Achan’s Hidden Sin (Joshua 7)

Achan’s Hidden Sin

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on August 25, 2019

We go through difficult times in life. I think we would all agree. I’m sure some of you are employers, or have been employers, and you have had to terminate an employee. That is not easy, I have done that. I’m sure some of you have had to confront a family member about substance abuse. I’m sure some of you have been the one confronted about substance abuse. I’m sure some of you have heavily weighed how to punish a child for disobedience. I’m sure some of you have had to separate from a family member because of certain troubles. I’m sure some of you have fled abusive situations. What do we do? How do we handle things? How do we cope?

As a pastor, I have had to confront sin and I have had to counsel people on confronting sin. There have been multiple times in my pastoral ministry in which I have had to confront sin. I have also seen sin go unconfronted in the church and I have seen devastating consequences because of this. By the way, when we talk about confronting sin in the church, we mean unconfessed, ongoing sin and generally speaking we mean public sin.

I know of churches that condoned sin and covered up, even spreading lies to cover up the sin. Later on those churches may wonder why they will not grow. I believe the sin of Achan is in their camp. What is the sin of Achan? We are going to talk about that today, but let me share right now: when there is unconfessed sin, and sin that is not repented of, there are devastating consequences. Sin that is public must be repented of publicly. Psalm 66:18: If I withhold sin in my heart the Lord will not hear my prayer (my paraphrase). This applies to churches and this applies to families.

I want to walk through Joshua 7 and introduce you to Achan.

My theme:

Achan’s hidden sin had devastating consequences to Israel.


Don’t live with hidden sin, repent of it.

I will read parts of the passage as we talk about it.

  1. In verses 1-5 we see The shocking defeat of Israel. Let’s read those verses.

But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, “Go up and spy out the land.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. They returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few.” So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

  • Prior to verse 1 we were in chapter 6. In chapter 6 the Israelites had an amazing victory of Jericho. All they had to do was march around the city 7 times and the walls fell down. By the way, we do not see such a victory like that afterwards. This was the Red Sea moment for that generation of Israelites.
  • However, in that chapter the Israelites were told that the city was under the ban. This means that nothing lives and all the gold and silver and things like that are dedicated to the temple. See Joshua 6:17-19.
  • But now in chapter 7 the people of Israel behave badly. Now, they all don’t behave badly, but one family does.
  • Please understand, sin is contagious. The Israelites and the world of that day knew that sins effected a community and the community identified with the sins of even one person.
  • The NET Bible notes: This incident illustrates well the principle of corporate solidarity and corporate guilt. The sin of one man brought the Lord’s anger down upon the entire nation.[1]
  • Verse 1, summarizes what is about to happen.
  • In verse 2, Joshua sends spies out to check out the land.
  • In verse 3, the spies share that this should be an easy win, 2000-3000 men are enough. Now, this could show over-confidence, but remember how the last city fell?
  • In verses 4-5, they send the higher of the recommended number but they are greatly defeated.
  • Also, 36 people have died. This is the first death in battle since they entered the promised land. Notice they kept an accurate count.
  • Imagine this in their local newspaper: “Extra-extra, hear all about it! 36 men dead from battle with AI.” Imagine the tabloids criticizing Joshua’s military blunder. Imagine the late night pundits debating whether Joshua should have sent more men, less men, or simply waited on the Lord.
  • This defeat caused an emotional let-down, their hearts became as water.
  • In Verses 6-9 we see Joshua’s prayer of repentance. Let’s read these verses.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.

Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

  • Notice that both Joshua and the elders are repentant.
  • There are signs of repentance.
  • He tore his clothes.
  • He fell to his knees until evening.
  • He and the elders put dust on their heads.
  • In verse 7, Joshua begins to pray.
  • Joshua reverently asks questions of the Lord.
  • In verses 7-9 Joshua continues asking questions and then Joshua asks what the Lord will do for His Great Name.
  • In verses 10- 15, we see the Lord’s response

10 So the Lord said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? 11 Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. 12 Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. 13 Rise up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, for thus the Lord, the God of Israel, has said, “There are things under the ban in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you have removed the things under the ban from your midst.” 14 In the morning then you shall come near by your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes by lot shall come near by families, and the family which the Lord takes shall come near by households, and the household which the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.’”

  • I find it interesting how the Lord responds.
  • The Lord tells Joshua to rise up.
  • The Lord asks Him why he has fallen on his face. Of course, the Lord knows what is going on. Joshua did not wake Him.
  • Instead of Joshua responding in verse 11 we see the Lord continue to speak.
  • Israel has sinned.
  • Israel has transgressed (crossed) the Lord’s covenant.
  • This covenant the Lord commanded them.
  • They have stolen, deceived and put among their own things.
  • Israel has sinned, not just Achan.
  • Verse 12 tells the consequences of their sin.
  • They cannot stand before their enemies.
  • They turn their backs on their enemies and have become accursed. We saw this in verse 4.
  • Verse 12 has a strong statement. God will not be with them anymore unless they destroy the things under “the ban.”
  • Remember I already referenced “the ban.” This means that nothing lives and the money and possessions go to the temple.
  • Swindoll helps what Achan did come alive. This is what he writes:

Ushers receiving an offering in a church have a similar code. The ushers don’t say, “Well, if I were being paid to do this very important job for the church, I think thus-and- such amount would be fair compensation. I’ll take out a little less than that so, in the end, the church is coming out ahead. After all, if no one did this job, the church would receive no money at all.”[2]

Unfortunately for Israel, someone after the battle of Jericho had emptied a full offering plate into his own pockets. Joshua was innocent. The vast majority of Israel was blameless. Still, the entire nation suffered. J. Sidlow Baxter describes the effect this way: “The electric wire of fellowship between God and Israel had been cut and the current of power therefore ceased to flow.” That’s precisely the consequence of sin in the camp. That’s also why I think the intelligence report on the strength of Ai was a reasonable one. This should have been an easy victory, even without the Lord’s involvement. No miracle needed there, but the presence of sin interrupted God’s desire to bless the nation with another victory.[3]

  1. In verse 13-15 we have God telling them how to track this down:
    1. Rise up.
    2. Consecrate: this means to set apart for a purpose.
  • The Bible Backgrounds Commentary shares: Consecration consisted of steps taken to make oneself ritually pure. This process primarily entailed washing and avoiding contact with objects that would render one unclean. It typically preceded ritual action. For Israel this included sacrifices, festivals or procedures in which Yahweh was involved, such as war and oracular procedures.[4]
  1. Tell the people that they are to be consecrated the next day.
  2. The people are told what they are looking into. Someone took things under the ban.
  3. Basically, God tells Joshua to tell them, “One of you is a criminal…and we will find out who…”
  • They cannot stand before their enemies until this is taken care of.
  • In verse 14 it says this will be in the morning the next day. Start by tribe.
  1. They will work by lot. We are actually not sure that they worked by lot.
  2. “By lot” is not in the original manuscripts:
  3. The Bible Backgrounds Commentary shares: The text does not mention the mechanism by which groups or individuals are singled out, though some translations supply “by lot.” In Israel, however, lots were typically used when a random quality was desired. Here, in contrast, they are seeking an oracle in which a question is put to God in order to receive divine guidance or information (see comment on Gen 24:12–21). The presentation of a tribe or clan before the Lord would pose the question, “Is the guilty party in this group?” If a process is used similar to the Urim and Thummim (see comment on Ex 28:30), an answer would only be given divine standing if it defied the odds (for instance, if the same results were repeated several times). In the ancient Near East lots were sometimes used to receive oracles, though in most cases oracles were pursued through divination (such as examining the entrails of a sacrificed animal for favorable or unfavorable indications). In light of the consecration that precedes the process, it is possible that there is no mechanism but rather direct communication from Yahweh.[5]

Proverbs 16:33: The dice are thrown into the lap,

but their every decisionis from the Lord.[6]

  • In verse 15 we see the punishment: the one who is taken with the things shall be burned with fire. This must happen to him and all those who “belong to him…” This means his family. This is because he transgressed (crossed) the covenant and has done something disgraceful.
    1. Notice that his family is included. It is possible that his family worked with him in this sin.
    2. This does make what happens harder to swallow but we will come back to this.
  1. In verses 16- 21 we see Achan’s confession, but it is very late.

16 So Joshua arose early in the morning and brought Israel near by tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 He brought the family of Judah near, and he took the family of the Zerahites; and he brought the family of the Zerahites near man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 He brought his household near man by man; and Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, was taken. 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” 20 So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.”

  1. Now, the process is carried out.
  2. Judah is taken.
  3. Family of the Zerahites and then Zabdi.
  4. In verse 18 we see that Achan was taken.
  5. Versed 19, Joshua says to Achan: “my son,” Joshua talks to him in a loving way. Joshua asks him to praise and glorify the Lord with his answer.
  6. In verses 20-21 Achan confesses.
  7. But why didn’t Achan confess earlier. Achan could have come forward way earlier. He watched the tribes get chosen one by one. He knew what was going on.
  8. I like what Swindoll writes: Imagine the racing heart and pulsing blood pressure of the thief as, tribe by tribe, family by family, household by household, Joshua’s dragnet closed in on him. What could the thief have been thinking? Had he ignored the ban, he at least heard of the defeat, and he doubtless saw the funerals for those thirty-six men. He knew the penalty. “It shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him” (7:15). The pressure mounting within the thief must have been overwhelming.[7]
  9. Now, Achan acknowledges his sin.
  10. He coveted this beautiful mantle [from Babylon] and the 200 shekels of silver and bar of gold of 50 shekels in weight.
  11. Achan tells where they are at.
  12. I like what the Bible Backgrounds Commentary shares: The precious metals from the Canaanite cities had been assigned to the sanctuary, so Achan was taking what properly belonged to the Lord. There are five or six pounds of silver and about a pound and a half ingot of gold in Achan’s treasure trove. That represents what it would take the average worker a lifetime to earn. The Babylonian robe of this period was fringed and draped over one shoulder, with the edge carried over the arm.[8]
  13. Swindoll writes: In ancient times, a soldier was compensated by the plunder he took after victory. Normally, after a city had been taken, the soldiers were encouraged to grab all the valuables they could carry and add the spoils to their wealth. That was considered the warrior’s pay. But not in this case. Remember God’s instructions for the destruction of Jericho?[9]
  14. So, Achan is caught and now there is the consequence.
  1. In verses 22-26 we see the purge of sin.

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was concealed in his tent with the silver underneath it. 23 They took them from inside the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the sons of Israel, and they poured them out before the Lord. 24 Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26 They raised over him a great heap of stones that stands to this day, and the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the valley of Achor to this day.

  1. They found the stuff in his tent with silver underneath it.
  2. In verse 23 they showed this to everyone.
  3. Verses 24-25 show that they are stoned at the valley of Achor. They brought out:
    1. Silver
    2. Mantle
  • Bar of gold
  1. Sons
  2. Daughters
  3. Oxen
  • Donkeys
  • Sheep
  1. His tent
  2. And all that belonged to him: other things not mentioned.
  3. Joshua makes a statement: “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” There is a play on words because Achan means “trouble.” Joshua is saying “Why have you lived up to your name?”
  4. They are stoned and then burned.
  5. Remember they lost a battle and 36 people died because of Achan’s sin. He jeopardized the nation.
  6. Verse 26 they made a monument.
  7. The Lord turned from His anger.
  8. There is something that bothers me and that is that Achan’s children are killed with him. Let me acknowledge that and give some comments right now.
  9. It could be they were adult children and they were complicit. His wife could have been complicit as well.
  10. It could be that the children were not supposed to be killed.
  11. The Moody Bible Commentary reads:
  12. Why were Achan’s sons and daughters killed? Scripture says: “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (Dt 24:16 ESV). Perhaps these adult children were complicit in Achan’s crimes. With regard to the words “all that belongs to him” (v. 15), perhaps Joshua interpreted them to mean livestock and inanimate possessions as well as family. God had not, however, specified anyone other than the culprit. In the first six chapters Joshua was listening carefully to God. But in chap. 7, he was not seeking the Lord’s counsel until forward momentum had been lost. God rebuked him (7:10-15) and sent him to apprehend the culprit. Joshua did not ask the specifics of the sentencing. The traditional solution is that the children were accessories to the crime and that Joshua complied with the Lord’s directive completely (7:12-15, 24-26). As a result of this punishment, God’s anger was assuaged in the specifics; but He will “feel” more distant throughout most of the remainder of the book.[10]
  13. I think that source brings out some interesting thoughts.
  14. Remember though God is sovereign and He is outside of time. God knows if He allows corruption and sin to go on it will destroy that nation later on and sin does destroy the nation later on.

What can we learn, let’s apply:

  1. Sin and its effects are contagious. They effect the whole community. We must recognize this and flee sin (1 Cor. 6:18).
    1. Do you really think that the pornography you look at when you are alone is only going to affect you? There are cataclysmic spiritual effects. Achan’s sin was hidden, just like yours. Repent.
    2. Do you really think those lies in your business dealings have isolated consequences? Repent.
    3. Whatever you are dealing with repent.
    4. Remember that Achan’s sin was hidden but Israel lost the battle because of it.
  2. We must repent of sin immediately. Achan had opportunity to repent and he did not repent until he was found out.
  3. We must recognize our sin will find us out (Numbers 32:23).
    1. I must continue with this point. I know men who have been caught looking at pornography when their wife walked in the room.
    2. I know of people who have been caught at work.
    3. By the way, it may start with small things and get bigger.
    4. The Holy Spirit is convicting you to repent.
  4. The effects of sin are deadly, sometimes literally, but always deadly (verse 5).
    1. 36 men died and God spared the rest of the nation through this confrontation.
    2. I shared about churches that covered up and lied about sin. I believe that hurt those churches to this day.
    3. Sin is deadly, Jesus died for our sin.
    4. Unconfessed, condoned, ongoing sin ruins marriages, harms families, hurts society, kills businesses, churches and denominations. It is deadly.
    5. Beyond all that—sin hurts God. Sin breaks His heart. Let me remind you that we all sin, but as Christians we must repent and move on and grow up in the faith. What I am talking about is unconfessed, ongoing, patterns of sin.
    6. I mentioned pornography, but this could be any unconfessed, ongoing sin.
    7. That pattern of unconfessed anger grows until in a fit of rage you kill your dog or cat or spouse or child.
    8. That pattern of unconfessed anger grows until your children watch as you destroy the house. Your children watch as you yell at their mother cussing her out and break things like a wild animal. You flee the house in a rage while your wife and children are in a tears.
    9. Repent, get help, deal with it.
    10. It is not my intention to heap up guilt. Guilt is what the Holy Spirit gives you to convict you. It is my intention to encourage you to get help. It is my intention to remind you that Jesus wants to forgive you and help you.
    11. It could be gossip. Gossip is super deadly and it is passed down. Your children see you gossip and they do the same thing. Imagine the hurt caused by gossip. Jesus wants to forgive and He wants to help us.
  5. We must seek the Lord in trouble as Joshua did in verses 6-9. We must worship the Lord as Joshua did in verses 6-9. We must be repentant as Joshua was in verses 6-9. We must understand we do not move forward except by the Lord. We do not move forward in our Christian life, or in life in general except by the Lord.
  6. We must understand that there is more grace here then we realize. Achan could have repented. Further, God was preserving the rest of Israel. If He let that sin go unpunished He knows what that does to future generations.
  7. The family of Achan paid the price for their sin. Some day, some 1200 years later, Jesus will pay the price for all of our sin. We must praise and worship Jesus.
  8. Rejoice for God’s grace and forgiveness.
  9. Realize that God cared about Israel. One reason that God cared about Israel is because eventually the Messiah came through Israel and He forgives us.

A number of years ago I was senior pastor of a church and I knew of a leader living in sin. This was someone who led the congregation in worship and thought it was okay to move in with his girlfriend. I talked to him and then another leader talked with him. We were following Matthew 18:15-17. (By the way when someone repents we must forgive. See also 2 Cor. 2). This person did not repent. He lashed out in manipulative anger. I remember running for over an hour pushing Mercedes, who was just over 1 at the time. I was trying to pray but my mind kept dwelling on worst case scenarios. I was thinking, what if the church does not support me? I realized that I must obey God. A few days later I was on another run and I was listening to Swindoll’s sermon on this very passage. Swindoll said, “Personally, I would just as soon brush aside sinful behavior and enjoy a nice dinner. I hate confronting sin. I dislike with a passion wading through the muck and mire. Yet I cannot remember a time when I chose to delay a necessary confrontation that I didn’t later regret it.”[11]Interesting that God gave me those words and that message at a time when I needed it.

Some of you are thinking we are being judgmental when we confront sin. Wrong, we are being Biblical. Plus, we are helping them. We are helping them repent and run back to Jesus. Sin is a violation to our relationship with God and when we live in sin our relationship with God is blocked because sin is against God. Look at Psalm 66:18.

Jesus wants to forgive us.

Forgiveness video clip from ignitemedia

Confess, Believe, trust, commit: Firmly make the decision to be with Him in order to become like Him and to learn and do all that He says and then arrange your affairs around Him.


[1]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Jos 7:1.

[2]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[3]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[4]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jos 7:13.

[5]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jos 7:14–18.

[6]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible(Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Pr 16:33.

[7]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[8]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jos 7:21.

[9]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[10]The Moody Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 12624-12628). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[11]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Esau: The Firstborn Who Lost His Birthright (Genesis 25:19-34)

Esau: The Firstborn Who Lost His Birthright (Genesis 25:19-34)

Jacob swindled Esau’s birthright.

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, August 18, 2018

My dad was raised in a family of seven. He had one brother who is now deceased. Unfortunately, my dad’s family was, and is, very broken. Most all of his siblings ran away from home as teenagers and my dad moved out at sixteen and was married at eighteen years of age. His brother never drove and did not hold a job. Growing up my dad’s brother was an example of laziness and living off the system. It is sad really. As I was finishing elementary school my grandmother, my dad’s mother, lived with us following a hip replacement. Following that, the same grandmother lived with us off and on until her early death. At one point my dad’s brother came up in conversation. In that conversation my grandmother shared these telling words: Your dad [my grandfather] would work alongside my dad. He would encourage my dad. If my dad worked on the car and fixed something, he could expect a congratulation from his father. However, his brother [my dad’s brother], did not receive the same encouragement. He did not have the same relationship with his father. From this conversation we could see that my grandmother thought that my dad’s brother’s lack of a work ethic goes back to his father, my grandfather.

From everything I have learned about family dynamics, I think she is right. Grandma was right. I was once listening to Focus on the Family and a man said “You raise a son like you raise a good hunting dog. When you have a hunting dog every time you get in the truck you take the hunting dog with you. When you are raising a son, every time you get in the truck you take your son with you.” That was an interesting analogy.

We are in a sermon series on people of the Bible. The sermon today could be an example of certain bad parenting. Today, we talk about Esau. We see that Isaac seemed to favor Esau, while Rebekah favored Jacob. My favorite preacher and author, Chuck Swindoll, wrote about Esau and said that Esau could not win. He makes the case that Esau could not win because of his parent’s favoritism. We see the favoritism in today’s passage, but also in other places.


Meet Jacob and Esau, Jacob swindled the blessing out of Esau, but God works in our sinfulness. The major application: Trust God, He is sovereign and even works in our sinfulness.

Smaller application: Don’t show favoritism.

Let’s read Genesis 25:19-34:

 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Let’s walk through this passage and learn about Esau.

  1. In verses 19-22 we see the Lord’s words concerning Jacob and Esau:
    1. In context we had just read about Ishmael’s descendants. We have also read about Abraham’s death. Abraham’s death was recorded in the previous chapter, but he is still alive right now. This passage is not in chronological order with the previous chapter. Sometimes that happens. Abraham lived to be 175 years old.
    2. The previous chapter was dealing with Ishmael, but now we are dealing with Isaac.
    3. Isaac was born and that was in the previous chapters. This chapter, verse 20: Isaac was 40 when he was married to Rebekah. This passage gives the details about Rebekah. We know that from Genesis 24. Isaac being 40, this means Abraham is now 140 years old. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born. his death was recorded in the previous chapter, but he lived to be 175
    4. One source shares: Some valuable information is provided here. We learn here that Isaac married thirty-five years before Abraham died, that Rebekah was barren for twenty years, and that Abraham would have lived to see Jacob and Esau begin to grow up. The death of Abraham was recorded in the first part of the chapter as a “tidying up” of one generation before beginning the account of the next.[1]
    5. In these first few verses we see a dominant Biblical truth, the Lord controls the womb. We see that repeatedly throughout the Bible.
    6. We see another truth here as well. We see the idea of prayer. Rebekah is barren and so Isaac prays. The Lord answered.
    7. There is an application here: Do we pray about all things? We see here that Isaac trusted the Lord to pray.
    8. The Lord answers their prayer and she becomes pregnant.
    9. Then, verse 22: The children are in the womb and they struggled together. The Hebrew word used here suggests a violent struggle that was out of the ordinary.[2]
    10. She was so bothered by this that she asked the Lord about it. How she inquired of the Lord is hard to tell. She might have gone to a priest. It is hard to tell, but it seems as though Isaac represented the family and went to the Lord with this need. It seems as though she said “why even be pregnant if it is like this?”
    11. Rebekah wanted to know what was happening to her, but the question itself reflects a growing despair over the struggle of the unborn children.[3]She Asked theLord. In other passages (1 Sam 9:9) this expression refers to inquiring of a prophet, but no details are provided here.[4]
    12. Swindoll shared how women pick up on things that we won’t pick up on. She could tell that the pregnancy did not seem right.
  2. In verses 23-26: The Lord responds:
    1. The Lord’s response refers to their future. The Lord shares about the future of their nations.
    2. In her womb are the heads of two nations. One is stronger. The older will serve the younger and this was rare.
    3. In verse 24: as the Lord said she gives birth to twins.
    4. In verse 25: the passage describes Esau, red and hairy.
    5. In verse 26: Jacob is born and his hand is holding Esau’s heal. Jacob means one who grasps the heal. One shares: The name Jacob is a play on the Hebrew word for “heel” (עָקֵב, ’aqev). The name (since it is a verb) probably means something like “may he protect,” that is, as a rearguard, dogging the heels. It did not have a negative connotation until Esau redefined it. This name was probably chosen because of the immediate association with the incident of grabbing the heel. After receiving such an oracle, the parents would have preserved in memory almost every detail of the unusual births.[5]
    6. Isaac is now 60 years old and Abraham would be 160 years old.
  • In verses 27-34: Jacob buys the birthright for stew. Really, Jacob swindles Esau out of his birthright.
    1. Esau is a hunter who is very skillful.
    2. Jacob is peaceful and lived in tents. One source shares:
    3. The incident with the stew appears to take place away from home, otherwise Esau could have appealed to his parents. Jacob is not the hunting type, so it would be unusual for him to be out in the countryside alone. He has been described as a man “staying among the tents,” which may indicate he was more closely associated with the shepherding business. The shepherds moved their camps over a broad area of land in order to find water and grazing for the flocks. It is most likely that Jacob would be out supervising some of the shepherds at such a camp when Esau stumbled upon them. Jacob would be the one in charge at the camp, so the decision would be his, and there would therefore be witnesses to the agreement made between Jacob and Esau.[6]
    4. In verse 28 we see that Isaac liked the game which Esau hunted and this caused him to love Esau more. However, Rebekah loved Jacob. This goes back to my opening regarding parenting.
    5. Esau is famished, but Jacob has cooked stew. Esau wants some of the red stew which Jacob has cooked. In Hebrew the name Edom is similar to the word red.[7]
    6. In verse 31, Jacob says “First” sell the birthright. I wonder if Jacob set this up. Maybe he knew Esau would come in very tired and he knew he would sell the birthright… I wonder if Jacob wanted the birthright badly.
    7. I like how Swindoll helps us think this through, he writes: Two very different boys grew into manhood. In doing so, two realities emerged. First, the men were very opposite in their temperaments. Second, Jacob was not a sissy, but a normal man by the standards of his day. He was a cultured, even-tempered, civilized man with clean fingernails. Esau was astudy in contrast. He was unusually rugged, independent, and passionate. He smelled like the countryside where he preferred to live. Jacob lived by his wits; Esau lived by his gut instinct. Jacob became shrewd; Esau remained gullible. Jacob thought strategically, Esau impulsively. You’ve got the picture.[8]
    8. The birthright doesn’t mean much in our modern, Western, Gentile culture. But in that day, to those people, it involved every aspect of family life. The birthright bore incredible significance. James Hastings, one of the reliable early biographers of biblical characters, makes several statements about the value of a birthright:
    9. To the birthright belonged pre-eminence over the other branches of the family. To the birthright appertained a double portion of the paternal inheritance. To the birthright was attached the land of Canaan, with all its sacred distinctions. To the birthright was given the promise of being the ancestor of the Messiah—the “firstborn among many brethren”—the Saviour in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. And to the birthright was added the honor of receiving first, from the mouth of the father, a peculiar benediction, which proceeding from the spirit of prophecy, was never pronounced in vain. Such were the prospects of Esau.[9]

Tim Keller shares:  

Many years ago, when I first started reading the Book of Genesis, it was very upsetting to me. Here are all these spiritual heroes—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—and look at how they treat women. They engage in polygamy, and they buy and sell their wives. It was awful to read their stories at times. But then I read Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative. Alter is a Jewish scholar at Berkeley whose expertise is ancient Jewish literature. In his book he says there are two institutions present in the Book of Genesis that were universal in ancient cultures: polygamy and primogeniture. Polygamy said a husband could have multiple wives, and primogeniture said the oldest son got everything—all the power, all the money. In other words, the oldest son basically ruled over everyone else in the family. Alter points out that when you read the Book of Genesis, you’ll see two things. First of all, in every generation polygamy wreaks havoc. Having multiple wives is an absolute disaster—socially, culturally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and relationally. Second, when it comes to primogeniture, in every generation God favors the younger son over the older. He favors Abel, not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. Alter says that you begin to realize what the Book of Genesis is doing—it is subverting, not supporting, those ancient institutions at every turn.

When I read Alter’s book, I then reread the Book of Genesis and loved it. And then it hit me: What if when I was younger, I had abandoned my trust in the Bible because of these accounts in Genesis? What if I had drop-kicked the Bible and the Christian faith, missing out on a personal relationship with Christ—all because I couldn’t understand the behavior of the patriarchs? The lesson is simple: Be patient with the text. Consider the possibility that it might not be teaching what you think it’s teaching.[10]

  1. As we look at the rest of the passage, Esau thinks he will die without the stew and living is better than dying so he sells the birthright. So, Jacob made Esau swear this to him. Jacob followed through and Esau despised his birthright. In other words, he was indifferent to it.
  2. One source shares: Esau was contemptuous of his special firstborn status. On the basis of this, Heb. 12:16 describes Esau as “unholy.” Esau did not appreciate that his birthright was linked to God’s plan of redemption for the whole world.[11]
  3. Another shares, Explicit moral commentary is rare in the Bible, so the writer’s inclusion of it here marks something about Esau that he did not want the reader to miss.[12]
  4. As we wrap up this passage let me summarize the next few chapters so that you can get a complete picture of Esau.
  5. Genesis 26 is about Isaac, then chapter 27 comes back to Jacob and Esau.
  6. In Genesis 27 There is a major deceptive account of Jacob stealing the blessing from Esau. Now, Jacob has already paid for the blessing, but now he actually takes it. I guess Esau was not really going to give it to him. In reality, Isaac should have known that the blessings of the firstborn belonged to Jacob, the younger God declared that, yet, Isaac was not obeying God. However, God’s will comes about in the end.
  7. Let me break down chapter 27:
  8. Verses 1-4: Isaac calls Esau and tells him to go hunt some game and they will eat and he will give him the blessing.
  9. Verses 5-17: Rebekah had overheard Isaac’s plan, but she loves Jacob more. So she has her own plan. Jacob is to take a few of the young goats and have them slaughtered and Rachel will prepare them. Jacob will go into his father, Isaac, and pretend to be Esau and steal the blessing. Isaac’s eyesight is failing so this should not be an issue. Jacob will wear Esau’s clothes and use goat skin to make him feel hairy like Esau.
  10. Verses 18-29: the plan works and Jacob is blessed.
  11. Verses 30-38: Esau returns and is upset that the blessing was stolen. Isaac and Esau are beyond upset. Esau gets the secondary blessing.
  12. Yet, notice in all this treachery God’s plan still comes to pass. In multiple places we see parents favoring one over another, multiple times we see deceit and treachery.

Chuck Swindoll writes the following:

What if Isaac had been an involved, proactive father who was obedient to God’s plan, rather than one who allowed his favoritism to passively resist it?

What if Rebekah and Isaac had prepared the boys to obey early in life, saying something like this: “Now, boys, we have some extremely important information about you two straight from the Lord. Jacob is to receive the birthright and blessing, even though he’s the youngest. We don’t understand why, but God is good and all His ways are right. Esau, you will be very, very wealthy and you will have a great nation that can be an ally to the covenant people that will come through Jacob. Your descendants can share in all its blessings.” 

What if Esau had received attention equal to Jacob’s and all the approval he craved from his parents? What if he had graciously released the birthright to Jacob in humble obedience and surrendered to the Lord’s loving, sovereign will? To borrow the idea from Corrie ten Boom shared in the previous chapter, what if he had held his birthright loosely?

What if Jacob had humbly received the blessing and offered to share his wealth and privilege with Esau?

How might history have turned out differently? How much happier would everyone have been? How much more glory would God have received through the obedience of His people? It’s difficult to say, but the story closes with yet another example of how each person’s sinful perspective added further complication. Isaac was passive, uninvolved, and yielding. Rebekah manipulated and spun the truth. Jacob scurried away to avoid owning his responsibility. And, in a move typical of Esau, he reacted with self-destructive impulsiveness to make matters worse.

To save her son from Esau’s wrath, Rebekah sent Jacob packing to visit her brother far, far away. But to gain Isaac’s support, his wife resorted to manipulation and deceit again. She tricked Isaac into thinking that Jacob should find a wife and that she could be found near her brother.[13]

The story continues, mainly with Isaac, in chapter 28, but we will stop there.

  1. Let’s make some applications:
  2. In verse 21, Isaac prayed for a child. We must recognize the Lord is sovereign over the womb. The Lord is in control. We must always pray for every situation. The Lord is in control.
  3. The Lord had already promised greatness for Jacob and his descendants, we must trust the Lord in His promises and not try to make things work out on our own.
    1. We must seek the Lord’s Word to see what His will is.
    2. We must not try to go against His Word.
    3. We must not try to reach the Lord’s will through sin.
    4. We must not try to manipulate things for His will.
    5. We must TRUST the Lord.
    6. We must not try to achieve the Lord’s will through debt.
  4. We must not favor one child over another as Isaac and Rebekah did (Gen. 25:28).
    1. We must spend equal resources with our children to the extent that we are able.
    2. We must support our children emotionally and meet their needs. Every child is different,.
    3. We must support our children spiritually, leading them spiritually. We must not neglect one child.
    4. We must support our children with physical felt needs.
    5. We must not teach one child and not the other.
    6. When we mess up, and we will, we must apologize and repent to God and our children.
  5. We must trust God’s sovereignty as His will came through after this whole mess. In Genesis 25:23 God had declared the older will serve the younger.

Do you know Christ?

Luke 9:23

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)


Confess, Believe, trust, commit: Firmly make the decision to be with Him in order to become like Him and to learn and do all that He says and then arrange your affairs around Him.



[1]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 25:20.

[2]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 25:22.

[3]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 25:22.

[4]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 25:22.

[5]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 25:26.

[6]Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 25:29–30.


[8]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[9]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[10]Tim Keller, in the sermon “Literalism” (available on on 5-17-10)


[12]Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible(Galaxie Software, 2003), Ge 25:31.

[13]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Abraham, the Father of many Nations (Genesis 12:1-5)

Abraham, the Father of Nations (Genesis 12:1-5)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on August 11, 2019

We will be turning to Genesis 12 in just a moment, but allow me to setup the passage

We are in a new sermon series on people of the Old Testament. Last week we talked about Cain, today we will talk about Abraham. Abraham is one of the more well known people of the Old Testament, isn’t he? Tell me something about Abraham…

Shout out from your seat something about Abraham.

In the passage we are going to look at we see Abraham was willing to take a risk. God called him and he followed. Some of us are afraid to take risks:

Eileen Guder writes this observation in her book God, But I’m Bored:

 You can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer; drink no tea or coffee or other stimulants, in the name of health; go to bed early and stay away from night life; avoid all controversial subjects so as never to give offense; mind your own business and avoid involvement in other people’s problems; spend money only on necessities and save all you can. Yes, and you can break your neck in the bathtub, and it’ll serve you right.[1]

Sometimes we must take risks, sometimes we must try different things, but this is especially true when God places a call on our lives. Abraham was called and he obeyed. Because he obeyed we are blessed to this day.

My theme today is: Abraham obeyed the Lord and became the father of nations.

Application: Trust in the Lord as Abraham did.

Let’s read Genesis 12:1-5:

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.

  • The Lord talks with Abram.
  • This passage is Genesis 12. You may or may not realize it, but we are only a couple thousand years into history in this passage. In Genesis chapters 1-3 we have the creation of Adam and Eve. Then Adam and Eve sinned.
  • Beginning in Genesis 4 we have Cain and Abel, then we have all the descendants of Adam and Eve.
  • In Genesis chapters 6-9 we have the flood narrative with Noah and his family.
  • In Genesis chapter 10 we have the table of nations. All of Noah’s descendants spread out.
  • In Genesis 11 we have the tower of Babel.
  • At the end of Genesis 11 we are introduced to Abram.
  • Abram’s father begins moving the family from Ur to the land of Canaan. They stopped in Haran. I am sure you all know exactly where that is. I will show you a map in a minute.
  • This brings us to Genesis 12. The rest of Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament will be about Abraham and his descendants. His descendants become the people of Israel.
  • So, right here, the Lord talks to Abram. Notice that he is Abram now, not Abraham.
  • Later the Lord changes his name to Abraham. In Genesis 17:5 and 15-16 Abram and Sarai are both renamed. Abraham means “father of a multitude.” Sarah means “my princess.
  • The Lord now calls Abram to leave his country, his relatives and his father’s house. It is unclear if his father is still alive or not.
  • But it was a big deal in that day and age to leave your family. It still is, though not as drastic.
  • I know a little bit about this because our family is four hours from us. My brother is now 12 hours from us. When Meagan and I were first married we lived close. Then we moved to Cincinnati. In Cincinnati we were an hour away. There were a number of times I would call my dad and talk about a plumbing issue and next thing I knew it, he was over at my house helping me with it. The further you get from home, the more difficult it is to get help. That is why I just call some of you now. I remember when we first moved to Alliance whenever we would travel home I would be comforted as we got closer to home knowing if we had a car problem there were people to call. Now, we know, and are close to, people up here as well and we are grateful.
  • In that day and age it was huge to move away. Abram trusted the Lord. He left everyone he knew besides his nephew and his wife.
  • We must trust the Lord like Abram did. Think about it, someone wrote the following:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out . . . not knowing where he was going.

“Abraham, what are you doing?” asked a neighbor. “I’m packing.” “Packing?” “That’s right. We’re moving.” “Why? Why in the world would you want to leave Ur?” “God has made it clear that I should go.” “God, huh? You’ve been talking to Him again?” “Right. He told me to leave. I must go.” “Well, where are you going?” “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me that.” “Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You know you oughta go, but you don’t know much beyond that, huh?” “That says it pretty well.” “Wow . . . that’s all I can say . . . wow. God sure gets blamed for a lot of stuff He doesn’t have anything to do with. You know, man, some of us have been a little bit worried about the way you’ve been acting lately. Up to now, it’s just been a little strange . . . but this, Abraham . . . this takes you off the end of the pier. It’s like everyone’s saying—you really are off the deep end![2]

  • At this point I think a map will be helpful so I will put this on the screen and in the sermon notes. follow the link below for the blog
  • Now, let’s look at the four parts of what God shared with him.
    • The four distinct elements are—
    • increase into a numerous people. Abram was now 75 years old and childless but he was told he would increase in number.
    • The Lord told him he would be blessed, notice this is even though he is moving away.
    • the exaltation of his name, i.e., the elevation of Abram to honour and glory;
    • his appointment to be the possessor and dispenser of the blessing.Abram was not only to receiveblessing, but to bea blessing; not only to be blessed by God, but to become a blessing, or the medium of blessing, to others
    • This, by the way, is amazing. This becomes known as the Abrahamic Covenant and is repeated in Genesis 15 and Genesis 17.
    • Abraham will literally become the father of many nations as the Hebrew people multiply. But he is also the father of many nations because Jesus, our Savior is descended through him.
    • All the nations of the earth are blessed through Jesus, the Messiah, a descendant of Abraham. We are blessed by Abraham. We are saved through Abraham’s seed.
    • By the way, Genesis chapter 3-11 are all about troubles. They are all about curses. The curses begin with Adam and Eve sinning, then Cain kills Abel, then the wickedness that leads to the flood, then the tower of Babel, but now we have relief. Now, Abram is blessed and will be a blessing. This is awesome.
    • So, in verse 3, God says those who bless him will be blessed and those who curse him will be cursed.
    • We can get into more about that, but just a few thoughts. God has always watched over the Hebrew people. It seems to me that he still is watching over the Hebrew people. Even the prophetic books of the Bible reference promises to Israel still yet to be fulfilled which will be fulfilled in the future Millennial reign of Jesus.
  • Abram obeys.
    1. If you look at verses 4-5 Abram obeys.
    2. But notice this covenant with Abram was not based on his obedience. This covenant was not based on circumcision or anything else. This is all about the great grace of God.
    3. Who will make Abram the father of many nations? God will do that.
    4. This is all about God.
    5. Abram obeyed. He left with his nephew Lot, also Sarai, his possessions and servants. He already had some possessions and he will become quite wealthy in the future.
  1. Applications:
  2. We must be responsive to the Lord as Abram was. He obeyed what the Lord had told him to do (Gen. 12:4).
  3. We must trust the Lord as Abram did. Abram left his family, his network, his community to trust the Lord.
    1. Sometimes the Lord’s will may not make sense, but we must trust him.
    2. We must trust him with our home.
    3. We must trust him with our money.
    4. We must trust him with our family.
    5. We must trust him with our children.
  4. We must recognize the Lord is sovereign and in control as we see in this passage. In verse 2 we see the Lord is the One Who blesses Abram, makes his name great and makes him a great nation. In verse 3 we see it is the Lord who blesses those who bless him and curses those who curse him. It is the Lord who blesses all the families of the earth through Abram.
  5. We must recognize the Lord gives blessings out of grace. As verse 1 shows, Abram did not do anything to earn this covenant.
  6. We must worship the Lord as we are all blessed through Abraham’s seed, Jesus.

So, are you trusting the Lord?

In 1986, a Christian worker named Steve Saint was traveling through the country of Mali when his car broke down. Stranded and alone, Steve tried to rent a truck, despite warnings that he wouldn’t survive in the Sahara Desert. After he failed to find a truck, in his fear and discouragement, Steve’s thoughts ran to his father, Nate Saint, a former missionary in Ecuador. When Steve was only five, natives speared to death his dad and four other missionaries. Now, thirty years later, Steve found himself questioning his father’s death. Steve reflected, “I couldn’t help but think the murders were capricious, an accident of bad timing.”

When Steve asked some locals directions to a church, a few children led him to a tiny mud- brick house with a poster on the wall showing wounded hands covering a cross. A man in flowing robes introduced himself as Nouh Af Infa Yatara. Nouh started sharing with Steve about his faith in Christ. After becoming a Christian, his family disowned him. His mother even put a sorcerer’s poison in Nouh’s food at a family feast. He ate the food but suffered no ill effects.

When Steve asked Nouh why he was willing to pay such a steep price for following Christ, he simply said, “I know God loves me and I’ll live with him forever.” But Steve pressed, “Where did your courage come from?” Nouh explained that when he was young, a missionary gave him books about Christians who had suffered for their faith. Then he added, “My favorite was about five young men who risked their lives to take God’s good news to people in the jungles of Ecuador. The book said they let themselves be speared to death, even though they had guns and could have killed their attackers!”

Utterly shocked, Steve said, “One of those men was my father.” Now Nouh felt stunned. “Your father?” he exclaimed. Then Nouh told Steve that God had used the death of those five brave missionaries to help him, a young Muslim who had become a Christian, hold on to his faith.[3]

Do you know Jesus? Luke 9:23

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)



[1]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[2]Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

[3]Adapted from Randy Alcorn, If God Is Good (Multnomah, 2009), pp 400-401

Cain, the First Murderer (Genesis 4:1-16; Hebrews 11:4)

Cain, the First Murderer (Genesis 4:1-16; Hebrews 11:4)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, August 4, 2019

As you may recall, last week I began a sermon series on less known people of the Bible. Today, I want to talk about worship. In order to talk about worship, I want to talk about murder and jealousy and vengeance and sin. In other words, today’s sermon has all the elements of a typical movie, except for one Person. Today’s passage also has God in it. Today’s passage also has forgiveness, grace and mercy. Let’s talk about Cain.

In Chuck Swindoll’s book, Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives he writes this to introduce Cain:

A person can have no greater negative impact than when he or she takes the life of another. And to the shame of humanity, our historical paths are littered with acts of murder. Here’s a chilling thought: as I write these words, somewhere, someone is planning to kill another. And as you read these words, the intended victim of that insidious scheme will soon die. I am continually amazed by the sheer number of murders, especially mass killing sprees. I’ll spare you the bloody details—my desire is to illustrate, not shock—but here is just a small sample:

  • On September 6, 1949, in only twelve minutes, thirteen people were fatally shot in Camden, New Jersey. Howard Unruh, the murderer, said later, “I’d have killed a thousand if I had had enough bullets.”
  • On July 14, 1966, eight student nurses were stabbed and/or strangled in a Chicago dormitory by Richard Speck, age twenty-four.
  • Not many days after that, on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a tower on the University of Texas campus with his loaded, high-powered rifle. He ended the lives of sixteen people before the police were able to kill the sniper.
  • On Easter Sunday in 1975, eleven people, including eight children, were killed at a family gathering in Hamilton, Ohio. James Ruppert was convicted of two of the murders but found not guilty by reason of insanity for the other nine. (I have no idea how that works!)
  • On September 25, 1982, George Banks shot and killed thirteen people, including five children, in a township in Pennsylvania.
  • On February 19, 1983, Willie Mak and Benjamin Ng shot thirteen people in the head, killing all of them, during the robbery of a gambling club in Seattle.
  • On Palm Sunday in 1984, Christopher Thomas ended the lives of ten people, including eight children, in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. The judge cited “extreme emotional disturbance” in the man.
  • On July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty entered a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California, with a gun and randomly killed twenty-one people before a police sharpshooter ended the nightmare.
  • On December 7, 1987, David Burke, an airline employee, bypassed security with his credentials—and a pistol—and boarded Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) flight 1771. At twenty-nine-thousand feet, he killed the pilots, then himself. The plane crashed, killing all forty-four passengers and crew.
  • On January 17, 1989, Patrick Edward Purdy went back to the elementary school he attended as a child and shot thirty-five people, killing five children. Then he killed himself.
  • On May 1, 1992, Eric Houston returned to his former high school, shooting fourteen people, killing four. He said it was retribution for the failing grade he received in history class four years earlier.
  • On December 7, 1994, Colin Ferguson methodically shot twenty-five people aboard a Long Island train, killing six of them. He had to stop and reload twice.
  • On March 24, 1998, two boys, ages thirteen and eleven, shot sixteen people in Jonesboro, Arkansas, killing four girls and a teacher.
  • On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado, before killing themselves.

And, of course, during that same fifty-year period, serial killers stalked and killed hundreds of victims. The FBI claims that during the 1980s alone, roughly thirty-five serial murderers were active. I could have continued the list to include those after 1999 to the time of this writing, but, frankly, I couldn’t stand much more of this research. And I limited my examples to my own country, the United States. Extending the study to include other countries made the task too depressing to handle. As I pushed the research back beyond 1900, I found that the prevalence of multiple murder, mass murder, spree killing, and serial murder was about the same as now.  

Today, the reporting is more instantaneous and detailed because of modern technology, but not much else has changed. Chuck Colson’s research shows fairly well that even with technology, prosperity, a strong government, and an ethical system of belief, murder has been, and will continue to be a problem:

We incarcerate more people per capita than any nation on earth, yet our murder rate is 2.6 to 9 times higher than that of other industrialized countries. A comparison of murder rates of other nations reveals that Americans between fifteen and twenty-four years of age are being killed seventy-four times more often than Australians in that age group and seventy-three times more often than Japanese.[1]

So, let’s talk about the first murder and let’s talk about the reasons behind it.

We are going to look at jealousy today. Cain jealousy kills Abel.

In Genesis 3 we have the devil slithering around as a serpent, talking, tempting and distorting the Truth and Adam and Eve fall into sin. Then we come to Genesis 4 and we have a description of sin as an animal crouching at the door with a desire to overtake an individual, what an image.

In Genesis 3 we have the “why.” Why do these bad things happen, why sin? In Genesis 4 we have the “what.” What is happening that is sinful? Chapter 3 gives the cause and chapter 4 the effect.

In Genesis 4 we have this picture of sin wanting to overtake Cain, like a snake, a lion, a bear crouching, ready to pounce. Though I want to come to that picturesque image of sin, I mainly wish to focus on sacrifice.

Let’s look at the passages, turn to Hebrews 11:4:

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

Turn to Genesis 4:1-16:

 Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.”Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

The Theme:

Cain murdered Abel being jealous of his more acceptable sacrifice.


Are we religious or righteous? Do we serve God out of duty or because we are pursuing righteousness? We’ll come back to that.

  1. First, let’s talk about Cain and Abel.
    1. Adam and Eve have a son and name him Cain.
    2. Swindoll shares: Remember, this was the very first birth of a child ever. Eve took part in a miracle that only God had performed before: the creation of a human life. This had to have been an overwhelming thought, so she gave him a name that would forever remind her of that miracle. Adam and Eve then produced another son. The biblical text offers a small hint that he might have been a twin. At any rate, he is given the name Abel, which is the Hebrew word for breath, vapor, or futility. Eve didn’t comment on his name, so we can only speculate as to why she chose it. Perhaps she meant that he was slight or fragile . . . maybe he was sickly.[2]
    3. The word brother is used six times in verses 9 to 11 of this story as if to punctuate the seriousness of the crime. The first couple had marital relations, and Eve became pregnant, ultimately giving birth to their first son, whom they named Cain, or Qayin in the Hebrew. His name is most likely a wordplay on the Hebrew term Qanah, because of Eve’s statement in verse 1. Qanah has two possible meanings: to acquire or to create. Many translations opt for the former, but I think the second meaning makes better sense, which would make Eve’s statement, “I have created a man just as the LORD did” (NET). Frankly, that’s not a bad way of looking at it from a mother’s point of view.[3]
    4. I imagine, though I cannot prove this, that they grow up together. I imagine that they work together. I imagine that they played games together, wrestle, share a tent or bedroom. I mean, we do not know what it was like back then, but I imagine that as brothers they were together a lot. Now, later on we read that Adam and Eve had many other children (Genesis 5:3), so they had other people to hang out with, we also know that when Cain is banished in Genesis 4:13-14 Cain is concerned about the other people killing him, so we know there were many others. Still, I imagine these two boys are brothers and there might have been a bond when they were young. It seems like they were also the first two boys of Adam and Eve. It seems like they were the first two children of creation.
    5. Abel was a shepherd.
    6. Cain was a farmer.
    7. These were common professions. I read, “Both professions were known in early society; sheepherding and agriculture provided an occasion for a natural rivalry. The Sumerian tale of Dumuzi and Enkimdudepicts a rivalry between the shepherd god and the farmer god over marriage to a woman, but it ends in a peaceful resolution.”
    8. In Genesis 46:32; 47:3 the Israelites were shepherds.
    9. In Genesis 4:3-5 we see their sacrifice and how it worked out and did not work out.
    10. Cain brought a sacrifice of the ground. Abel brought a blood sacrifice.
    11. Later on, there were grain sacrifices by Israelite law, so that was not a wrong thing that Cain did.
    12. We read here that Abel brought of the first fruits of his flock. I think this is key. Abel did not pick the animal that was lame, or the smaller one; no, the sacrifice was one of the first born. It was as if Abel was saying, “God, I love you so much, I am making this sacrifice.”
    13. Cain and Abel knew immediately God’s pleasure and displeasure with the sacrifice. That is interesting. How did they know? I read maybe there was fire that came down out of Heaven and consumed Abel’s sacrifice. That did happen in the Old Testament.
    14. They make the sacrifice and Cain was mad that God did not show pleasure in his sacrifice. Cain’s face changed. He was angry. I see this in verse 5.
    15. “And his face fell.” The idiom means that the inner anger is reflected in Cain’s facial expression. The fallen or downcast face expresses anger, dejection, or depression. Conversely, in Num 6 the high priestly blessing speaks of the Lordlifting up his face and giving peace.[4]
    16. In the next few verses God speaks to Cain.
    17. That is where we have the illustration of sin crouching at the door and the desire of sin is to overtake you.
    18. Cain ignores this and kills his brother. He deceives his brother leading him out to the field and killing him.
    19. The Lord talks to Cain in verse 9. This is similar to the way the Lord approached Cain’s parents in the previous chapter.
    20. The Lord provides a merciful punishment to Cain.
    21. Interesting that the Moody Bible Commentary makes the case that Cain was a believer and that he was repentant. They make a strong argument looking at Cain’s repentance in verse 14. If you want more information about their reasoning see me later.
    22. God does not kill Cain right away, in fact God protects Cain.
    23. Verse 14 shows that instead of Cain continuing as a farmer he will be a wanderer, wandering the earth.
    24. In Verse 15, God places a mark on Cain to keep people from killing him. Much has been written about this mark and we cannot know for sure what it is.
  2. What is an acceptable sacrifice today?
    1. Abel gave an acceptable sacrifice and that begs the question, what is acceptable today?
    2. Don’t go slaughtering your pet. Jesus is the only sacrifice.
    3. All of our sacrifices are short and that is why Jesus came and died for us.
    4. However, we must respond and we must not respond to Jesus out of duty but love and devotion to Him.
  • Now, let’s talk about religion vs. righteousness. These are applications which I made personal.
    1. These must all fall under one major application of religious versus righteous.
    2. The religious person goes to God and serves God out of pure duty.
    3. The righteous person goes to God and serves Him out of love.
    4. The religious person thinks that he/she can earn Heaven by duty.
    5. The righteous person accepts Christ’s righteousness, surrendering to Him.
      1. It seems that Abel’s sacrifice was not pure duty, but pure love. We must give a sacrifice out of love not duty.
        1. This means that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul (Matt. 22:37-40).
        2. We must love the Lord with all our being. We must love the Lord with who we are.
        3. We must give God our love in devotion and sacrifice.
      2. 1 Cor. 10:31 is fitting: eating and drinking, in everything we must do them to the glory of the Lord. We must do them to love the Lord.
      3. Abel gave out of the first fruits. We must not give God our last, but our first.
        1. This applies to money. This means that we must give God our first in money.
        2. This applies to our energy as well. We must not wait until we are tired to read devotions and pray. We must give Him our best time.
        3. We must not stay out late on Saturday night or up late and fall asleep in worship.
        4. We must give God our best.
        5. We must prepare for our time with God and prepare for worship.
      4. Abel seemed to have an attitude that was not only duty but faith in loving God. We must have an attitude of faith in loving and committing to God. We must ask God to take away our constant drive to make our relationship with Him simple duty and not relationship.
      5. Hebrews 12:24: The blood of Abel was a temporary sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice is forever. We must trust Jesus.


Hebrews 11:4:

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Thousands of years later Abel was remembered for his faithful sacrifice while Cain is remembered for his murder.  

Trust Christ’s righteousness and we will live for eternity with Him in paradise.  

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)


[1]Charles W. Colson, Faith on the Line (Colorado Springs: Victor Books, a division of Cook Communications, 1985), 24–25. Used by permission.

Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[2]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[3]Swindoll, Charles R.. Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives (Great Lives Series) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[4]Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes(Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 4:5–6.