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Old Testament Study - Genesis 4

Here, we continue our study in Genesis with a study of the fourth chapter.

Cain and Abel


1Adam 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." 2Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7If 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."


The fourth chapter of Genesis deals with the history of Cain and Abel. In the previous chapter, the origin of sin was dealt with; in this chapter, the progress of sin is described. The consequences of the first sin are far-reaching, to say the least, affecting our lives even thousands of years later. The fourth chapter of Genesis shows how quickly sin progressed, yielding a murder only the first generation after the first sin.

The chapter begins with the births of Cain and Abel. It is widely, presumptively assumed that Cain and Abel were the first and second and the only children of Adam and Eve until Seth was born. There is nothing in the narrative to support this. Clearly, Adam and Eve had many other children (see Gen. 5:4), and possibly some even before Cain and Abel were born. Certainly, they had daughters of marrying age before Seth was born because Cain was married to one of them! Of Adam and Eve's many children, the history of three of them (Cain, Abel and Seth) are recounted because of the importance of the events in their lives.

We know nothing specific about Cain's and Abel's childhood. We are first told that "Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil." From this we can infer that God instructed the first humans in the practical skills that they needed in order to carve out an existence. They also, undoubtedly, were instructed in spiritual principles, such as the need to be reconciled to God and the means to be reconciled to God: atonement for sin through blood sacrifice. Before the revelation of God was recorded and distributed in written form in the Bible, He revealed His law and will directly to His people. Thus, we have many instances in the Old Testament of God speaking directly to His prophets. His prophets were charged with the task of communicating the revelation of God to the rest of the people.

Now, Jesus referred to Abel as a prophet (see Luke 11:50-51) and implied that he was the first prophet. Thus, it could very well be that Abel was the one entrusted by God to communicate to the people the proper way to worship God and the proper sacrifices to offer for atonement. Certainly, Abel worshiped God properly. He "brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock." The sacrifice that Abel brought was the same as what was prescribed later when the law was given to Moses for the fellowship offering: "From the fellowship offering he is to bring a sacrifice made to the LORD by fire: its fat, the entire fat tail cut off close to the backbone, all the fat that covers the inner parts or is connected to them" (Lev. 3:8).

In addition to bringing the proper sacrifice to the Lord, Abel offered it with the proper attitude: in faith. The writer of Hebrews speaks of Abel's sacrifice: "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" (Heb. 11:4). Now, what was the object of Abel's faith? For Abel to have offered his sacrifice "by faith", he must have had faith in something. We can infer that Abel's faith was in a promise that he received from God that, through his blood sacrifice, he could be reconciled to God. The fact that Abel offered his sacrifice "by faith" tends to confirm our supposition that Abel had been instructed by God in the proper way to offer sacrifices of atonement.

Not only did Abel offer the proper sacrifice, with the proper attitude, but his offering was also given the proper priority. We are told that Abel offered his sacrifice from "the firstborn of his flock". Abel's first priority was not in clothing himself from his flock, but in making atonement for his sins and getting right with God.

In contrast, Cain did not offer the right sacrifice, his offering did not have the proper priority and he offered his sacrifice with the wrong attitude. While Abel offered the proper and required blood sacrifice, Cain offered "the fruits of the soil". While Abel offered the "firstborn of his flock", Cain merely brought "some" of the fruits. Moreover, whereas God "looked with favor on Abel" because he offered his sacrifice by faith, God "did not look with favor" on Cain, implying that Cain did not offer his sacrifice with the right attitude.

One may ask then, what was Cain's purpose in offering his sacrifice? After all, he did go to the trouble of offering a sacrifice. One can infer what his purpose was by considering the sacrifice that he did bring. He brought the result of his labor, "some of the fruits of the soil" that he had farmed. In doing so, to his credit, he was in a way acknowledging his debt to God for providing for him. However, to please God, we must acknowledge more than our physical debt to God for his providence: we must also acknowledge our spiritual debt to Him for our sin. Many today acknowledge a debt to God for providing for them, for creating them and the universe, for sustaining the creation by His power; but this is not enough. To have peace with God, we must acknowledge our spiritual debt to God by coming to God through Jesus Christ, who repaid our spiritual debt for us. Those who fail to acknowledge their spiritual debt to God reject God's requirement for an atoning sacrifice. In doing so, they are in effect rejecting the fact that they have sinned. They think that they are good enough, that they do not need God's forgiveness. They think that they can please God by living their decent lives and coming to God on their own terms, as thought Cain. They may even acknowledge that there is a God and acknowledge some aspects of God's work in their lives, such as His providence. However, ultimately, they fall short of being reconciled to God because they have not taken care of their spiritual debt to Him.

Abel and Cain are typical of the two types of people who live today. Like Abel, many hear the Word of God, accept it by faith, and are reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Like Cain, many hear the Word of God, but ignore it and establish their own way to worship God. There are those, as Abel, who choose the way that God has prescribed, acknowledging their spiritual debt to God; and there are those as Cain, who choose their own way. They appease their consciences by showing God a measure of homage, but they ignore God's instructions and true requirements. In doing so, they put themselves above God by deciding for themselves how to worship God.

Also like Cain, they are angry when it is suggested that their way of worshiping God is insufficient. When Cain saw that Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God, but his was not, Cain "was very angry, and his face was downcast". God, in His mercy, directly spoke to Cain, telling him what he must do to find favor with God: "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted". It is puzzling that people get upset when they hear of God's requirements. If they do what is right, they will be accepted. Nowadays, to do "what is right" is much easier than in the days of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel had to offer a blood sacrifice; our blood sacrifice was offered by Jesus Christ when He gave Himself. We need only to accept His sacrifice by faith. It is the blood sacrifice that made the difference between Abel and Cain, between the Israelites and Egyptians on the Passover, between the Christian and non-Christian today. It is the blood sacrifice that makes the difference between death and salvation.

Cain's problem was that, even after being admonished by God, he did not desire to "do what is right", he did not desire to obey the Lord. The Lord tried to correct Cain, but Cain ignored Him. We must be careful not to despise or even ignore the correction of God. As the book of Proverbs exhorts: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Prov. 3:11,12; Heb. 12:5,6). When the Lord admonished Cain, He spoke directly to him. In doing so, He is speaking to us through His revealed Word. The primary way that God admonishes us today is through His revelation in the Bible.

The danger that Cain faced by ignoring God was that sin was "crouching at his door". Since Cain did not desire to do right, the sin at his door indeed overtook him, as we shall see in the next section.


The First Murder

8Now 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.

9Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"

"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

10The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. 11Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."

13Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. 14Today 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."

15But 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. 16So Cain went out from the LORD's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.


The fact that sin was crouching at Cain's door is evident in this section. Cain murdered his brother, rather than heed the Lord's reproof. Instead of meeting God's requirement to provide a blood sacrifice, Cain shed the blood of his brother. So soon after their own sin, Adam and Eve tragically reaped the fruit of it.

"And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous" (I John 3:12). The natural reaction of the ungodly to the Godly is to persecute them. Abel was not only the first prophet but also the first martyr. As a prophet, he certainly must have spoken of the proper way to offer sacrifices and to worship God. Cain despised the teaching of God and the prophecy of Abel, and chose to kill the prophet. Ironically, the motive of the first murder concerned the worship of God. Sadly, there have been wars over religion ever since.

Cain was not only the first murderer, but also the first hypocrite. Cain's response to the Lord's admonition was proof that he did not give his offering to the Lord in the spirit of worship. If he had, in response to the Lord's admonition, Cain would have sought to correct his offering. One can determine the state of a worshiper's heart by looking at their behavior after they leave the place of worship. So it is today. Watch the behavior of a Sunday worshiper on Monday morning and discern the true state of his heart in worship.

Rather than immediately punishing Cain with death, God graciously sought out Cain in order to give him a chance to repent. Cain, however, already showed contempt for the righteousness of God through despising the right sacrifice. Now, he shows contempt for the righteousness of God by his lack of repentance.

Unlike Adam and Eve, who acknowledged their sin, Cain tried to hide his sin by denying that he knew where Abel is: "Am I my brother's keeper?" It is futile to try to hide sin from the Lord. Ask Moses (who murdered an Egyptian, but was found out); ask David (who committed adultery and murdered Uriah, but was found out). As the Lord warned the Israelites: "You may be sure that your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). Just as Abel's "blood cries out" to the Lord, so also the results of all of our sins cry out to God.

The mention of Abel's blood is the first mention of blood in the Bible. Interestingly, the first mention of blood does not concern the blood of an animal sacrifice, but the blood of a righteous man and a prophet, whose blood was shed for righteousness sake.

The writer of Hebrews says, concerning Abel: "And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Heb. 11:4). Abel testifies that we must worship the Lord in the way that He has prescribed, not in a way that we have devised. Our own sincere sacrifices mean nothing if they ignore the instruction of God. The writer of Hebrews then goes on to point out that the blood of Jesus "speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12:24). The blood of Abel speaks of righteousness via the Old Covenant sacrifice; the blood of Jesus speaks of righteousness through His shed blood for us, once for all. Thus, it is a "better word" than what is spoken by the blood of Abel.

Since Cain tried to hide his sin, and was clearly unrepentant, God's punishment was surely going to come. Be assured: the punishment of God follows the sin of the unrepentant. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Gal. 6:7,8).

God's immediate punishment on Cain was that the land would "no longer yield its crops" for him and that he would be a "restless wanderer on the earth". So, God's punishment on Cain affected his prosperity and his peace. God will often chasten us by limiting our prosperity. He will more often chasten us by limiting our peace. Sinners, in general, who reject God are "restless wanderers on the earth", for why are they alive? What purpose does their life have apart from God?

When Cain heard of his punishment, he said: "My punishment is more than I can bear." As so often happens, Cain only despairs over his sin when he learns of his punishment. We sin willfully, but are not willing to accept the consequences. We willfully choose to reject God's offer of forgiveness, but are not willing to bear the punishment.

Cain feared not only the punishment of God, but the retribution by man. Although Cain deserved death, God in His grace allowed Cain not only to live, but to be under His protection from any retribution by man: "Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him". I believe that God, through the mark of Cain, was giving Cain further opportunity to repent. Cain seems to have been given an extra measure of leniency. Presumably, this was because Cain did not have the examples from history or from the written Word of God that speak of the detestableness of murder.


Cain's Descendants


17Cain 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. 18To 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.

19Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. 22Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah.

23Lamech 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.
24If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times."

There is no direct evidence that Cain ever turned back to God. Cain went, with his wife (to whom, apparently, he was married before the murder of Abel), and built his own city. Now, from man's point of view, it is a great achievement to build a city; however, we do not remember Cain for his city, but for his sin. Ultimately, it is not the works of man that count, but man's work for God.

The descendants of Cain were a civilized people, and pioneers in many trades, crafts and art forms. They were the first nomads, musicians, metalworkers and tool smiths. They seemed to follow in their father Cain's footsteps, and became "restless wanderers on the earth", seeking after worldly pursuits to appease their restlessness. Yes, they were the first musicians and craftsmen, but they were also apparently godless and so, what did their civilization gain them?

Their godlessness reached a pinnacle in the person of Lamech. He was the first bigamist (breaking the law of marriage, which had already been given in Gen. 2:24), and the first who is shown to hold his wives under ungodly subjection, rather than in Godly submission. He was also quite possibly the first poet, for his threat to his wives in vv. 23-24 was spoken in poetic form. In his poem, he took pride in the sin of murdering a young man for injuring him, and he used his sin as a defiant display of power to hold his wives in fear of him. He also referenced God's statement that anyone shedding Cain's blood would be avenged seven times. Lamech, in effect, boasted that he did not need God's protection, for he would take revenge himself, and not just "seven times" but "seventy-seven times". Moreover, Lamech took advantage of God's mercy. He saw that his forefather Cain was not punished by death for his murder, so Lamech defiantly murdered a man himself. There are two ways to respond to God's grace: we can be instructed by it, or we can show contempt for it.


25Adam 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." 26Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.


Some time after Abel was murdered, Eve gave birth to Seth. Prophetically, she says: "God has granted me another child in place of Abel". Out of all her children (cf. Gen. 5:4), Eve saw Seth as taking the place of Abel as a spiritual leader. Her prophecy was fulfilled, for "at that time men began to call on the name of the LORD."

In Seth's time, presumably under Seth's influence, men began to turn back to God. The implication is that, by "calling on the name of the LORD", they did more than just offer the required sacrifices; they sought a closer relationship to God than what was merely required to gain His favor. They most likely began to sing praises in worship of the Lord. They quite possibly even used the musical instruments invented by the descendants of Cain to glorify God. Indeed, this can be seen as the first revival.

So, in summary, while the descendants of Cain built their city and chased after worldly pursuits, the descendants of Seth sought to get themselves right with the Lord and desired to develop the kingdom of God. While the descendants of Cain drifted from the Lord, the descendants of Seth drew closer to the Lord. While the descendants of Cain saw no need to turn to God, the descendants of Seth realized that they needed the Lord and began to call on His name. This division still exists today. Even today, we can distinguish figuratively the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth. We see the separation between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Of all the offspring of Adam and Eve, only the thin line of Seth drew close to the Lord. The rest, it seems, belonged to the seed of the serpent. And throughout history, it seems that there has always only been a thin branch of the human family tree that has called on the name of the Lord.


Closing Prayer


Oh Lord, may we be known as those who call on Your name. Give us an acute awareness of our need for You. Turn our hearts from worldly pursuits, so that seeking Your will and calling on Your name would be our priority. We praise You that the blood of Christ, which was shed for our sins, cries out to us, drawing us near to You. May we answer its call and accept its cleansing power. In the name of Jesus, who shed His blood for us, we ask these things, Amen.


(The study in Genesis will continue in the next issue )


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