It is no coincidence that the first act out of the Garden of Eden was murder: one brother to another. We all know the story of Cain and Abel. But do we know how God tried to intervene and warn Cain of where his anger would lead?
"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast." (Gen. 4:2-6)
We can clearly see a rivalry between the two in how they obey the Lord's instructions for an offering. Abel understood that the firstborn of his flock had to be sacrificed, not just any animal he decided would do. The fat portions--sweet and aromatic--were the selected parts, not just any portion that he decided would do.
Leviticus 4 lists what constitutes a sin offering, and how the fat portions are to be burned: "They shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven." (4:31).
What are the sins that such an offering covers? Leviticus 4:1 says, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites: "When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands..."'"
Yes, the Law was not formally given yet, but I find it interesting that this sacrifice with its fat portions was meant to propitiate for sins unintentionally committed at first, but later the person realizes a sin has been committed.
How must I confront sin on this side of the cross? I must be spiritually humble. I must listen to the quiet voice of God, and when I sense His sadness and displeasure at my thoughts and actions, I react with grief. I must maintained an earnest desire to be right with God all the time and not rationalize what I have done. I seek forgiveness immediately in Christ and He grants it.
If I struggle with this, I ask Christ to empower me in this process.
But it may require a sacrifice--walking away from a friend, leaving a job, or rethinking how I act. I am not talking works here--I am fully forgiven as I confess my sins to Him, but He may ask me to place my lamb on the altar.
But Pride says I can carry on regardless. Yes, I hear God's convicting voice, but, hey, compared to so and so, my sin isn't so bad, and certainly not worth taking away one of my valued "sheep" for it.
In fact, Pride will go further:
I am offended that the Bible calls what I did sin;
I blame ______________ for what I did, for I am basically a good person;
I am growing angry the more I think about it, that people would dare judge me--look at what they do!
I am beginning to hate those who would call me out and make me look less than them!
Let's go back to Cain to see this progression of Pride:
"Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.'” (Gen. 4:6-7)
God was giving Cain time to reflect on how his thoughts were heading towards disaster.
Let's break down how the Lord approached Cain. The Lord saw the anger stirring in Cain's heart because his offering of produce was not viewed favorably by the Lord. Why? It is not what the Lord commanded for a sacrifice. Fruits and vegetables always appear in abundance. One plum is no different than another; one tomato is easily replaced by another. So produce does not have any real value. But a firstborn lamb is valuable. It is unique and costly, because it takes time to obtain another one. You can't just swap it out with another lamb down the birth order.
But Cain's pride told him that one sacrifice was as good as another, and that the Lord was being, what? Overly demanding? Too particular? Out of touch with Cain's life? He tilled the soil after all; it wasn't as if he was a shepherd like his brother.
Oh, wait a minute! Here's the deeper problem: Cain would have to go and ask his younger (!) brother for a firstborn lamb. Uh-oh. By asking Abel for one, Cain is admitting (albeit tacitly) that he has sinned and that he needs to offer a sacrifice. His request is immediately a blow to his pride; his younger brother having the goods is another, and his younger brother knowing that his older brother has sinned is more than Cain can endure.
Thus, the anger and downcast face of Cain. Cain had taken offense somewhere along the way. Offended by what? Abel's attitude? God's demands? Having to be humble and asking his brother? Feeling judged?
Offense is our pride being prickled. Thus the progression begins.
Cain, having been offended in some way, has opened the door to the enemy of his soul. Feeling offended attracts Satan like a pit viper to a warm-blooded prey. Satan senses offense and the prickling of pride, because that was his problem: Satan was offended that he could not be worshipped as God was, for he saw himself as being equally capable as his Creator.
God gave a strategy to Cain for overcoming his anger: Do what is right. He could have u-turned his actions and obtained a lamb. God states He will accept Cain by his change of direction.
But, his anger was growing. Therein lies the danger: "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." (James 3:16)
Cain blamed Abel for his feelings; his anger is growing, and hatred is seeping into his heart. Satan desired to have Cain; Satan was building a stronghold, as long as Cain allows pride to dominate his heart.
Hatred wins the day. Abel is slaughtered like one of his lambs; Cain ducks out of the killing field, thinking all of his problems are over.
Hatred is the castle in plain view in a person's life. The progression of pride is subtle, interior and hard to detect sometimes in someone. But once those stoney walls are erected, and you run into them, you know this person, or yourself, has a stronghold.
John goes as far as to say that harboring hatred and being in God's presence are incompatible:
Emphasis mine. Amen.
How to demolish the stronghold? "Rule over it" in the power of Christ. Confess it and dispossess it.
Now possess Christ's love. He will take the stronghold down, stone by stone.