The first man is Adam. He is called this in the Bible (Genesis 2:20; Romans 5:14). This man introduced sin into the world. God immediately called him to account for his sin. Adam was to be the steward over all of creation. All of creation was under him. So, when he fell, it all fell apart and went under a curse. Pandora’s box could never unleash the evils which Adam unleashed in his fall from grace. However, when God called him to account for his evil, Adam blamed Eve (that woman); then, he blamed God (you gave me). His response has been representative of sinful creatures ever since. Blame others, blame God.
Thus, we read with little surprise that Adam’s son killed his own brother. Murder came into the world in the very first generation after Adam and Eve. The account of Cain killing Abel is still a bit surprising. It isn’t surprising that he killed his brother, but it is surprising that Cain is so insolent toward God. God subjects Cain to futile labor (which appears as part of the curse on all mankind) and tells Cain that he will be a nomad—a wanderer—the rest of his life. Cain cannot believe that God would be so harsh.
How insane! Cain should have been wrecked by God’s mercy. He should have been broken and contrite before the perfect justice of our Holy God, but, instead, he thinks his punishment is too much to bear. Because of their lack of trust in God, sinful creatures will cry out that it is too much for them to face the consequences of their own sin (even though God is usually extremely merciful in making the load lighter than it ought to be—just as we see Him doing in the case of Cain). Adam points to the sin of others. Cain cries against God that his circumstances are unbearable.
There is a third man whose sins come before Almighty God. His name is Isaiah. Isaiah—like Adam and Cain—was guilty of sin. He was born under the curse, and he sinned against God. Yet, compared to others, he was a pretty swell guy. He was from the upper crust of society, related to royalty. He was a prophet. So, there was nothing outwardly about Isaiah that would cause us to suspect him of anything “really bad.” In other words, Isaiah was a righteous man who sought to please the Lord. He was upright in all his ways. And he was willing to serve the Lord. When the Lord commissioned Isaiah into service, He gave him a glimpse of His glorious presence. When Isaiah caught a glimpse of the glory of God, he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
The difference in the 3 men is the difference in seeing the glory of God. Adam and Cain turned away from God’s glory (hid themselves from it). As a result of not seeing God rightly, they also could not see their sins rightly. Instead of recognizing the uncleanness of their own lips (like the righteous prophet saw), both Adam and Cain saw only injustice from God. They accused God of being unfair and putting unjust burdens on them to bear. Isaiah—more righteous than either Adam or Cain—did not see any injustice with God. He did not sense any unrighteousness on the part of God. When Isaiah saw the glory of God, he also saw the depths of his own sin (see also Ezekiel 1:28). In seeing God’s holiness, Isaiah knew of his own wickedness. He knew he was ruined. He had no recourse but to plead for the mercy of God. He received mercy—and cleansing—from God.
Obviously, what we need is the cleansing mercy of God. It comes just after we see a glimpse of his glory and come undone from it. We never outgrow our need to be reminded of the simple truth that we present no righteousness before a holy God. With that view of reality fixed in our minds, we see that the mercy of God is enough. We can live if we have mercy from God. Just as a leach can live only if it is attached to a life-giving source of blood, so, too, we can live well (or live eternally) only if we are attached to the purifying mercy of God. Through Christ, we have that mercy. Since we have a great high priest before the throne of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
To the extent that we are seeing fault with others (like Adam), we aren’t seeing either God or ourselves rightly. To the extent we think sin has made our circumstances unbearable (like Cain), we aren’t seeing God or ourselves rightly. To the extent we see our need for the mercy of God to cover us or else we are ruined (like Isaiah)—to that extent, we are beginning to see the healing mercy of God. We are getting glimpses of his glory. Such a view of God will make us more merciful toward others and cause us to seek to be changed and cleansed by God Himself.