The Slippery Slope of Sin | Genesis 4

Sin is like a waterslide. What often begins as a harmless play along the ledge, quickly leads to a downward slide that cannot be stopped. Such is the case with the second generation of humanity. In this chapter, we will study the story of Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve. Within the span of just a few verses, Cain goes from offering sacrifices to the LORD to murdering his own brother. This is the nature of sin. It is never satisfied with one death; it always pleads for more. Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit and were severely punished, but the sin did not stop with them. Cain followed in their footsteps and committed a more grievous sin than they. Sin is a slippery slope, but by the grace of God, Christ is the only way we can dominate our sin.

OF CAIN & ABEL // VERSES 1-2

The birth of Cain is an occasion of great rejoicing for Eve. There is some mild debate as to whether Eve is genuinely giving thanks to the LORD or whether she is boasting about having created a man. I would certainly go with the former. Either way, Eve’s reasoning for elation is that she believes Cain to be the promised Offspring. She hopes that Cain will be the one to crush the serpent and release humanity from the grip of sin. She believes that Cain will be the second Adam, the one that will pass the test of sin that Adam failed. As we will see, Cain is the first on a very long list of men who failed to be the Offspring.

We also note that Adam and Eve produce another son named Abel. The only background information that we receive concerning these two brothers is their professions: Cain was a gardener, and Abel was a shepherd. Allen Ross suggests that there may be a subtle and ominous foreshadowing displayed here. Cain’s work is associated with the cursed ground, but Abel exercises His God-given dominion over the animals.[1]

Within these verses 3-5, we have the source of the chapter’s conflict. Evidently, Adam had continued God’s sacrificial display of grace and judgment and taught his sons to bring sacrifices to the LORD as well. Cain and Abel both bring before God a portion of their respective professions, but God accepts Abel and rejects Cain. Thus, the question arises: why was God pleased with one and not the other? Some have suggested that God only accepted Abel’s sacrifice because it shed blood, but this does not seem sufficient to me. First, we know that the blood of animals does not buy us favor with God. Only Jesus is able to do that, so every other sacrifice is simply a sign pointing toward that all-sufficient sacrifice. Second, we are not told that these are sin-offerings being made; therefore, they could simply be freewill offerings, which could be anything given in gratitude to God. Others have focused upon the description of Abel’s offering, noting that Abel gave his best, while Cain just went through the motions of what he was supposed to do. Regardless the emphasis is not upon the offerings themselves but rather the hearts of Cain and Abel. We can conclude from New Testament passages that Abel offered his sacrifice in faith, while Cain did not. Abel went out of his way to please God, but Cain grudgingly did his duty.

Notice further the order of God’s evaluation in verses 4 and 5. God regarded Abel and his offering but did not regard Cain and his offering. The focus is upon the person, not the gift. The condition of the person’s heart is more important before God than merely the offering that they bring to Him. Also, this suggests something deeper is going on. God is showing grace and unmerited favor to Abel through faith, but not to Cain. This may be difficult to reconcile in our mind, but it seems to go back to the notion that God will have mercy on whom He wills.[2] God does not owe Cain His favor any more than He owed it to Abel.

We must, however, notice the order here observed by Moses; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offerer; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favor except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him. And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart.[3]

Cain’s response to God’s rejection reveals the crux of the problem: Cain possesses a wicked heart. Instead of coming before God in repentant sorrow, Cain becomes very angry. This unwarranted anger will prove to be a slippery slope for sin. Should he have corrected his attitude, Cain likely would have never murdered Abel.

SIN’S DESIRE // 6-8

God graciously comes before Cain with a warning. Notice the usage of the LORD in these verses. God is not showing up as an angry judge but instead as a loving Father, who knows the path down which Cain is sprinting. God asks two questions that appear to go unanswered then provides a potent warning about the nature of sin. First, He questions why Cain is angry. He challenges Cain to justify his bitter anger, but there is no answer. Second, He addresses the reason that Cain is upset: his lack of acceptance by God. God meets Cain’s anger by placing the responsibility back on Cain and his actions. If Cain simply does right, then God will gladly accept him. Once again, there is no response from Cain. God’s call for Cain’s repentance goes unheeded.

Finally, God blatantly warns Cain about the danger that is within him. This is the first time in the Bible that the word “sin” is used, and it is personified as a predator, posed and ready to pounce upon its prey. Sin is a patient attacker that appears to be harmless and inactive for a season, but at the right moment, it strikes and devours its victim without thought or mercy. The word “desire” denotes sins overwhelming focus on destroying Cain. Sin will not rest until it has conquered Cain. Yet God graciously provides a way out. He tells Cain to “rule over” sin. The answer to sin’s insatiable bloodlust is a resolved dominance over it. Paul tells us to “by the Spirit… put to death the deeds of the body” so that we may live.[4] There is no other way to escape from the death that sin brings. We must constantly and daily kill and dominate sin, or sin will daily kill us.

But Cain rejects God’s gracious warning. He persuades Abel to follow him into a field and then brutally murders Abel in cold blood. In case we have forgotten at this point, Moses reminds us twice in this verse that Cain and Abel were brothers. This is a devastating destruction of the family, as Cain slaughtered one of the people that should have been closest to him. The fact that Cain brought him into the field only further accents the horror of this event because it shows that this was not a crime of passion but of cold and planned calculation.

THE QUESTIONING OF CAIN // VERSES 9-10

The LORD quickly appears in the account to question Cain, as He did with Adam and Eve. Like Adam’s sin, God gives Cain the opportunity to confess his sin and repent by asking where his brother was. In the garden, Adam reluctantly confessed his sin to God (though, of course, placing the blame upon the woman), but Cain answers with a blatant lie and a denial of his responsibility of his younger brother. This statement reveals the depth of sin in Cain’s heart. The core of Cain’s problem is not jealousy against his brother but rather unbelief. Of course, he might have simply not cared, but from the verse that we will see next, it appears that Cain does still feel concerned, to a degree. More likely, Cain’s willingness to lie to God shows that he does not believe God to be omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Instead, Cain believes that he can genuinely hide his sin from God. The root of sin is unbelief. If Cain truly believed in the greatness of God, He would have never murdered his own brother and then lied about it. The same is true of us. Genesis is not just what happened it is what always happens. In order for us to sin, we have to disbelieve God.

In response, God cuts through Cain’s calloused denial and reveals that He already knows about Cain’s sin. God’s statement in verse 10 noticeably contrasts with Cain’s answer in verse 9. Cain was cold and indifferent to the blood of his brother, but God cares deeply for Abel’s spilled blood. God’s words are at once great and terrifying. They are great because we know that God hears injustice. Sin was committed against Abel, and Abel’s blood cried to God for vengeance. The LORD is not deaf to the cries of those being wronged, and He will righteously judge the wicked. Though in the age of grace it appears that God is slow to judge the wicked, we must make no mistake in thinking that God will simply overlook sin. For those who do not place their trust completely upon Christ, judgment is coming. Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of the martyred believers being beneath the altar of the LORD, crying out for God to judge and avenge. God’s answer is that it will come when the last martyr has been slain. This is the terrifying aspect of God’s statement. God will judge sin, and we will be punished. The only route of escape is through the blood of Christ. We are told in Hebrews that Jesus’ blood speaks a better word over us than the blood of Abel.[5] This means that while it was our sin that put Jesus upon the cross, His blood does not cry out for our judgment like Abel’s did, but rather Jesus’ blood calls for our forgiveness and restored relationship with the Father.

CAIN’S JUDGMENT // VERSES 11-12:

God immediately proceeds to judge Cain. The fact that Cain is cursed from the ground denotes an elevated state of sin. Adam’s punishment was graciously turned upon the earth that he would work, but Cain’s punishment is now directly applied to him. This decline counters the notion that humanity is constantly becoming better. Quite the opposite, humanity is only worsening. Cain’s entire lifestyle is cursed, making his life one of separation from his family and a heightened battling against the ground.

Some have suggested that Cain showed marks of repentance within verses 13-14; however, it seems that his cry is nothing more than self-pity because of the severity of the punishment. Cain shows an understanding that God is casting him out from His presence, but notice that he mentions the ground before God. Cain apparently thought his relationship with ground to be more important than his relationship with the Creator. Perhaps, this also gives a glimpse into the sin of Cain’s heart. It could be that Cain idolized his work. Thus, when God rejected Cain’s offering, He was rejecting Cain’s god. The anger came from God’s refusal to honor what Cain honored. Because of Cain’s radical defense of his idolatry, God directly targeted Cain’s god. Like Cain, the human heart is prone to vehemently protect what we love most; since loving anything more than God is idolatry, it is a grace of God when He declares war on our lesser desires.

Cain also fears for his life, worrying that because he is a fugitive people will kill him to avenge Abel. Many have pondered the identity of the others to whom Cain refers; however, it seems to me that they would simply be his siblings, who may have begun to spread upon the earth. Therefore, it makes sense that Cain’s other brothers and sisters would be enraged by Cain’s actions and might seek to kill him out of vengeance.

Finally, God reveals His stance on repaying blood with blood by giving Cain protection from those who would seek his life. Once again, this is God graciously providing for Cain, despite the gravity of his sinful nature. The mark of Cain has long been the subject of debate. Some have understood it to mean partial paralysis, while others imagined it be a horn protruding from Cain’s forehead. Both of these seem to be implausible; however, we simply do not know what the mark was. We do know that it was given to Cain as a reminder to himself and everyone else of the protection and judgment of God. Finally, Cain is cast away from the presence of the LORD. The phrase “east of Eden” emphasizes that humanity is on a downward spiral. Just as Adam and Eve were cast east of Eden, so Cain’s sin moves him further from God’s original design. Sin is becoming worse and pushing humanity further from God.

THE DESCENDENTS OF CAIN // VERSES 17-22:

This section of Scripture describes the descendants of Cain, so I will briefly give a thought in regards to this. Cain finds a wife and has a son. The logical conclusion is that Cain’s wife was one of his sisters or nieces. Understandably, many have found this to be a grotesque act; however, creationist Gary Parker explains why we should not think of it in that manner:

Because harmful mutations so greatly outnumber any supposed helpful ones, it’s considered unwise nowadays (and illegal in many states) to marry someone too closely related to you. Why? Because you greatly increase the odds that bad genes will show up. By the way, you also increase the odds of bringing out really excellent trait combinations. But did you ever hear anybody say, ‘Don’t marry your first cousin or you’ll have a genius for a child?’ They don’t usually say that, because the odds of something bad happening are far, far, far, far, far greater.

That would not have been a problem, by the way, shortly after creation (no problem for Cain and his wife, for example). Until mutations had a chance to accumulate in the human population, no such risk of bad combinations existed.[6]

The account, in verses 23-24, focuses upon Lamech, the seventh in Cain’s lineage. His presence serves as further evidence of ever-worsening presence of sin. First, Lamech is the first polygamist mentioned in Scripture. Though the Bible does not blatantly condemn this practice, it neither outright condemns Lamech’s murder, but we can believe with certainty that such was sin. Indeed, Lamech’s deviation from God’s marital pattern is mentioned to further accentuate mankind’s depravity. He has completely abandoned God’s order and selfishly taken two wives.

Next, we see that Lamech confesses a murder that he has committed to his wives. Though judging by the nature of Lamech’s statement, confess is the wrong word to use. It seems more likely that Lamech is boasting about his killing of a young man for striking him. Lamech’s promise of repaying any harm done to him seventy-sevenfold is a raucous proclamation of his wrath being greater than God’s wrath. This defiant statement from Lamech shows the utmost depravity of Cain’s lineage, and it all began with Abel’s murder. Sin has a snowball effect; it never effects only one person.

THE BIRTH OF SETH // VERSES 25-26

The chapter ends with God providing a means of grace once again. Eve thought that Cain would be the promised Offspring, but Abel was more righteous than he was. Nevertheless, Satan managed to eliminate both Cain and Abel from the possibility of being the Offspring, by killing Abel and helping sin overcome Cain. The Satanic attack to thwart God’s promised Savior seemed to work, but God provided again. God enables Eve to bear Seth in replacement of Abel. The presence of the word “offspring” shows that Eve is still hoping God’s promise, and we see that this hope is not futile because Seth has a son. It is important to note that the Bible never calls the lineage of Seth righteous, but the propensity for God-fearers was certainly higher in Seth’s line. The final sentence of the chapter seems to lend credit to the godly line coming from Seth. Many commentators have viewed the calling upon the name of the LORD to be a reference to prayer. Perhaps before this, the godly were able still to speak with God personally as Adam, Eve, and Cain did, but now prayer, as we know it today, was required to communicate with God. Others believe that it refers to the godly proclaiming the nature of God. Either way, it is certain that this verse marks the beginning of the worshipping of Yahweh in manners more similar to our own.


[1] Ross p. 156

[2] Exodus 33:19

[3] Calvin. Chapter 4, verse 4

[4] Romans 8:13

[5] Hebrews 12:24

[6] Gary Parker, Creation Facts of Life, p. 98

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