Posts

Hardening of the Conscience


This one’s packed, as we discuss conscience and hardness of heart. What is the human conscience? How does it work? And what does it have to do with hardening? What about Biblical examples like Pharaoh and King Saul? How does hardening of conscience work out in our day and age? We’re only just scratching the surface of some major topics this week on WFS.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 41

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Romans 6:19-23

In the previous pericope, Paul underscored the connection between Baptism and the new life.  Because the Christian is baptized into Christ, becoming like Him in all things, he no longer sins by necessity.  Sin no longer has dominion over the Christian, just as it has no dominion over Christ.

As Paul says in Romans 6:6-7, the Christian is no longer enslaved to sin.  Romans 6:12-18, strangely excised from the lectionary, amplifies this point.  Sin no longer reigns, but the Christian who is lax runs the risk of falling back under its dominion.  “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness” (Romans 6:13).  Paul personifies sin here in this section of Romans, making it not a personal failing, but a vicious master.  If one does not have God for a master, then sin will be the master.

The imagery of slavery, though used “because of your natural limitations,” shows the seriousness of Paul’s exhortation.  The Christian is a slave of God.  Our modern aversion to this concept should not color Paul’s point.  If the Christian is a slave, then his obedience is not a matter of choice.  He must obey the master who owns him.  To disobey God, therefore, and to turn toward sin is to run away.  Instead of laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, the Christian who willfully sins leaves the garden in a vain search for something “better.”  Outside the vineyard is only death.

This is especially true for the Christian who imagines that grace removes the need for obedience.  Antinomianism, seeking to magnify the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, slaps God in the face.  The antinomian says to his Father, “I go, sir,” but does not go (Matthew 21:30).  Salvation is not an absolute liberty to do whatever you please.  Salvation is a transfer of masters.

Further, each one will receive his wages, whether he is a slave of sin or a slave of God.  After all, lawlessness leads to more lawlessness, compounding upon itself, and righteousness leads to sanctification, also compounding upon itself.  If lawlessness grows, its fruit ultimately is death (Romans 6:21).  But righteousness also grows, and its fruit is life (Romans 6:22).  This is why it is so serious a matter when a Christian falls back into sin.  Sin is not messing up.  Sin leads to death, and the two ways of life and death do not have the same end.  It is not wandering on a road that more or less leads to heaven, but turning aside and walking down a road that leads anywhere but.

Paul says all of this to avoid a misunderstanding.  Being set free from the Law is not being set free from the demands of the Law, but rather its curse.  We seek after the Law, because it is holy, it is God’s will, not as a means of justifying ourselves.  God’s mercy is certainly magnified when He shows it to an undeserving people, and the Law shows our unworthiness.  Yet God is never glorified by sin.  Let us be careful lest, seeking to magnify God, we actually magnify our own sin.  God has not redeemed us to seek the way of death, but to turn from our wicked ways and live.

Sixth Sunday after Trinity: Romans 6:3-11

Righteousness does not come from works.  Israel according to the flesh is not therefore saved because of the flesh.  If righteousness came through works, then salvation would be our wages, something we have earned, rather than by grace.  Abraham, as Paul says earlier in Romans 4, was saved through faith.  This man who had done far more and glorious good works than we have was not saved as a result.  He too was weighed in the scales and found wanting in terms of righteousness according to works.  It was faith that made him righteous in God’s sight.

But righteousness is not a point in time.  “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means” (Romans 6:1-2)!  Looking at righteousness in this way is to place trust in something other than God, even if it something come from God.  “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'” (Jeremiah 7:4).  The temple profits nothing if the Law is forgotten.  To treat righteousness in this way is to commit the same error that Paul rejects earlier in Romans.  “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical, but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:28-29).

The same is true also for Baptism.  Baptism sets us apart to God, just as Paul says here in Romans 6.  To be baptized is to be baptized into Jesus, and to be baptized into Jesus is to die just as He has died.  Baptism unites us with Christ and therefore brings faith, life, and salvation.  But Baptism is not merely a point in time.  To look at baptism like ancient Israel looked at the temple and the land–as proofs of God’s favor regardless of their conduct–is to abuse it.  Baptism and a newness of life walk hand in hand by necessity.  A failure to produce fruit is a sign of a dead tree.

Baptism therefore unites the Christian with Christ in two related, but distinct, ways.  The first is being united with Him in His death to sin and in His life to God.  We have been put to death inwardly, being crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.  As a result, we have been set free from sin.  Sin has no dominion over Jesus, and therefore sin has no dominion over the one who is in Jesus.  Therefore, we are not slaves to sin.  This is important to emphasize, because weakness is not the same as domination.  The Christian sins out of weakness:  the flesh remains and leads him to do what he does not want to do (Romans 7).  But it is not necessary that he sins.  He is, in fact, capable of resisting the impulse of sin and to avoid it.  Thus, to give into the works of the flesh, especially when one is able to resist in Christ, is to go out of your way to wallow in the mud.  You are not a slave of sin, but a slave of righteousness.  You live in God, and therefore are no longer in darkness or the power of sin.

The other way is being united with Him in death and in life outwardly.  Our bodies will also be put to death physically and outwardly, just as Christ was also laid into the grave.  But as the grave could not hold Him, neither will it hold those who belong to Him.  We will rise bodily on the Last Day, because we have been united with Christ through baptism.  “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 14:13).

These two ways are closely related.  Holiness is not a matter of this life only.  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19)!  Christ’s death has no meaning apart from His resurrection, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Likewise, our death and resurrection inwardly has no meaning apart from our death and resurrection outwardly.  To be like Christ means to rise with Christ, both inwardly and outwardly.  Being like Him only inwardly means that we have no hope.  Being like Him only outwardly means not being like Him at all.  But through baptism, we have been raised with Him inwardly and outwardly, never to die again.

The Discipline of the Lord (Psalm 6)

The ancient Christians classed Psalm 6 as the first of the seven penitential psalms, for good reason.  In it, the psalmist calls upon God to turn away from His burning anger and to look upon him with favor.  Whatever may be causing such distress in the psalm itself is somewhat beside the point.  Physical sickness, the attack of enemies, fear of the final judgment, fear in the midst of disaster, all of them in the end boil down to the same basic cry:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger!”

Psalm 6 opens with a clear petition:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, and do not chastise me in Your wrath.  Favor me, Lord, for I am frail.  Heal me, Lord, for my bones are terrified.  And my soul is exceedingly terrified.  But you, Lord, how long?”  It is most likely that the psalmist is being assaulted by enemies, judging by the end of the psalm.  But this is a cry of a soul suffering under God’s wrath, not merely suffering at the hands of men.  It is the Lord who rebukes and chastises David.  The terror in his bones emphasizes the depth of this fear:  it is not merely a formality or psychological, but a deep and abiding fear of the wrath of God.  How long is this going to go on, Lord?  It seems like God is distant and turned away from him in anger.

Note, however, that David does not ask God to stop rebuking or chastising him.  Rather, “do not rebuke me in Your anger,” that is, in wrath visited upon sin.  The Lord rebukes His elect, but for a different reason.  “It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline” (Hebrews 12:7)?  Through such discipline, the Lord teaches.  “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:6).  Therefore, we should not flee away from suffering as if it was repulsive and necessarily bad, and this includes the experience of God’s discipline.  A God who only gives us positive experiences, or negative ones that quickly give way to positive ones, is not the God of Scripture.  Through the experience of God’s discipline, the Lord teaches us to rely upon Him above all things.

“Return, Lord, rescue my soul.  Save me on account of your steadfast love.”  David has no recourse before the Lord except His steadfast love.  If God were to turn away from His elect, His honor and glory would perish.  But the Lord is steadfast, even in the midst of intense trial.  He turns away His face from His sons to show them that He will not forsake them.  “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“For in death there is not remembrance of You.  In Sheol, who will praise you?”  This cannot mean that the dead are insensible or nonexistent, for the souls cried out from under the altar, just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10; Revelation 6:9-11).  Rather, “remembrance” may also be translated as “mention.”  Remembering the Lord is not simply recollection, but calling to mind before the whole congregation what the Lord has done.  God does not, after all, simply think about Noah when He remembered him and those with him in the ark, but sent the winds to push away the waters of the flood!  If remembrance implies action, then those who are dead are no longer able to do what only the living can do:  praise God by recounting His glorious deeds out loud.

“I am weary with my sighing.  I cause my bed to swim the whole night.  With my tears I flood my couch.  My eye has become dark with grief.  It grows old from all my attackers.”  David emphasizes the intensity of his contrition.  Not only do his tears flow without ceasing in grief over his sin, but he also “grows old” under the strain.  I think this should be understood in the same way we use expressions like “this will give me gray hairs.”  David’s contrition and the desire to see God’s face again is more than he wants to bear.  It drives him back to the Lord and causes him to call upon Him without ceasing.

But at this point, there is a remarkable shift.  Something has occurred.  “Go away from me, all you doers of wickedness, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord hears my pleading.  The Lord accepts my prayer.”  His enemies can no longer trouble him, because he knows that the Lord has heard his cries.  It may be that his weeping has turned to trust, recalling the steadfast love of the Lord.  It may also be that he has heard the voice of another, just as Hannah heard the voice of Eli, causing her to rejoice that she had been heard (1 Samuel 1:15-18).  Whether internal or external, the psalmist leaves behind his weeping and knows that the Lord remains with him, even in the midst of distress.

“Ashamed and exceedingly terrified are all my enemies.  They will turn back and be put to shame quickly.”  It is rather remarkable here that everything has turned around.  The Lord has turned from facing away from David to facing toward him.  His enemies turn away from facing him and now face away in terror.  David’s terror has passed, and his enemies are terrified before the Lord.  While the reversal did not happen in an instant or the course of a few minutes, the Lord turns everything around.  Even the last sentence shows this with wordplay that cannot be translated into English.  The words for “turn back” and “be put to shame” share the same basic letters in Hebrew, but the order flips around here.  Even the words themselves emphasize this great reversal!

Christians should therefore pray this psalm in the midst of all their troubles.  “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31-33).  Though we suffer justly for our sin, the fire of God’s discipline purifies rather than consumes, and through it we will offer up sacrifices of prayer and praise in righteousness (Malachi 3:3).

Second Sunday of Easter: 1 John 5:4–10

The apostle John writes to at least one congregation burdened with controversy. Separatists claiming to be perfect and sinless in some fashion gave way to every kind of sin, believing it to be of no consequence.  Worse still, they could not leave well enough alone, but continually assaulted their former brothers with accusations that they alone knew the real “truth.”  Had not Jesus forgiven all sins?  Why not, then, sin all the more, because self-effort meant nothing?  Salvation comes by grace, after all, and not by works.

John, unlike these separatists, did not engage in direct polemics. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).  Thus, John writes to the beleaguered congregations, who were anxious and likely wondering whether what their former brethren said was true.  There is no reason to fear, even though the spirit of Antichrist goes out into the world in these men, because God has not left His people without reassurance.

John emphasizes that one such proof of being in the Lord and not in the world is whether a man keeps the commandments of God.  While John, in his often repetitious fashion, highlights this point throughout the letter, he states this clearly immediately prior to the reading: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3).  This is not a reversal of the Biblical order.  Good works do not produce faith, but good works are certainly the evidence of such faith, and a willful refusal to seek to keep the commandments of God is a clear sign of a lack of faith.  John even goes as far as to say that “I am writing these things to you so that you  may not sin” (1 John 2:1).  The one who is in Christ no longer “does sin,” to use a more literal translation of phrases like “make a practice of sinning.”  The Christian does not aim for fewer sins than yesterday; the Christian is called to aim for no sins whatsoever.  It is this desire for an actual sinlessness, even in the midst of sin and death, that distinguishes a Christian from the world.

Yet John also points to another comfort for these troubled Christians: faith. The one who believes in Jesus has a real victory over the world and over the desire to sin.  At this point, John seems to address other objections from the separatists, who may have argued that Jesus was not actually God (such as in 1 John 2:22 or 1 John 4:3) or that He was not actually a man (which explains his emphasis on Jesus coming “in the flesh” in 1 John 4:2). There may have been two separate groups, for that matter.  But his point is clear:  God Himself bears witness regarding His Son, and this testimony is greater than the testimony of men, orthodox or otherwise.

There is a real temptation to understand “water and blood” in 1 John 5:6 as referring to the Sacraments, but this needs to be resisted for a number of reasons. First of all, “he who came” is clearly in the past tense, referring to previous events.  Christ does indeed come, as He promised, in the Sacraments, but the wording here looks backwards.  Second, “blood” all by itself would be an odd way to refer to the Lord’s Supper, considering that even Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:26 refers to the two elements of that Sacrament separately.  Third, John’s emphasis that Christ did not come “by the water only” suggests that some had argued this way, and therefore not “by blood,” which could be a denial that He had come in the flesh.

Therefore, “water” here seems to be a reference to Christ’s own Baptism rather than Christian Baptism generally (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22).  Additionally, each of the passages cited include a clear reference to the Lord’s own testimony, quoting Psalm 2:7 regarding Jesus.  At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, therefore, the Father Himself bears testimony with the Spirit regarding Christ.  “Blood,” therefore, seems to refer to Christ’s death on the cross, when He shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins.  Taken together in this way, water and blood refer to the whole work of Christ, Immanuel in the flesh.  It was John, after all, who wrote concerning the purpose of his Gospel that “these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

The Holy Spirit also bears witness to the truth, because He is the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26). As John emphasizes in his Gospel, the Holy Spirit dwells within those who are of God and bears testimony through His living voice about Jesus (John 14:17).  His testimony does not conflict with the testimony of the water and blood, because it is that very testimony that He has been sent to proclaim.  Speaking through His holy Word, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit works faith according to His purposes and causes that faith to bear the fruit of good works. This, then, is why faith and good works ultimately go together, because both flow from God.

The Fall


Though the Lord created Adam as righteous and innocent, Adam did not remain in that state, but fell into sin. Rev. David Appold joins Rev. Grills and Rev. Heide to talk about the fallen state of man, discussing original sin, Adam as head of all mankind, how the judgment of God affects the spheres of man and woman, and the significance of returning to dust.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 8

Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, or your favorite podcasting app.

Easter Sunday: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

The Corinthians, Paul says earlier in 1 Corinthians 5, tolerated an egregious evil in their midst.  One of the men still within the congregation had “his father’s wife,” a relationship clearly forbidden in passages like Leviticus 18:8 and Deuteronomy 22:30.  Engaging in sexual activity with one’s own mother-in-law horrified the sensibilities even of the pagans around them, which is especially noteworthy considering that they condoned homosexual activity (Romans 1:26-32).  Yet the Corinthians tolerated such evil!  “And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2).

Paul therefore rebukes the Corinthians in the Epistle lesson for Easter.  They boasted of their love in tolerating such a man in their midst, possibly imagining that they welcomed sinners as Jesus had done.  Yet the difference between the two could not be greater.  When Christ ate with sinners, they did not continue in their sin, but were called by the Holy Spirit to turn away from sin and to walk after Christ.  When the Corinthians ate with this man, he continued in his sin and was even strengthened in it, because grace and forgiveness are not the same thing as tolerance.  Tolerance of evil leads to more evil.  “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

Paul’s exhortation to “cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” therefore first refers to this situation.  The leaven of evil which the Corinthians tolerated in their midst must be swept out.  Yet it applies also to evil of all sorts, because just as yeast causes the whole loaf to rise, so also evil affects the whole body.  Christ Himself warned against the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, clearly connecting this imagery to false teaching which would lead away from God (Matthew 16:11-12).

Paul refers to Passover as a way of proving his point.  During the observance of Passover, after all, all leaven and leavened things had to be put away.  “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15).  Eating anything leavened within the seven days meant being cut off from Israel (Exodus 12:19).  Through this symbol, the Lord taught Israel about the seriousness of sin.  It was the Lord who delivered Israel from Egypt and it was the Lord who passed them over in the judgment.  To keep physical leaven transgressed the covenant.  How much more the leaven of sin!

Passover, however, pointed forward to the greater Lamb of God.  Christ is our Passover lamb, whose blood perfectly atones for sin.  The Corinthians, being in Christ, were set apart to God and made a new, unleavened lump in Christ.  Paul therefore calls for them to put away the old leaven, “the leaven of malice and evil,” the leaven which tolerated sin in their midst.  Instead, they are called to keep the festival with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Evil has no place within the body of Christ.  “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4).

On the celebration of Easter, as the Church remembers the resurrection of Christ the Passover Lamb, Paul’s words should resonate in our ears.  Being a Christian is not a matter of personal conviction only.  As the body of Christ, Paul calls for us to also put away the leaven of evil from our midst.  Evil is not something trifling or trivial, but should be resisted.  Yet in striving to put away the old leaven, Paul also reminds us that in doing so, “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).

The Fourfold State of Man


The fourfold state of man distinguishes between the four different ways men relate to God: prior to the fall in innocency, after the fall in sin, regenerated by faith, and perfected in glory. Rev. David Appold joins Rev. Grills and Rev. Heide to talk about this distinction, focusing on why it’s important to talk about anthropology, the will of man, and Adam before the fall.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 6

Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Like us on Facebook: A Word Fitly Spoken
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, or your favorite podcasting app. If you can’t find us, let us know!

Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity: Micah 6:6-8

“Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against His people, and He will contend with Israel” (Micah 6:1-2). Moses, like Micah, had also called heaven and earth as witness against Israel. Choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)! But Israel has not chosen life, but rather the way of death.

The language of “indictment” is, of course, a legal term. The Lord has brought a suit against His faithless people. Assyria must come as a punishment, which Micah clarifies in the previous chapter, but now the legal reasoning of this judgment is laid bare. God brought His people out of Egypt, out of the iron furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51). He sent Moses and Aaron (Psalm 106:26-36), and their sister Miriam the prophetess (Exodus 15:20). When Balak sought to curse, Balaam spoke a word of blessing contrary to his will (Numbers 22-24; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; 2 Peter 2:15), despite his idolatry which even later proved a snare (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14). But what has Israel done in return? She has whored after idols, from the Baal of Peor in Shittim (Numbers 25) to their godless and false worship in Gilgal (Hosea 12:11).

Micah, under the weight of this great accusation, therefore asks the question of a soul realizing the depths of sin: “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)? His three questions, increasing in severity, point to the fruitlessness of any manmade way. Burnt offerings, though commanded by God, will not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). They do not save in and of themselves, in some magical fashion, but point to the blood of Christ which alone takes away sin. Even thousands upon thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil cannot accomplish this. Nor can sacrificing even what is most dear, a child, count for anything when it comes to righteousness before the all holy God. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?

Micah’s injunction to do “what is good,” therefore, is not a call to make amends with God through obedience. He has just expressly rejected such a conclusion with the three previous questions. Rather, he calls Israel as a defendant to do what she should already be doing. It is not a word spoken to an unbeliever, but one who knows the will of God already, though he is not following it as he ought. It is a call to return to the way things should be already, for “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 4:1-15

Genesis 4:1-15 is part of the last section of the “generations of the heavens and the earth” beginning in Genesis 2:4.  Throughout this section, man moves from the perfection of Eden to an ever-increasing sinfulness, culminating in Lamech’s boast of killing a young man who had only struck him (Genesis 4:23-24).  Cain murdering Abel, therefore, seems to be a confirmation that the curse of Adam has begun to spread to his descendents (Romans 5:12).

Eve bears her first born son and names him Cain.  This is a cause for giving thanks to God, because sin has not ruined the Lord’s first blessing of fruitfulness (Genesis 1:28).  Even in the midst of sin, God continues to pour out His blessings to accomplish His purposes (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17).  Therefore, Eve names him Cain, which sounds similar to the verb translated here as “I have gotten.”

There are a couple of difficult points here, however.  First, the verb translated “gotten” can mean something more like “to acquire” or even “to buy.”  It is a transactional verb, especially focusing on possession.  It is related to the noun translated “livestock” in Genesis 4:20 and “possessor” or “creator” in Genesis 14:19, among others.  However, this is a strange way of speaking, and Eve’s meaning is not entirely clear.  Why would she say “I have taken possession” when speaking of a son?

Second, the word translated “with the help of” here can be taken in a few different ways.  The first, more common, is a word showing a direct object, sort of the like the “m” in the word “whom.”  If taken this way, the sentence would read “I have acquired a man, the Lord,” which Luther famously used as proof that Eve was expecting the Messiah in the birth of Cain.  Another, less common, but still well-established, is to translate it as “with,” which is how it is frequently translated here, even in the Septuagint.

Luther’s interpretation, “I have gotten a man, the Lord,” may be too clever by half.  First, it assumes that Eve names her second son Abel, which means “wind” or “vanity,” out of seeming cruelty.  Cain is the Messiah, so Luther argues, and Abel is more or less dirt.  This doesn’t jive well, however, with Eve’s grief in Genesis 4:25.  It is just as likely that Eve’s joy in the birth of Cain has turned more reflective with the birth of Abel, causing her to say with the Preacher that “all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).  There are certainly other examples of mothers naming children after their grief, such as Ichabod, that is, “where is the glory?” (1 Samuel 4:21) and Rachel wanting to name Benjamin Ben-oni, that is, “son of my sorrow” (Genesis 35:18).

Second, it assumes that Eve has a fuller knowledge of revelation than she may in fact have.  The Lord moves through history in a progressive way.  He says to Moses that “by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3).  Jesus makes this clear as well when He says to the disciples:  “I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17).  God spoke through the prophets, but now He has spoken the fuller revelation through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).  This hardly means that Eve did not believe or could not believe, but rather that revelation moves in stages, the impartial giving way to the fuller.  Do we know all that can be known about the Last Day?  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What we are told clearly enough in the Bible is that Abel had faith while Cain did not.  Abel’s blood is “righteous” (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:50-51).  “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; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).  “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).  Cain offers up a sacrifice to the Lord, but as Jesus warns:  ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

There may be something to the point that Cain offers grain while Abel offers an animal.  Grain offerings in Leviticus are offered in thanksgiving (Leviticus 2).  On the other hand, animal sacrifices offered with their blood are meant for atonement and forgiveness, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).  Is Cain attempting to skip over atonement and go directly to thanksgiving?  However, the same word “offering” is used for both kinds of sacrifices here in Genesis, and the Bible is perfectly clear that faith is the key element.  “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).  It is an observation and cannot be made more certain than that.

Three brief notes.  First, even though Abel does not speak at any time, his blood cries to the Lord because of His faith.  God will not forsake those who believe in Him.  As Moses says of Israel in Egypt:  “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:24-25).  Second, though we are not told how Cain killed Abel, the earth opens its mouth to receive Abel’s spilled blood.  This strongly suggests that Cain had some sort of killing object in his hand, which only intensifies his guilt and gives the avenger the undeniable right to strike him down (Numbers 35:16-21).  Third, Cain’s cry that “my punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13) is not a cry of repentance, but a cry of fear.  Job recognizes that God’s judgments are just (Job 1:21).  It is the unbelieving heart which complains that the judgment is not in proportion to the sin (Ezekiel 18:25-29).

Finally, Moses does not tell us what the “mark” placed upon Cain is.  It is, on the one hand, a sign of mercy, because it effectively protects Cain from any avenger seeking his life.  On the other hand, it is a physical sign of some kind, because it is placed “upon Cain.”  The same word is frequently used of other signs, such as the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:11).  But with regard to Cain, it must be a sign of unbelief.  God has set Cain apart from the rest of mankind, together with his descendents.  If the mark was passed from generation to generation (though we are not told if it did), this would render the guilt of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men even greater, because God would have given them a physical sign of unbelief which they ignored (Genesis 6).  Lamech certainly distorted the sign as a token of God’s favor, so that his sin became that much greater.  Even if we have no such physical mark today distinguishing believers from unbelievers, those who walk after Cain are like goats and weeds, waiting for the Last Day when all will be revealed as clearly as the physical mark set upon Cain.