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Church Development Spiritual Development

Where is Your Brother? The Story of Cain & Abel

Author: Jon Slenker

As God’s image bearers, we are called to be perfect and holy as God is. He has the highest of standards for his creation and children. This is why hearing from God, “Where is your brother?” could be argued as the most terrifying statement of Genesis chapter 4. Along with the obvious verse 10, “What have you done…your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground…”. Genesis 4 is not the feel-good comeback from Genesis 3 one might have hoped for. But just as the darkness is overshadowed by the ray of light in chapter 3, there is hope in the bleak story of these two brothers.

The Sacrifice v.3-5

Cain is the first born of Adam and Eve, and brother to Abel. He is a worker of the ground, a farmer, while Abel is a shepherd. Adam and Eve were fulfilling their creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and Cain and Abel were fulfilling theirs as worshippers and stewards of God’s creation. God gave them purpose through their identity, authority and responsibility. In addition, they had a relationship with God. A relationship where they sacrificed portions of their harvest and flock as an offering.

The Bible does not say what Cain did wrong, it simply indicates that Abel’s offering was from a heart that wanted to give back the finest of what he had been given. Verse five details Abel’s offering was from the first born of his flock, including fat portions, and he was regarded by God. In contrast, verse four simply says Cain gave, “an offering” and that God had no regard for Cain and his offering. Where the Bible is clear, we should be clear. Where it is vague, we should remain vague. We are not completely sure why God had no regard for Cain. Was it his attitude? A lack of sufficient sacrifice? Was it not done with the right heart or intent? We are not told of a command that he disobeyed. Did he bring a lazy or rotten gift? God knows, and perhaps the rest of Cain’s actions and reactions in the rest of the chapter will clue us in.

“So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Sacrifices are to the Old Covenant as taking the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are to the New Covenant. Sacrifice and the sacraments are all signs pointing to the One True God and reminding the participant of the hope that comes from Him, who is the ultimate sacrifice. Be one who’s heart, not just actions, is worthy of God’s regard.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23

The Grace and Truth v.5-7

Cain was angry that God had no regard for him, or his offering and he had every right to be angry, at himself, not God or his brother. Anger is a signal, an alarm going off in our bodies that screams, “somethings not right!” We are to be stewards of ourselves first and foremost, something Cain was struggling to do regarding his emotions. It is in the midst of Cain’s confusion and anger where we see God’s perfect balance of grace and truth, or support and challenge, to Cain. He isn’t babying Cain, nor is he manipulating or dominating him. God engages Cain with questions like “why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:6-7). There is no favoritism. This is grace filled with hope. We are not received or judged by comparison to others. We are judged by our own hearts and actions.

Not only is God gracious to speak life and hope into Cain, he gives him a warning of truth. A healthy challenge, that sin is crouching at the door if he does not turn his heart toward God. It is as if James wrote his New Testament letter with Cain in mind. Or perhaps the local churches he was writing to were just dealing with the same natural born tendencies that Cain struggled with so many generations ago. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The Harsh Reality v.8-14

The harsh reality is difficult to face up to at times, especially when it is difficult to make sense of all the emotions swirling around. Cain goes to speak to his brother, and when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him. James offers a look into how sin crouches at the door and how to respond to anger, jealousy, selfishness, pride, quarrels, boasting, lying and calls their practice earthly, unspiritual and demonic (James 1:19-21; 3:13-19).

Cain is mad and jealous of Abel and possibly even God when he should be frustrated with himself. Instead of doing the tough personal work of looking in the mirror and self-correcting, Cain allows his anger to lead him, not the Spirit. This is what happens when we are accidental, not intentional, and shirk responsibility. We cease to lead ourselves, instead we follow our childlike emotions.

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
James 1:19-21

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
 James 3:13-18

The Hope v.15-26

There are very real consequences that Cain must live with. Ones that changed the trajectory of not only his life, but his family and generations to come that would bear forth the promised, perfect sacrifice. Cain became a fugitive of the Garden and God’s presence and wandered the earth. He was crushed and thought it unbearable to go on fearing for his life. Yet again, God ‘parents’ Cain perfectly and gives him his word and a mark to protect him. God is the hope of mankind immediately following the fall, and he is the hope for Cain immediately after his grievous sin. The very lineage of the Spotless Lamb passes through Cain as well as every other imperfect human, arriving at the perfect God-man.

“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
James 5:19-20

Who do you know that is struggling with anger, jealousy, selfishness, bitterness? Pray for them, care for them. Reflect on how God went to Cain and offered a great balance of grace and truth. Pursue your brother and sister or child in love and all humility. Pray for wisdom and God will give it to you.

 

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Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Created for God’s Glory

Author: Charles Hegwood

The route was difficult and the path steep. The stairs are worn and rounded showing their age in every crack and discoloration. The traveler painfully continues his journey. At the top of a mountain sits the old man, full of wisdom and knowledge. The traveler has come far to ask his most important questions, about the meaning of life. At least this is the picture in my mind as I think about asking some of life’s deepest questions. It’s also a common trope in stories. At some point in everybody’s life, a person will ask, “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?”

The good news is that you do not have to journey to find some old guru at the top of a mountain. The Bible you hold in your hand every day answers these questions. In Genesis 2, we get to see the creation of man. Captured within this story God reveals the reason and purpose for our lives. We see that people were created by God to represent Him and glorify Him throughout the world.

The Main Character

            When we approach the Bible, we must ask ourselves who is the main character of the story. Hint, it is not you or me. However, so many people read the Bible and interpret it as if they were the main characters and actors. So let us look at the text itself. We see that God is the main character in Genesis 2; and all of Scripture. Just in chapter 2, we see God as active 22 times. The man God created is only active 4 times.

Why is it important that we take time and observe where God is active in the text? The reason is that we must understand who we are in relation to who God is. God created, made, spoke, formed, planted, placed, and commanded as some examples of how God is active in Genesis 2. God is in the driver’s seat. You will never understand life, your purpose, or who you are if you do not have a proper understanding of who God is. Most of the world’s problems go back to a breakdown in the understanding that this life is about God, not us. Therefore, we conclude that the purpose for our lives is to worship and glorify God. This is our creative purpose. You did not form yourself, but God did. We owe everything that we are to God.

God’s Goodness and Grace 

            When you read Genesis 2, I hope you see that God is good. He breathed life into the man He formed. God formed all the other animals, but He only breathed into the man. Our very life is a gift from God, but our spirit is more so. God planted a garden for the man. Understand that man didn’t have to do anything to grow the garden, God made everything grow and supplied the garden with beautiful trees with delicious fruit. God also watered the garden and thus maintained it. The man did not have to find the garden but was placed there by God. This is a love story. God took care of and out of His goodness and grace supplied the man that He gave life and spirit to all these good things.

I know there is often confusion about why God places a forbidden tree in the garden. He gave a command to eat every tree, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Bear with me here, God’s one rule given to the man was not foolish or arbitrary, but an invitation to join God in a relationship. This was entering into a covenant with God. The man’s obedience was a display of his love for God. Our obedience to God in our lives is our act of love to Him. We obey Him because we love Him. This is how we get to thank God for all the good He has done for us.

Created to represent God

             In verse 18 the story shifts. God now has the man begin to name the animals. Why? This was one of the ways that humans were meant to represent God on earth. We already know from chapter one that God created people in His image to fill and subdue the earth. The man is now fulfilling part of this command as he is given agency to name animals. It is easy to miss, but in verse 19 it says, “And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.” This is so amazing. God has given man the responsibility and the authority to name the animals. Thus, the name was so because the man now reflects God’s authority over nature. He has become what we often call a vice-regent of the King.

We also reflect God through communion with other people. Why was it not good for man to be alone? God said it was not good. God determines what is good for us. He did not create us to be solitary creatures, but to be social. And as the story goes, God formed a woman as a helper for the man. Let me give some quick points here. The woman was not a separate creation but shares the same breath of God the man has. The woman therefore has the same vice-regent status and authority to represent God on earth. The man and the woman will also represent God’s creative purpose through the propagation of children.

Conclusion

 As we reflect on Genesis 2, we see that we were created to represent and glorify God. We do this by understanding God as King over our lives. Therefore, we see our lives in relation to God. We reflect on God’s goodness and grace displayed through our creation. Finally, we see that we were created to represent God through working and subduing nature. As you ponder the deep questions surrounding meaning and purpose, consider who God is, what He has done and is doing, and what He has commanded us to do. Our purpose is to glorify and represent God in our world. This is not a small task but a glorious one. Go and glorify and represent God to the people in your lives today.

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All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word

Genesis 1: Genesis and Creation

Author: Jon Slenker

Genesis Chapter One

Genesis chapter one. Those words are profound in themselves. So much is wrapped up in those three words. Opportunity, beginnings, hope, life, love, the galaxies, volcanoes, pigs and plants, seascapes and mountain vistas, smells, colors, texture. Creation is truly marvelous! Evil will come and distort God’s good creation, but for now, we sit back in awe and wonder at God speaking earth into existence and his plan for it.

Creation and the Nature of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

God exists outside of time and space. He is Spirit who creates as part of his nature (John 4:24). The creation account tells us much about God’s nature. God values order, prescribes value, and mandates his creation fulfill their identity and purpose. He is creative and orderly. He is intentional and desires to relate to and care for his creation. God spoke and it came to be. Out of nothing, God created.

The doctrine of the Trinity finds solid evidence for a Triune God in the creation account. In verse 26 God says, “let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Order, Harmony and Intentionality

The author of Genesis records the events of God’s creation as one of order, harmony and intentionality. Most creative people lack the ability to be orderly. In fact, sometimes following the rules impedes the creative process. God, however, is perfectly creative and orderly. We can see beyond having an orderly, harmonious and intentional plan that he values action. But to what end? What is his plan of action? That all creation would fulfill its purpose and therefore propagate a more vibrant and full life. His mandate is that we would worship and obey through being fruitful and multiplying. Healthy things are fruitful and fruitful things multiply.

As God brought order from disorder and did it in a timely fashion, he also built it into nature that plants, sea and land creatures and man would reproduce, each of their own kind (Gen. 1:11-12, 21-22, 24-25, 28). Each thing in creation  is unique and in a constant state of changing.  A law in Physics states there is a set number of molecules in existence. None can be added or destroyed, they merely change states. One concept within Thermodynamics is entropy, which states that left to its own creation will naturally fall into decay and disorder, the effect of sin marring God’s good creation.

Day 1 – God created light (1:3-5)
Day 2 – God separated the water and created the heavens (skies) (1:6-8)
Day 3 – God separated the waters from land (1:9-10) and created vegetation (1:11-13)
Day 4 – God created the stars and the moon and sun (1:14-19)
Day 5 – God created living creatures in the sea (1:20-23)
Day 6 – God created living creatures on land and man (1:24-31)

There is harmony in creation, an interdependent relationship among all created things and beings. Each aspect of creation is dependent on the other in some way. How glorious is our God that we would all excel in certain abilities and require the assistance from others in areas we don’t. God built community into nature and His intentions are that creation would exist in perfect harmony with itself and Himself.

Identity, Value and Purpose

God is relentless for his creation. He proves it by giving identity, value and purpose. There was a purpose behind creation. God did not want to create and then leave it to itself, it was too valuable to him. He wants to be intimately involved with his handiwork as the author, shepherd, high priest, king, judge and redeemer. He is ever present in the creation event with his Spirit hovering over the face of the waters, and reviewing his work and calling it good (Gen. 1:2). God is ascribing worth and value to his creation by calling it “good” or “very good” six times (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; 1:31). This tells us that God cares for his creation and that it brings him joy.

God displays order and harmony within identity through the unique individuality of each thing according to its kind. Everything plays its part and has a role in God’s creation order. The heavens, land, sea, vegetation, birds, animals, fish and humans all play a vital role in different life cycles that regenerates and reproduces life and the atmosphere for it.  Life is important to God. You are important to God and have an incredible purpose.

Imago Dei

One theologian writes that “Genesis 1 and 2 provides the backdrop for God’s relationship with humanity and with the rest of creation.”[1] Five times God calls his creation “good”, but on the sixth, he said “behold, it was very good” (1:31). ““Good” does not exist abstractly apart from God. Rather, God’s pronouncement that His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus existing as a display of His glory.”[2] Man was made in the image of God, or “imago dei” in the Greek, as his special creation whom he wanted to be after his own image and heart. This emphasizes that we are more like God than like other creatures.[3] We were made to reflect God’s image on earth as his vice regents, children, stewards and ambassadors. We are to be like him. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our calling and nature (Phil. 1:27).

The Creation Mandate

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Genesis 1:28-30

The creation mandate is the foundation of the great commission. Jesus echoes his creation mandate in Matthew 28:18-20 to his disciples and thus to the Church and to you and I. We see the creation mandate restated multiple times throughout history in the scriptures. First to Adam and Eve, then to the animals, Noah, Abraham, Jacob that we should be fruitful and multiply.  One Teacher writes that “few understand that the mission “to make disciples of all nations” is actually grounded in God’s original “Creation Order.”” This first command carries with it the implication to “worship and obey.” The Teacher adds, “the means by which dominion would be exercised would be through the intentional multiplication and dispersion of image-bearers throughout the earth.” God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve carries the same thrust and importance as Christ’s commission to us. He promises that he will be with us even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). This is an incredible promise and blessing![4]

God has entrusted his creation to man and woman. We are to be his stewards, ruling over ourselves and his creation as he would. We are therefore covenanted image bearers of God. What a blessing! As his image bearers we are to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth with other image bearers. Healthy things grow and growing things multiply. How are you stewarding, or managing what God has entrusted to you? Are you caring gently for God’s creation? Different cultures value and honor and mistreat different things,  creatures or people. To the best of your ability, small or large, are you treating God’s people and his/our creation as He would?

Conclusion

How are you fulfilling the creation mandate by worshiping and obeying as God’s vice regent and ambassador? What does caring for his creation and making disciples look like for you right now? What is your favorite way that you ‘image’ God? What areas of life are you orderly or messy? When are you most creative? What drains your creativity? How are you intentional or accidental? What does it look like? Like a mirror we are to reflect God’s image to the earth, creative, intentional, What a privilege to be welcomed into God’s work and entrusted with his creation.


[1] Robinson, George, article, published in www.GlobalMissiology.org October 2015  “Grounding Disciple-Making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God”
[2] Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[3]  Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[4] Robinson, George, article, October 2015

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All Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Creation Story

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., writer for Foundations by ICM

 

Rider on the Storm

Genesis 3 introduces us to a recurring image associated with divine judgment in Scripture—Storm Theophany.1 Unfortunately, the confrontation of Adam and Eve is typically presented in terms that undermine the seriousness and violence of the scene.

In Genesis 3:1-7, the first humans have rebelled against their maker because the Serpent has convinced them that God’s rules have the express purpose of robbing them of a profound blessing—equality with God.

 

Genesis 3 Out of Context

After they sin, we typically read something like: 

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself

The original language of this passage—especially when reading in its Ancient Near Eastern and biblical context—lends itself to the description of an explosive and terrifying conflict between Holy Yahweh, rebellious humans, and what Revelation 20:2 calls, “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.” Even so, common translations like the one above from the ESV tend to underplay the drama and misrepresent the nature of the event. 

According to a typical rendition, God shows up unawares to finish out His day with His usual stroll, sharing the cool breezes of the evening with His newly minted favs—the first couple. When He arrives, however, He can’t find them. What could have happened to them? Like any panicked parent, He rushes about calling out for them. But alas, when He finds them, something is amiss. They have tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, and are hiding from Him. He confronts them; they confess; He judges them, bringing the whole world under a curse. 

 

What’s Missing?

This is one of the most significant judgment scenes in the Bible, second, perhaps, only to the final judgment in Revelation 20. Even so, the usual telling leaves one a bit flat compared to dozens of such scenes elsewhere. Where is divine wrath? Where is the energy of doom? It comes off so dispassionate and hum drum. “Well that’s unfortunate… now the whole world is cursed… what’s for dinner?” It feels more “Disappointed Papa” than “Offended Holy Creator.” 

What we are missing is the true nature of God’s arrival in Genesis 3:8 as depicted in the Hebrew text, and properly honed expectations from the story’s ancient Near Eastern and biblical context. God is manifesting His presence… that is theophany… a god-appearing. God is not ignorant of what Adam and Eve have done at the bidding of the Serpent. He comes manifesting Himself for Judgment. In context, one should expect a terrifying revelation in the storm that strikes terror in the heart of rebellious humanity. 

 

The Many Appearances of Storm Theophany

For honing our expectations, let’s consider just a few of the many manifestations of the divine in storm. 

One popular storm theophany appears if you’ll pardon the pun, in Exodus 19:16-25, where God comes with “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud,” and “a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” The mountain “was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire,” and “the mountain trembled greatly.” A few chapters later in Exodus 24:17, we read that in addition to heavy cloud, “the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain...” 

The call of Ezekiel begins in chapter 1, saying, “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.”  

In Isaiah 30:27ff, we read, “Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation And His tongue is like a consuming fire; His breath is like an overflowing torrent, Which reaches to the neck, To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve…” Its picks up later saying, “And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard, And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, And in the flame of a consuming fire In cloudburst, downpour and hailstones. For at the voice of the Lord Assyria will be terrified.” 

In Habakkuk 3:3-6, Yahweh comes in judgment and, “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.” The prophet is paralyzed with fear, writing in verses 15-16, “You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters. I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.

The New Testament is certainly not devoid of this imagery. To name only two, we find John saying in Revelation 11:19, “There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” Revelation 16:18 describes God’s judgment as, “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.” 

 

Genesis 3 In Context

So… what happened to Genesis 3? 

The answer… Nothing happened to Genesis 3. It has all the components an Ancient Near Eastern person might expect. BUT… translators struggled during the early stages of the gentile church to fully grasp the text and the import of the eastern imagery. 

The traditional translation runs into trouble in four places when it says, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day

First, the word translated “sound” (Hebrew QOL) is a common term in judgment scenes representing the thunder of Yahweh, His earth-shaking voice blasting trumpet-like as He comes on. 

Second, the word translated “walking” is a special verb form that intends here agitated or violent movement—Thrashing about. 

Third, there is no “in the cool of the day” in the Hebrew text. Rather it says, “in the RUACH of the YOM.” RUACH can mean among other things, wind, breath, or spirit. 

Fourth, this wind/breath/or spirit is associated with the YOM, which has two meanings. YOM can mean either day or storm.

So, given the standing Hebrew text and the biblical context of judgment scenes, what we have in Genesis 3 is the first of many storm theophanies, as God comes in terrifying glory to judge our first parents for their rebellion against Him. 

And they heard the thunder of the LORD God thrashing through the garden in the wind of the storm, and the man and his wife hid themselves.”  

It is a bad news/good news situation, however. For there is hope. In the midst of judgment, Yahweh declares His plan for redemption through the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent, and reverse the curse over creation.

1The term “theophany” will be explained below in further detail…a simple working definition, for now, is the appearance of God.