The World’s Oldest Murder

Genesis 4:1-16

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2022

Genesis 4 is a chapter that would be rated R for violence and sex.  It contains one of the most famous stories in the Bible.  In fact, many people who have never read the Bible know the story of Cain and Abel.

It is a well-known story.  It is a powerful story.  It is a fascinating story.  It is full of applications.  The chapter also raises some very difficult questions.  It is a story of SIN.  It is a story of JUDGMENT, and it is a story of GRACE.

It is the story of the first crime ever committed on planet earth.  Adam committed the first sin.  Cain committed the first crime.   What Adam and Eve did seemed minor.  They pulled some fruit off a tree.

Cain committed murder.  It was the first murder. It was the world’s oldest murder. Cain was the first murderer and we have been murderers ever since.  We are a race of murderers.  Every thirty-two minutes, a murder takes place in America. We live in a violent world.  Big cities are full of violence.

We have gone from Cain’s murder of one person to murder of more people.  Serial killers kill repeatedly and habitually.

We have gone from Cain’s murder of one person to murder of more people at a time.  Mass murders kill more than one at a time.  Modern technology has made that easy.  We have weapons of mass destruction.   All of this goes back to the first baby born on the planet.

Adam and Eve were created perfect.  They lived in a perfect world.  When Adam and Eve were tempted, they became sinners.  When they had kids, they gave their sin nature to their children.

You would think that gradually people would get worse and worse.  It would start with some misdemeanors and eventually evolve into some felonies.  Eventually, people would do really bad things, perhaps in Genesis 50, but that’s not what happened. The first sin was found in Genesis 3.  The first murder is found, just one chapter later, in Genesis 4.

“It took only one generation for the sin unleashed in the Garden to lead to the first act of violence.  Cain didn’t just give his brother a bloody nose; he took his life.”[1]  It took just ONE GENERATION for this to take place.

The First Birth

This story is found in Genesis 4. The chapter begins on a positive note.  It begins with sex.  It is the first sex in the Bible.  It is sex between a husband and wife.  Now Adam KNEW Eve his wife (Genesis 4:1 NKJV).  He should have known her.  He married her.

The Bible describes intimacy as knowledge.  It seems like a strange way to describe sex.  It is something that gives you knowledge and makes you smarter.  This is a euphemism.  It is a figure of speech.  It is not the way we talk today.

This knowledge led to pregnancy.  Picture Eve nine months pregnant hobbling around with a big belly.  Pregnancy led to childbirth.  Eve delivered the first baby in history.

She conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD” (Genesis 4:1 NKJV).  God told Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28) and they are obeying.  Eve gives God credit for his birth. 

This was the first childbirth in history.  Eve had never seen a baby before.  Now she has one and his name was Cain and then had another baby named Abel.  We think of Cain and Abel as little kids but these were adults and they were complete opposites.

Two Brothers

They had different skills and abilities.  They had different personalities and temperaments.  They chose different occupations.  One was a shepherd, and one was a farmer.  Cain was more like his dad.  Cain was a farmer. Adam was a gardener, although he also named the animals and probably liked animals, like Abel did.

They were different spiritually as well.  One was saved and one was lost.  One was a child of God, and one was a child of the Devil.

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. (I John 3:11-12 NIV)

Two Sacrifices

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. (Genesis 4:2-4 NIV)

Cain and Abel worshiped God in their own way.  One brought an animal sacrifice and one brought God some food.  One brought a bloody sacrifice and the other brought God a fruit basket.  Cain brought God some zucchini and some squash.  Abel brought God a lamb.

Cain and Abel were very different, but they had one thing in common.  They both worshiped God.  They both went to church.  They both brought different sacrifices.  They did it different ways but they both worshiped God.  One was saved and one was lost.

Life Lesson

Cain worshiped God.  Many unsaved people worship God.  Many lost people go to church, some regularly. There are many people who are religious who are not saved.

Cain was not an atheist.  He believed in God.  He worshiped God.   He offered God sacrifices.  He was religious but he was unsaved.  Churches are full of saved and unsaved people.  People may attend church for forty years and be lost.

The Jews who wanted Jesus killed were very religious.  Nicodemus was very religious, but Jesus said to him, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NKJV).

There are terrorists who commit all kinds of atrocities are very religious.  There is a difference between religion and salvation.  Not everyone who is religious is righteous.

A Sacrifice Rejected

Then, we get the shock.  God accepted one sacrifice and rejected the other sacrifice.

The Lord looked WITH FAVOR on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did NOT look with favor. (Genesis 4:4-5 NIV)

We want God to look with favor on us.  Why did God accept one sacrifice and reject the other one?  Abel brings a dead animal and Cain brings the fruit of the ground.  Does God have something against fruit?  Does He like lamb chops more than vegetables?   Does God just like shepherds better than farmers?

The Bible does not say why one offering was accepted and one was rejected.  There are two theories.

One theory is that Cain was rejected because he did not bring a dead animal.  He did not want to bring God a bloody sacrifice.  The Bible says, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 HCSB).  That may be true, but the Bible doesn’t say it was the reason.

Another theory is that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because he gave God a high-quality sacrifice.  He brought FAT portions from some of the FIRSTBORN of his flock.  He brought fat animals, not skinny, sick animals, like the Jews did in the Book of Malachi.    

Cain brought an inferior, low-quality sacrifice.  He did not give God his best.  He just brought God the leftovers. Abel gave God his first and his best.  That raises this question: What do we give God?

Three Truths about Worship

1) Worship is something we give to God

It is not something that we get.  That is the way most of us think of worship.  Both Cain and Abel GAVE something to God as worship.

2) All worship is NOT equal

All religions are not equal.  All churches are not equal.  All worship is not equal.  Some is good.  Some is bad.  Some worship honors God.  Some worship does not.

Some worship is acceptable and some is not.  There is a right and a wrong way to worship God.  Abel did it the right way.  Cain did it the wrong way.  The same is true today.

How do we know what is the right way and what is the wrong way?  We have to give God our best, like Abel did.  We have to worship God as He has revealed.  We have to follow the Word.  Do we give God our best?  Are we like Cain or Abel in our worship?

3). All worship is NOT accepted

God rejects some worship.  He did that with Cain and Abel.  He still does that today.  His nature has not changed.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Many teach that God accepts all worship.  He accepts all religions.  There are many different paths to God.  That is universalism.  It is pluralism.  It sounds good.  Many believe that but it is not true.  It’s a myth.

If that was the case, he would have accepted Cain’s sacrifice, as well as Abel’s sacrifice.  The truth is that there is some worship that God rejects.

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him MUST worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 ESV).  He said, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV).

There is worship that God rejects and there is some worship that God hates.

“I HATE, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. (Amos 5:21-23 NIV)

Cain’s Response

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.” (Genesis 4:6-7 NIV)

What was Cain’s response?  He was angry.  God knew he was angry, so He talked to him. What does He tell him?  God turned it right back on Cain.  Cain was mad at God.  God said to Cain, “You are the problem.  You offered the wrong sacrifice.  Offer the right one and you will be accepted.”

God acted as Therapist and Counselor.  He asked Cain two questions BEFORE his crime.  Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  God is always seeking sinners. He told him what he needed to do to be accepted next time.

Cain’s Crime

Cain’s crime was premeditated murder.  He was the first one to ever do this.  No one had ever killed anyone before.  Several things made this crime especially bad.

Cain killed Abel intentionally.  This was not accidental. It was intentional and deliberate.  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. (Genesis 4:8 NIV).

He lured him out in the field to get him alone.  Abel was completely helpless and defenseless.  He was isolated and alone.  Cain probably said, “Why don’t you show me how to offer a proper sacrifice to God.  Show me the right animals to use” and then he killed him.

Cain killed Abel violently.  He didn’t poison him.  This was a brutal murder.  There was blood everywhere.  God said that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground.

This murder happened right after church.  It took place after a worship service.  It took place right after family worship.  It took place right after both brothers offering a sacrifice to God.

Cain does not just kill a stranger in cold blood. He killed a family member.  He killed a brother.  He killed a younger brother or possibly a twin brother (as some believe).

In fact, Cain did not just kill a brother.  He killed a believer.  He killed a godly man.  He killed a righteous man.  Jesus called him righteous.

And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of RIGHTEOUS ABEL to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:35 NIV)

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. (Hebrews 11:4 ESV)

Abel became the first human to die.  He became the first murder victim.  Cain was the first murderer.  Abel was the first martyr.  That brings us to another truth.  You will not hear this preached in church too often.  It is not very popular.

God doesn’t stop all of the evil in the world.  He gives people free will.  That means that evil people will do some bad things and sometimes believers will suffer.  Sometimes they are killed at the hands of wicked people.

The Interrogation

Abel is killed and no one knows where he is or what happened to him.  It is the first unsolved mystery.  Cain thought he committed the perfect crime.  There were no eyewitnesses, but God saw it.

One day, every we will all stand account before God for our sins.  We will face Him, either as guilty sinners or pardoned saints.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God confronted them about their sin.  Now, he confronts Cain about what he did.  Now we see God, not as Therapist, but as Judge.  There is a crime scene investigation.  There is an interrogation and there is a sentence.

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. (Genesis 4:9-10 NIV)

God asks Cain two questions after his crime: Where is Abel? What have you done?  They are rhetorical questions.  God already knows the answer.

He asked Adam and Eve, where are you?  They were hiding, so God asked them, where are you? (Genesis 3:9).  He asked Cain: Where is your brother Abel? (Genesis 4:9).  God asked him that, not because he was hiding but because he had hidden the body.

What was his answer?  “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9 NIV).  Cain had a very different response from his parents.

When God confronted them, Adam and Eve about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, did not deny that they did it.  Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ATE.” (Genesis 3:12 ESV).  He did not deny it.  He just blamed Eve.  Adam confessed.  Cain NEVER confessed to the crime.

God confronted Cain and he lied to God.  He says, “I don’t know where he is” when he did know where he was.  He said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?  He’s not my responsibility.”  He answered God’s question with a question.  It was a sarcastic reply.

Cain asked a very thought-provoking question.  We are to be our brother’s keeper.  We learn that from Matthew 25 (the poor, the naked, the hungry, the stranger)

The Punishment

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.” (Genesis 4:11-12 NIV)

He is not sentenced to death.  He is sentenced to exile.  Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden and now Cain is exiled from the family.  Adam and Eve have now lost two sons, one to death and one to exile.

Cain is sentenced to walk the earth.  He becomes the first nomad.  Eventually, he settles down.  He became a politician and started a city.  It was the first city.  Cain named the city after his son.  He called it “The City of Enoch” (Genesis 4:17).

It was not a city, like our modern cities with huge skyscrapers.  John C. Whitcomb calls it “a settlement”[2] but it was the first city.  Cain became He became the founder of civilization.  His descendants were not very spiritual, but they were very creative.  They invented iron tools and music.

Did Cain Get Away with Murder?

He was not put to death.  Instead of putting Cain to death, God protected him from death.  He put a mark on him so he wouldn’t be killed.  Cain probably lived a long life.  He eventually got married, raised a family and started a city.  The righteous man died.  The guilty man lived.

Is that fair?  Does it prove that God is against the death penalty?  Does it prove that God is against capital punishment?  If you read the rest of the Bible, you see that God is not against capital punishment (cf. Exodus 21:12, 14; 22:18-20; Leviticus 24:17, 21; Numbers 35:15-18, etc.).  In fact, if you read the rest of Genesis, you see this (Genesis 9:6)

Why was Cain not put to death?  He deserved to die.  He should have been put to death, but this does not prove that God is against the death penalty.  It just proves that sometimes God deals with people in grace and gives them a second chance.

Cain was not executed but he was punished.  He did suffer.  He had a guilty conscience for what he had done. Cain was under a curse.  He was driven from God’s presence.

Cain did not live sixty or seventy years.  Before the Flood, people lived hundreds and hundreds of years.  How would you like to be cursed by God for eight hundred years living outside his blessing and favor.

People did not like him either.  Nobody liked him.  He was despised by people.  He was constantly on the move and was always looking over his shoulder in case anyone was trying to kill him.

He could not make a living farming.  God said, “When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you” (Genesis 4:12).  He traveled everywhere looking for a place to farm but was unsuccessful.

He had to choose a new occupation.  Since the ground opened up its mouth to receive Abel’s blood (Genesis 4:11), it would not give Cain any crops.  He reaped what he sowed.

Cain was punished but there was a reason he was not executed.  There was no state in Genesis 4 to execute Cain.  It had not been created yet.  Capital punishment was to be implemented by the state.

This was to prevent revenge slaying, as Jordan Peterson put it.  “I kill your brother. You kill my two brothers. You kill my whole family. I kill your whole town and then we blow up the world.”[3]

The Way of Cain

Are we like Cain in any way?  You say, “I haven’t killed anyone.”  You might be surprised.  Let’s look at eight signs we might be like Cain.

1. The way of Cain is the way of HATRED

Cain was the first murderer.  He never owned a gun.  He never watched violent movies.  He never saw anyone kill anyone.  He never played violent video games and yet he became the first murderer.

The NT says that that what motivates murder is hatred (I John 3:11-15).  Murder is a hate crime.  It stems from hatred.  If we are full of hatred to anyone, we have the spirit of Cain inside us.

Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him (I John 3:14-15 NIV).

2. The way of Cain is the way of ANGER

but for Cain and his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his face was gloomy. (Genesis 4:4 NASB).  Cain had an anger problem.  He does not just become angry.  He becomes VERY angry.

Cain was not just angry.  He was angry at God.  Many today, like Cain, are angry at God.  Cain is angry at God, but he can’t come after God, so he lashes out at people.  He had a temper problem.  He had a short fuse.  Does this describe us?  Are we like Cain?

3. The way of Cain is the way of VIOLENCE

Cain did not just have hatred in his heart, he acted out on it, like Will Smith did this past week.  He acted out in physical violence.  The spirit of Cain is the spirit of violence.  It is the spirit of bloodshed.  It is the spirt of murder.  Are we physically violent?

4. The way of Cain is the way of FALSE WORSHIP

Cain was religious but his religion was unbiblical.  His worship was unbiblical.  He worshiped God the way he thought he should be worshiped and the way he wanted to worship Him, rather than the way God has revealed himself in His Word.  Is our worship biblical?

5. The way of Cain is the way of UNREPENTANCE

Cain never repented.  He never confessed to his crime.  He never acknowledged doing it.  He never took responsibility for it.  Even Judas confessed his sin.  Even he said the words, “I have sinned” but Cain never said those words.

He was never honest and transparent about what he did.  He never felt bad for what he did.  He had no remorse.  He did not have any feelings or emotions for his dead brother.  He was a cold-blooded killer.  That is the spirit of Cain.

King David committed terrible crimes, but he eventually came to genuine repentance.  Do we take responsibility for our actions?  Do we confess them before God, or do we deny them and try to hide them?

6. The way of Cain is the way of UNTEACHABILITY

Cain was unteachable.  He would not take instruction or criticism, even if it was constructive criticism or even if it came from God Himself.  He was rebellious and defiant. The Bible says that this is a mark of a fool.  A fool does not take correction.  There are professing Christians today who live in sin.  You can show all kinds of verses to them, and it does not make any difference.  They are unteachable, like Cain was.

7. The way of Cain is the way of RESTLESSNESS

The way of Cain is the way of a hard life as a result and consequence of one’s own actions.  Cain had a hard life.  He lived in disobedience to God.  He lived in unrepentance.  He was under God’s curse.  He was a farmer and wherever he went, he could not get crops to grow.  He kept moving but it did not help.

Lots of people have difficult lives.  Some are in prison for their faith in foreign countries.  Cain had a difficult life as a result of disobedience and as a result of rebellion to God.

8. The way of Cain is the way of COMPLAINING

The way of Cain is the way of complaining.  That also is the spirit of Cain. When God tells him what his punishment was, all he did was to whine and complain.  He said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”  His punishment was less than what he gave Abel, but Cain only thought of himself.

There is a little irony here.  Cain is worried that someone might kill him.  He said, whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14 NIV). Who might that be?  That would be Adam and Eve’s other children or their descendants.  Cain kills a family member and is now worried that another family member might kill him.

Do we have a negative complaining spirit?  Do we complain at God and what He does in our life?

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.[4] They used the mark of Cain to justify slavery.[5]

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”[6]

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.”[7]

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.

[1] Discover God Study Bible (Bright Media Foundation, 2007), p. 13.

[2] https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=23121611312

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44f3mxcsI50

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

[5] http://mit.irr.org/brigham-young-slavery-because-of-curse-of-cain-5-january-1852

[6] The Way to Perfection, 107.

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

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