Read Genesis 4-6
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you so angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike. It will entice you, but you must rule over it. –Genesis 4:6-7 (Common English Bible)
As I pointed out in a recent sermon about the shepherds, shepherds (then and now) aren’t on the “Who’s Who of the Holy Land” list. Shepherds are nomads. They don’t own their own land. They are constantly moving their sheep from one place to another in search of green pastures (which are at a premium in the Holy Land). If you can imagine someone coming over to your garden and clipping all your flowers or picking all your vegetables without permission, you can imagine how farmers felt when shepherds would bring their sheep to graze on the farmer’s most fertile land.
So when we read that Cain is a farmer and Abel is a shepherd, it’s probably safe to say that there was already conflict between these two brothers long before they made their offerings to God. The conflict would have been there simply because of the vocation that each brother had chosen.
But the conflict obviously intensifies in the story. Both brothers present an offering to God. It’s worth pointing out that nowhere to this point has God revealed what is an appropriate offering and what is not. It’s also worth pointing out that Abel has an advantage in that he gets to see what Cain offers to God first and then can easily do one better. And it should probably not be surprising that God looked more favorably on Abel’s offering (if he indeed had the chance to one-up Cain’s offering). I’m guessing that it wasn’t because God prefers roasted lamb to turnip greens. It was more likely because Abel offered the first of his flock while Cain offered some of his fruits. It sounds as if Abel gave the best while Cain gave his rest, what was left.
Cain gets angry at God’s more favorable reaction to Abel’s offering. But with whom was he angry? Abel? God? Himself? And why was he angry? Had Abel done something wrong? Had God? Had he? These are important questions for us to consider as we interpret this text and they were important questions for Cain to have considered as well.
God invited Cain to examine those kinds of questions in the story. Cain had an opportunity to reflect on the reasons for his anger and to channel his anger in a more constructive and appropriate way. Unfortunately, Cain didn’t take that opportunity. And as God warned, Cain’s unchecked anger led to sin.
All of us get angry. The gospels record that Jesus, who was without sin, got angry. So anger, it appears, is not the issue. The real issue is how we respond to anger.
Here’s something worth thinking and praying about today: when you get angry, what’s really going on? Are you mad at someone else? Or are you really mad at yourself? Do you control your anger or do you let your anger control you? Do you seek to channel your anger in constructive and appropriate ways? Or does your anger lead you to sin?
While you’re at it, it’s worth thinking about your offering to God. Is what you’re giving (and I'm not just talking financially) to God your best? Or is it the rest? It’s not so much what you give that matters to God, but what your gift says about your heart.
Have a blessed day.