The First Crime

Genesis 4

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2014

Last week, we started Genesis 4.  We saw two men and two offerings.  We focused on the first four verses of the chapter.  We looked at the first two sons in history and saw how different they were in just about every way.  They even worshiped God differently.  They brought two different kinds of offerings.  God accepted one form of worship and rejected the other.

Today, we will look at Cain’s reaction and response to this.  He did not take it well.  Last week, we looked at the first worship.  Today, we look at the first crime.  Genesis 4 contains the first unsolved mystery.  Abel is missing and no one knows where he is.  Cain had killed him and buried his body in the ground.  Cain left church and went off and killed somebody.  Cain became the world’s first murderer.  Today, We want to look at what Cain did and why he did it.  What was his motive and what we can learn from this today?

The Stages of Cain’s Sin

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

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.”

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. (4:4b-8 NIV)

Cain’s terrible crime did not start with murder. Sin often has stages.  Cain’s sin went through about eight stages.  It started with PRIDE.  Cain had the first born syndrome.  He was the firstborn son.  He was used to being the center of attention.  He was very selfish.  He was the oldest.  He was the favorite son of his parents.  Abel lived in the shadow of Cain.  Cain thought he was superior to his younger brother.  He was used to the world revolving around him.  He brought the offering to God first (4:3).  He always had to be first.

When Cain’s offering was rejected, it led to ANGER.  Cain was mad.  You could see it on his face.  He was not just mad, he was furious and he was angry at God.  Cain had a temper problem.  He had a problem with anger.  Anger turned to JEALOUSY, just like Joseph’s brothers were jealous of their younger brother Joseph.

Here, the older brother Cain was jealous of the younger brother Abel.  He was jealous because not only was his offering rejected; the offering of his younger brother was accepted.  It is not just that he failed; it was that his bother succeeded.  That led to jealousy.  This was not just an offering; it was a competition on Cain’s part.  He wanted to compete with Abel.

Jealousy turned into HATRED.  He was not only jealous; he wanted to get back at Abel, because Abel showed him up and made him look bad.  The fact is that Abel didn’t do anything to Cain but Cain hated him.  This was a hate crime.  The NT says that this was an act of hatred (I John 3:12-15).

Hared turned into DECEPTION.  Cain hid his true feelings for Abel until the time was right.  He said to his brother, “Why don’t you show me how to offer a proper sacrifice to God.  Show me the right animals to use.  Let’s go out to the field.”  Deception turned into MURDER.

God told Cain that his offering would be accepted as well if he brought Him the right offering in the right spirit.  God was no playing favorites.  Instead of bringing the right offering, he just killed his brother instead.  That was his solution to the problem.  Cain was really mad at God but he took it out on Abel.

Murder turned into a COVER-UP.  Cain killed Abel and then buried the body and covered it up with dirt.  It didn’t work.  His blood cried out from the ground. The cover-up turned into DENIAL.  When God confronted him about his brother, he denied knowing anything about him.  This crime was no ordinary murder.  It was particularly reprehensible for a number of reasons.

Characteristics of this Crime

1. It was violent.

How he did it, we don’t know.  He didn’t shoot him, because there were no guns then but we do know that this was no humane killing. It was violent.  It was bloody.  God said that Abel’s blood cried to him from the ground (4:10).  His blood did not literally make a noise.  This is a metaphor.  Cain silenced Abel but he did not silence his blood.  It cried out for vengeance.

2. It was inhumane.

This was not just a murder; it was the murder of a brother.  The word “brother” appears six times in 4:8-11. This was not just a homicide, it was a fratricide.  It was a crime against nature.  Cain not only killed his brother, he killed his younger brother.  You would expect an older brother to take care of and protect his younger brother.  Instead of loving his brother and protecting him, he killed him.

3. It was unjustified.

Abel had done nothing wrong to Cain.  He did not do anything to deserve this. This was not just the murder of a brother; it was the murder of a good brother.  It would be one thing if Abel was evil and wicked but the Bible says that he was righteous.  Three times in the NT, he is called righteous (Hebrews 11:4; I John 3:12; Matthew 23:25).

Cain did not just kill anyone.  He killed a believer.  Abel was a believer.  Hebrews 11 has a long list of great men of faith.  The first one on the list was Abel.  Genesis 4 is not just a conflict between two siblings but between two seeds.  The seed of the serpent persecutes the seed of the woman.  False religion always persecutes true religion.

4. It was premeditated.

This killing was not accidental but planned and premeditated.  How do we know that?  He invited him into a field, so he can kill him.  Cain lured him away from everyone else.  He got Abel alone where there would be no one to hear his cry or to help him.  He got him where there would be no eye-witness to the crime.

5. It was unapologetic.

Some people do terrible things and feel guilty.  Cain had no conscience.  He doesn’t think that he has done anything wrong.  He never repents.  He never says that he is sorry for what he has done.  He is sorry for his punishment.  He said that his punishment was too great to bear but he is never sorry for his sin.

Lessons from the Life of Cain 

1) We all are born with a sin nature

Cain was born with a sin nature. He did not have the Ten Commandments. He did not break any command.  He just killed someone.  God had not told anyone yet not to murder. The text does not even say that the serpent tempted him to do this.  He just did it.  He had a sin nature inside him.  He got that sin nature from birth.  We also have a sin nature from birth.  David said, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).  It teaches that we are both “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:5).

What does it mean that we are all born with a sin nature?  What is a sin nature?  A sin nature is a tendency to sin.  It is not the same thing as sin itself.  A sin nature is not sin itself.  As our pastor says, “we are not born with a cigar in our mouth and a bottle of whiskey in our hands”.  We are born with a sin nature.  Every single person on the planet is born with a predisposition to sin.

That is why parents teach their children not do bad things because they have a tendency to do it naturally.  We are not sinners because we sin.  We sin because we are sinners.  It is part of our nature deep inside out heart.  Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).

It is not a gun control problem or a weapon problem.  It is a heart problem.  Cain did not have a gun but he did have a sin nature.  Adam passed the sin nature on the Cain and Cain passed it on to his offspring.  His descendants were just like him.  In fact, some of them were worse.  One of them was named Lamech.  There is a man named Lamech in Genesis 5 but that is a different Lamech.  That is Noah’s dad (5:28-31).  This Lamech was Cain’s great, great, great grandson.  In fact, he named one of his kids after Cain.  He called him “Tubal-Cain”

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. 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. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (4:19-24)

How was Lamech Just Like Cain? 

Lamech was just like Cain in a lot of ways.  He had a sin nature in him, just like Cain.

1. Lamech made up his own rules.

Cain did things his own way.  God told them to bring an animal sacrifice as an offering and he brought God a fruit basket instead.  Lamech was just like him.  God established monogamy in the garden.  He ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman, not a man and a man and not a man and three women.

Lamech violates the divine law of marriage by marrying two women.  He begins polygamy.  Genesis 4:19 says, “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.” God gave Adam one wife, Lamech took two and apparently one was very attractive.  The word “Adah” means “beautiful” or “ornament.”  Zillah means “shadow” or “shade.” He had four kids from those two wives.  He had three boys and a girl.  His kids were very talented and gifted.  One was a farmer (Jabal).  One was a musician (Jubal) and one was an inventor (Tubal-Cain).

This shows that people who lived before the Flood were not primitive cavemen.  Lamech’s kids were extremely creative.  One invented musical instruments.  Jubal invented two different kinds of instruments – stringed instruments (harp) and woodwind instruments (flute).  Tubal-Cain made tools out of iron and bronze.  Pre-Flood civilizations were technologically advanced.  There were iron tools before the Flood.  There were musical instruments before the Flood.  Not everything that came from the Cainites was bad.  They produced some good tools.  Great technology and culture came from the Cainites.

2. Lamech was violent.

He was a murderer like Cain.  The first person in the Bible to kill someone was Cain.  The second person was Lamech.  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.” (4:23 NIV)

Did he kill two people or one? He killed only one person.  Genesis 4:23 is an example of synonymous parallelism in Hebrew (“I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for bruising me”).  The writer says one thing in two or more ways.  The second line repeats the first line of the poem using different words, like “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”

Three, his killing was unjustifiable.  Cain did not have a valid reason to kill Abel and neither did Lamech.  This was not a case of self-defense.  He kills someone just for bumping into him.  The punishment did not fit the crime.

There was an old Jewish view that Lamech killed Cain.[1]  Was Lamech the one who killed Cain?  No.  This individual was a young man or boy.  He was probably a teenager.  If Lamech killed Cain, he would have boasted about killing the one that God said he would protect.  God said the person who killed Cain would be avenged seventy-seven times.  He would have boasted that he took Cain out and no one has touched him.  No one knows how Cain died but there is a Jewish tradition that when he was old, a house fell on him.  He died by stones, since he killed Abel with a stone (Jubilees 4:31).

3. Lamech was arrogant.

He was incredibly arrogant.  He is a big boaster.  He not only kills someone, he boasts about it.  Cain denied killing Abel.  Lamech admits killing someone and is proud of it.  That shows that he was even worse than Cain.

4. Lamech was irreverent.

Cain was sarcastic right to God.  He said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Lamech mocks God’s punishment on Cain.  Lamech thinks he can do a better job than God and does not need God.  He didn’t need God to defend him.  He just needed his fists.  He thought he could protect himself and do a better job than God could do. Lamech says, “God might avenge Cain but I will avenge myself if anyone messes with me. I can avenge myself seventy-seven times without God’s help.

5. Lamech was unrepentant.

Lamech even boasts about what he did.  Lamech does not just kill someone; he writes a poem about it. Adam came up with the very first poem before the Fall.  He came up with a love poem when he saw Eve for the first time.  Lamech does not have a love poem but a murder poem.  They are his only recorded words.  It doesn’t sound like a poem to us, because it doesn’t rhyme.  Hebrew poetry was a little different than our poetry.  We rhyme words. The Hebrews rhymed thoughts.  They used thought-rhyme, rather than word-rhyme.

2) Our sin nature is destructive

It can do terrible things, like kill a sibling.  This chapter is a picture of total depravity.  It shows how wicked man is.  It didn’t take thousands of years for sin to evolve. You would expect to wait a few chapters before reading this.  Instead, we read that the very first baby born was a murderer.  We went from perfection to total depravity in one generation.  Cain was totally depraved and so are we.  Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).

John Calvin came up with the term “total depravity”.  It is not a biblical term but it is a biblical concept.  The Bible does NOT teach partial depravity.  It teaches total depravity.  What does it mean?  It doesn’t mean that we are raving mad.  It doesn’t mean that we are all serial killers or rapists.  It doesn’t mean that we are all as bad as we possibly could be.

It means that sin has affected every area of our life.  Sin affects our intellect (our mind, our thoughts).  It affects our emotions (how we feel).  It even affects our will.  In Genesis 3, we saw that sin affected the husband/wife relationship.  In Genesis 4, we see that it affects sibling relationships, the relationships of one brother to another brother.

3) Our sin needs to be controlled

God says, “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” (4:7).  That is a very interesting verse.  Sin is personified.  This verse tells us four things about sin.  One, It was not far away.  God said that it was “at the door”.  Sin crouches at our door.  It was close by.  There is a negative force or power inside you called a sin nature.

Two, sin is waiting to attack, like a lion or a tiger.  It is our enemy.  Three, it is powerful.  It can ruin your life, like a wild animal.  That is how it is personified.  Four, it shows that you have a choice in the matter.  You can rule over sin.  You can master it.  God did not say that it would be easy but he did say that it would be possible.  No one forces you to sin.  We cannot say “the devil made me do it” (as Flip Wilson used to say).  You choose to sin.  It is not something that you have absolutely no control over.

4) God deals with man in grace, as well as judgment.

God dealt with Cain in grace.  God did judge Cain. Genesis 4:10-12 says, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

The Punishment of Cain

That is interesting.  God not only judged Cain but the punishment seemed to fit the crime.  His judgment came in two forms.  Cain sinned against his family and now he has to leave his family and become exiled to the east.  He leaves Adam and Eve and goes to the land of Nod.  That is the land that many go to on Sunday morning in church.  They go to the land of Nod.  The punishment fit the crime in another way.

Abel’s blood cried out from the ground and now the ground was going to punish Cain.  He would not be able to farm again.  His farming days were over.  He is going to have to come up with a new profession, so Cain became a politician.  He traveled all over the planet and eventually founded a city.  He became the first politician.  He founded a city and named it after his son.  It was called “the City of Enoch”.  I would not want to live there.  That city was founded by a man who murdered his brother.  It was founded by a man who was cursed by God.

God did judge Cain.  Cain complained about the judgment.  He said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”  He was more shocked at the punishment of his crime than the horror of his crime.  He said, “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” (4:14 NIV).  He was not worried about Abel being killed but now he is worried that someone might kill him.  He thought of himself but he didn’t think of his brother or care how he felt.  Cain was selfish and self-centered.

God’s answer to Cain is interesting.  He said, ‘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” (4:15 NIV). That is a little strange.  God did judge Cain but he deserved a lot worse for what he did.  Cain deserved to die.  He probably lived a long life and died a natural death.  God put a mark or sign on him so he wouldn’t die.  God dealt with Cain in grace.  What was the mark of Cain?

I do not know.  No one knows.  The Bible does not say.  We do know that this could have two meanings.  It could mean some type of outward physical mark ON Cain (so JB, JPS, KJV, NLT, NIV, ESV, GNT, NCV, RSV, NEB, NAB, TLB, NRSV, Moffatt et al).  That is the way the vast majority of translators render the verse but it could also a sign that God gave TO or FOR Cain (ASV, NASB, Goodspeed).  There are some very strange interpretations of the mark of Cain by cultists.

Was the Mark of Cain Dark Skin?

The Mormons in the 1800s believed that the mark of Cain referred to dark skin and that all of Cain’s descendants were under black and still under that mark.[2]  They used the mark of Cain to justify slavery.[3]  In 1852, Brigham Young made a statement that blacks would join the church and be baptized but could not be ordained to the priesthood because of the “Curse of Cain.”  The Mormon Church did not allow them to be priests until 1978.

Many Presidents of the church of Latter Day Saints taught that the mark of Cain was dark skin. Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth president of the LDS Church, said, “It was well understood by the early elders of the Church that the mark which was placed on Cain and which his posterity inherited was the black skin. The Book of Moses informs us that Cain and his descendants were black”[4] Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS, also said, “Cain slew his brother…. and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.”[5]

Is the mark of Cain dark skin?  No.  That view uses the Bible to promote racism.  Here is the problem with that interpretation.

1. The Bible does NOT say that the mark was dark skin.

The reason God put the mark on Cain was to keep him from being killed.  Cain’s skin color would not keep anyone from killing him.

2. This mark went to Cain, not his descendants.

The mark was just for Cain.  The Bible does NOT say that the mark was passed down to his descendants.

3. The Cainites all died in the Flood

Even if it was passed down to his descendants, it would NOT explain dark skin today because all of the Cainites died in the Flood.

4. The mark of Cain was NOT a curse.

The mark of Cain is NOT the same thing as the curse of Cain. The mark of Cain had a positive connotation. It did not have a negative connotation.  It kept Cain alive.  He was in the witness protection program.

The curse on Cain prevented him from growing crops.  The mark of Cain was a blessing, not a curse.  Some of the same racists who taught the mark was dark skins used it as an excuse to persecute, enslave and kill black people.  This passage should not be used to justify slavery (as many used the passage in the past).  Genesis 4 doesn’t say anything about Cain’s descendants being slaves to people.

Why Wasn’t Cain Executed?

Why didn’t he get the death penalty?  Why wasn’t Cain executed on the spot?  Why was the sentence so lenient?  Is this proof that God is against the death penalty?  No.  He established the death penalty by the time of Noah and re-established in by the time of Moses.  Why wasn’t Cain given the death penalty in Genesis 4?

Capital punishment was to be implemented by the state and there was no state in Genesis 4.  Furthermore, there was also no command against murder at this time.  Murder had not yet been directly forbidden by God.  Adam broke a direct command of God.  Cain did not break a direct command; although he still knew what he was doing was wrong.

Where Did Cain Get His Wife?

Genesis 4:17 says, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,east of Eden.  Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch” (NIV).  According to Jewish tradition,[6] Cain did NOT get his wife after he left Eden.  He was married BEFORE he arrived in the land of Nod.  Genesis 4 simply says that his wife became pregnant after he reached Nod.  One of the most common questions that skeptics ask is this: Where did he get his wife?

Genesis only mentions him having a brother, not a sister.  Where did he find his wife?  Critics use this to absolutely ridicule the Bible. Where did he get his wife?  This is a common question.  It is worth spending some time on answering.  Let’s talk a little about Cain’s wife.  She is probably the most famous wife in history, although she is mentioned in only one passage of Scripture.  We do not even know her name, although one Jewish tradition says her the name is Awan (Jubilees 4:9)

Where did he get his wife?  The answer to this question is that Genesis only mentions Cain only having a brother but Genesis is selective.  It does not tell us everything.  Genesis 4 focuses on Cain and Abel but we know from Genesis 5:4 that Adam and Eve had OTHER SONS (plural) and DAUGHTERS (plural).

Genesis only mentions SEVEN children of Adam and Eve (Cain, Abel, Seth, at least two more boys and two more girls) but we know there had to be a lot more.  Adam lived to be 930 years old (5:5).  We are not told how long Eve but if we assume that she lived about as long as her husband, we can also assume that they had a lot of children.  They didn’t use any birth control.

Jewish tradition says that he had about sixty kids – thirty sons and thirty daughters[7] and they might have had more than this. That averages out to one child every fifteen years.  In fact, he had other children when Cain killed Abel.  The Bible does not say this but we can infer it.  How?

Cain was old when he killed Abel.  This is a favorite Sunday school story and we often tell it like they were kids.  Cain and Abel were not only adults, they were very old.  They were probably over a hundred years old when they happened, which gave them plenty of time for Adam and Eve to have more kids.

According to one Jewish tradition, Abel was 122 when he died.[8]  How do we know they were that old?  Sometime after Abel died, Eve got pregnant again with another son who replaced Abel.  The Bible says that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (5:3).  It would be ridiculous to assume by the time they were 122, Adam and Eve only had two kids.

They had many more children.  There would have been plenty of women for Cain to choose from for a wife.  If the whole race comes from two people, this means that the first marriages in the very beginning would have been brother-sister marriages.  There would be no other option in the beginning.  They would have been the only people to marry.  Cain married his sister.

That raises a very provocative question.  Does this mean that the world was populated through incest?  So Adam and Eve’s children practiced incest?  Aren’t brother-sister marriages sinful?  There are two answers.  Some believe that they are inherently sinful.  Others believe that they are not inherently sinful.  They were only prohibited later by God to protect people from birth defects.  It is simply wrong to say that the Bible endorses incest.

The Law of Moses PROHIBITS brother-sister marriages.  Leviticus 18:9 “Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.” In Cain’s day, there was no prohibition.  If brothers and sisters marry today, they have a greater chance of birth defects.  This was not a problem in Cain’s day.

Some things are moral absolutes.  They are always wrong at all times and in all places (e.g., murder, adultery, idolatry, rape).  Other things are not always wrong.  They are only wrong at certain times and places (e.g., eating unclean foods).  It can’t be wrong in the beginning because God approved of it.  He started the race with two people and told them to multiply and fill the earth.  He commanded them to do this, so it could not be sinful in the beginning.

Some object that this is just disgusting.  By today’s standards, it may be but that would not mean that it was disgusting for the first humans on the planet.  It is important to keep one other thing in mind.  Because every human being on the planet is a descendant of Adam and Eve, that means that we are all related.  That means that you are related to anyone you choose to marry.


[1] Jashar 2:26-29; Ginzberg,  Legends of the Jews I (1912), 116-117.

[2] In the Book of Mormon, dark skin is a curse (2 Nephi 5:21; Alma 3:6).

[4]The Way to Perfection, 107.

[5] Journal of Discourses, VII: 290-291.

[6] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, I.2.1.

[7] The Life of Adam and Eve (Latin Text) 24:3.

[8] The Life of Adam and Eve (Latin Text) 23:5.

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