Let us face it, we put our best foot forward for others, as a society we dedicate millions of hours to social media, we have families and jobs requiring undivided attention and focus, and somewhere in it all God saying, "I want a love relationship with your heart because that is why Jesus Christ died." Let us take note of the interaction between Cain and Abel. Let us acknowledge God as the true recipient of our worship and give Him the worship He is due. Let us do what is right in God's eyes. Let us accept responsibility for our actions when we fail to honor God. Let us not allow ourselves to respond to God's conviction by lashing out at those around us.

James Christopher Powell has served as assistant minister in Northwest Florida for ten years.
He studies at The Baptist College of Florida where he is working on a Master's degree in Christians Studies.
He married his wife Jennifer in March 2014.

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