Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lessons from Cain and Abel, Part I.


I suggest that the story of Cain and Abel is primarily an allegory about Christ, even though there are lessons about justice to be learnt too. After the fall, man chose to manage his own affairs, including his views about morality and worship. The example of Abel, however, makes clear that, there have been in every generation a small cadre of men and women who despite their natural inclinations decide to follow God’s prescriptions to the best of their ability. Many of these people, Abel, Moses, David, Rehab, Daniel...all the way to our Lord Jesus are catalogued in Hebrews 11.

This group shared little in common with the vast majority of mankind living in their time who continued to follow their own prescriptions and inclinations; the proverbial sheep versus goat dichotomy. This is how I see the story of Cain and Abel and the interpretation I believe Paul and other New Testament writers later put on this story.

Hebrews 12: 22-24: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Cain knew what the right sacrifice to offer to God was, but he substituted what he considered to be a reasonable alternative. He incorrectly presupposed that God would be satisfied with his personal view of acceptable sacrifice. God in addressing Cain’s anger tells him in essence (my paraphrase), “you know what is right to do, now go do it and I will accept your sacrifice too”. God had at some point made it known what He expected in a sacrifice and Abel followed this prescription. Cain did not.Man’s prescriptions for covering his own sins, although “sensible”, are incorrect.

Man’s ideas for redemption were overruled by God, even in the Garden. When Adam and Eve sinned they clothed themselves with leaves to hide their nakedness but God seeing this, replaced their coverings with the hide of an animal killed for this purpose. This was probably the first indication of God’s preference in regard to atonement and sacrifice. Perhaps Cain and Abel knew this and it informed Abel’s choice of sacrifice.

Abel's story is the first indication we have of the stratification of mankind into righteous vs. unrighteous and this continues throughout history. We see two kinds of people: those, like Abel who take God’s prescriptions for life seriously and come to God the way He has prescribed vs. those, like Cain, who presume to know what should please God and so bring to God their own defunct ideas and reasonable-sounding precepts made by men, the false religions.

Cain, rather than change his ways, became angry and displaced his anger onto Abel. This story in Genesis is less about justice or a failure of divine protection, and much more about establishing a picture of the long struggle to come in the ages to follow between those who obey God and those who follow their own ideas. It is the story of the Jews vs. the Gentiles, John the Baptist vs. Herodias, the elect vs. the unsaved, Christ vs. the Pharisees, and Rome vs. early Christians. For friendship with God is enmity with the world.

The persecution of righteous Abel by unrighteous Cain is instruction for God-fearing men of all ages. Abel’s story foreshadowed and eventually culminated in our Lord’s struggles with the Pharisees and His eventual death at their hands. His story foreshadows the struggle between our Lord—Son of God without blemish—and the Pharisees—men who taught and followed the traditions of men. It, perhaps, even is a story of the greater spiritual struggle between Satan and God’s elect and is an example for us in the present age until the Lord returns.

I believe God was present in this story but in a completely different role from our human expectation. This role is didactic and best understood in the context of Christ’s life and mission in particular. Jesus knew the Father’s will and followed it. The Pharisees presumed to know God’s will but replaced it with the traditions of men. Like Cain’s sacrifice, the self-styled morality of the Pharisees, like other self-styled religions through the ages, was rejected by the Father. Jesus, by the attestation of miracles and wonders and by His death and resurrection had His sacrifice and His life validated by the Father. Like Cain, the Pharisees plotted to kill him and did. To us, it appears that God abandoned Abel to the evil plans of an unrighteous man and similarly, we see Jesus apparently abandoned by God to the evil intents of unrighteous men; "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me”

It is true that other parts of Scripture portray God to be our protector, which He is. Here, however, I believe the intent of this story is to set a precedent or expectation of what is to happen later with our Savior and with those who choose to follow Him. For the righteous in the ages to come, it is the first example of what to expect as a consequence of the decision to follow Christ: derision, persecution, ridicule, harm, even death. – G Columbus

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