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Genesis 4:1-26: Cain and Abel
Bible Essentials: Set 3, Lesson 4
After God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden, he gave them one simple command: to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It didn’t take long before they disobeyed that command and placed a barrier between God and man. We’ve already studied this passage, so if you are new and want to study Genesis 3, or if you want to review, you can find the lesson here:
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: What is the one thing that always make you angry immediately?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Genesis 4:1-26.
4 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.
What is the context for this passage?
It’s been just a few short years since the creation of humans, and we’ve already gone downhill. Adam and Eve committed the first sin in Genesis 3, and humans have gone from eating fruit from a tree against God’s command to murder in this passage. Once sin entered the world, it became so easy for humans to fall into sin. This causes a barrier to develop between self and others as well as between self and God.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Genesis 4 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God is in control of procreation. When Eve became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, she immediately gave credit to God for that miracle. Regardless of what people think, God is ultimately in control of the creation and formation of new babies.
God looks with favor on those who choose to give him their best. Both Cain and Abel offered a sacrifice to God, but only one gave the best. Abel gave fat portions of some of the firstborn of his flock—typically thought of as the “best” of the flock. Because Abel was willing to sacrifice something that was of great value in order to worship God, God looked in favor on him and his gift.
God does not look with favor on those who don’t give him their best. In contrast to Abel’s gift, the Bible doesn’t say that Cain brought the best and first of his crop. It says he brought “some” of the fruits of the soil to God. We kind of get the feeling that this was maybe some of the leftover or disfigured items from his crop. It appears that he kept the best of the harvest for himself. Because of this, God did not look with favor on his gift.
God holds people accountable for their sin. After Cain killed Abel, God asked Cain where his brother was. When Cain basically shrugged his shoulders, God reminded Cain that he already knew what had happened. God held Cain accountable for his sins. God cursed him so that the ground would no longer be fruitful for him. He was driven from his home and from his family. God takes sin seriously, and he won’t just brush it off if you try to deny it.
2. What does the passage say about people?
Humans followed God’s command to procreate. In Genesis 1, God gave Adam and Eve the command to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28). God wanted them to have babies to continue the human race. The passage in Genesis 4 is the first place we see this command being followed, not only for Adam and Eve but for generations.
People often choose one focus for work. As Cain and Abel grew old enough to help Adam care for the plants and animals, Cain chose to focus on plants, while Abel focused on the animals. Later in the passage, Lamech’s sons also seemed to choose one focus. Jabal’s descendants lived in tents and raised livestock, Jubal’s descendants played musical instruments, and Tubal-Cain’s descendants worked with metal. Even today, humans tend to choose one type of work to support themselves and their families.
Some people choose to give God something, and others choose to give God the best. When we follow God, what we give him is our choice. We can choose to give him something, which is theoretically better than nothing. Or we can choose to give him our best. This passage makes it clear that God wants us to choose to give him our best, but not everyone will make that choice.
People often get angry when their gifts are not accepted. When Cain’s gift to God wasn’t accepted, he became angry. Not angry at God, who was the one who rejected his gift, but at his brother, whose gift was accepted. Cain’s anger and jealousy was so intense that he decided to kill his brother. Anger and jealousy are strong emotions that can lead us into sin.
If people do not do what is right, we will be easy prey for sin. When God checked in with Cain about Cain’s anger, God had a warning for him: If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. Sin is just waiting for us to have a weak moment to convince us to make that wrong decision and to act in a way that is contrary to God’s will and character. Sin won’t let go easily.
People often don’t want to take responsibility for their sin. When God confronted Cain about killing his brother, Cain began by denying what he had done. He didn’t want to take responsibility for his actions. Cain followed in the footsteps of his parents, who were quick to hide from God and blame someone else when they sinned. This pattern still continues today in many of us.
People often feel that their punishment for sin is too harsh. Cain’s punishment for his sin was to be driven away from his home and family and to have less success in his chosen work. And immediately when God spoke his punishment, Cain complained that it was too much. People today often feel that way too. “Surely God won’t send me to hell for my sin. That’s just too much. God is a loving God. Surely he won’t do that.” But God is also a just God who requires punishment for sin.
People sometimes choose to call on the name of the Lord. After all the murder and denial and punishment, this passage ends on a high note. People began to call on the name of the Lord. This is a choice that they made, and we can make that choice too.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan is that we give our best to him. When we follow God, God wants us to give him our best. This includes your time, your talent, and your money (and whatever else you can think of). If we are truly following God, we shouldn’t be satisfied with just giving him the leftovers, because God won’t be satisfied with that. We should make giving to God a priority.
God’s plan is that we must rule over our desires. Because we live in a fallen world, we often find that sin can be attractive. We want to do those things that we should not do, that God considers sin. God’s desire is that we will be able to rule over our desire to sin rather than becoming prey to our sin.
God’s plan is to protect his people. Even though Cain sinned against God and against his brother, God still had a plan to protect Cain. God put a mark on Cain so that no one would kill him. Throughout the Bible, God shows that he protects the people who follow him and who are in place to help God fulfill his plan for the world.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
This passage starts to provide some expectations for those who follow God. God expects that if we follow him, we will give him our best and our first fruits, not the leftovers. He also expects us to be honest with him when we sin. Humility and remorse are much better responses to sin than deceit and denial.
This passage also details some of the bloodline of Adam and his descendants, which continues in Genesis 5. God protects Cain from those who might kill him, but he also gives Adam and Even another son, Seth. Through Seth’s line, God would bring about his plan to establish a people for himself and eventually to bring a Messiah to earth to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For additional study related to this topic, read Genesis 5.
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Genesis 4 Resources
Or you can download the journal sheets here*:
*Substack doesn’t support PowerPoint file downloads yet, so if you want to access the PowerPoint file for group study, you will need to download it from the resource page linked above.
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