Cain and Abel (4:1–26)
1–5 Eve soon bore two sons with the help of the LORD (verse 1). Everything we do is ultimately with the help of the Lord—especially the bringing forth of children, new life. We work, but without the Lord’s help our work comes to nothing.
The account of Cain and Abel is mainly about worship: How does God want us to worship Him? Clearly God was pleased with Abel’s worship but not with Cain’s. Why?
The reason is not obvious at first. Each brother brought an offering to the Lord that was appropriate to his occupation. The worker of the soil brought some of the fruits of the soil (verse 3), and the keeper of the flock brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock (verse 4). Perhaps Cain was more careless with his offering; perhaps he did not include the “firstfruits”—the choicest produce. But the account does not tell us clearly in what way Cain’s offering was inferior to Abel s.
However, the account does tell us that the attitudes of Cain and Abel were different. And this was only apparent when Cain became very angry (verse 5). This indicates that from the beginning Cain’s attitude toward God was one of resentment and pride. Perhaps he brought his offering without true faith; in Hebrews 11:4 we read: By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. This suggests that Cain’s offering was not by faith, not from his heart.
Cain’s true heart condition was revealed when the Lord rejected his offering. And how true this is of human nature! When people are affirming and praising us, it’s very easy to be nice. The test comes when we are criticized or rejected; how do we react then? How can we tell if a grape is ripe? We squeeze it, and see if the juice is sweet or bitter. Cain was “squeezed,” and out came bitterness.
6–8 Cain was angry not only with God but also, out of envy, with his brother. God knew that Cain intended to harm his brother, and so He warned him to master—to resist—the sin (Satan) that was crouching at his door, ready to seize him (see 1 Peter 5:8–9).
But Cain resisted God instead, and gave in to Satan; with premeditation and malice, he lured Abel into the field and killed him (verse 8). Here were the first two brothers in the history of mankind, and one killed the other! Not a good beginning for the human race. All this was the effect of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden.
Notice how sin begins in a small way and, if not mastered, quickly grows and grows (James 1:14–15). Cain’s sin started in carelessness and lack of faith, grew into jealousy and anger, and ended in murder—all because Cain did not master his sin in the beginning. This is why the biblical writers warn us to be watchful. James tells us: Resist the devil, and he will flee (James 4:7); that means we need to resist him at the very beginning of any temptation, when it is easiest to do so. Paul says: Flee the evil desires (passions) of youth (2 Timothy 2:22). Don’t wait around, don’t think about them. Flee! Resisting temptation, sin and Satan is something we ourselves must do; it is our responsibility.
9 The Lord asked Cain where his brother was, not because He didn’t know but in order to lead Cain to confess his sin. Cain lied: “I don’t know.” And then Cain said something that in one form or another has probably been said by all of us: “Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I responsible for his well-being?” Cain’s implied answer to that question was “No”; but God’s answer is “Yes.” Anyone who loves his brother (or neighbor) will also feel responsible for his well-being. Quoting Leviticus 19:18, Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Loving one’s neighbor certainly includes looking out for his welfare.
10–12 To punish Cain, God placed him under a curse (verse 11). No longer would the land give Cain food and sustenance. Not only that, the land would no longer give him settlement; he would never be able to settle down but would become a restless wanderer forced to move from place to place.
13–16 Cain responded to this punishment with self-pity and remorse,24 but not with true REPENTANCE. Yet even though Cain was unrepentant, God continued to show mercy to him. Since Cain would not have the protection of a settled community, he naturally feared for his life. So God promised to protect him, and to do so He placed a mark on him (verse 15). It is not known what this “mark” was.25 But anyone who sought to kill Cain would somehow recognize the mark, and know that Cain was under God’s protection.
Then Cain left the LORD’s presence (verse 16)—the Lord’s fellowship—and headed east to the land of Nod, whose location is unknown.
17–24 Where did Cain find a wife? (verse 17). The simple answer is that Adam and Eve must have had one or more daughters, and that Cain married one of his sisters.
In verse 23, we encounter the first instance of polygamy in history; Lamech, one of Cain’s descendants, had two wives. Here, after telling his wives how he has killed a man, Lamech compares his situation with Cain s. Cain had murdered his brother who was innocent; Lamech had killed a man because the man had injured him. Cain’s crime was greater. Therefore, if God says that Cain’s killer will suffer vengeance seven times over (verse 15), then Lamech argues that he—who committed a lesser crime—should be avenged seventy-seven times26 (verse 24).
Lamech was wrong to have taken vengeance on the man who had injured him. Vengeance belongs to the Lord alone; we humans must not take vengeance into our own hands. “It is mine to avenge,” says the Lord; “I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19–21).
25–26 Throughout the book of Genesis, great emphasis is placed on offspring, especially on the offspring which will result in the founding of ISRAEL and, ultimately, in the birth of the Messiah, Christ (see Genesis 3:14–15 and comment). From among the offspring, it is God who chooses which one will carry on the family line leading to Christ. Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth, was the one chosen.
As Seth’s descendants increased in number, they began to call on the name of the LORD (verse 26)—that is, to depend on the Lord, to believe in Him. This was in contrast to the descendants of Cain, who showed no such dependence or faith. Yet Cain’s descendants developed many useful skills (verses 20–22), which contributed to the beginnings of modern civilization.
Today we pride ourselves on such skills—modern technology, gleaming skyscrapers, the exploration of space. Yet if we turn from God, all our accomplishments will in the end come to nothing, just as Cain’s city and all of his descendants came to nothing in the Flood (Genesis 7:17–23). The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17).