• Home
  • About Us
  • Bible Study
  • Blog
  • MInistries
    • Missions
  • Giving
  • Knowing God

Genesis study & commentary

Genesis 4

By Doug Ford
Cain and Abel

Genesis 4:1-2

There are churches and believers that never endeavor to study the Old Testament.  To study it is more than just reading it.  It is let the word be alive in us, to form a vision, so see the action, hear the words.  In this study, it occurs to me just how much believers are missing out on when they fail to 'dig in' the book of Genesis. 


From the beginning we see God's love for mankind, his provision and care for His image bearers.  We often think of God's love revealed on the cross and His grace displayed by an empty tomb.  These are obviously true, but God us unchanging (immutable); the same yesterday, today and forever.  His grace and love were just as visible and evident from the beginning.  Likewise, as it was in the beginning, it remains so today; we are image bearers cared for in God's grace. 


We should be careful not to mistake His love and grace for an indifference for sin.  God remains just and righteous.  Sin is an offense and it is addressed straight up. 

  • Sin is named for what it is
  • God declared the penalty
  • Grace is applied
  • Sin is punished


Genesis 4:1-2

Adam & Eve had acquired knowledge of good and evil.  When cast out, they crossed a boundary, or threshold, of the garden.  They stepped from the perfection, and good, of Eden to the fallen world.  Death, deception, doubt, intrigue, self-interest, politics, pride, prejudice, partiality, selfishness, ego, narcissism and much more came into existence in a moment.  In that moment, they stood with good behind them and evil before them (or at least the affects).  Adam knew the sweat of his brow to work and grind out a living with land that was inclined to grow thorns and thistles.  Eve came to understand the curse that fell on her, the pain of childbirth. 


Even under the curse of sin, not all blessings and favor were removed.  God didn't kick Adam and Eve from the garden and ignore them or abandon them.  The penalty of sin is death; the grave was victorious with the sting of death.  Even still, Adam and Eve were still to be fruitful & multiply.  They remained image bearers, although damaged or tainted.


Adam 'knew' his wife (NKJV) or made love (NIV).  This is the first mention of sex in the bible.  In simple words used don't represent a physical act as much as the part of the intimacy of the two having become one flesh.  This is confused in our day; as if the act of sex were nothing more than a physical act that is capable of being separated from intimacy and marriage.  This union is to be exclusive to a husband and wife.  This union leads to the incredible blessing of childbirth.  This is the first pregnancy; which was filled with many firsts, with wonder, amazement and questions.  ("Uh, God, why is my belly getting larger?  How long does this take?  How big will I get?)  Eve was the first woman to place her husbands' hand on her belly and feel the stirring of life.  Did Adam place his ear on her belly and listen to the heartbeat of his child.  Equally new but terrifying was the pain of childbirth Eve experienced and Adam witnessed.  


Eve gave birth to Cain and made the statement that she had acquired or brought forth a man.  Cain means 'possession'.  She probably thought this man was the seed God talked about that would crush the serpent or Satan.  The effects of sin must have been very much on her mind as she had this child with the hope of redemption.  This child, this possession was her hope, and the beginning of looking forward to the Messiah.  However, Cain would prove to be more evidence of the need for redemption; he would be more of a product of the sin nature.  He would appear to more of the seed of the serpent than the seed of the woman.  As Eve saw this in her child, she discovered the 'pain' of childbirth didn't end with the delivery.


Eve later gave birth to Able.  The account of the first birth is detailed in steps; conception, pregnancy, birth, naming and the hope that existed.  The second birth is offered in more of a 'by the way' fashion.  The fanfare of the second child never equals that of the first child, but there is probably more to this idea than having children becoming commonplace.  Able means 'vanity' or 'breath' or 'empty'.  Why would she name a son vanity?  It may well be that Eve came to know that Able wouldn't be the promised one either.  The promised one would be the seed of woman.  Cain & Able were born of the seed of man and so the sin nature is passed on.  The 'breath' or 'vanity' would play out as 'brevity' of life for Abel.


Abel grew up to be a herdsman and Cain was a farmer.  The two brothers grew up very different, each having different proclivities, preferences and desires.  We can look at this and see the image of God in each of these young men.  In Cain, a desire to steward the earth; to plant and cultivate and be productive.  In his work he was subduing and ruling as he was created to do.  He was fighting again the thorns and thistles he inherited from his father.  In Able, there was a desire to keep the flocks.  His desire and nature were to shepherd the animals; to care for them, protect them and provide for them.  In doing so, he subdued and ruled over the creation.  There was nothing inherently wrong or right in who these young men were or what they did. 


Note: This doesn't seem to be a picture of knuckle dragging cavemen as we were taught in school regarding early man.  They seemed to be communicating a little better than grunting and scratching pictures on the cave walls with burnt sticks. 


Genesis 4:3-5

The reference to 'time' in verse three indicates a passing of time.  We were given a glimpse into their life and they functioned in this fashion for a time.  The time came when they understood they were to bring a sacrifice.  It's not clear to us how they knew this but it must have been the lessons of the Lord through their parents regarding their relationship to God in the light of their sin. 


When this time came, Cain and Abel both brought their offerings to the Lord.  Cain brought an offering to the Lord that was the fruit of the ground.  Abel brought the firstborn of his flock.  The NIV classifies Cain's offering as 'some' of the fruit and text implies that his offering came from among what was grown.  It may be that we should see this as 'what was left' of Cain's harvest.  In contrast, Abel brought and offering from 'the firstborn' 


Somewhere in your studies you may have heard it said that Abel's offering was accepted because it was a blood offering and Cain's grain offering.  We aren't given any indication these offerings related to the law that was to be given later.  Within the law, the offering of the firstborn could have been a sacrifice for atonement of sin.  The law yet to come also provides for a grain offering though it is not for atoning for sin.  Also, we must consider this from the faith Chapter of Hebrews:

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4)


What made the offering 'more excellent'?  It wasn't the content of the offering as much as the heart behind it.  Cain may well have come with what he thought was an adequate sacrifice.  But 'adequate' revealed his view of God and himself. 


To understand a God so high,

To know our sin and how far we've fallen,

To know the grace extended to us in light of this circumstance,

To know that God made a promise of redemption

Is to move us to come by faith, believing God at His word,

It's to come humbly and in reverence,

It's to bring an offering that is merely a representative of all our life.


We can know that God had revealed to these brothers the predicament of their life and what was expected of them in this state.  Abel's faith came from hearing the word of God in a way that moved him to specific attitude and heart change that then translated to the activity of his life.  In short, Abel's sin and relationship with God became the nucleus of his life; all else was built around or upon the knowledge of sin causing a riff with God and the need for redemption.  Abel's heart was right.


Cain may well have tried hard in bringing some of his crops, however, he was going through the motions of appeasing God.  In doing so, it is revealed that he understood an offering was right, expected and purposeful.  There was probably nothing wrong with the fruit of his harvest, it may have been very nice.  However, there was no faith, no realization of the separation from God and the deep need for redemption and relationship with Him.  The motivation to bring the offering didn't move him to bring this offering as a representative of the entirety of his life. 


It's fascinating to realize, that if you and I examined these offerings, both would have looked sufficient, maybe even incredibly holy looking.  Had Cain had a different heart and brought the same offering, the outcome would have been different.  Had Able come with a different heart, his blood sacrifice of the firstborn would have been found inadequate. 


Abel's offering was found favorable but Cain's was not.  There is every indication that Cain was very sincere and that he believed his offering was a good one.  But our sincerity and faith are not the same thing; our firm belief in something doesn't translate to obedience in God's eyes.  Often our sincerity and firm belief are used to mask our own personal desire.  As Even looked on, she may have seen her self in her son.  As she stood before the tree and decided it looked pleasing, and that it would offer knowledge and was faced with the idea that God was withholding something, she was justifying what she already desired to do; that is to eat from this forbidden tree.  Cain's offering, no matter how sincere or how physically perfect it may have been, wasn't given as God had directed.  Cain made the offering the way he decided instead of in obedience.  This is why he became angry and saddened; God had informed him that his way wasn't sufficient.  Cain was offended at God's required holiness.


Note: Jesus referred to Able as righteous in Matthew 23:35.


Genesis 4:6-7

God addressed Cain directly in his anger.  This is God's mercy and care; He is calling Cain to correction and offering him to make things right.  His question invites Cain to explore the source of his anger.  Cain knew what was 'right' and apparently didn't do it.  He had made a choice to do so, he should be angry with himself.  If he corrected this, used his anger to correct his own action, he could do what was right and be accepted.  And then there was the word of caution; failure to use the anger and disappointment wisely, but to allow it to be directed outwardly would lead to additional sin. 


Cain could have recognized his error and made a new offering.  Had he come back to the Lord with a repentant and contrite heart, there's no doubt the Lord would have accepted it.  He passed on the opportunity to repent.  Instead held onto his anger, hurt feelings and he pouted.  Sin is portrayed as a beast that is always near, always crouching near the door, waiting to pounce.  Cain's anger opened the door and allowed entrance to the beast.  The anger that swells from the human pride and selfishness is hard to shut down.  Our tendency is to lash out in anger at anyone we can blame for our own shortcomings.


But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.  (James 1:14-15)


Being tempted is not sin.  We all face temptation – we are all drawn away like James says, and enticed.  From that enticement, desire is conceived.  That desire then gives birth to sin.  We must stop that process.  God told Cain he must rule over it, but Cain is drawn away by his desire to protect his bruised pride.


Note:  God was silent to Able because he was happy with what he was doing.  God was speaking to the one he wasn't happy with.  This seems like the picture we see later of the Shepherd concerned for the lost sheep.  God is going after the one that is going astray.  Cain was definitely going astray.


Genesis 4:8

Cain's desire to somehow get even with God led him to conceive of a plot to kill his brother.  Soon after his plan gave birth to sin.  Cain looked to his brother and asked him to join him in the field with the full intention of striking him down.  This is the first murder in the bible and it was fully premeditated. 


In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.  For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  Not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous. (1 John 3:10-12)


Cain murdered his brother because he was righteous.  Destroying righteous Cain did nothing to make Cain's offering more acceptable.  God didn't change His standard of holiness or begin grading righteousness on the curve.  That wasn't Cain's intentions though, he was out to inflict pain on God. 


Cain destroyed another life.  Abel went with his brother to the field with no thought of facing death.  As Cain struck, how stunned and hurt Abel must have been.  Cain struck him down and watched his brother breathe his last breath


Genesis 4:9-12

As we play this story out in our heads, we shouldn't picture these brothers as children, teens or even young men.  While there is no way of knowing for sure, it is quite possible and maybe likely that they were near a hundred when this happened.  (Seth seems to have come right after the death and he was born when Adam is 130.)


Cain is asked the probing question, much his father and mother were questioned when they sinned.  God wasn't seeking knowledge of what they had done but offering them a chance to openly confess the work of their hand.   Cain is sarcastic with God.  This displays his anger, bitterness and sinful attitude.  "Am I my brother's keeper?" is a play on words.  Able was the keeper of the sheep, Cain was asking, "Am I the keeper of the keeper?"


Why would Cain think he could lie to God and get away with it?  Sin had not only pounced on Cain, it now had its claws buried deep.  What would he imagine this sarcastic and irreverent attitude would get him?  When God asked the next question, He obviously knew the answer but once again Cain missed an opportunity to confess his sin and repent. 


God pronounced the penalty for Cain's sin; the ground that received his brother's blood would now be cursed.  This ground was given to Cain as a gift of grace, a provision from God.  He used the field as a killing ground, to absorb the blood and hide the body.  This curse God put on the ground would be devastating to a farmer, as Cain was.  He would now be a vagabond and a fugitive – unable to farm.  He would never again find contentment in the calling of his life. 


Cain got his judgment from God.  At this point I wonder where Adam & Eve are.  What did they think when they saw all this happening?  Did they see this as a direct result of their sin?


Note and additional thought:  In Numbers 35:29-34 the law describes how the blood of unpunished murderers defiles the land.  The land is made unclean by unpunished murder.  Blood pollutes the land.  The Israelites were not to pollute the land where God lived.  Do you think this principle applies to us?  Is the land of America defiled because of unpunished murders?  On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court ruled on Roe V Wade.  If abortion is murder in God's eyes, there have been millions of unpunished murders since abortion was legalized.  The Jews took murder very seriously.  In their eyes, when you murdered someone you not only killed that person, you killed all the future generations for that person.  Generation of aborted babies would now be bearing children, paying taxes, solving problems, inventing things, curing cancer; in general being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth.  Is there any relation to the unpunished murders of this nation and the moral freefall of our nation?


Genesis 4:13-16

There is no indication that Cain was repentant; he is however very sorry that he was caught.  He doesn't agree with the punishment he received, it seems much too harsh, more than he can bear.  Living in Sin brings self-pity and attempts to justify it.  The punishment seemed awfully unfair; unfair that he couldn't lash out at anger toward God, kill his brother and have a better life.  The often-sited thought is that 'everyone deserves a second chance'.  We often belief in second chances when it is to our benefit, not so much when we've been wronged.  We tend to look more toward justice.  Regardless of Cain's view of his punishment, we can see God didn't exercise immediate justice or Cain would be dead.  In fact, he is still speaking to the Lord and the Lord is speaking to him.  This is God's grace still present and working in a life.  The loss of this was an obvious fear for Cain. 


Another part of Cain's fear and complaint is his fear that someone may kill him.  This shows us there are other people in the world by this time, but they are all family (possibly 100 years of generations).  It was not God's intention to cause harm to Cain but only to punish him.  God gave Cain a mark of some sort.  From this mark it would be known that anyone who killed him would suffer severe vengeanceThe mark offered no protection, but only served as a warning of the punishment that would be issued if Cain were killed.  We don't know any specifics about what this mark is or if it 'for' him or 'on' him.  It may be a physical mark or something he was provided with that was marked in some way. One ancient Rabbi taught that the mark was a dog that followed Cain all his days offering protection.


In this mark, we can see God's care and protection for his image-bearer.  Even one who has murdered.  When Cain 'went out from the Lord's presence', it means the conversation was over.  An unrepentant Cain went to live in the land of Nod.  This may be a physical place east of Eden or 'nod' may be used to describe Cain's state of being a restless wanderer.   The 'restless wanderer' prescribed by God in punishment used the same word 'nod'. 


Genesis 4:16-18

Life went on for Cain, a murderer, a sinner, under God's punishment, but also care and provision.  He was married and had a child that was named Enoch.  Can built a city and he named it after his son.  We don't get any indication of how God viewed this city.  Cain, the former farmer, pursued an urban life.


Enoch had a son named Irad (mans 'city of witness'.  This name may be associated with Eridu, the first city in Sumerian traditions.  His son was Mehujael (meaning 'struck by God'.  Mehujael had a son named Methushael (man of God asking for death) who later fathered Lamech (destroyer).


Notes & thought:  Where did Cain get his wife?  She was likely another of Adam's daughters. 


Genesis 4:19-24

Lamech earns the award for the first recorded instance of bigamy in the bible.   Lamech has kids by his two wives.  It appears this genealogy is included to show the line to Lamech and part of his offspring – then it stops.

    • Jabal is the father of tent dwellers.
    • Jubal is the father of musicians.
    • Tubal-Cain was metalworking craftsman.
    • One source says he had 77 offspring from his 2 wives.


Lamech poem is a brag offered to his wives, possibly to intimidate them and create fear.  It is written in Hebrew synonymous parallelism; it uses two lines of same meaning to enhance the point.  The brag was of killing a man for wounding him.  He says if God would avenge Cain sevenfold, then Lamech would take care of himself dealing a vengeance of seventy-fold.  The seven-fold vengeance was a figure of speech.  If that's what God offered, then Lamech bragged his punishment would be seventy times more severe than God's vengeance. 


It's unclear why this genealogy of Cain is even included.  It may strictly be to show that Cain's line came to nothing but additional effects of sin.  Lamech was humanistic and rebellious.  He took 2 wives, relying on them and the offspring, and the city Cain built.  There is no mention of God or interaction with Him.  In fact, many of Cain's offspring were given names that mocked God.  We see Lamech, the cold-blooded murderer who was proud of it.  Just 5 generations from Cain and we have another murderer.  Things started bad with Cain and got worse.


Genesis 4:25-26

Seth was born as another son to replace Able.  Seth means 'appointed' or maybe 'appointed as compensation'.  Although there had to be many more sons & daughters to Adam & Eve, this is the lineage we are interested in.

  • Seth leads to Abraham.
  • Abraham to David
  • David to Jesus.

During these days, men began to call on the name of the Lord.  This sounds like they weren't doing too much calling on the Lord prior to Enosh.  This calling on the Lord name is to worship Him.  It seems as though something changed.  It's interesting to note that at least one source says this is a horrible mistranslation.  They believe it should say "men began to profane the name of the Lord".  This may make more sense in knowing the direction of things.


It is interesting to note that the offspring of Cain built cities and pioneered arts.  They settled into this world and functioned in it under God's common grace.  Though they did not revere Him, worship Him or obey Him, they relied on the provision and protection afforded all image bearers through common grace.  A contrast is seen in the line of Seth who fathers Enosh (meaning mortal man) when the offspring of Seth begin to call on the name of the Lord.


The grace and kindness of the Lord are evident in his care and provision for a murderer who did not think to be his brother's keeper.  Our Lord keeps us in that, 'while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'.  This kind of love and grace is hard for us to understand. 


He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8).


Cain was unjust, unmerciful, and unhumble!  Jude gave us the phrase "the way of Cain" (Jude 11) to describe the corruption and slide of a heart away from God into notorious sin.


Not what these hands have done

Can save this guilty soul;

Not what this toiling flesh has borne,

Can make my spirit whole.

Thy grace alone, O God,

To me can pardon speak;

Thy power alone, O Son of God,

Can this sore bondage break.

(Horatius Bonar)


Note: The name "Abel" and "brother" each occur seven times. "Cain" occurs fourteen times.  The use of 'LORD" in verse 26 is the seventieth mention of God in Genesis


©2019 Doug Ford