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.

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