The Expository Files

It Was A Religious War

Genesis 4:1-12

Recently, a well known entertainer, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, remarked how that religion was responsible for so much war in history. He's right, it has been. Often world religions have extolled peace while bringing war. Paul's friend John Lennon wrote a song entitled "Imagine" where he invites us to imagine a world without religion, or thoughts of God or heaven or hell.... or politics or nations or personal property, and with everyone living just for today.

Concerning violence as it relates to religion, it must be understood that the culprit is not religion itself, but evil tendencies brought on by envy or jealousy or greed or pride. A power hungry despot may well urge his followers on, even inflaming them with religious rhetoric, but that is just a cover up of his evil motivations. That's also why we are often left scratching our heads when men call upon God for justification of the most horrendous acts of cruelty, hatred and mayhem. We seem to understand that God condemns such behavior.

The fact is, if these quasi-religious leaders lived in a world with no religion, no concept of God or heaven or hell, they would be just as hateful and cruel and violent. It is their own evil lusts that is responsible. Religion is just window dressing. Perhaps a good way to examine this issue would be to look at the first "war". It, too, was set against a religious back drop. But religion was not the cause of it. Consider the first surprise attack launched in human history.

Background of the Conflict
After Adam and Eve were driven from the garden as a consequence for their disobedience, Eve conceived and gave birth to Cain (Genesis 4:1). Then she gave birth to another son and named him Abel. In the relationship between God and these two sons of Adam, and in their relationship to each other, we learn several principles.

Abel was a keeper of sheep and offered the "firstlings" of his flock. Cain offered his offering of the fruit of the ground. (Genesis 4:2-4). Centuries later, Jesus would call Abel "righteous Abel" for the manner in which he worshipped God and lived his life (Matthew 23:35). He offered a sacrifice that was "more excellent" than his brother's (Hebrews 11:4). The Scriptures tell us that the Lord respected Abel and his offering but did not respect Cain and is offering (Genesis 4:4,5).

God expects a sacrifice or an offering from man. Today, it is the praise of our lips and the service we render in the name of the Lord (Romans 12:1,2; Hebrews 13:15,16). Just like in the beginning, these sacrifices can be accepted or rejected by the Lord. Only that which God commanded is acceptable to Him as an offering (John 4:23, 24; Matthew 15:8,9; Colossians 3:16,17). Also, God expects the first and best from us, and has a right to expect nothing less than that (Matthew 6:33; 1 Peter 2:4-5; Malachi 1:6-10; 12,13).

We are never really told why the Lord rejected Cain's sacrifice. Some have thought that it was because he did not offer an animal sacrifice like Abel did, but we recall that God did at times require both animal and vegetable sacrifices.

It could also be that Cain's heart just was not right. Or maybe he offered that which was rotten or spoiled. Whatever it was, it was not righteous and faithful as Abel's was.

The Anger Of Cain
Cain was angered when the Lord did not respect his sacrifice. The anger was evident in his countenance, or the expression on his face (Genesis 4:5). The options open to Cain were explained to him by the Lord (Genesis 4:7).

If you do well, you will be accepted .
If you do not do well sin lies at the door.
Cain's actions were subject to his decision. This does not all have to end badly, even at this point. There need not be war, but if there is, the source of the problem is not that Abel worshipped God by faith, but Cain's unwillingness to do what is right.

If you do well, God will receive you. Our past may not have been "done well" but that does not mean our present and future must match past failures. It is up to us (John 15:5; Acts 10:34,35; 2:38; 8:22).

Sin is ready to take advantage of you if you allow it to do so. Do not make yourself vulnerable (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8). Like Cain, your actions are up to you. To trust and obey... or not, in good times or bad is our decision to make. "Oh, my problems are worse than everyone else's so God will overlook my neglect!" Do not count on it (1 Peter 5:9; 4:19).

"Religious War"
It was a "day that will live in infamy!" Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). Cain was of the wicked one. He was angry with his brother because his brother was doing what was right and he wasn't! (1 John 3:12). But Cain's jealousy was not caused by religion. If there had been no sacrifice unto the Lord, and if Abel has been successful and Cain not in some other area, Cain's reaction would have been the same.

Of course, God was displeased with Cain. He cursed Cain. The ground would not longer yield its strength for Cain (Genesis 4:12). Cain would be a fugitive and vagabond (4:12). A mark would be placed upon Cain to prevent him from being murdered for his deed (4:15).

Men do become angry when they are unwilling to do as God says (Galatians 4:16; Acts 7:54-60). But pleasing God is as easy as doing from the heart, earnestly and diligently, what God has commanded (1 John 3:24).

Also, murder is condemned (see also Genesis 9:6). But we should also understand that harboring hatred in our hearts is also contrary to God's will for us (1 John 3:10,11; 4:20,21).

And a final thought: The blood of Abel brought a curse, but the blood of Christ brings forgiveness (Hebrews 12:24). It speaks better than the blood of Abel.

So, it is not religion that is the source of the problem, even in the so called "religious wars." Instead, the sources are the same as they always are for any human conflict; greed, hatred, jealousy and pride. Jesus came to show us a better way. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.


By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 9.5; May 2003