Honestly, this could be an entry for the Bible vs Sunday School. The problem of Cain. The only lessons I was ever taught from this story were about how evil Cain really was. The first murderer. He killed his own brother. He was the example for how depraved fallen nature really is, and he was exiled for it.
Sometimes they focused on Cain’s true sin: pride. Sometimes we talked about why his sacrifice was rejected and Abel’s was accepted. The language used emphasizes that Abel used the first and best of the flock, while Cain offered…what was at hand? It had nothing to do with his offering being from the garden rather than the flock. First of all, we don’t even know what instructions regarding sacrifice they were following, the law had not been given as yet. Secondly, once the law is given, grain offerings are required. Besides, this reads more like a tithe, anyway. His work was in the garden; his tithe would be produce, but, again, not yet under the law we know. (While I was taught, at least once, that it was grain vs blood, I was fortunate enough to be taught well that it came down to the attitude of the sacrifice.)
What I was not taught? God’s mercy throughout the conflict.
After the sacrifice, before the murder, God stepped in and had a little chat with Cain. He sat down with him, warned him of the danger he was in. “Look, kid, don’t get mad at me. If your heart is in the right place, I’ll approve of what you do. But if you mess up, it’ll be real easy to keep making things worse. Sin is waiting for you; it wants to conquer you. You must rule over it.”
Do you know how many times my kids get in more trouble when they do something wrong by copping attitude when I get onto them? Seriously! Don’t get mad at me kid, you’re the one that did something wrong. I’m not being mean. I’m teaching you. I’m doing my job. They show me they’re actually sorry, actually understand what they did was wrong, I ease up and the discipline is a lot lighter than if they get mad at me for rudely stopping them from having their fun.
But I get it! No one likes being called on their mistakes. We get defensive; we get angry, especially when we want to keep doing it our way.
God himself stepped in and tried to warn Cain, tried to calm him down before he crossed a line he couldn’t come back from. How is that not taught more actively? Then, when he punished Cain for killing his brother, it was just exile. When Cain pointed out that the rest of his family would want to kill him in revenge, no matter how far away he went, God promised him protection. He killed a man, his own brother, and he was only exiled. He was allowed to build a family, a city!
I would also like to point out that we have no reason to assume that his relationship with God was not reconciled. We have no idea how he lived out the rest of his life, except that it was materially successful. He may have truly repented, lived faithfully the rest of his days. I hope he did.
My point is: this is another story of human failure and divine mercy. This is another illustration of God the father, full of love and concern for his children.
My point is also: sin is seeking to dominate you; you must rule over it.