Bible Story of Cain and Abel

This is a summary of the Biblical account of brothers Cain and Abel. You can read more in-depth Bible verses from the Scripture below and use the articles and videos to understand the meaning behind this teachable event in the Bible. For a quick overview, Cain and Abel were the first and second sons of Adam and Eve. While Cain was a farmer, Abel was a skilled shepherd who took care of the family's animals.  One day Cain and Abel made sacrifices to the Lord to worship and thank Him. Cain brought some of the produce from the land while Abel brought the firstborn of his sheep.  God showed favor upon Abel's sacrifice because it was an offering that came from the best Abel had to give. This made Cain very angry and jealous. Cain lured his brother Abel into the fields and killed him with a rock. The Lord called to Cain asking what happened and after Cain lies about killing his brother, God punishes Cain. While God's harsh punishment on Cain was that he would no longer able to grow crops on his land, He did promise Cain that no one would kill him.

What the Bible Says About Cain

His name means "a possession; a spear". The first-born son of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4). He became a tiller of the ground, as his brother Abel followed the pursuits of pastoral life. He was "a sullen, self-willed, haughty, vindictive man; wanting the religious element in his character, and defiant even in his attitude towards God." It came to pass "in process of time" (marg. "at the end of days"), i.e., probably on the Sabbath, that the two brothers presented their offerings to the Lord. Abel's offering was of the "firstlings of his flock and of the fat," while Cain's was "of the fruit of the ground." Abel's sacrifice was "more excellent" (Hebrews 11:4) than Cain's, and was accepted by God. On this account, Cain was "very wroth," and cherished feelings of murderous hatred against his brother, and was at length guilty of the desperate outrage of putting him to death (1 John 3:12). For this crime, he was expelled from Eden, and henceforth led the life of an exile, bearing upon him some mark which God had set upon him in answer to his own cry for mercy, so that thereby he might be protected from the wrath of his fellow-men; or it may be that God only gave him some sign to assure him that he would not be slain (Genesis 4:15). Doomed to be a wanderer and a fugitive in the earth, he went forth into the "land of Nod", i.e., the land of "exile", which is said to have been in the "east of Eden," and there he built a city, the first we read of, and called it after his son's name, Enoch. His descendants are enumerated to the sixth generation. They gradually degenerated in their moral and spiritual condition till they became wholly corrupt before God. This corruption prevailed, and at length the Deluge was sent by God to prevent the final triumph of evil. (Easton's Bible Dictionary)

Seven things we know about Cain:

  1. he worships in self-will
  2. is angry with God
  3. refuses to bring a sin offering
  4. murders his brother
  5. lies to God
  6. becomes a vagabond
  7. is, nevertheless, the object of the divine solicitude

What the Bible Says About Abel

His name means "a breath, or vanity, a grassy place, a meadow". he second son of Adam and Eve. He was put to death by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:1-16). Guided by the instruction of their father, the two brothers were trained in the duty of worshipping God. "And in process of time" (marg. "at the end of days", i.e., on the Sabbath) each of them offered up to God of the first-fruits of his labors. Cain, as a husbandman, offered the fruits of the field; Abel, as a shepherd, of the firstlings of his flock. "The Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering, but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect" (Genesis 4:3-5). On this account Cain was angry with his brother, and formed the design of putting him to death; a design which he at length found an opportunity of carrying into effect ( Genesis 4:8 Genesis 4:9 . Compare 1 John 3:12 ). There are several references to Abel in the New Testament. Our Saviour speaks of him as "righteous" ( Matthew 23:35 ). "The blood of sprinkling" is said to speak "better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24); i.e., the blood of Jesus is the reality of which the blood of the offering made by Abel was only the type. The comparison here is between the sacrifice offered by Christ and that offered by Abel, and not between the blood of Christ calling for mercy and the blood of the murdered Abel calling for vengeance, as has sometimes been supposed. It is also said (Hebrews 11:4) that "Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." This sacrifice was made "by faith;" this faith rested in God, not only as the Creator and the God of providence but especially in God as the great Redeemer, whose sacrifice was typified by the sacrifices which, no doubt by the divine institution, were offered from the days of Adam downward. On account of that "faith" that looked forward to the great atoning sacrifice, Abel's offering was accepted by God. Cain's offering had no such reference and therefore was rejected. Abel was the first martyr, as he was the first of our race to die. (Easton's Bible Dictionary)

5 things we know about Abel

  1. Shepherd: "Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground," thus representing the two fundamental pursuits of civilized life, the two earliest subdivisions of the human race. On the Hebrew tradition of the superiority of the pastoral over agricultural and city life, see The Expositor T, V, 351. The narrative may possibly bear witness to the primitive idea that pastoral life was more pleasing to Yahweh than husbandry.
  2. Worshipper: "In process of time," the two brothers came in a solemn manner to sacrifice unto Yahweh, in order to express their gratitude to Him whose tenants they were in the land (Genesis 4:3,4. See SACRIFICE). How Yahweh signified His acceptance of the one offering and rejection of the other, we are not told. That it was due to the difference in the material of the sacrifice or in their manner of offering was probably the belief among the early Israelites, who regarded animal offerings as superior to cereal offerings. Both kinds, however, were fully in accord with Hebrew law and custom. It has been suggested that the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 4:7 makes Cain's offense a ritual one, the offering not being "correctly" made or rightly divided, and hence rejected as irregular. "If thou makest a proper offering, but dost not cut in pieces rightly, art thou not in fault? Be still!" The Septuagint evidently took the rebuke to turn upon Cain's neglect to prepare his offering according to strict ceremonial requirements. dieles (Septuagint in the place cited.), however, implies nathach (nattach), and would only apply to animal sacrifices. Compare Exodus 29:17; Leviticus 8:20; Judges 19:29; 1 Kings 18:23; and see COUCH.
  3. Righteous Man: The true reason for the Divine preference is doubtless to be found in the disposition of the brothers (see \CAIN\). Well-doing consisted not in the outward offering (Genesis 4:7) but in the right state of mind and feeling. The acceptability depends on the inner motives and moral characters of the offerers. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent (abundant, pleiona) sacrifice than Cain" (Hebrews 11:4). The "more abundant sacrifice," Westcott thinks, "suggests the deeper gratitude of Abel, and shows a fuller sense of the claims of God" to the best. Cain's "works (the collective expression of his inner life) were evil, and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12). "It would be an outrage if the gods looked to gifts and sacrifices and not to the soul" (Alcibiades II.149E.150A). Cain's heart was no longer pure; it had a criminal propensity, springing from envy and jealousy, which rendered both his offering and person unacceptable. His evil works and hatred of his brother culminated in the act of murder, specifically evoked by the opposite character of Abel's works and the acceptance of his offering. The evil man cannot endure the sight of goodness in another.
  4. Martyr: Abel ranks as the first martyr (Matthew 23:35), whose blood cried for vengeance (Genesis 4:10; compare Revelation 6:9,10) and brought despair (Genesis 4:13), whereas that of Jesus appeals to God for forgiveness and speaks peace (Hebrews 12:24) and is preferred before Abel's.
  5. Type: The first two brothers in history stand as the types and representatives of the two main and enduring divisions of mankind, and bear witness to the absolute antithesis and eternal enmity between good and evil. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

The Sacrifices and Devotions of Cain and Abel

In process of time, when they had made some improvement in their respective callings (Heb. At the end of days, either at the end of the year, when they kept their feast of in-gathering or perhaps an annual fast in remembrance of the fall, or at the end of the days of the week, the seventh day, which was the sabbath)—at some set time, Cain and Abel brought to Adam, as the priest of the family, each of them an offering to the Lord. There was a difference in the offerings they brought. It is expressly said (Heb. 11:4 ), Abel’s was a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s: either (1.) In the nature of it. Cain’s was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat-offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more, and, for aught I know, they might be offered in innocency. But Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God’s wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator. Or, (2.) In the qualities of the offering. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, any thing that came next to hand, what he had not occasion for himself or what was not marketable. But Abel was curious in the choice of his offering: not the lame, nor the lean, nor the refuse, but the firstlings of the flock —the best he had, and the fat thereof —the best of those best. 

The great difference was this, that Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not. There was a difference in the principle upon which they went. Abel offered with an eye to God’s will as his rule, and God’s glory as his end, and in dependence upon the promise of a Redeemer; but Cain did what he did only for company’s sake, or to save his credit, not in faith, and so it turned into sin to him. Abel was a penitent believer, like the publican that went away justified: Cain was unhumbled; his confidence was within himself; he was like the Pharisee who glorified himself, but was not so much as justified before God. (excerpts from Matthew Henry Commentary)

The Anger and Sin of Cain

Many lessons crowd on us from this section. Its general purport is to show the growth of sin, and its power to part man from man even as it has parted man from God. We may call the whole 'The beginning of the fatal operations of sin on human society.' Sin here appears as having the power to bar men's way to God. Much ingenuity has been spent on the question why Abel's offering was accepted and Cain's rejected. Cain's offering had no sense of dependence, no outgoing of love and trust, no adoration,—though it may have had fear,—and no moral element. So it had no sweet odor for God. Abel's was sprinkled with some drops of the incense of lowly trust, and came from a heart which fain would be pure; therefore it was a joy to God. 

The deadly fruit of hate is taught in the brief account of the actual murder. Notice the impressive plainness and fewness of the words. 'Cain rose up against his brother, and slew him.' A kind of horrorstruck awe of the crime is audible. Observe the emphasis with which 'his brother's repeated in the verse and throughout. Observe, also, the vivid light thrown by the story on the rise and progress of the sin. It begins with envy and jealousy. Cain was not wroth because his offering was rejected. What did he care for that? But what angered him was that his brother had what he had not. So selfishness was at the bottom, and that led on to envy, and that to hatred. Then comes a pause, in which God speaks remonstrances,—as God's voice—conscience—does now to us all,—between the imagination and the act of evil. A real or a feigned reconciliation is effected. The brothers go in apparent harmony to the field. No new provocation appears, but the old feelings, kept down for a time, come in again with a rush, and Cain is swept away by them. Hatred left to work means murder. 

Cain's defiant answer teaches us how a man hardens himself against God's voice. It also shows us how intensely selfish all sin is, and how weakly foolish its excuses are. It is sin which has rent men apart from men, and made them deny the very idea that they have duties to all men. The first sin was only against God; the second was against God and man. The first sin did not break, though it saddened, human love; the second kindled the flames of infernal hatred, and caused the first drops to flow of the torrents of blood which have soaked the earth. When men break away from God, they will soon murder one another. Cain was his brother's keeper. His question answered itself. If Abel was his brother, then he was bound to look after him. His self-condemning excuse is but a specimen of the shallow pleas by which the forgetfulness of duties we owe to all mankind, and all sins, are defended.

(excerpt provided by The Book of Genesis Commentary)

The Mark of Cain

Genesis 4:15 states "But the LORD said to him, “Not so ; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him, about which there is a variety of sentiments." Some say the mark of Cain was a horn in his forehead: others, a leprosy in his face; others, a wild ghastly look; others, a shaking and trembling in all his limbs; and others, that there was an earthquake wherever he stepped: and others will have it, that the dog which guarded Abel's flock was given him to accompany him in his travels, by which sign it might be known that he was not to be attacked, or to direct him from taking any dangerous road: some say it was a letter imprinted on his forehead, either taken out of the great and glorious name of God, as the Targum of Jonathan, or out of his own name, as Jarchi; others the mark or sign of the covenant of circumcision but as the word is often used for a sign or miracle, perhaps the better rendering and sense of the words may be, "and the Lord put", or "gave a sign" that is, he wrought a miracle before him to assure him, that "whoever found him should not kill him": so that this was not a mark or sign to others, to direct or point out to them that they should not kill him, or to deter them from it; but was a sign or miracle confirming him in this, that no one should kill him; agreeably to which is the note of Aben Ezra, "it is right in my eyes that God made a sign (or wrought a miracle) for him, until he believed;'' by which he was assured that his life would be secure, go where he would; even that no one should "strike" F4 him, as the word is, much less kill him. (John Gill's Exposition of the Bible)

Read the full Scripture story of Cain and Abel below.