Lessons from the Ancient Story of Cain and Abel


In Gen. 4:2 He is called ‘his brother Abel.’ The word ‘brother’ is repeated seven times in the next few verses (Gen. 4:8-11) as the Scripture is trying to make a point of their relationship, they are family. No data is furnished by which we can determine the duration of Adam and Eve’s residence in the Garden of Eden at this time, so it is impossible to form any opinion as to what length of time elapsed before their first son, Cain was born.

Here’s what we do know : “After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughter. (Gen 5:4). Since both Cain and Abel were born before Seth and we know Adam lived 930 years (Gen.5:3), then Cain and Abel were born before Adam was 130 years old from the day he was created.

Then we come upon, V.3 And in the process of time mentioned does allow for a considerable increase in population as well as for Cain and Abel to grow up and bring sacrifices on there own. There was already a fixed time of the offerings, the Scripture indicates that this was not the first time they did this (it could have weekly monthly or yearly, we do not know). We cannot be specific on the place of the sacrificial offerings, but we do know that later on the tabernacle faced east.

We read that “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” That was there professions. We can assume Cain traded with his brother his food for animals but this time he did not ( at this time in mankinds history we were not eating the animals.

Gen. 4:4-6 We may suppose that each brother offered what came to hand out of the produce of his own industry. It would at first seem justified that the faith of the offerer is essential to the acceptableness of the offering, considering all things were equal. But they were not, because God had instructed what was needed. Abel was shepherd, it was the animals that would be used in the offering as types of the redeemer. The sheep were used for clothing and sacrifices. It did not matter to God what vocation you were in, but that you obeyed Him. The Lord commanded through his first sacrifice for it to continue (Gen.4:3).

The Hebrew word minchaah is seen in Lev 2:1, as an offering of fine flour, with oil and frankincense. A gratitude offering. Cain’s was a ‘bloodless offering’, mankind was strictly vegetarian at the time, Cain’s was a vegetable offering, the other an animal; one is a presentation of things without life, the other a sacrifice of life. To further the concept of blood being required, even the grain offerings later in the Mosaic covenant came in contact with blood.

The fruit of the soil offered to God was an insult because it was specifically cursed. This expresses the barren faith of Cain, compared to the living faith of Abel. By doing this Cain denied that he was a sinner, rejecting redemption by blood, and thought that he could come his own way to God. Cain was indicative of the natural fallen man. He believed in God and believed in a religion — on his own terms. Abel’s offering consisted of the firstlings of his flock. Abel was accepted not by the work of his own hands but by bringing a right sacrifice that would cover sin. The nature of Abel’s sacrifice illustrated the genuineness of his faith showing his heart was right. he obeyed the command that was passed on from Adam, to sacrifice. Cain could have easily traded his work of the ground for an animal from Abel, but chose not to.

Cain was dissatisfied that his own offering was not accepted, and that his brother’s was. Heb 11:4 ‘By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” Motives can speak in our actions. You can’t bring a sacrifice not required and give it in faith because you are not being obedient to the word.

When people cannot obey the scripture when it is necessary and they act in their own reasoning they act in the nature of Cain. So many believe their good intentions are only what God will accept, but Cain’s good intentions led to the murder of his brother because God did not accept his intention. Cain eventually murdered his brother because he gave a better sacrifice than himself.

The way of Cain is the way of a man who refused to bring what God asked, a sacrifice that pointed to Christ (Heb 12:24). In other words, Cain did not come to God by faith.

Gen. 4:5 “but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”

In other words it was seen in his face, his demeanor.

V.6 When Cain became filled with anger, (Gen. 4:5-7). V.6 ‘the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? ‘If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Anger is one those emotions that can drive someone to worst of human behavior, it did with Cain. Cain had resentment because he was disgraced before God and only he and God knew.

God told him not to be angry which was going to be directed toward his brother, because his offering has been accepted, and his not. Cain had no self-examination, or repentance though God told him to do what is right. This showed that Cain did not listen to his word, nor care. The sin factor began to work in the very first generation of Adam and Eve. God warns him of his sin not being dealt with will eventually overtake him. Because Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted his sin was not covered and he had guilt. He knew of no way to deal with it, it turns to anger and it comes out by him killing his brother. This what Jesus meant

Cain did not act on God’s divine counsel to him, he did not change his mind toward what God said, he showed no internal repentance.

Mt.5:22 “angry with a brother without cause, the true intent of the law was related to man made in the image of God”

Cain killing Abel was because he wanted to be accepted as righteous by his own merit, the work of his hands and not the blood sacrifice they were told to obey. God would not accept Cain’s offering. Not because of his heart, or intentions being wrong but because it was not the required blood sacrifice. Cain presumed God would accept what he gave as the best from his own hands (his work). It is this attitude in the church that God will accept anything we do as long it is done in his name with a right heart or right intentions.

Gen 4:7 “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Doing well (good) is to obey God, in relation to the offering. Instead of a fallen countenance he will have a lifting of his countenance; he will be glad and sin will not affect his soul.

The words chaTaa’t (OT:2403) and chaTaah (OT:2403) frequently signify “sin”; but I have observed more than a hundred places in the Old Testament where they are used for sin-offering, and translated hamartia (NT:263) by the Septuagint, (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary), sin lies that the door of our heart each and everyday, but because we are given the Holy Spirit we can rule over it.

The Septuagint renders this `If thou hast rightly brought, but hast not rightly divided thy offering, hast thou not sinned? Be still.’

The Targum of Onkelos, who paraphrases it in the following manner: `If thou make thy worship, shalt thou not be forgiven? and if thou dost not make thy worship good, to the day of judgment thy sin is reserved, prepared to take vengeance on thee unless thou repent; and if thou repent, it shall be forgiven thee.’ (reference from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

V.8-9 they talked like they always do. He conversed with Abel his brother. The topic of discussion is not stated. The Septuagint gives the words, ‘Let us go into the field.’ Obviously to do what his evil heart conspired.

They go to the field, (the Sepuagint, Sam., Jonathan says ‘let us go into the field.’ The Chaldee manuscript adds that Cain, when they were in discourse in the field, maintained that there was no judgment to come, no future state, no rewards and punishments in the other world, and that when Abel spoke in defense of the truth Cain took that occasion to fall upon him.) This was probably pre-meditated murder as he was already seething in anger. Abel becomes the first human to die as little big brother kills little brother. Instead of killing an animal for a sacrifice as God commanded, he killed his brother for doing so. He believed in religion and God his own way, not God’s way. He persecuted his brother for doing what is right in god’s eyes. Those who claim to be of God and disobey his word persecute those who obey His word.

Thus Cain violated the image of God by shedding blood in man instead of the animal. Abel died as a saint. Because of his right standing with God Abel died as the first of many martyrs in the cause of righteousness.

Christ acknowledges Abel as righteous and a martyr and all those who have died (Matt 23:35); the Pharisees will be held accountable for the blood of them all because they kept the people in unbelief and had not taught the right way to God.

The sin of Adam is now beginning to see affect. Cain let sin reign over him, he was already gripped by it. What was in his heart came out (Matt 5:21-22), sin vs. holiness. The first attack on the lineage of the Messiah, killing his brother, he opposed God himself; as God accepted Abel as being righteous before him because of his obedience, the murder of Abel was atrocious and he received a greater punishment because there were so few people in the world.

V.9. Cain is questioned by God who already knows, ‘where is your brother?’ Cain covers his deliberate murder with a deliberate lie: I know not. He thought God did not see his crime. Sin hardens the heart and seals the conscience, even have one lie before God their maker. The New Testament tells us we are known by God who sees all. ‘And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account’ (Heb. 4:13).

‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Cain’s response is put in a question and shows defiance. He can take care of himself; I have no obligation. It has the underlying attitude of accusing God, as if to say ‘you are to take care of him, I don’t need to.’ As the body of Christ we are a family, not just our physical family but spiritual.

We are allowed to have righteous anger against sin (Mark 3:5; Eph. 4:26), but Cain’s anger was because of sin, it was not righteous. Jesus warned that if we have anger in our heart it as if we murder. Because anger left uncontrolled leads to murder (Matt. 5:21–26), as it did with Cain. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us control anger and replace it with mercy to those who offend us (Matt. 5:43–48) but this can only be taken care of when there are willing parties that want to take care of family problems. There must be honesty and humilty.

Cain refused the correction and took it out on his brother. He ended up apart from his family that followed the Lord.

John relates to us in 1 John 3:8-13 ‘He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 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.”

John uses this story in his epistle to point out that the person who habitually hates his fellow man would act just as Cain did, he is not exercising faith. John repeats this principle found in Jms.2:14-18. I Jn.3:17 ‘But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

V10. God does not answer Cain but immediately but states ‘what have you done?’ This is not a question but an accusation. The earth has drank or soaked up the blood, it is now further defiled.

Some hold that Cain buried the body, to conceal his crime. The word is in the plural, thy brother’s bloods, not only his blood, why the plural, since there was only one person? We see the same used in Isaiah 53:9, ‘He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death.’ In the Hebrew the word for death in this verse is in the plural form, deaths. ‘Deaths’ is a plural of intensity used by the writer to indicate that the death mentioned was a particularly violent one. In Hebrew, plural nouns can be used to express majesty, rank, excellence, magnitude and intensity.

Genesis 4:11-12 “So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”

From Cain’s time we have all wandered on the earth as sheep gone astray.‘ The earth received Cains blood’ (The swallowing of blood Numb.16:30-35; Deut.11:6; Ps.106:17; Isa.5:14). The earth is now stained with blood, not the blood of sacrifice for sin, but blood from sin, the sin of murder; the first sin of one human being to another.

Numb.16:30-35; Deut.11:6; Ps.106:17; Isa.5:14 To cry out is often used in the sense of ‘crying out’ for help or assistance. In this matter the blood crying out from the ground means ‘blood shed by violence. ‘Violence continued on the upswing after Cain until the flood settled the matter.

There were no civil authorities or government to sentence Cain, Adam was not allowed to do this punishment. God as judge punishes him. A curse is put on Cain added to the general one pronounced on the ground for Adam’s sin. Whatever the ground was to Adam, it was now doubly cursed to Cain; and because Cain was a tiller of the Ground the ground is cursed further for him than it was for Adam. The principle we see continually in judgment is that the person judged has whatever under him judged as well.

Afterwards God gave the command of just punishment to man. ‘Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ (Gen. 9:6). From then on a murderer shall receive capital punishment.

One of the ten commandments says, ‘You shall not murder’ (Exod. 20:13), which is not the same meaning as to kill. Murder is an act by which a human life is taken, or blood is shed that is not in self defense: ‘If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood [one kind of homicide or another]’ (Deut. 17:8). To ‘shed blood’ is to commit murder: ‘So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein…’ (Num 35:33).

But for those who die in faith as Abel did ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints’ (Ps.116:15).

Cain’s punishment is directed to where he chose his sacrifice, where he made his living from, where his heart was and the work of his hands. He will no longer be able to be a good farmer, he will struggle more than Adam did, more than any other man as he is away from the first people of God.

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