Day 3

Cain and Abel

from the Genesis reading plan

Genesis 4:1-26, Genesis 5:1-32, Hebrews 12:22-24

BY Sharon Hodde Miller

My children are currently in a difficult season of discipline. On a daily basis, usually multiple times a day, I dispense consequences for bad behavior, which are then met with responses of total shock and horror.

“I didn’t do anything!”
“I didn’t know!”
“I didn’t hear you!”
“But his face ran into my fist!”

Like generations of children before them—including myself!—my kids are gifted at playing the martyr. Rather than repent and ask forgiveness, they make excuses. And sometimes, they dig in their heels even deeper.

Here in this story of the very first murder, we see where this blame-shifting began. And it all started very innocently. Two competitive brothers—one a farmer, one a shepherd—bring offerings to God. Cain brings the fruits of his soil, and Abel brings fat portions from the firstborn of his flock (Genesis 4:3–4). At first glance, it would appear that each brother brought what he had, but God does not see it this way. God looks with favor on Abel’s offering, but he withholds favor from Cain.


In their commentary on this passage, Tremper Longman and Scot McKnight explain the difference in their gifts: “Cain offered the ordinary and Abel the best, and of course the quality of their offering reflects the condition of their hearts. Abel is enthusiastic about worship, while Cain is basically disinterested.”

Cain is caught doing the bare minimum, but rather than humble himself, admit his spiritual apathy, and ask how he can do better, Cain digs in. He becomes angry. He throws a pity party. He nurses his bitterness until it culminates in murder, and even after all that he continues to play the victim: “My punishment is too great to bear” (v.13).

In these early chapters of Genesis, we are learning about the ways of God, but we are also learning about the ways of sin, and here we observe a major hallmark. Human sin is so utterly broken that it will even deny its brokenness. It will run, hide, make excuses, and lash out before taking responsibility and repenting, and this is an important thing to know about ourselves. When accountability comes our way, even if it comes harshly or imperfectly, our response determines the course of our lives. How we respond to sin sets our feet on one of two paths: back to God, or further away from Him.

But here is what else this story reminds us, and I hope this sets you free: sometimes we are the ones being confronted, but sometimes we are the ones doing the confronting. Sometimes, we bring truth to light and then, just like God does in this story, have to watch as a loved one hardens their heart all the more. This, we must remember, is not about us or our shortcomings or how we could have said it better. It’s about sin, and what it does to the human heart.

Thankfully, we have something that Cain didn’t have: the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we have a helper and an advocate who is ready to work when repentance feels too hard. That is how good God is—even as He asks us to be faithful, He helps us to do it.

Post Comments (88)

88 thoughts on "Cain and Abel"

  1. Meredith Lengel says:

    I needed that message about how it is not about our shortcomings but how sin hardens the heart. My sister is no longer a Christian and it is something I’ve struggled with. Not even just my sister but with other friends who are non believers.

  2. Tanya B. says:

    Hello, what ministered to me through this reading was the first fruits. I now will be conscious and intentional about separating my tithes first. Yes, I mentally know I will pay my tithe but I will regularly spend, pay bill, etc. without physically removing the tithe first.I will now not only mentally separate the tithe but I will like Able physically present the first fruits to God before I do anything else from here on out. When I read this verse in the message translation It spoke to me, I want God to be pleased with my service unto him this way. :)

  3. Dawn Sullivan says:

    “Human sin is so utterly broken that it will even deny its brokenness.” Very good word.

    1. Charlie Mcfarlane says:

      Yes! I loved this as well

  4. Shuana Michele-Hackworth says:

    So thankful sir the Holy Spirit and what Jesus did for us. Sin is and it’s consequences are so devastating even the ones who didn’t commit the sin.

  5. kim says:

    The juxtapositions shown between Genesis and Revelation are so vibrant!! I found this portion of the study so helpful seeing it side by side!!

  6. Jennifer Anapol says:

    God wants us to bring a worthy sacrifice to him for our sake, not for his.

  7. Ashley White says:

    So good! I loved reading this and learning more in depth about Cain & Abel.

  8. Tracie Nall says:

    What strikes me as I read this passage about Cain and Abel today is how both brought offerings to God, yet when God rejects Cain’s offering by giving favor to Abel’s offering, Cain transfers his focus from the One he was giving to…his anger is focused on his brother, and so competition and comparison began! It wasn’t that God preferred one person over the other, He was teaching about sacrifice, offering and giving.
    How like us, in our humanity and flesh, we sin and receive consequences and rather than look to the One who pronounced judgement on us, we look around and see where we missed the marked or didn’t measure up!
    God sent Jesus for ALL and His will is that None will perish, He doesn’t say He loves one more than another, He loves us each, saves us each and judges us each! We will give a personal account at the Great Throne judgement, we won’t be ranked, rewarded or measured by the works

    1. Tracie Nall says:

      “Of others”. Our only plumb line is Jesus!

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