Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:15–16

Genesis 4:15–16
15 But the LORD said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down. 16 So Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
 (NET Bible)

Cain Finds Mercy

Those who play with fire suffer burns. Cain failed to deal with the sin that threatened to devour his life (Gen. 4:7), and the eventual result was banishment from God’s presence. Why was Cain unable to turn from his sin? John tells us, “Cain . . . was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Victor Hamilton says, “His murder of Abel was an external manifestation of the grip that Satan had on his life.”[1]

How do we underestimate the power of sin? What keeps us from repenting of our sin? What can be done to end the separation of the sinner from God?

“All right then” — the NET Bible’s translation of the opening word from God (Gen. 4:15) — is a bit trendy for a divine statement. God acknowledges the rightness of Cain’s fear of retaliatory death. The meaning of the original word is important in showing God’s attitude toward Cain’s request for relief from his punishment. This request from Cain is the very first cry for rescue from sin’s consequences in human history. If God is willing to listen to the requests of a murderer, then he will listen to ours as well!

God is willing only to give Cain special protection from the very kind of violence that Cain inflicted on Abel. Anyone who kills Cain will be avenged seven times as much as Abel. Wenham is probably right in saying, “Most probably it is a poetic turn of speech meaning full divine retribution.”[2] But there is no protection for Cain from anything short of killing him.

Cain is the original “marked man,” but we do not know the manner of the sign that set him apart from others. Gordon Wenham cleverly observes, “As the clothing given to Adam and Eve after the fall (3:21) served to remind them of their sin and God’s mercy, so does the mark placed on Cain.”[3] You might say that no one who encounters God comes away unchanged. Further, living around God is not safe if you live a life of disobedience.

Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain suffers exclusion from fellowship with the Lord (Gen. 4:16). Cain demonstrates the theme of degradation in his exclusion from humanity. Recall that Cain has been condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). The land of Nod is a place whose name is a variant of the word for “wanderer.” Hamilton says, “The wanderer ends up in the land of wandering.”[4] Perhaps the naming of Nod after the punishment of Cain gives us a clue as to how widely people knew that God condemned Cain’s sin.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 244.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 109.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 110.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 235.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:7-9

Matthew 5:7-9

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Behavior toward others is part of mercy

The strange thing about mercy is that it is never about what the other person has done; mercy is always about the heart of the person showing it or withholding it. Whether you are ready to enter the kingdom of God will be measured by your willingness to show mercy by your actions. Is that a problem?

Since anyone who recognizes their own sin needs mercy from God above all, the reward promised by 5:7 is a powerful motivator. Note that the second half of verse 7 is in passive voice. This use of passive voice is called a divine passive, meaning that God is the one who will show mercy to the merciful. Greek grammarian Daniel Wallace says, That God is behind the scenes is self-evidently part of the worldview of the NT writers.[1]

Turner points out, The crucial importance of the theme of mercy for the disciple is repeatedly modeled in Jesus life and teaching (Matt. 6:2-4; 9:27, 36; 15:22; 17:15; 18:33; 20:30).[2] Of course, the greatest act of mercy that Jesus performed was to die for our sins, in our place. Bible scholar Craig Blomberg goes so far as to say that Exodus 34:6 means that mercy may be Gods most fundamental attribute.[3]

The importance of showing mercy as a disciple of Jesus is demonstrated by the command to forgive your brother unendingly (Matt. 18:21-22). That command is followed immediately by the parable of the unmerciful servant (18:23-35), in which those who show no mercy are given none in the last judgment.

The idea extolled in 5:8 is not easy to capture. When I was in the Boy Scouts, we made hot cocoa one morning in camp, but the milk had about as much wind-blown dirt in it as it did cocoa. We drank the stuff, but it was not pure! That helps us get the meaning of pure in this context; the pure heart has no added false motives. Instead, the pure heart is an undivided heart that has a single-minded devotion to God and his kingdom. The person who has only externally-acceptable behavior will not see God.

Matthew 5:9 uses a rare word, translated peacemaker, to describe a person who reconciles enemies. Keener says the word was applied most often to emperors.[4] We, however, serve a Lord who is much higher than an emperor, and he wants us to be an active reconciler of people. Since many are in rebellion against God, we are also to reconcile them to God through Jesus Christ. Those who reconcile enemies and seek to live in harmony with others will be called sons of God (5:9), meaning God approves of their alignment to his ways.

Turner ably summarizes: The chief marks of those who already live under Gods rule are humility toward God and mercy toward people.[5]

A Final Word

Showing mercy can be costly. When I brought my newborn son Scott home from the hospital, my daughter Amy, age three, was delighted to see him. After a few minutes she quietly slipped away to her room.

Amy was the proud owner of two security blankets, her most highly treasured possessions. As far as she knew, no others existed. When Amy returned with one precious blanket, she gave it to Scott. Hedoesn’thave one, she said. In that moment, Amy was more merciful than anyone I had ever known.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 438.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 152.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 100.

[4] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 169.

[5] Turner, Matthew, 153.


Upside Down (Luke 18:9–14)

Anyone who spent time with Jesus soon found out that he could flip things around in an instant. That did not make him a comfortable companion, especially for those who were self-satisfied.

Once Jesus found himself in the presence of “some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9, NET), so he told them a parable.

Two men ascended the hill to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. What an odd pair! The Pharisees had taken rigorous religious vows and so were considered by the people to be among God’s favorites. On the other hand, the tax collectors made their living by bidding on tax-collection contracts whose terms were secret. A tax collector made his living on the difference between what he collected and the (secret) amount he actually had to pay to the government. They were widely hated for a reason!

As you might imagine, the prayers of these two men were very different too.

The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.”
(Luke 18:12–13).

Well, I would not want to be the second one to pray after that auspicious start! Those standing near waited to hear what the tax collector could possibly say to a holy God.

The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!”
(Luke 18:13)

Remember that those listening to Jesus were confident of their righteousness, and you can guess whose prayer enjoyed their approval. But, in a flash, Jesus declared:

I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 18:14)

With that unexpected bombshell, Jesus not only shattered the self-serving expectations of his listeners, but also humbled them in fulfillment of his words.

A Final Word

At times believers wonder how a person achieved salvation in times before Jesus’ death and resurrection. The answer is that salvation has always been by God’s grace through faith. No one has ever been saved apart from God’s mercy. How ironic it is that the sinful tax collector understood the truth better than the mock-pious Pharisee. The tax collector knew that his works could never save him. Only his repentant admission of sin and cry for God’s mercy stood any chance. He descended Temple Mount a justified man.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.