Genesis 4: The power of evil (4 January 2020)

Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters.  Darllenwch rhain yn Gymraeg.

Pray

Pray

Lord, prepare me to receive your word. Clear my mind and warm my heart. Assure me of your loving purposes for me, and speak into my life today.

Read

Read

Cain and Abel

1Then Adam had intercourse with his wife, and she became pregnant. She bore a son and said, “By the LORD's help I have acquired a son.” So she named him Cain. 2Later she gave birth to another son, Abel. Abel became a shepherd, but Cain was a farmer. 3After some time, Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the LORD. 4Then Abel brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it, and gave the best parts of it as an offering. The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5but he rejected Cain and his offering. Cain became furious, and he scowled in anger. 6Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why that scowl on your face? 7If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling; but because you have done evil, sin is crouching at your door. It wants to rule you, but you must overcome it.”

8Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let's go out in the fields.” When they were out in the fields, Cain turned on his brother and killed him.

9The LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

He answered, “I don't know. Am I supposed to take care of my brother?”

10Then the LORD said, “Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground, like a voice calling for revenge. 11You are placed under a curse and can no longer farm the soil. It has soaked up your brother's blood as if it had opened its mouth to receive it when you killed him. 12If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything; you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

13And Cain said to the LORD, “This punishment is too hard for me to bear. 14You are driving me off the land and away from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.”

15But the LORD answered, “No. If anyone kills you, seven lives will be taken in revenge.” So the LORD put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who met him not to kill him. 16And Cain went away from the LORD's presence and lived in a land called “Wandering”, which is east of Eden.

The Descendants of Cain

17Cain and his wife had a son and named him Enoch. Then Cain built a city and named it after his son. 18Enoch had a son named Irad, who was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael had a son named Methushael, who was the father of Lamech. 19Lamech had two wives, Adah and Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the ancestor of those who raise livestock and live in tents. 21His brother was Jubal, the ancestor of all musicians who play the harp and the flute. 22Zillah gave birth to Tubal Cain, who made all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal Cain was Naamah.

23Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, listen to me: I have killed a young man because he struck me.

24If seven lives are taken to pay for killing Cain,

77 will be taken if anyone kills me.”

Seth and Enosh

25Adam and his wife had another son. She said, “God has given me a son to replace Abel, whom Cain killed.” So she named him Seth. 26Seth had a son whom he named Enosh. It was then that people began using the LORD's holy name in worship.

The Temptation of Jesus

1Then the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. 2After spending forty days and nights without food, Jesus was hungry. 3Then the Devil came to him and said, “If you are God's Son, order these stones to turn into bread.”

4But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’ ”

5Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, 6and said to him, “If you are God's Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says:

‘God will give orders to his angels about you;

they will hold you up with their hands,

so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’ ”

7Jesus answered, “But the scripture also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

8Then the Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in all their greatness. 9“All this I will give you,” the Devil said, “if you kneel down and worship me.”

10Then Jesus answered, “Go away, Satan! The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’ ”

11Then the Devil left Jesus; and angels came and helped him.

Jesus Begins his Work in Galilee

12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went away to Galilee. 13He did not stay in Nazareth, but went to live in Capernaum, a town by Lake Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14This was done to make what the prophet Isaiah had said come true:

15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

on the road to the sea, on the other side of the Jordan,

Galilee, land of the Gentiles!

16The people who live in darkness

will see a great light.

On those who live in the dark land of death

the light will shine.”

17From that time Jesus began to preach his message: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”

Jesus Calls Four Fishermen

18As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net. 19Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” 20At once they left their nets and went with him.

21He went on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat with their father Zebedee, getting their nets ready. Jesus called them, 22and at once they left the boat and their father, and went with him.

Jesus Teaches, Preaches, and Heals

23Jesus went all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom, and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness. 24The news about him spread through the whole country of Syria, so that people brought to him all those who were sick, suffering from all kinds of diseases and disorders: people with demons, and epileptics, and paralytics — and Jesus healed them all. 25Large crowds followed him from Galilee and the Ten Towns, from Jerusalem, Judea, and the land on the other side of the Jordan.

Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple

1The enemies of the people of Judah and Benjamin heard that those who had returned from exile were rebuilding the Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel. 2So they went to see Zerubbabel and the heads of the clans and said, “Let us join you in building the Temple. We worship the same God you worship, and we have been offering sacrifices to him ever since Esarhaddon, emperor of Assyria, sent us here to live.”

3Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the heads of the clans said to them, “We don't need your help to build a temple for the LORD our God. We will build it ourselves, just as Cyrus, emperor of Persia, commanded us.”

4Then the people who had been living in the land tried to discourage and frighten the Jews and keep them from building. 5They also bribed Persian government officials to work against them. They kept on doing this throughout the reign of Cyrus and into the reign of Darius.

Opposition to the Rebuilding of Jerusalem

6At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes the emperor, the enemies of the people living in Judah and Jerusalem brought written charges against them.

7Again, in the reign of Artaxerxes, emperor of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their associates wrote a letter to the emperor. The letter was written in Aramaic and was to be translated when read.

8Also Rehum, the governor, and Shimshai, the secretary of the province, wrote the following letter to Artaxerxes about Jerusalem:

9“From Rehum, the governor, from Shimshai, secretary of the province, from their associates, the judges, and from all the other officials, who are men originally from Erech, Babylon, and Susa in the land of Elam, 10together with the other peoples whom the great and powerful Ashurbanipal moved from their homes and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in the province of West Euphrates.”

11This is the text of the letter:

“To Emperor Artaxerxes from his servants, the men of West Euphrates.

12“We want Your Majesty to know that the Jews who came here from your other territories have settled in Jerusalem and are rebuilding that evil and rebellious city. They have begun to rebuild the walls and will soon finish them. 13Your Majesty, if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the people will stop paying taxes, and your royal revenues will decrease. 14Now, because we are under obligation to Your Majesty, we do not want to see this happen, and so we suggest 15that you order a search to be made in the records your ancestors kept. If you do, you will discover that this city has always been rebellious and that from ancient times it has given trouble to kings and to rulers of provinces. Its people have always been hard to govern. This is why the city was destroyed. 16We therefore are convinced that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, Your Majesty will no longer be able to control the province of West Euphrates.”

17The emperor sent this answer:

“To Rehum, the governor, to Shimshai, secretary of the province, and to their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of West Euphrates, greetings.

18“The letter which you sent has been translated and read to me. 19I gave orders for an investigation to be made, and it has indeed been found that from ancient times Jerusalem has revolted against royal authority and that it has been full of rebels and troublemakers. 20Powerful kings have reigned there and have ruled over the entire province of West Euphrates, collecting taxes and revenue. 21Therefore you are to issue orders that those men are to stop rebuilding the city until I give further commands. 22Do this at once, so that no more harm may be done to my interests.”

23As soon as this letter from Artaxerxes was read to Rehum, Shimshai, and their associates, they hurried to Jerusalem and forced the Jews to stop rebuilding the city.

Work on the Temple Begins Again

24Work on the Temple had been stopped and had remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius, emperor of Persia.

Peter and John before the Council

1Peter and John were still speaking to the people when some priests, the officer in charge of the temple guards, and some Sadducees arrived. 2They were annoyed because the two apostles were teaching the people that Jesus had risen from death, which proved that the dead will rise to life. 3So they arrested them and put them in jail until the next day, since it was already late. 4But many who heard the message believed; and the number of men grew to about 5,000.

5The next day the Jewish leaders, the elders, and the teachers of the Law gathered in Jerusalem. 6They met with the High Priest Annas and with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and the others who belonged to the High Priest's family. 7They made the apostles stand before them and asked them, “How did you do this? What power have you got or whose name did you use?”

8Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered them, “Leaders of the people and elders: 9if we are being questioned today about the good deed done to the lame man and how he was healed, 10then you should all know, and all the people of Israel should know, that this man stands here before you completely well through the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth — whom you crucified and whom God raised from death. 11Jesus is the one of whom the scripture says:

‘The stone that you the builders despised

turned out to be the most important of all.’

12Salvation is to be found through him alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.”

13The members of the Council were amazed to see how bold Peter and John were and to learn that they were ordinary men of no education. They realized then that they had been companions of Jesus. 14But there was nothing that they could say, because they saw the man who had been healed standing there with Peter and John. 15So they told them to leave the Council room, and then they started discussing among themselves. 16“What shall we do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone in Jerusalem knows that this extraordinary miracle has been performed by them, and we cannot deny it. 17But to keep this matter from spreading any further among the people, let us warn these men never again to speak to anyone in the name of Jesus.”

18So they called them back in and told them that on no condition were they to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, “You yourselves judge which is right in God's sight — to obey you or to obey God. 20For we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard.” 21So the Council warned them even more strongly and then set them free. They saw that it was impossible to punish them, because the people were all praising God for what had happened. 22The man on whom this miracle of healing had been performed was over forty years old.

The Believers Pray for Boldness

23As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said. 24When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God: “Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them! 25By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David, your servant, when he said:

‘Why were the Gentiles furious;

why did people make their useless plots?

26The kings of the earth prepared themselves,

and the rulers met together

against the Lord and his Messiah.’

27For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. 28They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen. 29And now, Lord, take notice of the threats they have made, and allow us, your servants, to speak your message with all boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

31When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God's message with boldness.

The Believers Share their Possessions

32The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had. 33With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all. 34There was no one in the group who was in need. Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale, 35and hand it over to the apostles; and the money was distributed to each one according to his need.

36And so it was that Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “One who Encourages”), 37sold a field he owned, brought the money, and handed it over to the apostles.

Reflect

Reflect on Genesis 4

In Genesis 4, we're face to face with some of the darkest instincts of human beings. The two sons of Adam and Eve offer sacrifices; Abel's animal sacrifices are accepted, but Cain's grain offerings aren't. There's no indication as to why: that's just how it is. But Cain's reaction is anger – and God's words to him offer a profound insight into the nature of temptation. He challenges Cain to 'do what is right'. Sin is pictured as 'crouching at the door' (verse 7, ESV); it's like a wild animal that must be tamed or it will destroy him. Instead, sin masters Cain.

The picture here is of human nature as a battleground, with sin as the enemy. When we give way to anger, resentment or pride we are opening the door to evil, and evil is stronger than we think. We might think we can master these instincts, but when we give them room in our hearts we have already failed.

Cain's question, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' is meant rhetorically, assuming the answer is 'No'. In fact, we are all responsible for each other; overwhelmed by sin, Cain fails to see this. 

God tells Cain that Abel's blood is 'crying out to me from the ground' (verse 10). It is crying out for vengeance, and Cain is banished. But Hebrews 12.24 speaks of the 'sprinkled blood' of Christ, that 'speaks a better word than the blood of Abel'. Abel's blood cries out for vengeance; Christ's blood cries out for mercy and forgiveness.

Pray

Pray

God, help me to be watchful over my temper. Help me keep guard over my feelings, and deliver me from evil.

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