Introduction: Cain’s story is heartbreaking. If you are a parent, or you plan to be a parent, you have great hopes and dreams for your children. If they fail, you might blame yourself. God is the Creator-father of Adam and Eve. They failed. Adam and Eve, created as perfect beings, find great tragedy in their first two sons. Let’s plunge deeply into Cain’s story in Genesis to see what lessons we can gain!

I. The Hope

A. Read Genesis 4:1 and Genesis 3:15-16. Imagine you are Adam and Eve, and this is the first time a child has been born. What would be your reaction?

1. Look again at Genesis 3:15. What promise had been made about Eve’s “offspring?” (That it would “bruise” the head of Satan.)

2. Look again at Genesis 4:1. There is controversy over how this verse should be translated. The way the ESV (the translation I currently use for these studies) translates it is common among other translations – the idea is that God helped Eve give birth to Cain. Albert Barnes points out that it could be translated “I have gained a man, namely Yahweh.” What would this alternative translation suggest? (That Cain was the promised Messiah who would bruise the head of Satan.)

a. Put yourself in Eve’s place. Is it likely, or even possible that she believed Cain was the promised one? (It would be consistent with the hope to make right her sin as soon as possible.)

b. Barnes argues against a translation that indicates that Eve thought her son was the Messiah, because he says she would have named it “Yahweh” or some variation on Yahweh. Instead, Cain’s name means something different. Thus, Barnes would agree with the ESV and most other translations that convey the same though.)

B. Read Genesis 4:2 and compare Genesis 3:17-19. Who is doing the work described by God? (Cain is working the ground. Abel is not.)

1. Abel’s name means “breath, vanity” according to Barnes. What is Abel’s work contributing towards the support of the family? (Not much. They were vegetarians, plant eaters! Compare Genesis 1:29 with Genesis 9:3. Abel was providing clothing. See Genesis 3:21.)

2. If you were Cain, would you agree that Abel’s name (breath, vanity) fits his work? He is not doing the hard work of tilling the ground and he is not feeding the family?

3. How do you think Adam and Eve viewed Cain and Abel? (Genesis paints a picture that reinforces the idea that their hope was in Cain.)

II. The Debate Over Hope

A. Read Genesis 4:3-4. Who is offering to God the most valuable thing? (On the face of it, offering food you can eat is more valuable. The family could not eat (or wear) “fat portions.”)

1. Think about this for a moment. Cain is offering life, Abel is offering death, the sacrifice of life. Which makes more sense from a practical human point of view?

B. Read Hebrews 11:4. Why does it say “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice?” (Adam and Eve likely thought that Cain would be the Messiah. No doubt they told Cain this. But Mr. Breath and Vanity understood the gospel and offered “the more acceptable sacrifice.”)

C. Read Genesis 4:5. Do you think Cain is justified in his anger? We just discussed the reasons that his sacrifice is more valuable. Would it be reasonable for him to believe that God has rejected his work – the work, according to Cain’s parents, of the promised one?

D. Read Genesis 4:6-7. God asks Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” What is God asking Cain to do? What does this tell us about conversations that are not recorded in Genesis? (God is asking Cain to think about what is the right thing to do. Based on our discussion of the practical view of the right thing, that leaves us with the firm conviction that God spoke to Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel about the plan of salvation and the need for animal sacrifices.)

1. Notice that God tells Cain that “sin is crouching at the door” on this issue of giving the right sacrifice. What does this additional information give us about Cain’s choice? (This is not just a matter of God explaining the better sacrifice, this is a matter of sin.)

2. If we had a group debate, one side could argue the promise of Cain, the fact that his work accorded with God’s description of proper labor, and the practical life-giving aspect of his sacrifice. What lesson should we learn from Abel being mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a hero of faith? (This is an apt picture of the debate between works and faith. Much can be said in support of the work of Cain, but faith in God’s promise wins out. To promote the work and reject the faith is sin.)

3. Look again at the last part of Genesis 4:7. What is Cain asked to do? (Rule over his desire. We are not saved by our works, but making the right decision is important.)

III. Hope Dashed

A. Read Genesis 4:8. What do you think Cain said to Abel? Cain’s dispute is not with Abel, but rather with God, according to Genesis 4:5-6.

1. Have you found that people who are out of step with God’s will are angry with those who are acting in accord with God’s will?

B. Read 1 John 3:12-13. What does this tell us about Cain’s motive in killing Abel? (It was because Cain had decided to do evil that he hated Abel for doing God’s will.)

C. Read Hebrews 12:24. Abel’s shed blood is directly compared to Jesus’ shed blood. What parallels do you find between the sacrifice of Jesus and Abel? (They were both martyrs who were killed by their brothers. Abel died because of his faith in God’s word. He is an example of faithfulness. Jesus, however, by His shed blood gives us the opportunity to realize the great future we have as a result of faith.)

D. Read Genesis 4:9 and Genesis 3:9 Notice that God asks Cain and Adam a question when He intends to confront them with their sins. What do you think about this approach? Is this an approach we should adopt?

1. Look at Cain’s response in the last part of Genesis 4:9. What attitude does it reflect? (Cain is unrepentant. He lies. When his parents first sinned, they blamed others, but they did not evade the sin issue.)

E. Read Genesis 4:10-12. What do you think about God’s penalty for murder? The first murder! (Cain could hardly say that others influenced him to kill. Instead of executing Cain for murder, God blocks him from his career.)

1. What do you think the phrase “no longer yield to you its strength means?” (I think it means that he could no longer get anything to grow, not matter how hard he worked.)

2. What is the practical impact of Cain being a “fugitive and a wanderer on the earth?” (He must leave his home, his parents, and everything he knows, in addition to losing his career.)

F. Read Genesis 4:13-14. Cain fears being killed, although there is no prior precedent for humans to kill another. Has Cain concluded that he would be justly killed because he set the precedent?

1. How many people does this suggest now live on the earth? (Read Genesis 1:27-28. God instructed Adam and Eve to “fill the earth” with children. They apparently were doing just that.)

2. Why would Cain want to continue to see the face of God? Wouldn’t it remind him of his sin? (Cain understood that having a relationship with God was extremely valuable, even though Cain had just committed a horrendous sin. This suggests that Cain understands that the presence of God inhibits sin.)

G. Read Genesis 4:15-16. What does it say about our God that He protects Cain? (God is certainly loving towards those who have rejected His will. God promises a perfect vengeance (sevenfold) against anyone who kills Cain.)

H. Read Genesis 4:25. What is the attitude of parents Adam and Eve? (Hope.)

I. Friend, the story of Cain shows us how the greatest hopes of parents can be dashed very quickly and unnecessarily. In the face of this great sin, God continues to show mercy and give hope to humans. Will you embrace God’s mercy and share His hope?

IV. Next week: The Flood.

Copr. 2022, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. If you normally receive this lesson by e-mail, but it is lost one week, you can find it by clicking on this link: Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you study.