Cain and Abel Bible Story: Lesson, Summary and Study

What is the lesson behind Cain and Able?  Why did Cain murder his brother? What can we learn from this account in Genesis?

Cain and Abel’s Names

After God told Eve that she would conceive of a son that would crush the head of the serpent (Satan) mentioned in Genesis 3:15 which has been called the protoevangelium, the promise of a redeemer for fallen mankind, Eve called her son Cain.  Eve may well have believed that her son might be that redeemer and that is why she called him Cain and said “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1).  This seems likely because Cain’s name in Hebrew means “acquired” and she may have thought that she had acquired this redeemer and especially since he was the first born which is important as we will later read.  After Cain was born, “she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground” (Gen 4:2).  Abel’s Hebrew name means “breath” but may be a derivative of the Assyrian name for “meadow” and this seems perfectly fitting as Abel was a keeper of sheep or a shepherd.

After the fall in the Garden (Gen 3) there was the need for blood sacrifices which God had first done in killing the animals to provide for Adam and Eve their clothing (Gen 3:21) for if you remember, they were naked; this was one way of saying it…they were naked, exposed, and their sin was clearly seen.  Sin required blood to be shed so God killed the first animals providing the first sacrifice.  Before the fall, no death had been experienced; even among the animal kingdom and so these animals that were killed were technically the first born (even though it was from God). God again would later provide a first born sacrifice but not an animal sacrifice, which could only cover sins but not take them away (Heb 10:4).  And it would not just be another sacrifice, but the Son of God Himself who would give His own life voluntarily and by whose blood would be shed for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 22:20) and so “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” (Gen 4:3-5).   Why did God not accept Cain’s offering?  Because there was no blood shed which is an appropriate sacrifice sins.  Cain only brought produce of the ground, indicating that he had to work for his forgiveness and if you remember, God told Adam that after the fall he would have to work the ground with intensive labor now (Gen 3:17-19) and it would take the “sweat of your brow” from this point forward.   The point is that Cain tried to work for his forgiveness or salvation from his sins and God never accepts works, and works cannot ever be accepted for sin offerings because we are always saved by grace and never by works (Eph 2:8-9).

As for Abel, he raised sheep.  The interesting thing is that meat was not at that time eaten and was only done so until after Noah’s flood, so why would Abel be raising sheep if they didn’t raise them to eat?  One reason is that they used them for clothing and for coverings for their tents and perhaps even to carry water in for their working of the ground, however there is an even more important reason that Able raised sheep.  Since “Abel…brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering” (Gen 4:4) it appears that Abel raised sheep to have a consistent supply of lambs to sacrifice.   First of all, he brought the first born of the flock and this would be what the later sacrifices would require.   Also, God has stated in both the Old Testament and the New that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Heb 9:22).  That is why God accepted Abel’s offering and did not accept Cain’s.  One offering was insufficient and consisted of works but Abel’s was a blood sacrifice and that was pleasing or satisfying to God.  Able had forgiveness but Cain did not because God did not accept his offering…one of works (Gen 4:5).

The First Murder

Cain was angered by this and perhaps in a jealous rage he killed his brother Able (Gen 4:8). God then asked Cain “Where is Abel your brother” (Gen 4:9a)? Why did God ask Cain this?  He surely knew what had happened, being omniscient?  I believe the reason was that God had asked Cain this question is that He had hoped for Cain to repent and then ask for forgiveness for what he had done, but what does Cain do?  He retorts, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as a sarcastic way of answering God (Gen 4:9b).  Cain was driven from his family and home and remained a vagabond the rest of his life.  As for Adam and Eve, God gave them another son which was named Seth which means “appointed” and this might mean that God appointed Seth to replace Abel or it might again have been another expectation of the Promised One who would “crush the head of the serpent” someday (Gen 3:15).


Every human that is alive today or has ever lived has needed a redeemer and this redeemer lives today to make intercession for the saints (Heb 7:25).  He is more than a redeemer but He is THE Redeemer and He is also the High Priest of God who entered into the heavenly sanctuary with His own blood (Heb 9:25).  If you have never repented and confessed your sins, and seen your need for the Savior, then you have no redeemer to rescue you from the pit (Rev 20:11-15).  Without the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, no man or no woman will see God but instead will forever be separated from Him with no chance to escape.  That is why Jesus gave the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man to show that there would be “a great chasm [that] has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).  That means if a person dies without faith in Christ they end up in the place where no one can pass and go from there to heaven…ever again.  I pray you think about that today while it is still called “today” (2 Cor 6:2) for no one knows what tomorrow will bring (Prov 27:1)

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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  • loveendures

    STORY OF CAIN AND ABEL Prime rib vs Broccoli ?

    Let us be real people. Who wants to choose a veggie when a prime rib is offered? God with a sense of humor naturally wanted a steak ! Abel was favored. Abel like most of us wanted to please God with the best, fat portion of first born, (can we call it prime rib?) unlike measly tasteless veggie, (can we call it Broccoli?) Cain brought from his garden. Both had the same intention, wanting to please God with an offering.

    It is hard to understand the literal meaning of this story. I looked at a different perspective to make the story a powerful one with the message on grace, love and forgiveness. We may visualize this whole thing like in a drama.

    In Part one we witnessed the scene of paradise in the garden. It was about a man and a woman coming to know good and bad in the world. Basically they become self-conscious or self-aware of as soon as they ate the fruit. Bible in Genesis 3 .7 says …” Then the eyes of both of them were
    opened, and they realized they were naked”. Having known both good
    and evil Adam and Eve were banished from the garden forever. Bible describes this as man showing disobedience by eating the forbidden fruit. Supposedly they ate because of their free will. Even though Adam and Eve disobeyed God we observe the full expression of freewill or the freedom which is fundamental to unconditional love.

    Now the curtain reopens. It is Part Two.

    Like their parents Cain and Abel were knowledgeable of good and evil.
    They became aware of the disobedience of their parents and the
    consequences that brought. Now they wanted to somehow please God and be in good terms with God unlike their parents. They came to offer God some food.
    We can observe the concept of sacrifice (Bible does not clearly say that
    here) in offering and pleasing God, often to mend our wrong doings. I guess this is a very human idea that somehow we can patch up the things with God. We think we can make God happy and we be blessed on the kind of offerings. (Later in Isaiah we read God hates sacrifice)

    Acts of sacrifice, offering of an animal or some vegetarian versions are universal ideas. We find this practice in almost all world religions for thousands of years. I am not sure
    how and where we got this idea. Part of becoming self-aware is to face
    the fear of uncertainty. The concept of offering
    to God some food in order to please Him,
    has somehow pervaded in our lives for thousands of years. This kind of
    sacrifice is not mentioned in the first three chapters of Genesis.

    Now, Cain happened to work with the soil, offered some fruits of the soil. Initially he feels an offering is an offering, not so much about how expensive it is. He must have thought well. Abel on the otherhand, working with a flock of sheep wanted to please God with the best high priced gift, fat portion of the first born of his flock! A prime rib I suppose. He really wanted to impress God. He must have
    thought God was going to promise him the paradise. I suppose greater the gift
    greater was the reward.

    In the drama we see God looking with favor on Abel! This has to be a joke. God has to have a sense of humor. I guess God was playing here. Does God really show favoritism? If you ever had a choice of eating a piece of veggie vs. prime rib, what would you have preferred? Prime rib of course! I said seriously it was a
    joke because we soon see Abel getting killed. How can a favored person get killed?

    Now good thinking Cain changed his mind and he could not bear God favoring his brother. Soon, like any other human being he got angry. God was not
    finished with Cain. He knew Cain was angry, he still asked him “why are
    you angry?” Just to test him. Naturally, Cain became even angrier no
    different from many of us.

    Now God said “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Cain did the right thing, but could not accept when he noticed that he was not favored. God
    went on to say “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your
    door, it will even possess you. (Remember the quote “Devour the Lion
    otherwise Lion will devour you!) Here God clearly explains what Sin is.
    This is not about morality. Sin is when we know fully the “right
    things” but we do not act according to what is right. In other words sin
    is when we have the knowledge of righteousness that we can do something to make a difference in human injustice but we do not act on it. We
    prefer to be stay in the sideline or in the darkness no one can notices us.
    As we read later we find the religious people at the time of Jesus were
    very knowledgeable about the scriptures but their life was all about following some laws without any consideration of love or humanity. Jesus called the religious people hypocrites or double minded and even vipers.

    Cain initially appeared to know that offering to God was not a matter of what he brought; probably he knew God would eat whatever vegetable given with love. But as the drama unfolds we see Cain lost his righteousness when he becomes angry at his brother as he was favored by God. His simple offering of an ordinary vegetable became no match; he did not become content with his little offering. He knew he could not produce a better offering like an animal product what Abel had offered, his anger grew and the only course for him was to kill Abel. This is envy, which is defined as a resentful emotion which “occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it.”

    As Andy Stanley puts it how good a sacrifice is good enough? Does the best prime rib in the world cut it? I think God might have enjoyed the meat but Abel’s hard act of pleasing God killed him. Basically Abel was trying to show off and in that very process he was killed. It is very much true in this modern world, we acquire so much material stuff mostly to impress others, to get approved and applauded by others and it is not surprising we get hurt or even killed in such processes.

    God did not take revenge and kill Cain. Cain did not get punished. Not only that, he put a mark on Cain’s headed so that no one who found him would kill him. He also said that if someone killed Cain that person would suffer seven times! Wow… no eye for eye retribution! What do we call this irrational action of God?

    In this little drama we see God NOT wanting a “conditional” sacrifice to please him because it negates Grace. Sacrifice I see is a human (out of the garden)
    concept. As we read in Isaiah God does not want sacrifice. Also in this drama we see the extent of God’s irrational love and forgiveness to Cain.

    Thank you for reading. Comments are welcome.

    Reference: Bible Old Testament