A couple of people have asked me some really good questions about how we can know when a part of the Bible is allegorical and when it isn't. The problem is this: once you open the allegorical door even just a little bit you begin to wonder, “Is this book of the Bible allegorical? Is this one? Is the whole Bible allegorical?”
I think we need some key indicators of what qualifies as allegory and what doesn’t. (Because there are some people who claim that the whole Bible is allegorical. I’m not one of them.) If you'll look at the study notes for Genesis 4 you'll find them at the beginning.
A piece of literature is an allegory if it is a poem or narrative that:
a. tells a story of moderate (Genesis 2-3 = two chapters) to long length;
b. has characters that are basically one dimensional and void of normal
complexity of human personalities (i.e. we don't really know much about
Adam and Eve) and merely symbolize types of people – often with a
name that reflects the type of person whom they represent (i.e. Adam =
"humankind"; Eve = "living");
c. and/or has objects that have symbolic meaning (i.e. the apple);
d. and/or has actions that have symbolic meaning (i.e. hiding in the bushes
from God is symbolic of whenever anyone tries to hide from God);
e. often has more than one main point (how about 10 of them!);
f. and often has animals that can talk (i.e. the snake).
Read Genesis 4:1-5
The age old question that all of us want to know the answer to is, "Why didn't God accept Cain's offering of grains and vegetables? It doesn't seem fair. Here are some possible answers:
a. Because God only accepted meat offerings. However, later in the Bible God says that offerings of grain and fruit are okay, so I'm not sure about this one.
b. Because one of Cain's motives for bringing his offerings was to impress his brother, Abel. Sort of reminds me of people who put money in the collection plate and make sure that others see how much they're putting in. God won't accept an offering that's given for that reason.
c. Because one of Cain's other motives for bringing his offerings was to impress God with his religious zeal and discipline and commitment. When we
give our money to God, does God have the right not to be impressed? Not to think we're the most amazing worshipper in the world?
One of the points of this story is for the reader to start thinking about why they give their offerings to God in worship. So, why do WE give our money (offering) to God? What is the proper motivation?
b. Worship. (Because he is first in our lives.)
c. To further the kingdom of God.
Do any of those reasons have anything to do with impressing God with our sincerity, or our dedication, or our commitment? No. They are all reasons that point to God, not to ourselves. To God be the glory, not us.
Ask yourself, "Why do I give my offering to God?"
d. Because there was something not quite right about the way that Cain was living, and God will not be "bought off" with our offerings. I think this is the answer. In fact, there are some obscure verses in the New Testament that tell us so. Will you turn to 1John 3:11?
Read 1John 3:11-12
God rejected Cain's offering because "his actions were evil". And God
accepted Abel's offering because "his brother's were righteous". Cain was living
like someone who "belonged to the evil one". So God rejected his offering,
because God will not be bought off. No amount of money will make God overlook our ongoing sin. We may put $1,000 in the collection plate every Sunday. But if we're out there Monday thru Saturday lying, spreading rumors about people, holding grudges, causing divisions, etc. then God will not accept us.
Reminds me of what God tried to tell King Saul. Will you turn with me to 1Samuel 15:22?
Read 1Sam. 15:22
God will not be bought off with our money. In God's mind, "To obey is
better than sacrifice."
But in his graciousness, what did God do before Cain killed his brother? Look at verse 6.
Read vv. 6- 7
God warned Cain, as he warns us all, that sin was crouching at the door of his heart, just waiting to be invited in. Let's admit it. Sin never really catches any of us by surprise. God always warns us that sin is trying to enter our lives, waiting for an invitation from us.
Let's get real personal for a minute. What sin are you struggling with these days? (What sin is crouching at the door of your heart tonight? And will you master it? Or will it master you?)
Let's meditate on that question for a minute.
Sometimes we say, "But I can't help myself. I can't master this particular sin." Is it true that there are some sins that we just can't stop ourselves from doing? We always need to remember Paul's words about this. Will you turn with me to 1Cor. 10:13 -
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
Do you think we can all memorize this verse tonight? I'd like you to write this verse down phrase by phrase. There are five phrases. Write down and memorize the first phrase. Then write down and memorize the second phrase. But don't move on to the next phrase until you have memorized all of the words that go before it. Here are the phrases:
1. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
2. And God is faithful;
3. he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
4. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out
5. so that you can stand up under it."
The God of the Universe will help us master every temptation to sin that we will ever face. With God's help we CAN stop cursing, or stop over eating, or stop getting angry, or stop being too lazy to read his Word - whatever sin that crouching at our door. Here are all of the things God will do for us:
a. He will warn us before we sin.
b. He will remind us that our sin is very common, that we are not a "special case" where the rules don't apply.
c. He will protect us from being tempted beyond what we can stand. (So it will never be true that "we couldn't help ourselves".)
d. He will always provide a way out of any sin.
e. He will give us grace/power to say "no" to sin, when we use the means of grace.
Cain ignored God's warning, as we often do too. Verse 8.
Read v. 8
Isn't it interesting that the very first murder written about in the Bible was done over an act of worship? Funny thing about Christian worship. We often think that worship is something we do one on one, between just us and God. But true worship is always done in a triangle:
God cares about the relationship between us and others, not just between us and himself. That's why Jesus said:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.
First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift".
Before we come to worship God wants us to make sure that we've done all that we can do to make our human to human relationships right first. Which verse tells us that? Going to worship and putting money in the collection plate isn't enough to please God.
Let's go on with the story. Verse 9.
Read v. 9a
Why did God ask him that? Doesn't God know everything that we do? Yes, thhe does. But who can tell me what the 8 lesson from the story of Adam and Eve
Lesson #8 - God will always give us the chance to be honest with him, confess our sin to him and receive forgiveness.
Would God have forgiven Cain if he confessed it to God? Does God forgive murderers? Yes, he does! That's the grace of God.,
But, just like his parents before him, Cain blew his chance to be honest with God, and to have his sin forgiven.
Read v. 9
Good question. As I'm looking out at you, I see people who are all free moral agents, free to make your own decisions in life, the good and bad. Am I responsible for your lives? Am I your keeper? Are you mine?
What do you think is God's answer to that question? I think it's "yes, you are!" Why? What does it mean to be our "brother's keeper"? Will you turn with
me to Matthew 18:15.
Read Matthew 18:15-16
Jesus taught us that we are responsible for how a fellow Christian (a "brother") lives. So when a fellow Christian sins against us we should go to them and tell them so.
Now, will you turn with me to Galatians 6:1.
Read Galatians 6:1
God wants us to carry each other's burdens in the church. Why? Because we ARE our Christian brother's and sister's keeper. God calls each of us to take care of one another in the church.
Back to Genesis 4, verse 10.
Read vv. 10-14
What was Cain's punishment? Eternity spent in hell? No exactly. God had not yet revealed to mankind that there was a heaven and hell yet. So the punishment of God in the OT was always something bad in THIS world. So, Cain's punishment was to be driven away from:
a. His family (Adam and Eve - being a "restless wanderer on the earth")
b. The land - it won't produce anything for him anymore
c. Eden - his paradise is lost
The point is pretty clear: sin's consequences are pretty high! Think twice when God warns you that sin is crouching at the door of your heart and mind. Verse 15.
Read v. 15
What does this verse say about whether we have the right to take a fellow human life? It says that only God has that right. The "mark of Cain" protected
him from vigilantes who would try to act like God and punish Cain for killing Abel by killing him. Funny how a lot of people see justification for the death penalty in the Old Testament, when the first person who qualified for the death penalty was protected by God from it being carried out. (Our U.M. Church is clearly against the death penalty, and I agree with it.)
Read v. 16 th There was really a 4 part to Cain's punishment, wasn't there? Maybe the
worse part of all - being driven away from "the Lord's presence". When we have
unconfessed sin in our hearts, like Cain did, we have driven ourselves away from the presence of the Lord. God cannot be in the presence of sin. That's why it's so important to confess our sin and to stop doing it, no matter what it is.
Prayer of Confession:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we earnestly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer)
Verse 17 contains two of those historical details in it that shows us this story is allegory, and not meant to be taken literally.
Read v. 17
a. Where did Cain's wife come from? That's a problem for those who want to take this story literally. Did Cain marry his own sister? (Some conservative scholars claim this must be what happened. See www.christiananswers.net on this
subject.) God was clearly against this, as Leviticus 18:9 says: "Do not have
sexual relations with your sister."
b. Why did Cain build a "city" for himself and his sister? The Hebrew
word for "city" here means "a walled town". Why would they need a walled town?
Read vv. 18-22
This is a pretty cool summary of the progress of man:
a. Those who raised livestock represent the farmers.
b. Those who played the harp and flute represent the artists.
c. Those who forged tools out of bronze (made from copper and tin) and iron represent the manufacturers and builders.
Read vv. 23-24
This poem of Lamech shows what naturally happens to humans when they don't follow God's laws. To clarify what's going on here, let me ask you two questions. What did someone do to Lamech? Someone merely injured Lamech. But instead of injuring the person back what did Lamech do to him? Lamech killed him. That's why he boasts in the last line, "If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times." What he means is that if God was willing to
punish seven times over anyone who killed Cain then Lamech figures he's worth punishing someone who merely injures him 77 times over. We're being shown that
it's the nature of man without God to let ego and evil grow versus letting humility and goodness grow. The scene is being set for the Flood, in chapter 6. Let's skip ahead.
Read Genesis 6:5-6
Without God in our lives the inclinations of our hearts are just evil. But with God in our lives, watch the difference. See what Jesus did with this poem of Lamech. Turn with me to Matthew 18:21.
Read Mt. 18:21-22
In so many ways Jesus turned the values of this world upside down. Whereas man without God increases his evil and vengeance eleven-fold, Jesus
teaches wants us to increase our love and forgiveness eleven-fold. As usual, the choice is ours, between the ways of this world and the ways of Jesus.
Now, take a look at chapter 5 and what two things do you notice?
a. Why do vv. 1-2 say that God created man and woman at the same time, when we just read in chapter two that he created them separately?
b. What is God called in chapter 5? "God."
Who was the last person to only call God "God"? The writer of chapter one.
(Called by scholars the "Priestly" account.) That's an indicator that chapter 5 picks up where chapter 1 left off. And that's why vv. 1-2 contradict what we just read in chapter two about man and woman being created separately. The author of chapter 1 already told us that God made a man and a woman at the same time, not
separately. This chapter continues his story.
Read vv. 1-2
Read vv. 3-5
Do we need to take these ages literally? Many Christians do, and that's okay. But I believe they're part of the allegorical story that's being told here. The more years that the author gives to a person the higher that person is esteemed by his culture.
By the way, did you know that Adam and Eve had more children than Cain and Abel and Seth? We're not told their names for some reason, but they had "other sons and daughters" too. Notice that this author never even mentions Cain and Abel by name. The only genealogy of future generations that he gives is that of the descendants of Seth.
Now, some new Christians look at the rest of the verses in chapter 5 and think, "Am I really supposed to read these verses?" And they get bogged down, or they skip the verses and feel guilty. I always tell them, "Don't feel guilty. This isn't a high school textbook. You can skip parts of the Bible. It's okay." And we're going to skip most of it. But we'll read the end. Look at verse 28.
Read v. 28
We know Lamech, don't we? He's the one that killed a man just for injuring him. But Lamech did one thing right. His boy, Noah, was a good and righteous man. Verse 29.
Read v. 29
What do you notice in this verse? What is God called? "LORD" = Yahweh.
Who do we know that called God Yahweh? The writer of Genesis 2-4. (Called "J" by scholars, for "Jehovah" = German way of writing "Yahweh".) It's commonly believed that the author of Genesis 2-4 inserted verse 29 into the other author's narrative. If that's true then what does that tell us about which author wrote first? The writer of Genesis 1.
Read vv. 30-32
Ten generations came and went upon the earth. By then God had had enough of their sinfulness and sent the Flood to destroy them. We'll look at that next time.