The Cain and Abel story reveals the progression of sin in Genesis. Sin, initiated by Adam and Eve’s desire to contend for supremacy with God, progresses outward as human beings contend for supremacy with one another. Cain is angry because God has regard for Abel’s offering, but not for his own. Genesis 4 is a narrative of James’ words in James 4:1, ” What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder.”
Abel had God’s regard, a commendation from the Lord, and Cain wanted it. Of course to want such a regard was not a bad thing! (There is even a place in the Bible for a godly jealousy that longs for righteousness and is angered when sin, Satan, or the world, consumes what should bring glory to God.) But rather than produce humble self-reflection and an active mortification of his own sinful jealousy and hardheartedness, Cain turned this passion toward his brother in a murderous rage. The logic of his own heart seemed to be: “unless I can have what you have, I will destroy you.”
Countless quarrels and fights in our own lives are reflected in the story of Cain and Abel.
“You took my parking space, so I mutter or scream at you.”
“You took away the relaxing evening I wanted, so I withdraw from you in sullen anger.”
“You received the recognition that I want, so I internally meditate on all of your failures.”
All of our quarrels, internal and external, reveal that we haven’t gotten something we desperately wanted–wanted enough to fight for it. In some of these conflicts, the other person has simply thwarted our desires. In other fights, the other person has received (or taken!) the very thing we want so badly, and jealousy arises out of the heart. “You have what I wanted!”–is the heart cry of the jealous person. Perhaps this is why jealousy conflicts are so full of rage, so emotionally charged, and why jealous people are willing to go to such lengths to punish the person or take back what they demand.
The objects of jealousy are legion–they could be attention, prominence, position, possessions, relationships, recognition, legacy, intimacy, and a host of other desires-become-idols. In all fights of jealousy, the fundamental craving is the same: “You have what I should have and I demand to have it back, or, if that is impossible, I demand that you not have it anymore.” The jealous person will fight to have their idol restored, and if denied, will simply begin to fight against the person who has it, looking to destroy anything, including the person, the object of the desire, and anyone else who gets in their way. This is what happened to Cain. This is also the story of the two women who came to Solomon for judgment–the jealous woman would rather the surviving baby be destroyed than that the other woman have what she could not have. This is the story of the high priests and Jesus–they were willing to destroy him, willing for the people be deprived of his ministry, rather than see him have the popularity they wanted. Jealousy is seen even in the original desire of Satan. Wanting to attain to God’s throne, he would rather destroy God’s world and everything in it than that God receive the glory that he wanted. Lets us be sobered by this: Fighting because of sinful jealousy is acting just like Cain, just like that murderous mother before Solomon, just like the high priests, just like Satan.
Jealousy is so powerful the Proverbs writer even uses the danger of jealousy as an incentive against sin toward others: For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation;he will refuse though you multiply gifts. Proverbs 6:34-35 In other words, don’t be foolish enough to make a person jealous against you because of sinfully wronging them!
Proverbs also says this about the power of jealousy: Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Proverbs 27:4
Sinful jealousy burns like a fire. We must quench even the smallest flames of it in our heart lest it build into the conflagration that consumes us. How do we do this?
Let us take our jealousy to the cross of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus gave up what he rightfully deserved to bear the punishment that we should have received. Jesus suffered from the jealousy of others in order to pay for the jealousy in our hearts. Even as he died for the raging, wrath-deserving jealousy of his people, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The blood of Christ speaks a better word than the blood of Abel: Abel’s blood cried condemnation for jealous Cain, but Jesus’ blood speaks forgiveness for the jealousy in our hearts. Our Lord is indeed faithful to forgive us and cleans us of all unrighteousness. Let us go to Him, and consider his death on our behalf. Views of the cross, with a heart watered by the Spirit, quench the flames of jealousy.
Let us see and tremble at the spirit of Cain within our hearts, and let us return in faith to the blood of Christ that has cleansed us from such sin, and pray continually for His Spirit to produce within us the humble, God-trusting, patient, enduring, servanthood of the Lord Jesus Christ.