Cain and Abel


(Genesis 4:1-8)


As we begin our study of some of the great characters of the Bible, we are actually going to look a two people whose names will be forever linked.  I’m referring to Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve.  Their story is told in the first part of Genesis 4. 


Several years ago a delightful little book was published entitled Children's Letters to God.  In that book was a letter one child wrote God about Cain and Abel. 

Dear God,

                  Maybe Cain would not have killed Abel if they had had their own rooms.  It works for my brother and me!"

Well, I think there is a little more to the story of Cain and Abel than that! 


There is a tendency when we approach the story of Cain and Abel to focus on questions to which the Bible does not give us an answer.  Questions such as:

·         Where did Cain’s wife come from?  (The best answer I’ve heard to that question is, I can’t tell you because I’m not able!)

·         What was the mark of Cain mentioned in Genesis 4:15?


But obviously there are more important questions to ask regarding this story.  Questions such as, “Is it possible that two men, who lived at the dawn of civilization in a totally agrarian age could have anything of value to teach people like us who live in the technological age at the dawn of the third millennium after Christ?”  Specifically, what can we learn from the experience of Cain and Abel?  To answer that question we need to hear their story in Genesis 4:1-8. 


What can we learn from the story of Cain and Abel?


I.  We must come to God on His terms and not ours. (I think this is the primary lesson of this story.)

1.   At first reading, it would appear that God was unfair toward Cain...Cain, who was a farmer by profession, brought to God an offering from the fruit of his labors...he brought a portion of his harvest...Abel, who was a shepherd by profession, also brought to God an offering from the fruit of his labors...he brought a young lamb...God rejected the offering of Cain and He accepted the offering of Abel...

2.   Why is that?  Was God being arbitrary and unfair with Cain?  Did Cain have a right to become angry because his offering was rejected?...the writer of Hebrews gives us a clue to the answer to those questions when he writes, "By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain..." (Hebrews 11:4)...why was Abel's sacrifice better?...

3.   It was better because it was according to God's plan...God had prescribed a blood sacrifice for the covering of sin...that is a basic principle that permeates Scripture…as it is stated in Hebrews 9:22 -"Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."...the implication is that both Cain and Abel were aware of God's requirement...and the reason Abel's sacrifice was better is because it was according to God's plan...

4.   As matter of fact, Abel's sacrifice was a preview, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross...John MacArthur in his commentary on Hebrews put it this way:  "In Abel's sacrifice, the way of the cross was first prefigured.  The first sacrifice was Abel's lamb--one lamb for one person.  Later came the Passover--one lamb for one family.  Then came the Day of Atonement--one lamb for one nation.  Finally came Good Friday--one Lamb for the whole world." [MacArthur, p.301]

4.   And point of all that is Abel brought a sacrifice on God's terms while Cain brought a sacrifice on his own terms...and the abiding principle is if we are going to come to God, we must come on His terms and not ours...


1.   I'm afraid we have more Cains than Abels in the world today ...more people seeking God on their terms than on God's terms ...and that is true even for many people who claim allegiance to God…it is interesting that Cain obviously believed in God...Cain recognized that he owed God some sort of worship...Cain recognized the importance of relationship with his Creator...but problem was, Cain wanted to do it his way, not God's way...

2.   And whenever we choose our will over God's will, our way over God's way, our standards over God's standards, we are choosing to walk the way of Cain who was rejected by God rather than Abel who was accepted by God..

3.   Cain is the father of false religion...false religion is attempting to come to God in any way other than the way God has prescribed...God has told us in His word that they way to Him is to acknowledge our sin and by faith accept Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins...and the biblical message is that's the only way to God...can't think ourselves into heaven...can't work ourselves into heaven...can't earn our way into heaven by being good...the Bible says, "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which you must be saved" [Acts 4:12] other than the name of Jesus...


1.      Have you ever heard someone say something like, "It doesn't matter what religion you are...doesn't matter what you believe religion is just as good as another...they'll all get us to the same place."...only in the realm of religion do you hear that kind of nonsensical thinking...

2.      Went to doctor this week and got a prescription for some type of infection I’ve been fighting in my sinuses…can assure you I did not go into the pharmacy with a that prescription hand and say to the pharmacists, "One medicine is just as good as another....just pick something from the shelf you like."...

3.      But is exactly the kind of thinking many people buy into when it comes to religion...And from Cain and Abel we should learn that we can't come to God in just any way...must come in way God prescribes...


II.  The result of genuine faith is obedience

1.      As one writer put it, "Obedience does not bring faith, but faith will always bring obedience." [MacArthur, p.301]...Cain and Abel were both sinful...they both needed to make an offering, a sacrifice for their sins...Abel obeyed God and offered the right sacrifice...Cain disobeyed God and offered the wrong sacrifice...why?...because Abel's faith was genuine and Cain's faith was artificial...Abel's genuine faith resulted in obedience and Cain's artificial faith resulted in disobedience...


1.   Lesson for us in that is quite clear...while we are not saved by works...we're saved by grace through faith...but if our faith is genuine, it will always be accompanied by works...John Calvin said it well: "It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone."

2.   A question we need to continually ask ourselves is, “What does my level of obedience to God say about my faith in God?” ...based not on what I say but on what I do, would others say my faith genuine or artificial? my faith merely empty profession or is validated by a life of obedience to God?..

3.   Just as surely as Abel's faith caused him to bring to God the right kind of sacrifice, if your faith is real, it will be cause us to live the right kind of life...if we are really people of faith it will make a distinct difference in how we--

            --relate to our family...

            --treat people...

            --do our work...

            --use our material possessions...

            --and in every aspect of our lives....

4.   Real faith doesn't just obeys!


III.  Unresolved and misplaced anger is always dangerous and hurtful

1.      Verses 5-7 give a graphic description of the anger of Cain.  While Cain took out his anger on Abel, in reality he was angry at God.

2.      There is a reason the Bible has so much to say to us about the danger of anger.  (cf. Proverbs 14:29; 22:49; Ephesians 4:6, 31; Colossians 3:8)


IV.  We are our brother’s keeper.

1.      One of the most famous questions in the history of the world was asked of God by Cain.  When God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (and He was not asking for information; He was asking to convict Cain of the evil of his deed), Cain’s flippant, defensive response was, “…Am I my brother’s keeper?”

2.      The resounding answer to that question in Scripture is “Yes!  Yes, indeed, we are our brother’s keeper!”  John, who had more to say about brotherly love than any other biblical writer, used Cain as an example of how not to relate to other people.  He wrote in 1 John 3:11-12, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother.  And for what reason did he slay him?  Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.”    


V.  We cannot hide our sin from God and unconfessed/unforgiven sin has serious consequences.

1.   It is obvious that Cain knew his actions were wrong.  Verse 8 says he waited to strike down Abel until they were “in the field” apparently out of sight of Adam and Eve.  And his response to God’s question about the whereabouts of Cain is certainly indicative of a guilty conscience.

2.   But even though Cain knew he had done wrong, instead of confessing his sin and seeking God’s forgiveness, he tried to conceal it and avoid responsibility.  But that never works in the long run.  While we may be able to fool people, we can never fool God.  That’s why Paul wrote in Galatians 6:7-8 – “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

3.   Cain reminds us that our lives are diminished by unconfessed, unforgiven sin.  In his case the ground would no longer be fertile for him and he was condemned to a life of wandering the earth.  Even the place he eventually settled, “…the land of Nod, east of Eden…”  means wandering.

4.   The lesson from Cain is not that we will never sin; the lesson is that we need to continually acknowledge our sin and seek God’s forgiveness.  (cf. 1 John 1:8-10)




1.      The story of Cain and Abel reminds us that every day we are faced with the choice of choosing the way of Cain or the way of Abel.  

·         We can choose to walk in the way of Cain, which is the way of superficial faith.  It is the broad way described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that is traveled by most people.  The way that leads to death and destruction. 

·         Or we can choose to walk in the way of Abel, which is the way of genuine faith.  It is the narrow way described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that is traveled by few people.  But it is the way that leads to life abundant and life eternal. 

2.      May we have the wisdom of choosing the way of Abel over the way of Cain.