Show Fresh Respect


Lesson Focus: This lesson is about showing a godly respect for all human life from conception to natural death.

Recognize Life is a Gift:  Genesis 4:1-2.

[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. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.  [ESV]

[1-2]  The focus in verses 1-16 is on Cain as an example of Satan’s followers. Cain revealed his kinship with the devil by his hostility toward God [8-9], his murder of a good man [Matt. 23:35; Heb. 11:4] and his lies [9; John 8:44; 1 John 3:12]. Knew is a common idiom for sexual relations in the Old Testament. Cain’s birth is the first indication that God’s gracious word would come to pass [3:15-16] and that Adam’s faith that God’s mercy would grant them children was not misplaced [3:20]. Divine superintendence assured for humanity what it could not achieve by itself. Eve acknowledges this when she attributes to the Lord’s involvement her giving birth to Cain. Usually the name given to a child in Hebrew narrative conveys an interpretive significance, either explicitly stated in the narrative or by suggestion. By a play on the sound of the verb gotten in Hebrew, Eve names her eldest Cain, which in Hebrew sounds similar to the sound of the verb gotten. Thus Eve names her son so that his name is a reminder of the work of God in bringing about this birth. This first birth recorded in the Bible is in agreement with all of remaining Scripture, which invariably attributes conception and life to the unique work of God and as evidence of His blessing [see Ps. 127:3-5; 139:13]. From the outset of God’s plan for the human family, procreation is the divine-human means whereby the man and woman might achieve the dominion that God has envisioned for them [1:28]. This motif of children (seed) dominates Genesis and was critical to later Israel’s understanding of its own destiny as it interpreted the life of the patriarchs [see 12:7]. From the description of Abel as his brother, it is apparent that the story is told with Cain in focus. Introducing the two sons in terms of their occupations is more important for the narrator since it establishes the plot for the murder that follows. Both professions were known in early society; sheepherding and agriculture provided an occasion for a natural rivalry. The biblical setting is worship, and the factor that led to Abel’s death was Cain’s exaggerated pride. Like his parents before him, Cain desired recognition that did not rightly belong to him [4:7].

Beware of Self-Centeredness: Genesis 4:3-8.

[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.  [ESV]

[3-4]  Cain and Abel’s offerings were presented to the Lord according to their differing vocations. Cain’s offering as well as Abel’s is described with the same term which can be used as a general reference to any kind of gift. Our passage does not have the common language of the Mosaic sacrificial legislation, neither the general word “sacrifice” nor reference to the “sin,” “burnt,” “guilt,” or “peace” offerings. However, Cain did not bring the firstfruits; he brought only some of his crop. This is contrasted with the offering of Abel, who brought not only some of his firstborn but the best of the animal, their fat portions. God’s response toward Cain and Abel was not due to the nature of the gift per se, whether it was grain or animal, but the integrity of the giver. The narrative ties together the worshiper and his offering as God considers the merit of their individual worship. Both giver and gift were under the scrutiny of God. Cain’s offering did not measure up because he retained the best of his produce for himself. For the writer to the Hebrews [11:4], Abel’s offering was accepted because it was offered in faith. As Luther noted, “The faith of the individual was the weight which added value to Abel’s offering.” Unlike a human observer, God sees the condition of the human heart and weighs the motive of the worshiper. Elsewhere Scripture shows that the Lord requires of the giver an obedient and upright heart.

[5]  Cain’s anger revealed his true attitude, which resulted in his despondency, His downcast face indicated a saddened countenance. John’s first epistle comments that Cain was of the evil one because he hated his brother and murdered him [1 John 3:11-12]. In the New Testament, Cain is viewed as the forefather of an unrighteous seed who had drawn first blood in the perpetual struggle between the ungodly and the godly seed first anticipated in Gen. 3:15. According to the custom of primogeniture, the firstborn received the bounty of parental inheritance [Deut. 21:17], but from the viewpoint of Genesis as a whole, it is not surprising that the firstborn in whom Adam and Eve had so much hope would be refused for another. This rejection of the firstborn for the younger son (in this case Seth) portends the common pattern witnessed among the patriarchs where the custom of primogeniture is superseded by divine election and the outworking of covenant promise (e.g. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, etc).

[6-7]  God questions Cain for the same purpose He queried the man and woman in the garden [3:9,11]; not to scold but to elicit Cain’s admission of sin with the view to repentance. Cain’s anger and downcast face telegraphed the bitterness of his darkened soul. Accepted translates the Hebrew word for “a lifting up” or an “exaltation.” When Cain practices what is right, there will be an uplifted face, meaning a good conscience before God without shame. It is best to take the verb accepted or “lifting up” as figurative referring to the uplifted face, indicating acceptance from God that comes with a pure heart. The Lord forewarned Cain that right action would be regarded but a wrong course meant giving sin an opportunity to destroy him. The rationale of the Lord’s question assumes a correspondence between doing “what is right” and receiving divine approval, but the very tenor of the question shows that Cain was not doing “what is right.” What is more important here for Cain, however, is what action he will take now that his sin has been found out. The consequences of his reaction to God’s correction are more far-reaching than the initial sin itself, for if he pursues sin’s anger, it will result in sin’s mastery over him. This is his decision. It is possible for Cain to recover from sin quickly if he chooses the right thing. Sin is likened to an animal crouching at the door ready to attack if incited. This pictures sin temporarily at bay and subject to its master but coming alive when stirred. The Lord instructed Cain that though sin desires him he can still master it. By this divine analysis we learn that sin has a pervasive power that seizes occasion to enslave its victims. But Cain is urged to repent lest he be consumed; he cannot claim helplessness nor ignorance, for he has divine counsel. The apostle Paul testified to the inner struggle against the power of sin and conceded that the power of Christ alone could liberate him [Rom. 7:15-25]. Cain’s refusal to deal rightly with his sin permitted his anger to fester into murder.

Accept Accountability for One Another: Genesis 4:9-12.

[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."  [ESV]

This second half of the Cain-Abel narrative turns on the disastrous deed of Abel’s murder [8]. It is followed by the Lord’s interrogation of Cain, the culprit’s evasive response, and the judgment of curse mitigated by divine mercy [9-15]. It closes with Cain’s expulsion from the Lord’s presence [16]. The section brings the Cain-Abel narrative full circle but with surprising results. Cain’s birth is by the agency of the Lord, and he is a tiller of the soil [1-2]; but by the end Cain is driven from the Lord’s presence and must live apart from the land. He is no longer a farmer enjoying sanctuary, but now he is a city-builder ostracized from the land of his birthright [17]. Three recurring words of the section summarize what this passage concerns: brother [8,9,10,11], kill [8,14,15], and ground [10,11,12]. This chapter is about Cain, not Abel, for Abel is always described as Cain’s brother. He has no standing other than what the Lord gives him. Moreover, Abel never speaks with God or anyone for that matter: it is only Cain and the Lord who dialogue. But what is at issue is Cain’s responsibility for his brother. His treatment of brother Abel is intrinsically related to his relationship with God. Cain exchanges that privilege for anger’s expression by ambushing the weaker brother. But Cain discovers that as the instigator of the first killing he can be the object of the second and thus protests that he is precariously left without defense. The Lord intervenes by establishing a boundary protecting Cain so that no one exercises a personal vendetta against him. This is bound up with the significance of ground in 2:4-4:26, which is integral to understanding Cain’s punishment. Cain, as Adam, is a tiller of the ground, but Cain exceeds the transgression of his father by profaning the ground with spilt blood. Thus the ground would no longer give its produce as it had for Adam, and Cain is forced to abandon it for a vagabond life. His destiny is found further east of Eden, removed that much more from the blessing of the Lord. Cain is the disowned son.

[9-12]  God’s question Where is Abel your brother? echoes the inquiry put to Adam in the garden, Where are you? [3:9]. Both acts of disobedience are thus tied together, indicating that Cain’s murderous act had its antecedents in the sin of his father. Unlike his father, who admitted his crime (though reluctantly), Cain adds to his condemnation by lying. He attempts to elude the question and absolve himself of responsibility by his question, Am I my brother’s keeper? Cain intends it as a rhetorical question requiring a negative reply, but the response from God discloses otherwise. The Mosaic law would have given an affirmative answer to Cain’s question. His crime would have been recognized as a particularly heinous violation of community solidarity, which was highly esteemed among the Hebrews. Community presupposed mutual responsibility that was foundational to covenant commitment. Cain abrogates this sacred obligation of kinship loyalty by the appalling crime of fratricide. Because Cain commits this act, he loses the protection of the family bond and thus fears for his life. The second question, What have you done? is reminiscent of 3:13 where the Lord asks the same of the woman. As in a criminal trial, God presents condemning testimony against Cain: your brother’s blood refutes Cain’s protestations. Our passage depicts Abel’s postmortem call for vindication by this eerie personification: the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. The source of the disquieting cry is the ground that is cursed because of Adam’s sin [3:17] and is now polluted by the spilling of innocent blood. Like the serpent, Cain is placed under a curse. This curse indicates the gravity of his crime against God and creation. Because Cain has polluted the ground with innocent blood, he is driven from it as his parents were from the garden [3:24]. As a fitting punishment Cain the farmer no longer enjoys the fruit of the ground and is thus by necessity consigned to live as a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. This is a significant departure from God’s punishment against Adam; while made difficult by the curse, the Lord preserves Adam’s agricultural life [3:18-19]. But here, by the failure of the land to respond to Cain’s cultivation, his sentencing of perpetual exile is much more severe, which explains Cain’s complaint in verse 13.

Turn to the Lord: Genesis 4:13-16,25-26.

[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. [25]  And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, "God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him." [26]  To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.  [ESV]

[13-16]  Cain protests that his penalty is too harsh; he argues that isolation from God’s protective presence effectively results in a death sentence. There is a decided difference between his response to God’s decree and that of Adam. Cain expresses no inkling of remorse, only self-pity and resentment. That Cain does not receive divine forgiveness is shown by his expulsion from the Lord’s presence. Cain’s fear for his life presupposes the expansion of civilization over the course of his long life during which there will be many opportunities for retribution by a blood-avenger. Without God’s protection he is left to his own devices to survive. But despite his deserved expulsion, the Lord does not leave him helpless. Instead God responds to Cain’s complaint: Not so! God disagrees with Cain’s assessment that the punishment is too severe. But to diminish Cain’s fears, God safeguards the impenitent Cain as though He were his kinsman or protector. This provision is two-fold: (1) God warns that Cain’s murder will be avenged seven times over, and (2) he marks Cain with a protective sign. Seven, as a figure of speech meaning completeness or fullness, expresses the certainty and severity of God’s vengeance against a vigilante. Why does God preserve the life of this murderer by the use of the mark or sign? Perhaps God is declaring that life and death are His prerogative, which He does not share with anyone except by divine sanction. God’s judgment against the culprit is restrained by His grace. Cain will live outside the presence of the Lord, which is another narrative reminder of Adam’s crime and penalty [3:22]. Cain’s residing in the land of Nod, east of Eden, implies that he is further removed from the garden than Adam.

[25-26]  The birth of Seth is interpreted by Eve as God’s response to the loss of righteous Abel. By bearing again, the hope of another seed bore to Eve meant a righteous lineage is possible through Adam’s son Seth. Abel was dead, and Cain was disqualified. Eve attributes the birth of the child to the mercy of God, who has provided her a third son. Hope for this offspring lives with the announcement of Seth’s firstborn son, Enosh, whose birth marks an important point in the development of the righteous lineage of Adam. At this time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. Call can be taken as invoking the Lord in prayer and worship or as proclaiming in the sense of declaring the revelation of God. Whereas Cain was alienated from the Lord’s presence, the descendants of Seth practiced and declared the word of the Lord.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Why did God accept Abel’s sacrifice and reject Cain’s [see Heb. 11:4]? How does Cain’s offering and response to God’s rejection show the condition of his heart? What can we learn from this incident concerning how we are to worship God and offer Him acceptable gifts (time, money, service, etc.)?

2.         What does God tells us about the nature of sin in 4:7? Think about this image of sin as a demon or a vicious animal lying in wait to devour you. Throughout Scripture the relationship of sin and the believer is described as a battle. Spend time this week looking at passages like Romans 7:15-25 and Ephesians 6:10-20. Think about how you are in a battle with sin in your life. What means has God provided to enable us to rule over sin rather than letting sin rule over us?

3.         In what sense are you your brother’s keeper? Think about this question in terms of three different meanings we can give to brother: family, fellow believers, and humanity as a whole. What responsibilities does God require of us in each of these three relationships? If you have access to the Westminster Larger Catechism, a helpful discussion of some of these responsibilities is found in Questions 144 and 145.

3.         What do these verses teach us about the sanctity of human life? (Focus on such things as God being the source of conception and life [see especially Psalm 139:13-16]; how seriously God takes the murder of Abel; God’s protection of the murderer Cain from being killed; God’s desire for a people to worship Him.)


Genesis 1-15, Volume 1, Gordon Wenham, Nelson.

Genesis 1-11:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts