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. Tiara Perry says:

    You know, I was so confused about this story. I didn’t see WHY God would refuse Cain. But now, WHOA. Cains sacrifice was ordinary and showed the condition of his heart.

    Convicted . How often are my sacrifices to God ordinary, and not all consuming? My worship, how I live my life as a sacrifice to God is often just “bleh”.
    God is the same God yesterday today and forever. May my sacrifices and life be pleasing to Him

    1. Suzie McRae says:


  2. Hannah Oliver says:

    Wow… all of it is so profound, but today what really hit me was in the alter paragraph where it said sometimes I will be the one confronting, and it can be disheartening to watch a loved one harden there heart. I’ve watched this happening for years and it IS so disheartening. All I want for them is to see the truth and repent and walk in FREEDOM not bondage and slavery to sin. But I can’t make them want it. It’s taken years for me to understand but I’m finally at a place of peace with the fact that I can desire freedom for someone and go so far as to consistently speak TRUTH to them in deep love and compassion. But until THEY CHOOSE to receive it- nothing else can be done. It’s comforting to know that it’s not “Oh I could have said it better..” it’s on them, and it’s the sad and unfortunate effect of sin. It makes me think of all the times I myself have rejected the accountability my friends and husband and the Holy Spirit provides. I am encouraged today to not DECEIVE myself, and allow my heart to be searched and purified and refined♥️ humility is key, And I want to stay in that low place♥️

  3. Jennifer Anapol says:

    This is so true! Thank you for this reminder!❤️

  4. Melissa Mcronney says:

    Praise God

  5. Donna Oshaughnessy says:

    The reminder that in some situations. all we can do is speak the truth with love and support and trust that God will take care of the rest. It’s not up to us, it’s up to Him to change hearts.

  6. Latoya Wanser says:

    Thankful for Holy Spirit!

  7. Jackie Mars says:

    I love reading that Enoch was taken by God. I wonder what that would have looked like if someone else were there to see it. And it’s amazing that before they had the Holy Spirit and Jesus he was still able to be righteous enough to be with God! The faith he had to have had…for over 900 years!

  8. JJames says:

    Kathy, I can only pray “the lifestyle choice” you’re referring to is not in regards to sexual orientation. Your son is not choosing to sin in this regard. We are all Gods children and he created us this way. I can attest that he may have not been forthright with you because he knew he would be judged By the most important people in his life.. I pray that you can accept and love your son unconditionally.

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