Taking Control of the Heart

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“If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  Genesis 4:7

Maybe I think about things too much.  Maybe I don’t.  I wonder if it isn’t a good thing to really think about, to really take time and dwell on and meditate on what we read in God’s Word.  I wonder if You God would really like us to just sit down and think about You and these people we read about and the reality of their everyday lives and what could have possibly been going through their minds.  I wonder if we should accept facts as facts, those things that You tell us outright.  And I wonder if we should realize when we’re speculating and accept that as speculation and be alright with saying, “Well, this could have been, but I wasn’t there so I don’t know for sure.”  Because that’s what the truth is.  The truth is that we don’t know all the facts.  But we can get everything we need to by the truth that You share.

So I’ve been looking into this true story about Cain and Abel.  And I had this idea that I would look into what the Jewish Rabbis had to say about it.  I mean, after all, Paul says that the “Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”  So it would make sense that there are some things that they have had passed down and studied longer than us newbies to the Word.  And there’s this part in the story that says that You respected Abel’s sacrifice but would not respect Cain’s.  I really wanted to know what the traditional low down was on that, and what was traditionally said about that.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me relate the story found in Genesis 4.  “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.  And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.  So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  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.’  Cain spoke to Abel his brother.  And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Able your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’  And the Lord said, ‘What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.'”

Wow!  That’s a sad story.  But let’s think about it.  Now sometimes we speculate that starting with Adam and Eve and the first sacrifice that God performed to clothe them, that You established the expectation of a blood sacrifice to atone for sin, you know, looking forward to Christ.  But as I read Scripture, I don’t see that as more than speculation.   I know that was established with Moses in Deuteronomy but I can’t say it was established for a fact here.  I can’t say that the lack of blood was the problem here.  Maybe.  But maybe not.  The Rabbis, who are familiar with the blood sacrifice system don’t mention it either.  But there are some things I know for sure here.  One day, Cain decided to bring an offering to You.  He selected from the ordinary fruit of the ground, from his ordinary work that he did.  I also know that Abel decided to do the same, only he selected from the firstborn of his work, and of that portion, he selected the fattest, the best of the best.

Now, from looking at the evidence of the story, I want to make this educated guess- Cain did not respect or regard You God, rightly.  It’s not the matter of blood or not blood maybe.  Maybe it’s the matter of the heart and how we feel about God and how that is demonstrated by our actions and what we give back to You.  Maybe Cain was going through the motions, doing what he thought would appease You, or looking for a pat on the back.  I say that because I wonder why he wasn’t disappointed about Your disappointment in the gift?  If he was more concerned with You, wouldn’t he still want to please You?

But where was Abel’s heart?  Was he caring about delighting God’s heart?  Would he be willing to part with the best of the best to show You how much he valued You?

The King James Version says the Lord had respect unto Abel but not unto Cain and his offering.  That’s like saying that You looked at Abel’s offering and accepted it.  Here’s a speculation, but maybe You just miraculously burned it up and took it up to heaven as a sweet savor.  Don’t know about that.  But You wouldn’t even look on Cain’s and there was no accepting of his offering.  Now when the KJV used that word respect, it brought back to my mind where Scripture says that You are not a respecter of persons.  And that’s not the end of that verse.  Peter continues that thought in Acts 10:35, “But in every nation he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.”  What were You looking for in an acceptable sacrifice?  Someone who was in awe of You and doing what pleased Your heart.

So, I think we can safely say that Cain, by his offering and his attitude is showing that He is not in awe of God and his number one desire is not to do Your will.  Cain becomes much more than just disappointed.  Cain became angry.  Not only that, “his countenance fell.”  It was all over his face.  Boom!  There it was. ” I came first to make the offering.  It was my idea.  And now Abel is getting all the credit and I get nothing.  If he hadn’t come, my gift would have been fine.  God wouldn’t have compared it to his.  If it weren’t for Abel I’d be ok.  I’d be on top.”  I mean, I don’t know Cain’s real thoughts, but I can imagine they were pretty close to that.  His desires and plans were frustrated.  It made him angry and depressed.  His heavenly Father saw.  His heavenly Father loved him and wanted him to understand what was going on in his heart so He asked him two questions, “Why are you angry and why are you depressed?”  He’s not asking because He doesn’t know the answer.  These are questions of the Counselor.  These are questions to get Cain to examine his heart.

Cain thought his problem was Abel.  But the truth that You were trying to help him see is that his own heart was the root of the problem.  And to fix the problem, he had to take care of his own heart.  You continued, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”  If you are not accepted, it’s not someone else’s fault.  If you do the right thing, it will be accepted.  You know it.  It’s up to you to make that decision.  God won’t make you.  If we want Your acceptance, then we must choose to do the right thing regardless of everyone or anyone else around us.  Sin is just waiting to make us angry and bitter and depressed and hopeless and sarcastic and self-sufficient and braggarts and killers.  But we can choose to be in charge.  We can choose to deny sin a foothold.  We can choose to examine our own hearts and our own motives and correct our offering and make it acceptable.  Because if we choose to stay where we are, and to blame everyone else, and to let sin rule, we won’t become any more acceptable.  Am I really in awe of God or am I in awe of my own praise and my own way?

Cain, in his anger and depression, ignored God’s counseling.  He was angry because the power of his will was thwarted.  How many times has that happened in our lives?  The people close to us, or traffic thwart our desires.  It doesn’t go our way.  We get angry.  But does that make sense?  Can we control anyone else’s response?  Can we control the traffic flow?  What can really stop us from being successful in Your eyes, God?  Can any frustration?  Or is it our own influence that does the damage?

Why was Cain angry?  Why are we angry?  Why are we frustrated when our brother does well?  He’s responsible for himself.  You tell Cain, “don’t worry about him.  You need to worry about you, Cain.”  So on one hand there is this problem of anger and on the opposite end is depression, the loss of our hope to succeed.  It’s the just giving up part because I can’t do it anyways.  Cain gave up on himself and focussed everything on Abel as the one who had robbed him of his ability to succeed.

Now, God, You were telling Cain that his emotions weren’t wrong but he needed to handle them rightly.  It was right for him to feel angry, but it should have been at his own heart.  He was right to feel depressed, but it should have pointed him to where his true success would lie.  But his wires were crossed.  Instead of changing his heart and giving, instead of empowering himself the right way, he decided to remove the power of his brother that threatened his image of himself.

Rabbi Dovid Green shares, “Therefore, the Almighty gave him a pep-talk: ‘If you want to improve you can also be recognized and if you don’t then you should know that there’s a force that waits by the door ready to destroy you, but you can rule over him if you want.'(Bereishis 4:8) In the very next verse, something important seems to be missing. ‘And Cain said to his brother Hevel and it happened when they were in the field that Cain rose up and killed his brother Hevel.’ What did Cain say to Hevel?The Malbim points out that Cain suffered from terminal superficiality. He says that when the Almighty said that ‘there’s a force by the door that’s ready to destroy you but you can rule over him!’ Cain said to himself that that was in reference to his brother Hevel.  How was he to eliminate the chronic pain, the constant attack on his self-esteem that his brother represented? There are only three choices; 1) To live with continuous hurt 2) To improve 3) To eliminate the external stimulus. Instead of lifting himself up, and using his jealous rage as a tool to reach his own potential, he sought to tear his brother down.”

And that’s what he did.  Instead of caring for his own heart and mending the pain, he let it fester.  He let sin control him instead of controlling sin.  And it always starts with our own hearts.  It always starts in that place where God cries out to us to take control.  And obviously we have the power to do it, the ability is there, but the desire must be there also.  This wasn’t a task that the Holy Spirit needed to do for Cain or for us.  You say we can do it.  We can choose to do the right thing.  We can choose to have a right heart.  We can choose to be in awe of You and delight in You.  But Cain did not choose You.  Cain chose self-gratification.  Cain chose wrong, not right.  And it still didn’t give him success.  Even the removal of his “problem” showed Abel more righteous than Cain as his blood cried out to God.

What bearing does this story, do these events have on me, on us?  We haven’t murdered anyone, have we?  Let’s think about that.  Have there been times, even when we were pursuing God, when someone, maybe even a close family member, seemed to thwart what we felt God was asking us to do?  Did it come to a point of making us angry? Of wishing they were out of the picture somehow?  Of being glad they were away?  Of us not feeling like talking to them?  Of a break in a relationship?  Of out of sight being out of mind?  Of not really feeling compelled to pray for someone else’s good but to pray that  God would change them to see things our way?  Did I come to the point of avoiding them?  Of not wanting to even think about them?  Of gossiping about them?  Did I become so focussed on the situation or the people that it brought me into depression?  Do I still walk in that pain?  So my question is, then who am I really in awe of?  Maybe I’m just as guilty of murder in my heart as Cain was by his hands.

If I find these things happening in my life and in my heart, You give me the same counseling, Lord.  Do right and I’ll be accepted.  Take control of my heart.  Turn back to You.  Get my focus off of others and other things and put it back on You.  Delight in You and You’ll give me the desires of my heart.  Focus on others and other things and stew over them and destruction will be my reward.  It’s a no-brainer.  But that’s the problem, sometimes we don’t use the brain that You’ve given us.  God, I’m just as guilty as Cain.  But I am so grateful that I’m choosing to gain control and not let sin rule over me.  I’m so glad that You counsel me, and You don’t stop counseling me.  And I’m so glad that You give me the ability to choose Your way over mine.  I can be accepted.  But I have to choose to want Your acceptance most of all.  I’m so glad this isn’t just an Old Testament thought to be thrown out with the bath water.  Paul reiterated it, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. ” (Romans 6:14)  Cain didn’t have to murder his brother, and neither do I.

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