“Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (Genesis 4:1-2).
Now most people have probably heard of Cain and Abel but there’s a lot more to their story than Cain’s famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in Genesis chapter four, verse nine.
Let’s take a look at Cain first. The Scripture quoted above tells us that Cain was the very first human being ever born and his name means “possession.” (1) While “possession” may seem like a strange name to give to a baby, his name indicates that Adam and Eve understood that Cain’s existence was something that God allowed them to have or possess.
Eve later had another son named Abel. His name means “breath, vapor, vanity” (2) This name tells us that by the time Abel was born, Adam and Eve may have realized that the effects of their wrongdoing in the Garden of Eden were not going to be fixed anytime soon.
Anyway, Cain and Abel eventually went on to pursue very different lifestyles. Abel became a rancher and managed the family’s livestock. Cain became a farmer and helped provide everyone with food to eat. Unfortunately, Cain and Abel were also moving in two very different spiritual directions as well…
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought 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. 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 master it'” (Genesis 4:3-7).
So Cain and Abel both brought their offerings to God. Cain brought some of his farm produce as a gift and Abel made an offering to God from among his animals. However, there was a problem: While God approved of Abel’s gift, He did not have respect for Cain’s offering. The question is, why?
(1) The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993,
(2) Notes taken from the NET Bible® footnotes, copyright (c) 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission from www.bible.org
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought 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” (Genesis 4:3-5a).
So why did God accept Abel’s gift and reject Cain’s offering? Well, we may be able to find one possible answer to that question within the description of each offering. Did you notice that Genesis 4:3 says,“Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD” but Genesis 4:4 tells us that “…Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
The fat portion was considered to be the very best part of the animal and that was the portion that Abel presented to God. We’re also told that Abel’s gift came from among the firstborn of his flock. So in looking at this offering, we can say that Abel took what was his first and best and gave it to God. In other words, Abel made sure to offer God something that was worthy of Him.
Cain’s offering was different. Unlike Abel, Cain did not necessarily give his first and best to God- it just says that Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering. There’s nothing really special about that and there’s a big difference between giving “some” to God (like Cain did) and bringing your first and best to God (like Abel did).
Each of these gifts says something about where Cain and Abel were spiritually. For example, the New Testament book of Hebrews talks about Abel’s internal attitude in offering his gifts to God…
“By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4).
Abel faithfully gave his first and best to God and because of this, God looked at Abel with favor or respect. There may be no higher compliment in the world than to say that God looks on someone with respect -and that’s how God responded to Abel.
Unfortunately, Cain’s response is also going to say a lot about his internal attitude towards God as well. You see, Cain could have said to himself, “God didn’t care for my gift. I’m going to have to go back and rethink this so I can bring God something that He’ll like better.” But Cain had a different internal attitude towards God than his brother did- and that internal attitude towards God will soon lead to a bad external response.
The external problem with Cain’s offering to God was that He didn’t give God the kind of gift that He really deserved. In other words, Cain didn’t really give his first and best to God. The internal problem with Cain’s offering shows up on the back end of Genesis chapter four, verse five: “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”
The word used for “angry” in the original language of Genesis means, “to be hot, furious, to burn.” (1) This tells us that Cain didn’t just get mad about the situation- he got so furious that you could see his anger reflected in his face. This reaction to the fact that God didn’t look favorably on his offering tells us a lot about Cain’s internal attitude.
Here’s why: Let’s say that you bring a gift to someone you really love, but that person rejects your gift. In that situation, how do you think you would feel? Would you feel sorrow? Disappointment? Sadness? Confusion? Regret? Well, those are the responses that you would normally expect to see in a situation where a gift is rejected by someone you care for.
Now let’s take the opposite situation. Let’s say that you bring a gift to someone that you don’t really care for. If that person rejects your gift, then how do you think you would respond? Well, most people would probably be more likely to respond with disgust or anger and say, “If you don’t want my gift, that’s OK with me- I’ll just give it to someone else” or something like that.
The point is that in both instances, someone’s internal attitude towards another person will be expressed by their external actions. Since Cain became angry when God did not look favorably on his gift, that response tells us a lot about how he really felt about God.
So how did Cain express the way he felt? Well, as we’ll see in a little while, Cain expressed his anger through the murder of his innocent brother. This brings to mind something that Jesus once said in Matthew 15:18-20…
“…the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’…”
(1) The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993
“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 master it'” (Genesis 4:6-7).
Notice that God didn’t react toward Cain in the same way that Cain reacted towards God. For instance, the Bible doesn’t say that God was angry at Cain or that He zapped Cain with a lightning bolt or that He said to him, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
Instead, God responded very graciously- He basically said to Cain, “If you do the right thing then everything will be OK between us. But we read that God also told him, “…if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master” (NLT).
This is the very first appearance of the word “sin” in the Bible. Now “sin” is a word that people use a lot, but rarely seem to define. For instance, most people probably have a general idea that “sin” refers to something bad, but what exactly is it? Well, the word “sin” as used in the Bible means, “to miss the mark.” (1)
To illustrate the meaning of this word, we might imagine an archer shooting at a bull’s-eye. The archer takes aim, draws his bow and let’s the arrow fly- but in this case, the arrow falls short and lands in the ground in front of the target. In this instance, the archer has missed the mark.
Like the archer in our illustration, the Biblical definition of “sin” doesn’t just mean rebelling against God or doing something wrong- it means “to miss the mark.” It means failing to live up to everything that God created you to be. Another definition of sin is “a path, a life-style, or act deviating from that which God has marked out.” (2) That’s what God was warning Cain about.
The truth is that no matter who we are, we have all sinned- sometimes without knowing it and sometimes on purpose. Everyone has failed to live up to God’s standards in some way and for that reason, everyone is guilty before God. As the New Testament book of James tells us, “…the person who keeps every law of God but makes one little slip is just as guilty as the person who has broken every law there is” (James 2:10 TLB).
(1) Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright © 1998, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved
(2) Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8).
There’s a word that describes what happened to Abel in this verse. That word is “murder.” Now murder is defined as “the unlawful killing of one human being by another” (1) and while you may not realize it, not all murder is the same.
For example, there is a premeditated murder which describes the type of murder that occurs when someone begins with an intent to kill another person. When someone intentionally plans and commits a murder, that’s usually referred to as a first degree criminal homicide here in the United States.
Then there is a non-premeditated murder, also known as manslaughter. This occurs when one person kills someone but didn’t intend to do so or think about doing it beforehand. Involuntary manslaughter is unintentional, like an accidental killing. Voluntary manslaughter involves the intent to injure but not kill someone. For instance, let’s say that two people are fighting and the first person pushes the second person off a balcony to his or her death. That would be an example of voluntary manslaughter.
So you can see that there are many different types of murders. Knowing this, which one of these types of murder do you think that Cain would be charged with if he were put on trial in a court of law today? Well, based on the information we have, we can say that Cain would almost certainly be charged with first degree murder in the death of his brother if he were to appear in court today.
While it’s possible that Cain and Abel went out to the field and had a spontaneous argument that resulted in Abel’s death, a good detective would want to know why Cain invited Abel there in the first place. This is because…
- The only reason that Abel seems to be there is because his brother invited him.
- Cain’s anger over the acceptance of his brother’s sacrifice provided him with a potential motive to kill his brother when no one else was around.
Besides, Genesis 4:8 specifically says that, “…while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother…” There’s no indication that Abel had anything to do with it. Then there is 1 John 3:12 which tells us: “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”
This is why Cain would be almost certainly be looking at a first degree murder charge if he was being put on trial in the death of his brother today.
(1) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
We should also remember that God had already given Cain a word of warning when he became angry over the rejection of his offering. Genesis 4:7 records that conversation for us: “…if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” So God clearly warned Cain about the consequences that would follow his choices, but Cain apparently chose not to listen.
In one sense, God continues to repeat His warning to Cain to people today through the pages of His Word. For example, the New Testament book of Galatians says this…
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).
So we can say that there are definite consequences that follow the way that someone chooses to live. As the Scripture quoted above tells us, bad choices are sure to be followed by bad consequences. And while it may be easy to think that those consequences will only affect the person making the choice, the truth is that they are not just limited to the person involved- those consequences also affect other people as well.
Let’s think about the other people who were affected by Cain’s decision to murder his brother. For instance, we can say that Abel’s death certainly had an impact on Adam and Eve. Remember that Cain was Adam and Eve’s first son. Adam and Eve probably had great hope for their first-born son, just as any good parent would. Perhaps they even thought that Cain would turn out to be the deliverer that God had promised to give them so many years earlier when they were still in the Garden of Eden.
But what happened? Well, it turned out that Cain was far from being the deliverer that God had promised. The unfortunate reality is that Cain actually went on to become the very first murderer. Cain and Abel may have been the only two human beings that existed other than Adam and Eve at this time- and now one of them was gone. That means that the first person ever born in the history of the human race also turned out to be the first criminal ever in the history of the human race.
“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'” (Genesis 4:9-12).
So Abel became the very first person to die for doing what was right. Perhaps Cain thought that he could hide his brother’s murder by bringing him out to a remote location, but the reality is that nothing can ever be hidden from God (see Hebrews 4:13).
It’s interesting to notice that God doesn’t start His conversation with Cain by making an accusation. He simply begins with a single question: ‘”Where is your brother Abel?” Just as Adam was faced with a choice in responding to God, Cain was also faced with a choice in responding to this question from God. He could choose to be honest and upfront with God about his actions or he could choose to respond to God in some other way. Unfortunately, Cain also chose to go with option number two, just as Adam did.
Rather than responding to God in a way that gave God the respect that He deserved, Cain instead chose to give God a sarcastic response: “…the Lord asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother? Where is Abel?’ ‘How should I know?’ Cain retorted. ‘Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?'” (Genesis 4:9 TLB).
When God questioned Adam and Eve after they disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden, they both at least responded respectfully to His questions. Unfortunately, Cain’s response to God was very different. Not only did Cain murder an innocent man, he then proceeded to make his crime even worse by disrespecting God and then trying to lie to Him about it.
“The LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth'” (Genesis 4:10-12).
Remember that Cain was a farmer, so this punishment was really bad. Basically, this verdict was a more intense version of the judgment that God placed on Adam for his wrongdoing in Genesis chapter three. So while growing enough food to eat was difficult enough for Adam, it was now going to be impossible for Cain.
Not only that, Cain was also condemned to a bitter future- a future of continually drifting from region to region, looking for a home and a place of his own, but never quite finding that place.
“Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:13-16).
Cain’s reply to God gives us another important clue about his attitude toward God. The Scripture quoted above tells us that Cain responded to God’s verdict by saying, “This punishment is too hard!” (CEV). In other words, Cain didn’t feel bad about the fact that he did something wrong- he felt bad about the punishment that he received for doing wrong. Like many people today, the thing that Cain was most sorry about was the fact that he was caught and now had to suffer the consequences.
You see, there’s a big difference between being sorry for doing something wrong and being sorry that you got caught doing something wrong. The Bible talks about this difference in the Old Testament book of Proverbs…
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:13-14).
This passage of Scripture tells us that it’s not enough to simply feel sorry about doing something wrong. Instead of just feeling sorry, the first thing we should do is be honest and upfront with God about the things we’ve done wrong and not try to hide them. The next step is to “renounce” (a word that means “to give up” or “reject”) those things we’ve done wrong and ask God to help us make choices that honor Him.
These verses also help to illustrate the Biblical concept of “repentence.” This idea of repentance literally means, “to change your mind” and it implies a lot more than just feeling sorry about doing something wrong. Real repentance always involves action, just like a motor vehicle driver might stop from going the wrong way by making a U-turn and going back in the right direction.
On the other hand, someone who is not honest with themselves or with God about the things that they’ve done wrong will surely have to deal with some bad consequences, just like Cain.
There was one additional problem for Cain other than the punishment of exile that he received for murdering his brother. That other problem for Cain is found in Genesis 4:14: “whoever finds me will kill me.”
Cain apparently was afraid that someone else might try to kill him in revenge for what he did to his brother. It seems that this fear also caused a sudden change in Cain’s attitude towards God as well. Now that his life might possibly be in danger, Cain pleaded with God saying, “My punishment is more than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13). Cain also stopped making sarcastic remarks to God like, “How should I know (where Abel is)? Am I his babysitter?” (Genesis 4:9 MSG) now that he needed God’s help.
Cain’s attitude towards God was revealed in the way that he spoke to God, but God’s attitude towards Cain was also revealed in the way that He spoke to Cain. You see, when Cain said, “whoever finds me will kill me,” God could have replied by saying something like, “That’s too bad- I guess you should have thought about that before murdering your brother and then making a wisecrack remark to me when I asked you where he was.”
Rather than saying something like that, we read instead that God placed a mark on Cain so that anyone who found him would know not to kill him (see Genesis 4:15). Whatever this mark was, it served to protect Cain from anyone who wanted to treat him in the same way that he had treated Abel. This gracious protection from God later enabled Cain to build a city and produce a large number of descendants that we’ll read about later.
“So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16).
The word “Nod” means “wandering” which certainly made it an appropriate place to be for someone who was condemned to be a “…a restless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12). In fact, it’s possible that this reference to the land of Nod does not indicate an actual geographic area, but is merely used as a figure of speech to illustrate Cain’s nomadic lifestyle from that point forward.
So we’ve seen that Cain was the first human being ever born but also that he was humanity’s first murderer as well. To this list, we can also add another first- the Scriptures tell us that Cain was also the very first person to leave God’s presence, as the Biblical verse quoted above tells us. Unfortunately, once someone turns from the presence of God, bad things are sure to follow.
“Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch” (Genesis 4:17).
This verse brings up one of the most famous Biblical questions of all time: Who was Cain’s wife? Since Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel are the only human beings mentioned in the Bible up to this point, where did Cain’s wife come from?
Well, we can find one possible answer later on in Genesis chapter five where there is a long list of people who eventually descended from Adam. This chapter tells us that Adam lived for a total of 930 years and “…had other sons and daughters” as well (Genesis 5:4-5). So if -like Adam- the life span of an average person lasted for hundreds of years during that era, there would be plenty of time for people to produce many children who are not necessarily mentioned in Genesis.
So let’s say that each new generation of people born during this time began to turn out another new generation every 20-25 years while their parents continued to have additional children. This would create an enormous potential for a human population explosion in a very short time. If that was the case, then it means that Cain simply chose a wife from among the large number of bachelorettes available.
However, this would also mean that Cain’s wife was probably one of his sisters or at least a very close relative. Now besides the “eeeewwww” factor involved with the idea of someone marrying his sister, the Old Testament book of Leviticus specifically warns against this…
“If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They must be cut off before the eyes of their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible” (Leviticus 20:17).
Another problem is that marriage between close relatives also increases the possibility for genetic defects to show up in any children that they might have. So how should we look at these issues?
Well, first we should remember that Cain’s marriage took place long before the law in Leviticus went into effect. This means that we can’t say that Cain’s marriage went against the Bible’s teachings on this subject because it took place long before God gave people those teachings.
Secondly, the human “gene pool” was probably a lot cleaner during these first generations. The genetics of these early human beings were probably still pure enough to allow for intermarriage between close relatives without the genetic problems that we might see today. However, there eventually came a time when God prohibited marriages between close relatives, apparently due to the genetic dangers involved. That’s the ruling that comes into effect in Leviticus 20:17.
“To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4:18-22).
So these verses provide us with a list of people who descended from Adam and Eve’s son Cain. Genesis 4:19 tells us that Cain eventually had a great-great-great grandson whose name was Lamech. According to the Scriptures, Lamech is the first recorded example of someone who chose to reject the original marriage standard of one man and one woman that God had established way back in the Garden of Eden.
Lamech’s wives then went on to give birth to three sons who turned out to be very important. The first son was named Jabal and he was the first person to travel from place to place while raising and producing livestock. This tent-based lifestyle allowed people to easily relocate in search of good pastures for domestic animals like camels, donkeys, goats, and sheep.
Next up was a man named Jubal. While his brother Jabal was more of an outdoorsman, Jubal turned out to be much more artistic in nature. Jubal was a musician who worked with and played various wind and string instruments. So if you are a musician who plays an instrument in a band, you and Jubal have something in common.
The third brother mentioned is a man named Tubal-Cain. He went on to become the very first metal worker ever. Tubal-Cain was the forerunner of a modern day iron worker and he developed the methods and procedures for casting and forging things out of iron and bronze. Because of this ability to create and develop various metal tools, Tubal-Cain’s work would have been important in helping farmers plant and harvest enough food to feed the growing human population.
So these verses describe three men who were extremely skilled and talented at a very early point in human history. While it’s certainly true that human achievements have become more complex and sophisticated over time, these Scriptures give us some insight into the great advancements that people were capable of even at this early stage of human development.
If you thought that boasting and trash-talking on the field, on the court, or at the microphone was something new, then guess again…
“Lamech said to his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times'” (Genesis 4:23-24).
So we might say that the Bible identifies this guy Lamech as the original trash-talker. Of course, Lamech isn’t boasting to anyone other than his own two wives so it may be a little difficult to take what he says seriously. Nevertheless, Lamech says: “If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times, then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!” (NLT).
Now you may remember that God had issued an earlier warning that promised a sevenfold punishment on anyone who killed Cain. But now Lamech basically says, “If God promises a sevenfold punishment on anyone who kills Cain, I guarantee a seventy-sevenfold punishment on anyone who tries to kill me.”
So it seems that Lamech feels that he is so important that he can issue a greater punishment than God. But for all his trash-talking, Lamech really didn’t really amount to very much in the end- he and his descendants are never heard from again in the Bible.
So it seems that Adam’s descendants (like Cain and Lamech) are quickly moving away from a God-honoring attitude. But that doesn’t include everyone…
“Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’ Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:25-26).
The name Seth means “appointed” and the idea seems to be that Seth was the replacement for Abel, the righteous man that Cain murdered earlier. Seth is an important person in the Scriptures because we’ll find that his lineage will eventually lead to other Godly men such as Noah, Abraham, David, and ultimately on to Jesus Christ.
It was also during this time that, “…men began to call on the name of the LORD.” This could mean that people first started to pray to God, worship God, or even begin to have some sort of regularly scheduled church service at this time. Whatever this phrase refers to, we can say that this marks the first time in history that a group of people began to turn to God in faith.