Gleanings From Genesis: The Experience of Cain

By Wayne S. Walker

The Old Testament is filled with examples for our learning. Some of these examples illustrate positive precepts that God expects us to imitate. Others contain negative admonitions of behavior that God wants us to avoid. The experience of Cain falls into the latter category. The story of Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve, is found in Genesis 4:3-8. Cain became a tiller of the ground and Abel became a keeper of sheep. Evidently, God commanded them to bring an offering. Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, while Cain brought of toe fruit of the ground. It is here that the trouble begins.

I We may learn about obedience. “And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” Why? To answer this, we need to see the importance of faith to obedience. Abel offered by faith (Heb. 11:4). We know that faith comes only by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10: 17). Thus, the Lord must have specified what kind of offering he desired. Abel followed the Lord’s instructions, acting by faith, and was blessed. Cain acted out of rejection of and rebellion to God’s wishes. 1 John 3:12 tells us that Cain’s works were evil while his brother’s were righteous.

The lesson for us is that we also must “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7). This, of course, applies to everything that we do, but it should be applied especially to the realm of religion. To do so, we must strive to please God, not ourselves or. other men (Gal. 1:10). Furthermore, we must accept God’s word as final authority and do nothing outside what is revealed. (2 Jn. 9). The same kinds of arguments that are made to justify instrumental music in worship today could have been used by Cain to justify his vegetable offering. So far as we know, God did not say “not to.” But he did ‘specify what he wanted. Therefore, he rejected Cain’s substitute.

II. We can learn about anger. When Cain did wrong and displeased God, he became upset. Actually, it was God who had the tight to be angry with Cain’s disobedience. But we are told, “And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?'” Cain directed his anger towards righteous Abel. It has always been quite common for those who have turned away from God to be angry with those who are following God. Paul asked those among the Galatians who had .been bewitched by a different gospel, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). Cain’s anger turned i4to jealousy and envy which then became hatred and malice.

What we need to learn is to be careful of anger. Yes, there are times when righteous anger is in order. However, even in these situations we must understand that we should “be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Rather, we must work to control our anger, “For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20). Moreover, we must not allow our anger to become envying, which is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:21). Nor should we ever allow anger to linger until it turns to malice harbored in our hearts (Eph. 4:31). Cain could have used his anger constructively to motivate him to do better. Rather, he let it lead him down the wrong path.

III. We may learn about sin. God described sin to Cain as not doing well. “And if you do not do well. . . .” It is a transgression of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4), an act of unrighteousness (1 Jn. 5:17). In addition, sin is enslaving, H.C. Leupold translated v. 7, “And if thou dost not do right, then at the door there is sin, a crouching beast, striving to get at thee, but thou shouldst rule over it.” This statement reminds us that the author of sin, Satan, goes about as a roaring lion, seeking victims to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Therefore, when we yield ourselves to Satan’s temptations, we become servants of sin (Rom. 6:12-18).

However, this account teaches us that we can “rule over it,” that we can overcome sin by faith (1 Jn. 5:4). In order to do this, we must come to control the lust within us that permits us to be tempted (2 Tim. 2:22; Tit. 2:12; 1 Pet. 2:11). We must also strive to avoid opportunities where we will be tempted to sin (Jas. 1:13-16). And we must also learn, when we are faced with temptations, to resist the devil by saying, “No” (Jas. 4:7). In addition, we must look to God’s word for strength (Psa. 119:11). This is what Jesus did when he was tempted (Matt. 4). We do not have to sin in the manner that Cain did. Rather, we can follow the example of our Savior and conquer Satan.


Let us remember that sin Is progressive. Cain began with a seemingly innocent act of disobedience. This led to anger, jealousy, and hatred, which eventually culminated in the sin of murder. While sin in our lives may not result in so drastic an act, each of us is faced with two choices. Either he can go the way of Cain, living a life of disobedience and sin. Or he may follow the example of Abel in his faith and obedience. It is the little decisions that we make along the way start us on one road or the other. Therefore, we need to be careful of even these “little things.” And when we do sin, we need to be grateful that God has made it possible for us to have forgiveness and to avail ourselves of that privilege before we become hardened in our sin. If we do this, we will benefit from the experience of Cain.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 4, p. 106
February 18, 1988