The Way of Cain

Question: Why did God reject Cain's sacrifice in Genesis 4? Was a sin offering required back then or was it Cain's attitude that made the sacrifice unacceptable? 

Answer:  Clearly, we will see from Scripture that it was Cain's failure to do what was required-- a task which he failed to perform. God told Cain,

"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?" Therefore it was clearly an act of disobedience on the part of Cain to do what was right. Cain's attitude was also unacceptable for he followed his own way rather than obeying God. Cain brought to God what he, himself, thought was best. He had pride, rebellion and self-righteousness. He brought his own pride as an offering to God. He forgot that the ground was cursed. He denied that he was a sinner by bringing a bloodless sacrifice before a Holy and Righteous God.  

Gen 4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.

Gen 4:2  And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

The Bible does not devote much information about Cain but God's Word says more than enough to give us a glimpse into the heart and desires of Cain. Cain was the first born child of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a religious man for he offered up a sacrifice unto God. However, this bloodless sacrifice was not what was required to cover his sin. The Bible says that, "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission for sin."

Some would disagree with me and would say that sin offerings were only required later in Exodus. My question to them is that if God, being Holy, is the same yesterday, today and forever and the requirement for atonement has ALWAYS been the same, by reason of the blood of an innocent lamb or bullock, then why would Adam and Eve and their children (all sinners) be treated any different?

Although the Bible does not record God's requirements for a sacrifice in Genesis 4, the Lord must have told Adam and Eve what is acceptable and what is required for a sinful man to approach a Holy God.  We find that the Lord made coats for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and this is where He must have told them what an "acceptable sacrifice" would consist of. They were to teach their children everything that they knew. We know that they did for Abel did those things which were pleasing in God's sight. Cain chose HIS OWN WAY in direct rebellion.


Lev 17:11b "...for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."

Throughout the whole Old Testament, we find that man was required to offer innocent animals, without blemish, as sacrifices to God for their sin-- for every man is a sinner and has sinned. Only Jesus never sinned and therefore He is the Lamb of God, the Messiah, who offered up His life for our sins and rose from the dead. (See Isaiah 53 and read our article on salvation for further reference.)

J. Vernon McGee wrote, "The way of Cain is the way of a man who refused to bring a little lamb which pointed to Christ."

Cain was a "tiller of the ground". He was a farmer, a gardener. Cain worked hard and labored in his sweat to produce good crops. His younger brother, Abel, was

a shepherd. He was a keeper of the sheep. Both are honorable occupations. Cain provided food and Abel's sheep provided clothing, blankets, etc. (Remember that it was only after the Flood that men were allowed to eat meat such as lamb, chicken, veal, etc. Genesis 9:3)

Gen 4:3  And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

Now in verse 3, we read that "in process of time it came to pass" that both brothers were to offer up a sacrifice unto the Lord. This most likely was not the first time that they made offerings unto the Lord for the Bible says, "in process of time". Cain brought as an offering "the fruit of the ground"  unto the Lord.


Gen 4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

Abel brought the firstlings (notice plural) of his flock...the firstborn-- the best lambs he could find and offered it unto the Lord. He also brought "the fat thereof" which indicates a sin offering. The Bible says that the Lord had respect unto Abel AND to his offering.

Hebrews 11:4 say,   By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

How by faith? Abel offered his sacrifice by faith knowing that his sins would be covered. How did he know this? Because God must have said it would be so. Romans 10:17 says, So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee confirms this when he says: "God had to have given His Word about this, [the instruction for proper sacrifice and its significance] or this boy Abel could never have come by faith, and that is the way he came." (TTB Commentary Vol. 1, page 29) 

Jesus called Abel "righteous" in Matthew 23:35;  That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

Now how is a sinner found righteous in God's sight? How are we found righteous in God's sight? By our own merits? No, but rather by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood.

Rom 3:25  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; Rom 5:9  Much more then, being now justified by his [Jesus'] blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Colossians 1:14  In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:  

Ephesians 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 

Hebrews 13:12  Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.

1John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Old Testament saints looked toward Jesus the Messiah-- The Lamb. New Testament saints look back to Calvary and believe on Jesus-- that He is the promised Messiah fulfilling the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures. 

Heb 12:24  And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.   


Gen 4:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.  

God had no respect for Cain's offering and Cain became very angry and his facial expressions changed, his mood-- everything about him changed.  

Again, the reason why God rejected Cain's offering was because it was NOT what was required...Cain did not offer a sin offering unto God. Cain wanted to come to God on his own terms and in his own way. His heart and attitude was not right toward God. Cain was the very first religious man-- who attempted to approach God by his own good works and accomplishments-- and not by faith.  

A.C. Gaebelein comments: "he [Cain]did not worship God in an acceptable way...instead of bringing a sacrifice, he presented the labor of his hands, the fruit of his toil. He  tried to please God by his works; by what he had done in the cultivation of the ground; he did not remember that the ground was cursed." As It Was So It Shall Be,  pp.53 

Cain brought the fruit of the ground to the Lord, the attitude being something like this, "Hey look God, you cursed the ground but yet I have worked so hard and made something beautiful out of it..."  

It is almost inconceivable how bold Cain was. He was puffed up with pride and offered his pride unto the Lord for an offering. Cain was the father of all man-made religions. Religion has always been man's feable attempt to reach God his own way-- rather than God's way. Yet the Bible says that God is the Only Savior.  

Revelation 9:20 records the scene of the end times when evil men will not repent of the works of their hands... "repented not of the works of their hands..." 

Abel put his faith in the Lord, trusting God that his sins would be covered by the blood of the animals offered. Cain did not acknowledge that he even was a sinner-- he trusted in himself-- that the sweat of his labors would be an acceptable sacrifice. But God tells Cain, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?" 

God was, in kindness, telling Cain what will happen if he continues to go his own way-- rather than God's way: 

Gen 4:6  And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

Gen 4:7  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.  

The Lord cared so very much about Cain to ask him, "Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?

and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him."  God was telling Cain that, "you too will be accepted if do what is required."  

"and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him." 

God was very merciful in warning Cain of the consequences of his rebellion. Cain obviously disregarded what God had to say and did not believe God's Word because verse 8 tells us what Cain did instead.  

Henry M. Morris comments that, "In spite of Cain's bitter anger, God graciously promised that he would yet be accepted if he would only "do well," which undoubtedly meant to "obey His word." If he continued in rebellion, however, "sin" (and this is the first use of the word in Scripture) was "crouching at his door." 

Thomas L. Constable says, "crouching at the door" probably means that the power and tragic consequences of sin could master the person who opens the door to temptation."  

"The consequences of his reaction to God's correction are more far-reaching than the initial sin itself, for if he pursues sin's anger, it will result in sin's mastery over him. This is his decision. It is possible for Cain to recover from sin quickly if he chooses the right thing." Mathews, p. 270. 


Before we go any further, it must be said that Cain did not fear God. He disobeyed God-- did not believe God-- did not desire to obey the Lord. Though the Bible is silent on the subject, many speculate that Cain must have been in competition with Abel. Cain, the eldest brother, always being told by Adam to "watch your little brother..." Cain could have been trying to outdo his brother in matters of life, which explains the sacrifice he made-- the fruit of his own labors. Cain obviously did not fear God and when does not fear God, they have no wisdom. Therefore one must conclude that Cain had no wisdom.  

Proverbs 1:7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 8:13  The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

Proverbs 9:10  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

Proverbs 15:33  The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.

Proverbs 16:6  By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. Cain was puffed up with his own pride but Abel had faith in God and feared God, therefore Abel had wisdom and knowledge. This might have been one of the contributing factors in Cain's hatred for his brother-- his younger brother being wiser than he.  

Imagine the scene: Cain is trying to fix something with no results and Abel comes along and says, "Cain, maybe you could do it this way. It will help..." Remember Cain did not fear God and was puffed up with his own pride and therefore had no wisdom. 


Gen 4:8  And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.  

It is interesting that after God talked with Cain, "Cain talked with his brother".  

The two brothers took a walk. We don't know how long after the rejection of the  sacrifice, did the murder take place. We know that the Bible says, "and it came to pass" which could mean that it might have been hours later, days later, or weeks later. All we do know is that Cain was boiling mad and the anger was just building inside of him. Cain rose up against Abel and slew him. Cain hit Abel with deadly intent. One bible commentator says that Cain slew Abel into pieces. 

The Hebrew word for "slew" means, "A primitive root; to smite with deadly intent: - destroy, out of hand, kill, murder (-er), put to [death], make [slaughter], slay"  


Gen 4:9  And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?  

God gave Cain a chance to confess. God asked him, "where is your brother?" At that moment, Cain could have said, "Lord, please forgive me. I killed him. I was so angry that my sacrifice was rejected. I am filled with pride in thinking MY WAY is always right. Please, Lord, forgive me. " This repentance never took place. Instead, Cain answered the Lord with the most sarcastic line, "Am I my brother's keeper?" It is also obvious that Cain did not believe in the omniscience of God or he was completely ignorant of it. He sarcastically answered God and covered up his sin.  

Notice that the Hebrew word for keeper is not "babysitter" but rather, a primitive root; properly to hedge about (as with thorns), that is, guard; generally to protect, attend to, etc. 

Wesley comments about this verse: "God knew him [Cain]to be guilty; yet he asks him, that he might draw from him a confession of his crime; for those who would be justified before God, must accuse themselves." 

Basically, what Cain was saying was, "Do I guard him and protect him?" Well, if he truly loved Abel, he would have been the older brother who protected his younger brother. He obviously cared nothing about Abel, nor did he love him: 

1John 3:11-12  For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.  


Gen 4:10  And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.

Gen 4:11  And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her

mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;

Gen 4:12  When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.  

Gen 4:13  And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

Gen 4:14  Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.  

Notice that Cain did not repent of his murder but rather complained about his punishment. He showed no remorse for the wicked crime that he committed, but rather was afraid of what people would do to him. The selfish heart of Cain-- always thinking about himself. He loved himself and showed no tears for his slain brother.  

The Bible does not record Cain ever repenting for his heinous crime. Had he repented, the Bible would have most definitely recorded it. The Bible is silent because Cain was not sorry that he killed his younger brother. Cain was only sorry that he "got caught".  

So it is today with many criminals (but not all) who are imprisoned. One has only to look at the statistics of those released from jail to see that many of these criminals repeat the same despicable acts over and over again.  

Notice too that God did not say to Cain, "You are hid from my face..." Yet, Cain was telling God in verse 14, "From Thy face shall I be hid." Sin separates us from God. Cain put his own words into what God had said just as his mother, Eve, did when speaking to the serpent in chapter 3. (God never told Eve, "you cannot touch the fruit..." but yet she added this part in when speaking to the serpent.) 

Gen 4:15  And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

Though Cain did not deserve mercy, God had mercy upon Cain. God could have required Cain's life that moment but instead let him live-- giving him a chance to repent. (Capital Punishment was later commanded by God in Genesis, chapter 9, for those who murder another.)  

Gen 4:16  And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, [vagrancy] on the east of Eden. 

The Bible continues in chapter 4 to record Cain's ancestors. The offspring of Cain were godless-- polygamy, murder, etc. Adam and Eve had another son, Seth and it was not until Seth had son that men began to call upon the name of the Lord. Genesis 4:26 says, "And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD." 

The Bible warns us about "the way of Cain". The way of rebellion, pride, not fearing God:   

Jude 1:11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. 


Cain was rebellious. He did not fear God. Cain was the first religious man who attempted to reach God his own way and on his own terms. But just as one cannot tell the earth to stop turning, man cannot "make deals with God". One can only come to God by faith-- trusting completely in the Lord and in His ways--being humble-- and in humility, admitting that he is a sinner in need of a Savior. Cain thought he could be his own savior but in the Bible we read throughout the Scriptures that ONLY GOD is Savior and Him alone.  

We cannot come to God by our own works or merit. Jesus said in John 3:16-17:  "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."  

One can only approach God by faith-- faith in His Only Begotten Son who paid sin's penalty by shedding His own blood upon the cross. Man cannot get to heaven any other way-- only by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and that He shed His blood for our sins! Lev 17:11b "...for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." Jesus shed His own blood for our sins. Colossians 1:14 tells us that,  "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:" 

The way of Cain is the way of unbelief. Cain reaped the seeds he had sown. He trusted in himself and not in the Lord and he came to his end. Everyone who does not put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ follows after the way of Cain and they too will spend eternity apart from God -- in the Lake of Fire. The Bible tells us that God cannot allow sin in His presence and therefore those whose sins are not washed in the blood of the Lamb, will spend eternity apart from God.  

Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. 

Those who receive the Lord Jesus as Savior will be saved for they have put their trust in Christ...that He paid the price for their sins by shedding His own blood. 

Rom 5:9  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 

Eph 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 

Eph 2:13  But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 

Dear reader, you cannot run from God. God knows all of your hiding places.

One cannot come to God any other way except through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to heaven. One may created his own religion, as in the way of Cain, but his way will be NEVER be accepted in God's eyes. Cain went after his own will-- in direct disobedience of God's will. Cain denied that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. Cain rejected redemption by blood. Cain WAS FILLED WITH PRIDE and thought his way was better than God's way. And man's feeble attempt to reach God via his own way will always be rejected.  

One can only come to God by faith-- faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior-- that He, being sinless, shed His precious blood for your sins and died for you upon the cross and rose again. In the book of Revelation, we read of a song that the redeemed will sing unto the Lamb, (the Lord Jesus): 

Rev 5:9  And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.

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