Genesis 4:1-16 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Our passage for this morning tells of the first two births on earth. That is, it tells of Adam and Eve and two of their children, sons, Cain and Abel. It’s a tragic story in almost every way—just as we might expect under the curse and outside of the Garden. One aspect of this story is of particular interest: God recognized a sinful heart in Cain, graciously warned Cain of it, and showed mercy even after Cain disregarded his warning. This is of particular interest because in it teaches us certain things that are absolutely vital about God (he is holy and just but gracious and merciful), about sin (it is deadly but killable), and about us (we are corrupted and rebellious but loved).
In short, it is my hope that by looking at Cain’s story all of you would see the sinfulness of sin and the need to kill it, with God’s help, whenever you find it in your heart. It is also my hope that you would be freshly amazed by God’s amazing grace in the face of your sin. Please pray with me that these things would be so.
THE BIRTH AND OFFERINGS OF CAIN AND ABEL
I mentioned at the end of last week’s sermon that 3:24 is the gate that divides life in the garden and life out of the garden. Man was made for the garden and the garden for man, but because of his disobedience God cursed him and cast him out. We were left wondering what life outside of the garden would look like. What would happen to Adam and Eve? What would become of God’s commission to man to subdue and tend to the earth? What would happen to God’s commission to the man and woman to fill the earth with their children? We get our first gimps of all of that in our passage for this morning.
The Birth of Cain and Abel
Again, God had charged Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (1:28). Because of their sin, however, God promised that this was going to be harder than it should have been, “I will surly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children” (3:16). In Genesis 4:1 we see this begin to play out.
1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel.
Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, and then another, Abel. There are a couple things of particular note in this short verse. The first, of course, is: babies!!! At Grace Church news of two babies doesn’t sound like a lot, but these are the first babies ever. This is the beginning of the filling of the earth commanded and promised by God. And yet, there aren’t any details concerning the actual childbearing and how the curse played out. That might lead us to believe that things were good. At this point there’s no hint of a problem outside of the Garden.
Also, please notice that even though Eve means life-giver (“because she was the mother of all living”), from the beginning it was understood that God is the ultimate giver of life. Eve knew that the fruit of her womb was a gift from God. Thus she declared, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Before and after the curse, all fruitfulness is from God. With all of our advances in understanding of how pregnancy works and all our advances in reproductive technology, it can be easy for us to forget that it is God alone what opens and closes wombs.
Again, so far, so good from all appearances. We might be reasonably cautiously optimistic about the curse and its effects. And the next verse, it would seem, only serves to strengthen that perspective.
2 …Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.”
God’s commission to make babies was being fulfilled and here, so was his commission to exercise dominion of the land and make it bear fruit. Adam and Eve had two sons and both were hard at work, making civilization out of wilderness, order out of chaos, and fruitfulness out of lack. Still, all seems well.
The Offerings of Cain and Abel
And one more time, in vs. 3-4, there are no obvious problems. Making offerings to God seems like a great thing.
3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.
Genesis does not tell us how Cain and Abel learned their trades or how they knew to make offerings to God from them. You’ll notice that each man brought an offering and each brought it from their respective vocations. You’ll also notice that although their offerings seem fairly similar on the surface, God responded to each very differently.
- God’s Response.
4 … And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.
God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. Why was that? What was the difference? The difference was the heart with which each man made his offering; and their hearts were revealed in the nature of their offerings.
Consider the difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s. Cain simply offered “of the fruit of the ground,” Contrast that with Abel who offered “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” The thing to see is that Abel offered the best of what he had whereas Cain simply offered from what he had. Of course, God didn’t need or care about getting the best stuff. What he cared about was having the hearts of his people. Abel’s offering was a declaration that God was worth more than everything to him. Cain’s offering was a declaration that the best of his produce was most valuable to him.
This becomes even more apparent when we remember that Genesis was given to the Israelites long after these events took place. By God’s design and at His initiative, they already had a much more developed system of offering and sacrifice in place. In it God required sacrifices without spot or blemish for exactly the same reason. Moses’ first readers would certainly have recognized the problem with Cain’s offering.
And the NT confirms this in passages like 1 John 3:12, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” and Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”
Again, the simple point is this: God rejected Cain’s offering because it did not come from a heart that loved God above all else. God cares about our stuff only as an indicator of our hearts. That makes for a very practical application, Grace. It means that our stuff is like a thermometer for the temperature of our hearts. Look, therefore, at the things you own and the place they take in your life as an indication of what you love most—God or something else.
- Cain’s Response
The text says nothing of Abel’s response to this, but it does tell us of Cain’s.
5 … So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.
We’ll spend some more time unpacking this next week, but right now I simply want to help you see that Cain’s heart was not wholly for God. As a result, as we just saw, he withheld the best of his possessions in his offering to God. And, as we see here, he further betrayed his heart’s rebellion when he responded to God’s rejection in great anger and forlornness rather than repentance. He cared more about his stuff and getting called out on his idolatry then he did with his idolatry itself. Again, let that be a lesson and a measuring tool for us. When your sin has consequences, are you more concerned with the consequences or the sin?
- God’s Warning
Just as God perfectly knew Cain’s heart in his offering, God perfectly knew Cain’s heart in his anger. Thus…
6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
God knew that if Cain didn’t get his heart in check quickly, things would go from bad to worse. “Consider your response, Cain. It’s not right. It betrays a heart that is lost. Repent and I will receive you. In my mercy and with my help, master this sin and I will accept you. Continue on down your path of treachery, though, and this sin will pounce, attack, and destroy.”
God’s point in speaking these words to Cain (and the entire point of next week’s sermon) is that we must kill the sin that is in us or it will kill us. Or, as the great Puritan writer John Owen put it, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We cannot let sin go unmolested in our hearts. We will rule over it or it will rule over us, Grace. Sin is not to be trifled with and it cannot be tamed. We will kill it or it will kill us (and others around us as we’re about to see).
CAIN MURDERS ABEL
So what would Cain do? Would he heed God’s warning and repent or would he refuse to do well? Would he kill his sin or would it kill him.
8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Rather than listen to the gracious voice of God, Cain hardened his heart and murdered his own brother. Talk about understated. This murder is mentioned almost in passing. That’s to help us see that the act itself, as terrible as it was, wasn’t the main point. Cain’s refusal to listen to God and his hardening of his heart, is the main point of the passage. Because of those things, as the Lord Jesus taught many years later (Matthew 5:21-22), he had already committed murder in his heart. That’s the nature of sin. It is always a heart issue before it’s an action issue.
Notice that while Adam and Eve were talked into their sin, Cain could not be talked out of his (Kidner, TOTC, 74).
Notice what sin, unruled, looks like. Look at how quickly unrepentant sin escalates. The original language makes clear what is less so in our translation: Cain’s murderous actions were premeditated. “Rose up” implies a conscious, deliberate choice. This wasn’t an accident or an afterthought. It was jealous, intentional retribution.
And notice also that Abel’s righteousness didn’t save him from hardship. It didn’t keep him from experiencing the effects of sin. It didn’t guarantee him a life of prosperity. In fact, a life of obedience and worship outside of the Garden quite often means suffering more, not less.
GOD CONFRONTS AND CURSES CAIN
So what’s next? God had shown remarkable patience and restraint so far in the face of mankind’s sins. Would he do so again? What would become of Cain?
God Confronts Cain
Immediately after Cain killed his brother, or so it seems from the text, God confronted Cain.
- God Questions Cain
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
Notice the similarity between this encounter and God’s confrontation with Cain’s parents. In both cases God was nearby, fully informed, and also willing to give an opportunity for repentance through a rhetorical question. Would Cain respond better than his parents? Would he finally own up to his sin? Had he learned from it? Tragically, no, he would not.
- Cain’s Reply
[Cain] said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
In this response there is both a lie and an error. Of course Cain did know where Abel was and so suggesting otherwise was a lie. And to his own question (“am I my brother’s keeper”), in which he implied that the answer was “no,” Cain was mistaken. One of the first duties of God’s people is to love and care for our brothers and sisters (which is especially relevant for us today). In other words, Cain, like his mom and dad before him, chose to lie and twist and deflect rather than repent and receive mercy. Thus…
- God’s Reply
10 … the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
To drive home Cain’s treachery God asked another rhetorical question, followed immediately by a declaration that Abel’s blood was actively testifying to Cain’s guilt. Grace, all sin known by God, he is not indifferent to any of it, and he will therefore mete out justice for all of it. Practically, Grace Church, once again, you cannot hide your sins from God so don’t try. What’s more, he will punish all sin so do not think you can escape judgment. Again, then, on a practical level, let us confess to God what he already knows in order that we might be forgiven; rather than seek to hide from him what he already knows and face condemnation.
God Curses Cain
But what would all of this mean for Cain? Once again God reveals himself as a God of holiness and justice. He will not tolerate sin in his people. Therefore, to Cain he said,
- God’s Curse
11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from yourhand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
Oh Grace, do not miss the severity of this. In 3:17 God cursed the ground because of Cain’s father’s sin. In 4:11 Cain isdirectly cursed “from the ground”. The curse advanced from the ground to the man. Do you see how terrible this is?
But it got worse still. The ground, which was already cursed to the point of producing thorns and thistles by the sweat ofman’s brow, would now yield even less to Cain.
And one more time it gets tragically worse. Not only was Cain cast out of the Garden along with his parents, but here wascast out of any home. He would not only not find a home in the Garden, he would not find a home anywhere. He would always be restless “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
- Cain’s Plea
Sensing his dire situation…
13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
Can you imagine the audacity of Cain? He rejected God as his God, refused God’s warning, murdered his brother, tried to cover that up, and then had the gall to ask for God’s mercy. No way, right? There’s no way God could be that merciful, is there? His mercy must run out at some point, right?
- God’s Mercy
Never! The OT is famous (or infamous) for God’s harsh judgment, but consider this, Grace…
15 Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.
In spite of all the ways that Cain had fallen short of the glory of God, God promised grace. Oh what amazing grace! Find rest and hope and peace in this, people of God. Our sins they are many, His mercy is more!
And yet, there’s something we can’t miss though. Cain mentioned three concerns in his lament and plea. He mentioned that he would be (1) hidden from God’s face, (2) homeless, and (3) vulnerable. Now compare that to God’s offer of mercy. It only addressed the third of Cain’s concerns. In his unrepentance, God did not promise to reveal himself to Cain or give him rest, only to protect him. So what would that mean for Cain? With God’s protection, but without his presence or rest, what would Cain do? Where would he go?
- Cain’s Fate
16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Again, the parallels between Cain’s experience with God in his sin and that of his parents’ in theirs cannot be missed. Just as Adam and Eve were driven out to the east of the Garden, Cain, this verse tells us, was driven further east still. The picture is that of God punishing sinners further and further away from his pleasure. The greatest consequence of sin is not death of the body, but death of fellowship with God. And like his parents, Cain found this out in dramatic fashion. Thus, Just as 3:24 is the gate dividing life in the garden from life out of the garden, 4:16 is the gate dividing life outside of the garden with life in the widening world around it. Grace, remember this, as life moves further away from the Garden (from God’s purpose and will), it also moves quickly away from God (from his presence and blessing).
After chapter 3 we were left wondering what life would be like outside of the Garden and under the curse. It is easy to see even in these few verses, the first account of life in exile, that things deteriorated rapidly. Sin didn’t move slowly and gradually after the eating of the forbidden tree. It jumped almost immediately to lies and murder. (We can’t help but to think of James 1:15.) It is obvious that mankind was in a terrible predicament that already seems insurmountable. We’ll soon see that it was. And yet, it is also obvious that God was not yet done with man. Hints and acts of his mercy and grace are sprinkled throughout this story, clearly pointing at a greater help that was yet to come.
God is shown to be a God of holiness, justice, and sovereign rule. He is also shown to be a God of compassion, kindness, and grace. Sin is shown to be ugly and deadly and very contagious and quickly developing. God’s mercy is shown to be beautiful and life-giving and every bit as quick as it needs to be to outrun all that God wills it to.
All of that leaves us wondering what we are to do about all of this. That’s the point of next week’s sermon. Here, now, I want to close with a simple reminder that the answer is Jesus. Jesus is the only answer to the problem of sin in us and through us and around us. He is the way and the truth and the life and no one overcomes sin or comes to the Father but by him. Look to Jesus today, therefore and find forgiveness and freedom and everlasting life. In the blood of Jesus make war on sin, for truly, we must be killing it or it will be killing us.