Crowds of angry people cry out for justice because of perceived injustice. What are we to think about all of this? What should we do?

I agree with many other Christians that we should do something, but where to begin and what’s the goal? I think we first need to know what’s true and what’s not true about justice and injustice. In the last part of our special series we looked at the following:

  • The Beginning of Justice
  • The Outcome of Justice
  • Punishment and Promise

We saw how God gave our first parents one simple command to obey on the penalty of death if they disobeyed. They disobeyed and eventually died physically (dust to dust), but they also experienced spiritual death — separation from God — immediately.

Was God just to do what He said He would do? Absolutely! God had every right to establish the rules because He is the Creator of the universe and all life. The rules were not difficult for the first humans to understand (don’t eat the fruit from one tree in the garden), but they chose to broke the rules. God had every right to enforce the rules because He is the Sovereign of His Creation. God was the one Being in a position to both establish and enforce the rules (law). The fact that He did enforce the rules He established is how justice works.

However, and this is important, God the Lawgiver also engaged in mercy toward the lawbreakers. Though Adam and Eve broke the Law of God (don’t eat) and God rightly enforced the Law, He also introduced Mercy as part of His expression of justice:

  • God said the Seed of the woman would destroy the seed of the serpent, while the seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman (Jesus Christ – Mercy).
  • God clothed the nakedness of Adam and Eve with tunics made from the skins of animals (blood atonement – Mercy).
  • God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden so they could not eat fruit from the tree of life and live forever. He placed cherubim (angels) at the east end of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword that turned in all directions to guard the way to the tree of life (spiritual protection – Mercy).

That’s just the first three chapters of Genesis and we’ve barely scratched the surface on the topic of justice and injustice. Buckle up because things are just getting started.

Family Justice

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’ Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel.

Genesis 4:1-2

Adam and Eve traveled some distance from the Garden of Eden and set up their new home. It wasn’t long before Eve was pregnant with her first child .. the very first human being born on earth. They named the little boy Cain and Eve said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” The name Cain in Hebrew means acquired. It may be that Eve believed she had acquired the promise God had made that her “seed” would destroy the seed of the serpent. Eve conceived again and had another little boy and named him Abel. The name Abel (hāḇel in Hebrew) is similar to the word hebel in Hebrew, which means breath or vapor. It may have had some special significance to Adam and Eve about the brevity or vanity of life. Solomon used the same word (hā-ḇel) in Ecclesiastes 2:1 that is translated vanity. We know from the penalties for their disobedience (Genesis 3:16-19), that life had its challenges.

The scene is set. Adam and Eve and two sons — the beginning of family justice.

The story jumps ahead many years to when the two boys were young adults. Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain was a tiller of the ground. Both men brought offerings to the Lord.

Let’s stop right there for a minute. What’s that all about? Why would members of the first human family bring offerings to God?

The Hebrew word for offering is minchah and means “tribute.” The offering Abel made to God is called a sacrifice in Hebrews 11:4. This goes back to what God said and did in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve disobeyed Him. God’s justice was tempered with mercy and the offering/sacrifice was part of God’s merciful justice. God promised that the Seed of the woman would one day destroy the seed of the serpent (Satan). God also clothed Adam and Eve with tunics made from the skins of animals (blood sacrifice). The offering that Abel and Cain brought to the Lord was part of God’s merciful justice. Their parents, Adam and Eve, would have taught them how to bring the appropriate offering to God. This is important to note because sacrificial offerings to God play an important role in God’s justice throughout the Bible.

Back to our story. Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God. Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. God respected Abel and his offering, but did not respect Cain and his offering. This made Cain very angry and it changed his countenance (face – pānāw) fell.

We don’t know what kind of emotions Adam and Eve may have felt about God’s justice when they disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden, but we do know that the first person born on earth experienced the emotion of anger (to burn with anger – charah). Why was Cain angry? He knew how to bring an offering to God. He had probably done it many times before and had seen his parents do it. So, why the anger and how did Cain know God did not respect (to gaze – shaah) the offering? We’re not told specifically, but since the Hebrew word used for respect means “to gaze,” there was apparently a sign God gave whether He gazed on (respected) the offering.

The New Testament gives us some insight into problems with Cain’s offering.

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. Hebrews 11:4

For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. 1 John 3:11-12

Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. Jude 1:11

What was the “way of Cain?” Cain was a murderer. He murdered his brother.

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Genesis 4:8

How did Cain go from making an offering to God to murdering his brother? That seems like a huge jump for anyone to make, but it’s not. People do the same thing today. They act one way, but react another way when they don’t get their way.

The offering was God’s choice to respect or not respect. That’s how God’s justice works. Humans don’t decide what God respects or doesn’t respect. God does. He’s perfect and righteous. People are fatally flawed.

Cain’s experience is like the experience of so many people through history. Those who believe in God’s existence, like Cain, often don’t like God’s decisions. Why? Because people have their own ideas about justice and injustice. God demanded righteous offerings. Abel made a righteous offering. God respected that. Cain’s offering was not righteous. God didn’t respect that. God’s choice, not Cain’s. Cain should have respected God enough to go to Him in prayer and ask for forgiveness and guidance to make a righteous offering God would respect, but he didn’t. God went to Cain.

Enter God’s Mercy

So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

Genesis 4:6-7

God gave Cain an opportunity to change his thinking (repentance). God promised Cain that if he did well (to be good — yatab) God would accept (lifted, exalted — seeth) him (forgiveness and acceptance). However, if Cain did not do well, sin (stray from right path — chatta’ah) was lying at his door and its desire (longing — teshuqah) was for him. God told Cain that he should rule (have dominion, reign, rule — mashal) over the sinful desire he felt. (This is the first time that the word sin is used in the Bible.)

God told Cain that the anger he felt toward his brother was wrong and that he should repent and do what was right. That’s justice. God also told Cain that He would accept Cain if he did what was right. That’s merciful justice. God was the only one who could grant that to Cain and He did.

This is what people in our world need to understand about God. If they repent and obey God’s command, they will be accepted. That’s been true since the beginning and is still true today. God’s command about offerings He would and would not accept was His to make. Whatever God determined was right was right. Abel understood God’s justice and did what was right in God’s sight (gaze). Cain either didn’t understand or didn’t like God’s justice and did what was not right in God’s sight. God didn’t respect Cain’s offering, which caused Cain to get angry.

Cain, like so many people today, think their way is the right way and anything that doesn’t agree with their idea is unjust. We see that in so many of the cries for justice today. Their ideas about justice collide with God’s idea about justice. People often get very angry when that happens and they often do the same thing Cain did.

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Genesis 4:8

Cain decided to get his own brand of justice. He rose up and killed his brother. The first murder on earth. It set up a showdown of sorts — human justice vs. God’s Justice. Who do you think won that match?

Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.’ And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.

Genesis 4:9-15

As we suspected, God won. Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground and God confronted it with His brand of justice. This is where justice and judgment intersect. The real injustice was what Cain did to his brother. Abel was righteous in God’s sight. Cain was unrighteous in God’s sight. God had given Cain a way out of his problem, but Cain chose to do what was right in his eyes.

So, God the Righteous Judge cursed Cain. Cain understood that God’s justice was “punishment” (punishment for iniquity — avon) for what he had done, but he didn’t like the outcome. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” Notice that Cain wasn’t sorry for what he had done to his brother, but was worried that he would be killed because of his killing Abel. Cain may have worried that his father would come after him or maybe one of his other siblings. That’s often what we see with people who cry out about injustice. They care about their own wellbeing first and foremost.

Again we see God’s Merciful Justice. God set a mark on Cain so anyone who thought about killing him would know that “vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” From what we know about the history of Cain’s descendants, nobody killed Cain. The story of what God had said to Cain was well known within the family of Cain. Cain had a great-great-great-grandson who was pretty arrogant when it came to God’s justice and his own brand of human justice.

“Then Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech! For I have killed a man for wounding me, Even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

Genesis 4:23-24

Next Time

This brings us to an interesting point in the history of justice and injustice. Abel died and apparently had no children to continue the lineage of obedient worship to God. Cain lived and may have raised his children and their children and grandchildren to think of God’s justice as either unjust or a joke. What hope does the human race have? We’ll see next time as our special series continues.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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