Cain: The First Runaway Child

by William Avaritt

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”    Genesis 4:6-7 NIV


Through the years, many people have regarded Bible stories as falling short of essential details needed to draw more appropriate conclusions about the authenticity of the stories, which might lead to making better decisions in believing and trusting God. Suppose one’s desire for the details had been fully appeased, would he or she still make the right decision at those appropriate and precise moments in their life? Poets do not provide all the necessary details in their poetry, but a story is still concluded and the reader tends to be satisfied with their esteem of the poems. However, what is present in the Bible stories is mankind’s transparency of self-incriminations, the results of such exposures, plus being honest enough to relay the story down through infinite generations.  The primary details are there: 1. Man’s relationship with God and how man interacts or fails to interact God. 2. The results of those relations between man and God. 3. How all mankind interacts with God through the principles revealed in those stories. Today, the stories are still relevant because of the nature of man’s behavior has not changed all that much; thereby, contemporary man can learn well from the mistakes of his past ancestors so many centuries removed, while simultaneously discovering he makes the same errors in his present life; and warns those in his future about making the same mistakes he once made. Already, one easily envisions the limitless revolutions of the revolving doors to the history of mankind’s life on earth.


Because the story teller moves quickly from the exile of the Garden to the apparent adulthood of Cain and Abel, what seems to be missing in the story is the parental guidance of Cain and Abel’s childhood, just as one has no idea how much time passed in their relationship with God, before Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Naturally, one wonders, Did Adam and Eve tell Cain and Abel about their disobedient behavior towards God?  One finds it easy to think, Surely, they must have told Cain and Abel something about God. It is also easy to think that Cain and Abel must have known about God in some realistic way, such as walking and talking with God as did their parents, because Cain and Abel offer a sacrifice to God. (Genesis 4:3-5)  What one can take away from the Genesis story is:  God created first human man and woman, who knew God personally and disobeyed him.  They were exiled from the Garden of Eden into the world because of their disobedience. The children interacted with God and offered a sacrifice to God.  Adam, Eve, and their children were the original human family to represent God to the world. A point vastly overlooked or simply not thoroughly grasped as much as it should be. Cain and Abel should be considered as adults, not children. Cain worked the land as did his father, Adam. Abel was a herdsman. Both men were ready for marriage, so they were, at least, at the age of accountability for their day; and in all probability had already established their own dwellings. The story comes from a preliterate time and place, meaning it was first presented orally and many years before the written story, which was very probably passed down through numerous generations, perhaps many civilizations shared this story, and before there were any actual customs set for worship and offerings to God, as well as any set requisites for story telling.


Many speculations about Adam and Eve’s parenting skills, or the lack thereof, have more than run rampant through history.  Many speculations have been made about the probable causes for Cain killing his brother, Abel. Throughout history all sorts of literature has been developed about why Cain murdered Abel. Unfortunately, what is easy to derive from the story is the first human child, became the first murderer in this world, when he decided to kill his brother. Cain was apparently the first human person to answer God with a question instead of a straight and positive statement. Regardless of all the speculation, the lesson one can take from this story is a principle by which everyone lives; and that is, the obvious attitude exhibited in their relationship with God and how they offer sacrifices to God.  As some people envision Cain and Abel engaged in the simplicity of human sibling rivalry, others will see the spiritual problem that exists between the two brothers. Both cases are perpetual among all humans even to this day. The question would be:  Which of the two situations is more problematic, and therefore, more important to address? In God’s eyes, both may be equally important because at some point in history, God gave the commandments Not To Kill, but to love God; and to  love each other as oneself; along with seven other primary commandments. (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:4-21)  Each man brought to God an offering from his labors. Cain offered something he had grown in the ground. Abel brought the first of his flock. When God looked upon the two offerings, he chose the one given by Abel. As the story goes, Cain became angry and jealous. It might have been that Cain felt God should have favored his offering more than Abel’s because he is the first born male child, which might have been a custom practiced in his day.  Nevertheless, anyone today could easily empathize with Cain, if he had actually thought that way.  It could have been that God was reading the mind and spirit of the two men and Abel’s mind and heart was more pure than Cain’s. Was it a matter of their faith more than the type of sacrifice?  The fact that God spoke to Cain about his thoughts and even told him, “if you do right, you will be accepted” strongly indicates that God spoke to Cain as only a loving father or God would be expected to teach his child. Even if the child is an adult! Apparently, this may not have been the first manifestation of Cain’s attitude and spirit towards God. Nevertheless, Cain allowed the jealousy and anger to dictate his behavior and killed his blood kin, then, lied when God inquired about Abel’s whereabouts. (Genesis 4:6-8)


Of course, God knew that Cain had killed his brother, but was curious as to what Cain would say. (Genesis 4:10) This encounter between God and Cain is reminiscent of God’s encounter with Adam and Eve, after they ate the forbidden fruit and God found them hiding from him. (Genesis 3:8-9) How often do people come before God hoping to be blessed more than others, only to walk away wondering what they did wrong? How many people want to be blessed by God, but do as Cain did? Instead of being like Abel, just giving God his best, apparently, Cain gave God according to his selfish desires, and feeling rejected by God, even set out to destroy the life of his brother.   How many people give lots of money to the church just to buy status with God and the church members, even desire recognition for their “great sacrifice” or  “buy their way into the leadership”? God was teaching Cain, it is not what one brings to the altar, but who is coming to the altar. God desired that Cain offer himself completely to God, as person, who is willing to listen to God, follow his instructions and wisdom for life, fully trusting God and being obedient to him. God had a special purpose for Cain and he wanted Cain to achieve that purpose in his earthly life. God blessed Abel’s offering because it was Abel’s desire not only to give God his very best sacrifice, but Abel desired to be pleasing to God, to trust and obey him at all times.  It is not about finding honor among men, but to find favor with God. Abel did that, but Cain did not give himself to God as he could have, as God was hoping he would. Apparently, Abel lived as God had intended for mankind to live, in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26-27)


 God wants everyone to have the spirit and attitude of Abel. However, God’s love for Cain was so strong that he placed a mark on Cain, when he punished Cain for killing his brother, which showed Cain mercy and the opportunity for repentance, when God stated that:  No one could kill Cain, even though he was banished to live in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:11-17) God has a specific purpose for everyone in this world; and only God controls how a person lives, when, and how that person dies. (Jeremiah 29:11-13; Psalm 100:2; John 5:21-23; James 4:11-12; I Timothy 6:12-14)  Just as the Bible teaches, every man should live according to his inherited image and likeness of God, every one will live and die according to his attitude, spirit, and relationship with God. (Hebrews 9:26-18)  Just like Cain, all too often, at one time or another, a human will walk and talk with God, but at some point in their life, they fall short of God’s expectations and purpose for them. Yet, God avails that person the opportunity to repent by faith, receive his forgiveness and salvation, and start afresh as though they had never disobeyed him. (II Chronicles 7:12-16)


Prayer:  Our Holy and Heavenly Father:

                     We thank you for this lesson about Cain in the Bible.  May we apply it in our life so that we will live with an attitude and spirit of total obedience to you; and enjoy the blessings of being your presence daily. May all we say and do be pleasing and bring honor and glory to you. In the Name of Christ, we pray.  Amen!


Suggested Readings


Carlson, Randy. The Cain and Abel Syndrome: Getting Along With Your Adult Siblings. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2009.


Moltmann, JurgenTheology and Joy. London:  SCM Press. 2013.


Moore, Jonathan.  Cain and Abel: Sin’s Story. Akron, Ohio: E-Book Time, LLC. 2008.


Morrice, William G. Joy In the New Testament. The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia:  The Attic Press. 1983.


Woofenden, Lee and Annette. “Curses or Consequences:  Did God Really Curse Adam and Eve?” February 12, 2013.  Spiritual Insights For Everyday Life. February 12, 2013.  February 25, 2015.


Woofenden, Lee and Annette.  “The Cain and Abel Story:  Does God Play Favorites?” September 29, 2013. Spiritual Insights For Everyday Life. September 29, 2013. February 27, 2015.


Sasso, Sandy Eisenberg. Cain and Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace. Illustrator: Joani Keller Rottenberg. Shelton, CT:  Longhill Partners. 2013.


Yardley, Ilexa. Cain and Abel: The Metaphor Called Nature. Seattle, WA: Create Space Publishing. 2014.  

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