Today's reading in The Daily Bible (Genesis 4-5) tells the story of the generations that follow the creation of Adam and Eve, who have been expelled from the fertile garden into a world of hard labor with the soil and hard labor in childbirth.
Cain, a tiller of the soil, is born; and some time after, Abel his brother, a tender of flocks.
But go back with me for a moment to the pronouncement of God's judgment on their parents in Genesis 3:17-19. I'll wait while you read.
Finished? We speak of that judgment as "the curse." Did you notice? When Adam and Eve disobeyed, God didn't curse either one.
He cursed the ground, to make Adam labor. And since apparently neither of them had chosen to eat of the tree of life, they would have to perpetuate their species through childbirth, and that would be the labor of Eve. It's not a curse. It's a consequence.
Cain, as a farmer, inherited the consequence of that curse. He had to work the soil in his chosen profession. His brother Abel probably seemed to have it easier: just let the flocks wander and eat whatever cropped up from the rocks.
There's no indication in scripture that God asked for an offering from either one. But both offered.
Let me propose the possibility that God's displeasure with Cain's offering ("some fruits of the soil") and pleasure with Abel's ("fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock") was based, not so much on what they offered, but on how they offered it.
Abel had it relatively easy. The abundance he enjoyed in his flocks was clearly God-given. Perhaps he offered in a heart of gratitude because that was so easy to see.
Cain had it tough. He worked soil that was cursed. The abundance he offered to God was clearly the result of his labor. Perhaps he offered with an attitude rather than gratitude.
(For some reason, I'm reminded of the prayer Jimmy Stewart delivers as hardscrabble farmer Charlie Anderson in the movie Shenandoah: "Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn't be here and we wouldn't be eatin' it if we hadn't done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same for this food we're about to eat. Amen.")
This attitude may well be what led Cain to jealousy and murder and deceit before God. And the consequence was that the curse on the land got even tougher for him: it would no longer produce for him, no matter how hard he worked.
Yet there is mercy in God's judgment. A mark is placed on Cain so that no one will take his life to avenge Abel, lest they be punished seven-fold.
Rather than wandering with flocks like his dead brother had done, Cain turned to settling and building a city. One of his grandsons, Jabal, chose the life of tents and flocks and herds; another, Jubal, the pursuit of music; and another, Tubal-Cain, the forging of metal. (A granddaughter, Naamah, is barely mentioned.) But Cain's history of internecine warfare persisted; his son Lamech also killed, and felt so justified in killing that he called for vengeance seventy-seven-fold.
Adam and Eve were given another son, Seth, and perhaps it says something of his character that when Seth had a son named Enosh, "At that time men began to call on/proclaim the name of the LORD." Maybe Seth did not want The Story of God and Man to be lost, so he passed it on to his children.
In the generations that follow, men father children, grow very old, and eventually die - with one extraordinary exception.
Enoch lives a brief 365 years in a time when his ancestors and descendants live 700, 800, 900-and-more years, and the account of each one ends "... and then he died."
"When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." ~
In the garden where God put Adam and Eve, they could hear Him walking in the cool of the day. That apparently was not enough for Enoch. He walked with God.
Scripture records over and over that this is exactly what He wants and hopes and plans for us.
"I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people." ~ Leviticus 26:12
"My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people." ~ Ezekiel 37:27
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.' " ~ Revelation 21:3
"No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him." ~ Revelation 22:3
Isaac Watts wrote the hymn Joy to the World that we've heard a few times in this Christmas season now closing:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
And William Cowper's O For a Closer Walk With God yearns for the same:
So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.
So in five chapters, God has already taught us foundational truths about life. He created; He blessed His creation with purpose; He offered choice; He warned that sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath (Genesis 2:17); He judged and pronounced consequences; He showed mercy; He expressed His desire to walk with us.
And, perhaps, He has hinted that a works-based attitude is never as pleasing to Him as gratitude-based worship.