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Cain, Abel, and Hebrews - oh my!

Don’t play with sin. It will take you further thank you want to go.

As we enter back into our study of the book of Hebrews on Sunday (11-6-22), we will be in 11:2-6. Looking at two statements about faith (vv. 2-3) and three people—two of which walked with the Lord and one who didn’t (vv.4-6).

Today, though, want to specifically focus on Cain and Abel. You probably know them as the first murder, the first sibling rivalry, etc. And those things are true.

But the main focal point of Hebrews focuses is on the offering Abel made. Hebrews11:4 reads:

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”


What can we learn from this episode in relation to our lives?

#1 - We need to make sure God is pleased with our offering.

This record of Cain and Abel’s offerings makes no obvious point. It simply reports that both men brought an offering in keeping with their vocation.

Cain the farmer brought an offering from the fruit of the ground. Abel the shepherd brought an offering from this flock of sheep.

Yet there is a distinction. Genesis 4:3 says Cain gave from the fruit of the ground. But Genesis 4:4 says that Abel gave from the first, finest, and fattest of his sheep. This may be a hint to why the how the offerings were received and why. The text does not say that Cain offered tainted fruit. But it is clear that Abel offering the Lord the very best that he had.

Abel offering the Lord the very best that he had. The end of Genesis 4:4 records the Lord’s response to these two offerings of worship: “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering. He had no regard.”

 This first recorded act of worship was definitely not about what Cain and Abel got out of it. It was about whether God was pleased. And the text is clear that God accepted one offering and not the other. In fact, the text ties these brothers to their offerings. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering. But the Lord had no regard for Cain and his offering.

This is how it is. You cannot separate how God views you from how God views your offering. 1 Samuel 16:7b says: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Why did God regard Abel and his offering and disregard Cain and his offering? The text does not say. Yet it is the subject of much debate.

The common reason give why God rejected Cain’s offering is because of the nature of it. It was not a sin offering.

From Genesis 3:21, we know that, after Adam and Eve sinned, God made “garments of skins and clothed them.” This implies several things:


#1 –God had spoken already and specified a place where he was to be approached for sacrifice.

#2 – God had specified the kind of sacrifice that was to be brought in approaching him ( a blood sacrifice / innocent substitute animal)

#3 – God had specified that the one who comes with a blood sacrifice must come by faith.

A blood offering would later be legislated for the atonement of sin. Moreover, blood offerings point forward to the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Hebrews 12:24 says we have come to “Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” But in the Old Testament, God accepted both blood and grain offerings.

All we know for sure is that one brother presented an offering that pleased the Lord and the other did not. That does not answer all of our questions.

But I believe it makes the point: The priority of true worship is to make sure God is pleased. God alone is the subject and object of true worship. That is, it is both about God and for God.

#2 - We need to make sure God is pleased with our attitude.

Notice three ways the Bible makes the point in the Lord’s first confrontation with Cain....

God confronted Cain with a question about his sinful, ungodly attitude

In Genesis 4:6, the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?”

Don’t be thrown off by this question! Remember, God knows all things. He is omniscient. God knows everything known, unknown, and knowable.

As we know from Scripture, there are times when God asks questions. But God is not info-gathering here. Divine questions are for the benefit of the one to whom God asks the question.

After Adam’s sin in Genesis 3, God asked, “Where are you?” Now, after Cain’s sin, “God asked, 'Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?'”

Because he is who he is, the Lord knew what was in Cain’s heart. The Lord knew that Cain was angry and why? In fact, the Lord knew why Cain was angry better than Cain himself did. And God knows what is in your heart.

God confronted Cain with a confirmation of his goodness

In Genesis 4:7, God asks Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?”

This question tells us that God had determined that Cain had now done well. In presenting his offering, Cain had not done the right thing.

This question also tells us that God’s rejection of Cain’s offering was not prejudiced cruel or even unfair. Abel’s acceptance and Cain’s rejection weren't rooted in the mystery of divine election. The acceptable way was open for both Cain and Abel.

This is why we can’t blame God for Cain’s rejection. And we must not blame God when we are judged.

In Psalm 51:4, David confesses, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

God confronted Cain with a warning about the danger and death of sin.

In Genesis 4:7 again: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

 The Lord gave Cain a very clear choice: He can quickly recover from his unacceptable worship…or, it can get worse. It was his decision.

Yet, the Lord won’t allow him to claim to be helpless or ignorant. If Cain chooses to go further into sin (and he will!), he will do so with his eyes wide open to the consequences: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.”

What a dramatic picture here! If you step out of the safety of God’s will, you will run into sin that is crouching at the door, like a wild animal waiting to attack.

The Lord adds: “its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

God warns Cain of sin’s determination to get Cain. His only hope was to stand up to it and put it down. But that’s the problem of sin. We cannot rule over it on our own.

In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus said: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. The it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and well there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

You can’t rule over sin on your own. You can only make cosmetic, surface-level changes.

But only the Lord Jesus Christ can give you victory over sin.

We see this in Cain’s sad story. God warned Cain about the danger of sin. Yet can pressed forward in sin anyway. This the sinfulness of sin.

#3 - We need to make sure God is pleased with our relationships.

Again, the story of Cain and Abel warns us about the power of sin. But it also warns us about the progression of sin.

In Genesis 3, humanity sinned against divinity when Adam and Eve fell (Rom. 5:12-21 is good here, too). In Genesis 4, humanity sins against humanity.

But there is another important progression here.

In Genesis 3, the serpent talked Eve into sin. In Genesis 4, the Lord himself can't talk Cain out of it. Cain’s first sin of unacceptable worship leads to a second sin of premeditated murder.

Don’t ignore the warning: The consequence of sin is sin. Sin begets sin. If you do not repent, one sin will quickly lead to another. And sin will get worse the further you go.

This is why James 1:14-15 says: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Don’t play with sin. It will take you further than you want to go. It will cost you more than you want to pay. It will keep you longer than you want to stay.

We see this in Cain’s rejection of God’s authority and God’s rejection of Cain’s independence.

Cain rejected God’s authority


After God rejected his offering, Cain rejected God’s authority in two ways.

He murdered his brother, Abel

Genesis 4:8 says, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”

This verse records the first murder in history. How did Cain kill Abel? Cain murdered Abel with premeditated brutality. He was angry. He rejected the Lord’s warning. He lured his brother into a death trap. And with murder in his heart, he violently attacked his younger, weaker brother, leaving him dead in a field.

This was not what we modernly call manslaughter, negligent homicide, or second-degree murder. This was murder in the first degree.

Why did Cain kill Abel?

1 John 3:12 says: “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

Cain mocked God


For the second time, God asked Cain a question he already knew the answer to. In 4:6, the Lord said, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?”

In 4:9, the Lord said, “Where is Abel your brother?” God asked the father, “Where are you?” Now he asks the son, “Where is your brother?”

Genesis 4:9 also records Cain’s remarkable response: “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?”

This answer consists of a statement and a question. Cain statement is an outright lie: “I do not know.” Cain knew exactly where Abel was. Abel’s dead body was wherever Cain left it.

Then Cain asked a question of his own: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

When God confronted Adam, he acknowledged his sin, even though he blamed Even for leading him into it. But Cain refused to acknowledge the sin of murder he committed. He wouldn’t take responsibility for Abel’s life, much less his death. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he asked.

The word “keeper” is the same word used in Genesis 4:2 to describe Abel’s vocation as a shepherd. Cain said, “I am not a shepherd. It’s not my job to watch over my brother.”

Was he right? Absolutely not! Every time Abel is mentioned in this passage he is identified as Cain’s brother.

Yet, Cain’s sarcastic, lying question is the dominant philosophy of life today.

We believe our lives are private. We think no one has the right to say anything about how we live our lives. And we feel no one should have the right to say how we should live. But this is not what scripture teaches.

The Law of Moses will answer Cain’s question affirmatively in the years to come. Community solidarity was vital to Israel’s existence. And not even death eliminated one’s responsibility to his brother. And this sense of community carries over into the New Testament.

Mark it down: You are your brother’s keeper! Our worship of God and our fellowship with one another are totally tied together.

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

So, what is the final result for Cain?

--God curses Cain with fruitless labor (4:10-12).

--God marks Cain (4:13-14).

Like many throughout time and today, Cain was remorseful. But he was not repentant. Notice that Cain did not acknowledge his guilt. He only sorrowed over his punishment.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10).

This is the key difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse is primarily concerned about the consequences of getting caught. But penitence is concerned about the offense itself. Remorse responds to punishment. Repentance responds to guilt.

Cain was not penitent. Listen to his response to the divine cursed that was placed on him. He did not care about the spiritual implications of it. He only cared about his personal safety. This was not confession of sin. It was self-pity. Cain was still only concerned about himself.

Bottom-line: God takes our offerings, attitudes, and relationships seriously. By faith, like Abel, do we?