The Mark of Cain
“…And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.” (Genesis 4:15)
When the Lord marked Cain, He was being merciful. Cain had done something terrible, but the Lord did not want anyone “taking the matter into their own hands”.
In the instance of Cain, the Lord’s willingness to show mercy became compulsory for all who encountered Cain and observed his mark. Yet, we know from the rest of the Scriptures that mercy is a characteristic of God and something which he desires to be characteristic of us: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). God had just rejected Cain’s offering so we know that God cares about whether or not we listen to what He says about worship. However, Hosea’s words combined with God’s actions toward Cain help us to realize that the proper form of worship is intended to produce worshippers who are merciful like God.
The stakes of mercy are usually pretty high. The murder of Abel was a terrible, selfish, and petty act. God is willing to show mercy to people who do really bad things, and the Scriptures bear this out over and over again. In fact, Peter says: “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18). If God could have mercy on Cain and on the sins of the whole world through the blood of Jesus, to what extent do we think God will expect us to show mercy? We must go as far as we can. Sometimes there are necessarily limits of fellowship. These limits are the consequences of one refusing to repent, and these limits help to protect the vulnerable from the potentially damaging influence of sin and error. A little leaven may very well leaven the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2, 6, 11). But even when these limits of fellowship must be practiced, does our obligation to be merciful or to cultivate a merciful spirit end?
If Christ suffered to bring us to God, then it follows that people who are struggling spiritually or who are far from God are the people who need mercy the most. Some people don’t want mercy so a merciful attitude toward one who is behaving rebelliously may not change the relationship much, but a merciful attitude is our best hope for recovering one who is far from God. We try so hard to justify being bitter or vengeful toward others, but if we will be honest, we must admit that God desires to show mercy to the alien sinner and to those who have left His flock.
The mercy that Cain received didn’t seem to change him much. We never see him confronting the fact that he had killed his brother. If we are correct in identifying Cain’s descendants as the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-5), then the fellowship of his descendants with the descendants of Seth (sons of God) is what ultimately corrupted the ancient world. God could foresee all of this and yet He was still willing to show mercy to Cain. Sometimes we are hesitant to show mercy because we fear that it will be abused, but this is not how God shows mercy.
If someone abuses mercy, there is not much we can do. We may follow the limits of fellowship set by God, but our obligation to show mercy remains. God didn’t want those of the ancient world taking matters into their own hands, and He doesn’t want us taking matters into our own hands either. He wants us to show mercy to those who have wronged us in the hope of helping them come back to God. Many sins have built-in consequences in our world. Paul said that those who do evil should be afraid of the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-4), but God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would much rather see them turn from their sins and live (Ezekiel 18:23).
Lord, give us the wisdom to temper our need to oppose sin and error with the same mercy that you show us in our lives everyday.