“The Bible’s Children: Cain and Abel”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
They call it “the town of bent necks.”
Let me explain.
You see, a little over a hundred years ago, back in the late 1800s, two boys were born in a little town called Herzogenaurach in Bavaria, Germany. One was named Rudolf and the other was named Adolf. Twenty years later, in 1919, the two brothers founded a shoe manufacturing company, which soon came to be known simply as “Geda,” (that’s G-e-d-a), for short. And in spite of a rather complicated time in political history through the 1930s and 40s, the company became quite a success, partly because the legendary Jesse Owens won the Olympic gold medal while wearing their shoes.
But all of a sudden, beyond anyone’s control, Rudolf was drafted into the German army and their beloved shoe factory had no choice but to become a weapons factory. Then later, in 1945, when the war was finally over, the boys got back to making shoes.
At least for a little while. Because in 1948, after working together for all of thirty years, Rudolf and Adolf abruptly closed the doors.
Now we’re not exactly sure why. Some say it’s because their wives just couldn’t get along.
But whatever the reason, just as soon as they closed their doors, each brother opened a new door. Rudolf called his shoes “Puma” and Adolf called his shoes “Adidas,” each one taking about half of their company’s workers. The rest, as they say, is history.
As time passed, not only did the brothers not get along, the company employees didn’t get along either. Whether they worked for Adidas or Puma, they would patronize different bars, different bakeries, and different barber shops. The town even had two different football teams--one sponsored by Puma and the other by Adidas.
So how did little Herzogenaurach of Bavaria, Germany become known as “the town of bent necks”? Because before anyone would even talk to you, they would first check to see which kind of shoes were on your feet!
And by the way, when the two brothers died, both were buried in the same cemetery, just at opposite ends.
Sibling rivalry. Psychologists tell us it happens when one child, for whatever reason, competes against another child. You can find it in most any family.
Just think of some other famous sibling rivalries. Oscar-winning actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were sisters who never got along. In fact, they downright hated each other. They were always jealous of each other’s Hollywood successes and didn’t speak to one another for years. You can even read about it in Joan’s book, No Bed of Roses, what Olivia dubbed, No Shred of Truth.
Or think of Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther--twin sisters, born seventeen minutes apart. And since they were twins, they lived life in very much the same way--the same schools, the same clothes, the same friends. And when one became engaged, so did the other. They even had a double wedding!
And when one started to write a newspaper advice column, she went by a new name--”Ann Landers.” Then when sister Pauline saw that sister Esther had such a good thing going, she decided to write her own advice column and called it, “Dear Abby.”
But of all the sibling rivalries ever known to man, the most famous of all is the one found between two brothers--Cain and Abel.
I’ll read the words of Genesis chapter 4: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (Genesis 4:3-5).
In a very real way, the book of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, is a book full of firsts. Here we find the first marriage, the first pregnancy, the first birth, the first family, the first sin, the first promise, the first worship, and unfortunately, the first sibling rivalry.
Now we don’t know for sure just what the problem was--why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and why Cain’s was not. But whatever the difference, what really mattered was the heart, for while Abel had a real love for God, Cain did not. That is, after all, what the book of Hebrews seems to say: “By faith, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man” (Hebrews 11:4).
Whatever the reason, when Cain saw that the Lord had blessed his brother Abel and didn’t bless him, he was angry. Literally the Bible says, it was “hot to him.” Anyone could have told you he was visibly and noticeably upset. Hatred was stirring inside.
Then what? The Lord Himself intervened. He said in Genesis chapter 4: “Why are you so angry? Why is your face downcast? Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:6-7).
“Sin is crouching at your door,” the Lord said, like a lion ready and waiting to pounce. Then sure enough, what had started out as a simple case of sibling rivalry soon led to anger and then outright rage. And if Cain wasn’t careful, the Lord said, sin would soon destroy him.
So what would Cain do? Would he realize the danger he was in or would he let it all destroy him?
The answer came quickly. The Bible says Cain lured Abel out to a field where no one could see them. And there he rose up against him, suddenly and surprisingly, and killed him. In a moment, the wicked deed was done.
It was both horrific and catastrophic at the same time. No one had ever done anything like it. There, at his feet, by his hand, was the still, warm, bleeding, lifeless body of his brother, Abel.
And today we wonder--what did Cain think as he stared down at him lying on the ground? Was he astonished at how simple it was to take a life, or was he horrified that he had actually carried out his evil plan? Did he wonder what his parents, Adam and Eve, would think? Surely they would ask. Surely they would know. Or did he look up toward the sky, wondering if God would send down fire from heaven to kill him and to consume him for his evil deed--eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life?
There were no police detectives to investigate the crime. There was no criminal justice system to link him to the murder by forensic evidence. There were no courts, no juries, no gallows, and no gas chambers. What thoughts flashed through his mind as the earth drank the blood of murder’s first victim? It was bad enough for one man to kill another. It was something else for him to kill his own brother.
It was murder in the first degree, a sign of all that was to come. In fact, you could draw a line from the bloody corpse of Abel to every stabbing and every shooting that’s ever happened ever since. What started as just a little trickle would soon become a gushing river. In the shadow of the Fall, within an easy walking distance of the Garden of Eden, Paradise, man had become his own executioner.
Why did Cain kill him? It’s simple, really. Not only did he want to remove the competition for God’s favor, he wanted to get even with God. And the only way to do it was to kill the man whose offering He accepted.
So the Lord came to him once more. He said, “Where’s your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “What do you think I am, my brother’s keeper?”
“What is it that you have done? Listen! Your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground. And because of what you have done, you are cursed. When you work the ground, it won’t yield crops. For the rest of your life, you’ll be a restless wanderer, without a place and without a home.”
All this is so sad. Not only did it break God’s heart, it broke Adam and Eve’s heart too. One child was dead; and the other was cursed to roam the world, restless, homeless, and hopeless. The very first family to live beneath God’s divine protection and care, was shattered by homicide and hopeless wandering.
So what lesson does this story mean to teach us? First, if you’re not careful, small sins can soon become big sins. For while Cain probably didn’t wake up that morning intending to kill his brother, once that anger took hold, it was a short step to do the unthinkable.
And sin is just like that. It’s like a lion, crouching, waiting, biding its time, then pouncing when we least expect it.
Still even then, even the worst sins can be forgiven, for no sin could ever be stronger than the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s what the hymn says: “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries.”
A little over a hundred years ago, back in March of 1910, author Gaston Leroux published a novel he called The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a story about a strange and mysterious man, (whose real name was Erik), who lived deep beneath an opera house in Paris and tutored a young singer named Christine.
And if you know the story, and I’m sure you do, you’ll remember that the Phantom was always hiding behind a mask.
Why did he wear a mask? Because at birth, his face was deformed. And since even his own mother couldn’t stand to look at him, she made him wear a mask, what he called, “My first unfeeling scrap of clothing.”
And as the story goes, the day came when Christine suddenly took the mask off of him and kissed him, which melted his sick and twisted heart. And in that moment, he was changed and he haunted the opera no more.
Ever since man’s Fall, we’ve been hiding our faces. Just like Cain, we’re banished from the face of God till the gospel comes and tears that mask off. And in that moment, Jesus stoops down, kisses our deformity, and cleanses us with His blood, so that we, by His grace, can see the smiling face of our Father.
Though Cain was the firstborn in all creation, Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. Though Cain was a son of Adam, Jesus is the Son of God. Though Cain made a sacrifice, Jesus is the sacrifice. And though sin once conquered Cain, Jesus conquered sin once and for all.
One more thing--it could be said that everyone in the world is either of the line of Cain or the line of Abel. Each man represents two seeds, two directions, and two races of men. Either you’re like Cain--proud, self-made, trying to come to God on your own and are rejected. Or you’re like Abel--a sinner who’s come to God by faith in Jesus Christ.
And that line that separates the human race cuts through every nation, every culture, every city, every school, every office, and every family. Every day, the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Abel live together, work together, study together, eat together, and play together.
And though the sons of Cain may sometimes rise up against the sons of Abel, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The story of Cain and Abel, dear Father, is one of the most tragic stories in all of human history. Grant us your grace that we may find hope and help in our Lord Jesus Christ. This we ask in His name. Amen