Cain and Abel. Studying Genesis 4

In Genesis 3, we dramatically see the fall of humanity into sin. 

While death is the ultimate judgment for a sinful world, Adam and Eve do not die immediately. Genesis 4 begins with the continuation of the human race. As Eve has children, it is also a reminder of God’s promise that a child of the woman would crush the head of serpent (Genesis 3:15). 

Genesis 4:1-2:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 

We see the first brothers: Cain and Abel. It will become the first of several sibling rivalries in the Book of Genesis. Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. 

From their introduction in Genesis, we see that the two are different, even down to their occupations. One is a sheep herd, the other is a farmer. It’s not a commentary on one of those jobs being superior to the other. But the brothers are different. 

In verses 3-5, we see the sacrifice which would spark a bitter and tragic disagreement between the two brothers. 

3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

Sacrifice becomes a significant theme throughout the rest of the Bible. 

Here we see two sacrifices made to God. One is acceptable. One is not. 

The NIV Study Bible describes sacrifice and says: ​​”Generally speaking, Israelites presented sacrifices for one of three reasons: to praise and thank the Lord, to emphasize their requests to the Lord, and to atone for sin and impurity.”

To our modern sensibilities, the idea of sacrifices might seem archaic and backwards. Sacrifices point us to the holiness of God and that there are appropriate ways to approach a holy God. Atoning sacrifices point us to the costliness of sin. Sacrifices were an opportunity to trust God’s provision as people would sacrifice things which were costly (God required a person’s best animals), and to make that sacrifice and to trust that God would still provide what was needed. 

Sacrifices also point us to the ultimate and perfect sacrifice when Jesus gave himself for our sins. 

The author of Hebrews talks of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12). 

Cain and Abel make sacrifices. That raises a lot of questions. Were they told to make sacrifices? If so, that’s never recorded. Did they take it upon themselves to make sacrifices? Had Adam made sacrifices? Where did the idea come from? The Bible doesn’t answer any of these questions. Perhaps it’s part of human nature. We prize and value sacrifices for that which we think is worthy. 

Cain and Abel both make sacrifices. 

As has already been mentioned, the Lord accepts Abel’s but not Cain’s sacrifice. 

But the issue with this passage is not the sacrifices themselves, it’s the heart of Cain. 

Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.

Cain and Abel each bring sacrifices which are related to their vocations. Cain the farmer brings some of the fruit of the ground while Abel the sheep herd brings the firstborn of his flock. 

In later Old Testament laws, God would require the firstfruits of what was produced and the firstborn of teh animals to be sacrificed (cf Exodus 13:2; 23:16). 

This language will also be applied to Jesus in the New Testament. In the Christ hymn of Colossians 1, Jesus is referred to as the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15). 

There was a greater heart behind the sacrifice of Abel as he brought God his best. In bringing the fat portions, those were the prized cuts of the animal. 

As I’ve mentioned, the issue is the heart of Cain, not the sacrifice itself because when the Lord had no regard for Cain’s sacrifice, Cain became better.

Verses 6:

6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 

Just like with Adam and Eve in the garden, God begins with a question. 

More and more, I appreciate the value of the right question.

God tells Cain what he must do. 

Genesis 4:7: 

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” 

This is the first time in the Bible that sin is named. It is personified as something that is powerful. On a similar train of thought, Paul would describe the power of sin in Romans 7. 

Romans 7:15-20:

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 

Instead of dealing with sin, we see Cain against his brother. 

Cain murders Abel

Genesis 4:8:

8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Instead of listening to God, Cain has swung hard the other way. 

In the first sin, humanity ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and now man is killing man. Cain kills his brother. Man has taken the life of another image bearer. 

Genesis 4:9, The Lord asks Cain: 

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 

Once again, God comes to Cain with a question. Cain is invited to confess but instead attempts to deflect. He acts as though Abel’s whereabouts are not his responsibility. But he’s the one who has taken the life of his brother! 

Adam fesses up to his sin, but Cain misdirects and misleads in his attempt to cover up his sin. 

We see no remorse from Cain for his sin. 

But God knows. 

Kenneth Matthews notes that Abel’s blood convicts the sinner, but we will see that the blood of Christ redeems the sinner. 

Genesis 4:10-12:

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”

When Adam and Eve sinned, the ground was cursed. When Cain sins, we will see that he himself is cursed because of his sin against his brother. 

In Genesis 4:13-15, we continue to see the heart of Cain:  13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 

Cain’s sin brings alienation both from the land, from people, and from the Lord. We see his concern for vulnerability. Ironic considering he’s just murdered his brother! But just because Cain has killed Abel does not mean that anyone can arbitrarily kill Cain.  


Genesis 4 ends by introducing what will become another significant theme in the Book of Genesis. The genealogy from Adam, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and beyond. 

Cain’s genealogy is first introduced before the passage ends by returning to Adam and Eve and a new son they have. Seth. The line of Adam will continue, but through Seth. 

25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:25-26)

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