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Genesis 4: A Good Shepherd is Martyred

Faithful Abel is killed, unfaithful Cain is judged, and any hope for the future transfers to Seth.

Reader Thoughts and Questions

Have any questions? Or do you have any additional points of application from the chapter? Please feel free to leave a comment.

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Chapter Notes

  • There is no reprieve from the effects of man’s disobedience. The record plunges immediately into the sorrow of this world. This chapter gives the birth and occupation of Cain and Abel, their worship, God’s analysis, and Cain’s response to God’s rebuke.  

  • We’re then given a brief look at Cain’s descendants, and a new hope for humanity with the birth of Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth. 


  • v. 1 - Eve’s response to Cain’s birth seems to contain a hope that this is the deliverer promised in Genesis 3:15. I have acquired the man from the Lord. This is a reminder that some of our hopes have no place in God’s plan.

  • v. 2 - in contrast, Abel has the idea of vanity. Either because Adam and Eve felt God’s promises were all tied up in Cain and Abel was surplus to redemptive requirements, or because Cain’s ill character was already on display and they are now filled with doubt.

  • Cain’s employment is the same as Adam’s, but Abel is a keeper of sheep. This is fascinating when we remember that it would appear men were not eating meat until after the flood. This means Abel is raising them for milk, wool, leather, or sacrifices.

  • There is much discussion over the distinction between the two sacrifices. Is it because Abel’s was the first fruits, and Cain’s was not? Is it because Abel’s was a blood sacrifice, and Cain’s was not? This may be debated. What is key, however, is that Abel offered in true evangelical faith, and Cain did not. Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” A reminder that we could do much religious activity, but without faith it is impossible to please God. Both sincere and hypocritical worshippers may be in the same place at the same time. Like the Pharisee and the Publican.

  • v. 7 - There is debate over whether God says more sin will lie at his door, or it is a reference to a sin offering, inviting mercy to him. At least it seems to show us the outward call of the covenant of grace that is in play. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, there was no invitation to repentance immediately available. God unveiled to them His plan, which was new to them. Now we see it in practice. God is calling Cain to repentance. 

  • v. 10–12 - Cain made his living off the ground. Now he is told that what caused his father to sweat, no amount of sweat would work for him. He cannot work the ground, he has to live a nomadic life and scavenge for food. God does not ignore injustice. They had no civil government to deal with Cain, but to this day, if civil governments do not punish evil, God will judge them and the evildoers.

  • v. 14 - Cain appears to have enjoyed something of the presence of God as he worshipped with his family. He is conscious that as God sends him away it makes him vulnerable to an act of revenge from a sibling or extended family member. But since there is no civil government yet in play, God appoints a means of hindering a personal act of malice. Eventually God would extinguish his line through the flood.

  • v. 22ff - while the remarks concerning Cain and his descendants are impressive, God has nothing more to say about them. The feats of men without God do not draw His delight. 

  • In contrast, Seth begins a line of descendants that God visits graciously and are known for their communion with God. 


  1. Satan does not wait to attack large institutions and churches. He wastes no time in attacking the first family and trying to find a foothold. Every member of the family needs to be on the alert against Satan. He loves to destroy families. 

  2. The passage says that Cain and Abel “brought” their offering. The implication is that there had been a place set up for worship. Adam had instructed them well. We must have personal, family, and corporate places for worship. Make sure you do not neglect this truth.

  3. Avoid the tendency to add sin to sin. v.5 - Cain brings an unlawful sacrifice and then gets mad when God rejects it. This is like a child that does wrong, gets disciplined by a parent, and then gets mad at the parent. Do not do it.

  4. Cain and Abel remind us we ought not to judge godliness by how long someone lives. If it were up to us and we knew the objective is to fill the earth with godly people, we would take out Cain and leave Abel. But God’s ways are not our ways.

  5. The earth that received Abel’s blood and added to the curse Cain experienced, years later would receive Christ’s blood to remove the curse and substitute it with blessing.

  6. Cain’s response to God in v. 9 shows him putting distance between himself and his brother. Christ, in contrast, covenants to be his brother’s keeper and is not ashamed to call us brethren. 

  7. The chapter ends with the revival of religion in the family. This is something to be sought from God. May God revive biblical religion in your family.

Family Worship Companion
Family Worship Companion
Armen Thomassian