The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground (ESV Genesis 4:6-10).
Cain’s heart was not right before God. Both Cain and Abel came to bring offerings of worship to God Almighty (Gen. 4:1-5). Both were outwardly worshipping God and bringing the substance of their labors to the LORD for worship and dedication. But Cain’s heart was far from God, even though his lips and actions may have honored Him (cf. Isaiah 29:13).
Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God because his heart was right before God. This reminds all of us of the importance of daily seeking to live before God with tender hearts that are devoted to our loving Savior (cf. Heb. 3:12-13). We must never come to God in our own name, but always in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and with a heart resting in His completed work alone. We must remember that the Lord knows our hearts:
“For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks on the heart.”- 1 Samuel 16:7
Cain’s sacrifice was a mere show and God knew his heart, and God rejected his offering: “…For Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:5). This made Cain very angry. So God asked Cain: “Why are you angry?”
God asks him the question about his anger to lovingly and patiently bring him to see his sin and to repentance. God warns Cain of the danger of his sin, and sin’s desire to possess and enslave him (Gen. 4:7). Why was Cain angry? On the surface it was because his brother’s sacrifice was acceptable and his was rejected. Deeper in Cain’s heart, he was angry for selfish reasons (cf. James 4:1-4). The anger that was manifesting and coming forth from Cain’s heart was that he didn’t truly love God as he should. Cain thought God owed him something; Cain came in his own name, based on his own merits, or what he thought he deserved from God.
Cain thought selfishly that his works for God were good enough and that God was indebted to accept him. God warns Cain of sin’s ability to enslave and seek to master those who would reject God’s grace, relying on their own works and efforts before God. We too must always keep in mind that we deserve nothing before God because of our sinfulness (Luke 17:10). God is good and faithful, and does amazingly gracious things for us, yet we are undeserving (cf. Luke 11:13). We must keep this in our minds, lest we too become angry and ungrateful. All sinners are accepted only on the basis of the completed work of Jesus Christ.
But Cain does not listen to God’s gracious and merciful warning. What we see here is a man who is seeking to please God for himself. Cain is seeking to self-justify (to “justify himself”, cf. Luke 10:29), rather than trust in the riches of God’s grace by asking God for mercy through faith alone in His promises. Our only hope is that God is pleased to justify (“declare righteous”) the ungodly based on what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:23-26); we must repent of our efforts at justifying ourselves before God, it will only lead to more anger at God and others.
Our anger often is an indicator that we somehow think we deserve grace from God. When we’re angry, let us find out if we are perhaps only serving self rather than serving God. Our anger reveals something about our hearts before God. Let us be honest with God and ourselves. Do we truly believe that we are received by God’s grace alone, or do we think that God owes us something, and so we get angry when we estimate that we have gotten less than we think we deserve? Do we understand that anything that we have accomplished has ultimately been because of God’s grace and Spirit? (1 Cor. 4:7).
Honestly, what do we truly deserve before God? When we think of the numerous times we have been angry with God and others from our hearts, the many times we have self-righteously and self-centeredly lived for God only for what we could get from God, let us be reminded of His rich love and grace to us in Jesus Christ. How patient and kind, how gentle and meek God is toward sinners in Christ. How He loves those who will recognize what they truly deserve for their sins, and find grace in God’s promise to forgive and heal and to accept that is found in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
God asks us today: “Why are you angry?” Do you think you deserve something from me? Will you not be accepted if you do what is right, simply trusting and believing in God’s promises revealed in Jesus Christ alone? Will you not be accepted if you simply believe that all the righteousness that God requires of you He also provides for you in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ?
Rather than repent, Cain struck in angry murder against his brother Abel who was accepted by faith. If sinners cannot kill God in their anger, they will kill those who please God if they have the opportunity (cf. Acts 7:51-53; 9:4-5). We must remember that anger is potential murder against God and those whom God loves (Matt. 5:21ff). It was the anger of the Pharisees and teachers of Israel that put Jesus to death (Mark 3:6). Yet through this sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, all repentant sinners (including the angriest, and those farthest right now in their hearts before God) can be brought near to God and be accepted by God in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6; 2:14ff) through Jesus’ precious blood that continually cries out for forgiveness rather than vengeance, and speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24).
With God, there is mercy and forgiveness, and everlasting steadfast, undeserved love because of the precious blood shed by God’s blessed Son for sinners! God poured out His righteous and just anger on His Beloved Son, so that we could be acceptable to Him.
Why are you angry? Repent, believe; repent again, believe again. When you are angry, ask yourself what you truly deserve, and then see what God graciously has given you by His grace in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ! If you’re a believer, Jesus lived for you; now go live for Him! He died for you; now go lose your life so you can truly find it! He was raised and vindicated for you; go and live righteously alive in Him! He was enthroned at God’s right hand; go and be confident in Him! (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Let us be careful to watch ourselves and our hearts closely, as John Calvin warned us: “Anger is always our near neighbor.” And as the blessed Apostle James wrote: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:19-20).
In Christ’s love,