Life East of Eden (Genesis 4:1-16)

Series: Foundations

In our last lesson, we ended with man being driven east from the garden of Eden. The very next story we have is this well known and tragic story of Cain and Abel. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the murder and miss what this chapter is about. This chapter is about life. What is life like outside the garden? What is it like when sin is in the world? This has the answer.

But, it’s very easy to read this story and think “Oh no, that will never happen to me. I couldn’t kill someone.” However, this story is written in such a way that we should realize this can happen to anyone. This is a very dark text in the Bible, but it speaks to the reality of the human condition. Yet, we’re not left in darkness, there is a consistent light from God throughout this text that helps in the terrible moments like this we experience in life.

The problem (Genesis 4:1-7)

As Genesis 4 opens, we are introduced to two children: Cain and Abel. However, Satan is set on destroying the children of Eve immediately, just as Genesis 3:15 predicted.

Now, notice how similar they are on the surface. They’re both hard working. They both come and make offerings to the Lord. They’re from the same family. They may have even been twins. Cain is not introduced as some wild child, shouting profanities at God, and living rebelliously. No, He is introduced in almost the exact same way as Abel. Yet, the response of God is totally different. This shows the subtly of sin and how it begins. Cain had a serious problem.

They both bring offerings from their respective professions, but notice, Abel brings the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. Now, we don’t know all the reasons why God had regard for Abel’s and not Cain’s. There were offerings from the fruit of the ground in the old testament. But, they were never atoning sacrifices, they were more thankfulness based. Perhaps this is connected back to the kind of sacrifices God spoke of with Adam and Eve.

We do know from Hebrews 11:4 that Abel offered a better sacrifice from faith or trust in God. It’s not just saying they believed there was a God - Cain believes there is a God. Faith comes from hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). There was a level of trust and obedience that was tied to this - maybe it connected to the hope (Hebrews 11:1, Genesis 3:15). Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes we must believe he is AND that he rewards those who seek him.

However, the sacrifices at this point are not the main point. The main point is in verses 5-7 - Cain is very upset. His face falls - his physical expression changed. Cain is in very real danger here now. His anger has flared up at his little brother and at God. He’s not happy for Abel. He’s not accepting of God’s reaction and curious to change it. He’s angry!

Now, notice this very carefully, God steps right in and is counseling Cain over this situation. God loves Cain and doesn’t want him to go down this path. He affirms his dignity and worth by asking him questions to examine his heart: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” God is helping Cain be introspective and think about this situation with a clear mind. Cain has the opportunity here to do the right thing and be accepted like Abel was. But, that is a big IF - it is conditional for Cain. However, don’t make it complicated. Just listen to what God says and it will go well - But, Cain doesn’t trust God.

See, what is the root cause? What is causing the jealousy, hatred, revenge, or anger? 1 John 3:12 helps us - it says that Cain was of the evil one. This isn’t just a miscalculated anger from my perspective, this is a reaction to a fundamental problem in Cain’s heart. By saying he is “of the evil one”, he’s not saying he was born by the Satan. He is saying that he believed him.

What did Satan say? God is holding out on you. God’s the bad guy. God’s too overbearing. God is the Father you can never please. God caused all of this. God won’t fix things. That’s the kind of things Satan puts in our minds about God, he poisons our perspective.

Further, John said his deeds were evil. There was something wrong with the actions of Cain. It may be that his sacrifice was completely fine, but the heart he had behind it was completely wrong. But notice, Cain did not back up, trust God and offer a right sacrifice. He simply stayed angry about the situation. This is how we can react to God’s correction and we in danger.

See, God warns Cain that sin is out there crouching at the door and its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule it. This is a fascinating and terrifying description. Sin is pictured as a crouching animal. Now, why do animals crouch? It is to be subtle and to hide their real strength. This is what sin is doing. On the surface it doesn’t look like a threat. On the surface it doesn’t seem imposing. But in a moment it can snatch you and its power is far greater than you assumed. Its desire is contrary to you - this is the same expression God said to Eve about her desire for her husband. It wants to take the position, to rule you, to lead you its way.

However, it is at the door. Cain has the opportunity to keep it closed off and prevent it from taking him over. As God says, “you must rule over it.” God wouldn’t say that if he didn’t have the power to do it. Cain is on the edge here and he has to be extremely careful.

Now, the critical point we need to take away for us is understanding the nature of sin. Sin is crouching at the door for us. It wants to have us, control us, and lead us to do its will. Sin is not just something you do that is wrong, it is a power. It is a power that if we give into it, we nurse it, it will devour us. See, this is a simple and important example. We might think “Oh, it’s only anger. Anger isn’t a big deal.” But, when Cain gave into that anger and opened the door of opportunity for the sin, it consumed him and ruined him.

This is what we do all the time with sin. We think “Oh, it’s just a little bit of lust.” “It’s just a little bit of resentment.” “It’s just a little bit of lying.” We open the door and boom. Sin has come in and is now controlling us and leading us down a path of destruction to ourselves and others.

The sin (Genesis 4:8-10)

Now things spiral out of control: Cain intentionally betrays Abel and leads him out to the field and kills him. But, why Cain did this? Why was this the solution for Cain? Did he just fly off the handle and kill him? I don’t think so.

J Warner Wallace was a cold case detective for many years and became a believer after years as an atheist. He had lots of experience on murders and examining their motives. He said that it basically comes down to three reasons: First is financial greed - it could be a botched robbery, or some other financial advantage they were desiring. Second is Sexual lust (or relational desire) - Sometimes murder is done in an effort to silence people who would testify. But some come from the fact that this person could not bear to see their girlfriend/boyfriend with someone else. Third is the Pursuit of Power - some commit murder to achieve or maintain a position of power or authority. It might be a rivalry between people over the same position. Some have killed because they were dishonored or “disrespected” in front of their peers.

While we don’t know exactly which of these three apply, John adds in 1 John 3:12 that he killed him because his brother’s actions were righteous. I wonder if Cain felt slighted by Abel. It would be easy to feel resentment because “little brother won”. A spirit of competition and comparison can be absolutely evil and destructive. Many families have been ripped apart by that spirit. Further, righteous deeds can expose our evil ones. Cain may have felt dishonored by the fact that Abel was accepted and he was not. Abel’s right actions exposed the evil within Cain and he becomes angry over that fact instead of being repentant.

However, notice, that’s not how God wanted this to go. Cain had the opportunity to do well and be accepted, but his heart had become polluted. Then, when God confronts him about his sin and verse 9. Look how dismissive he is “I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?” He is being flippant with God, he lies about the action, and is trivial about his relationship with his brother. Yes, he is his brothers keeper. Yes, he is to love him. Yes, he is to care for him. However, he has sided with the evil one and has been cut off from the source of eternal life.

Brethren, this can happen to us as well. Personally, I have felt the pain of rejection, of being overlooked, of failure, of someone else having the position and being on the outside. That jealousy, that anger, that envy, can consume us and lead us to evil places. On the surface we might think bitterness, envy, anger and these things aren’t that big of a deal. But they are sin crouching in the shadows waiting to devour us.

What is the solution though? The problem is that Cain’s self identity and relationship with God has been fractured and that led to the actions against his brother. Cain is focused on himself and what he wants. He wants what others have instead of appreciating what he already has in God and desiring to please him. That’s what leads us down these evil, destructive, paths.

When we forget who we are, how much God loves us, and that he wants what is best for us and will provide for us, we turn and believe lies about God. We have to understand who we are and how much we are loved by God. God loved Cain just as much as Abel. God is constantly trying to warn, confront, and rescue Cain. We have to honor God and be thankful to him. We have to realize that his correction is for our good and that he is exposing our hearts because he cares and wants us to be like him. How we respond to that is absolutely critical. Cain did not respond well. Will we respond like Cain? Or, will we learn from his failure?

The consequences (Genesis 4:11-16)

Tragically now, God confronts and punishes Cain for his sin. His brother’s blood was crying out to God from the ground - a vivid picture. Abel’s blood was crying out for justice against Cain. Then, notice that Cain loses his identity as part of this judgment. We were introduced to Cain as a worker of the ground, but now that relationship is severed. Cain lost part of himself, maybe what he valued most about himself that day. Further, he was separated from the community - he was punished with wandering the rest of his life. This is not what a gardener or farmer wants - this is separation from the community and separation from the land.

You can see the devastation that Cain has at his punishment. He seems to be complaining about his punishment more than repenting, regardless, he realizes the consequences affect his relationship with the ground, God’s presence, his work, and he is afraid others will kill him.

However, notice what God does. In an astounding way, he gives mercy to Cain and puts a mark on him. Now, this mark is more of a sign. It is not dark skin or something, it is a sign of God’s protection of Cain. This is an amazing concept, but it shows the ultimate measure of grace that God can give to a seemingly unrepentant sinner. God is giving him time and opportunity to come around and sparing him from his death at that moment. This is because at the core of God, he spares us even in our sin so that we might repent and be saved.


What’s wrong with the world? We are focused on ourselves instead of focused on God. We are finding our identity and satisfaction from this world instead of from God. This is life East of Eden and this shows the subtle growth that evil desire that leads to sin can cause in our world.

However, this story does not leave us without hope - notice the blood. This is the first time sin is mentioned in the Bible, but it’s also the first time blood is mentioned. Abel’s blood vividly cries out from the ground. However, the Hebrew writer grabs this and points us to a greater Abel whose blood speaks greater things - Hebrews 12:24. What does his blood cry out for? Hebrews says it is a better word. In one sense, it is justice - against the people who killed Jesus, who were much like Cain, and against all sin in our world.

But, it’s more than that, it also cries out justice in another sense. Jesus’ death justified and saved his enemies from wrath. Jesus died for the Cain’s that killed him. Now notice, in 1 John 1:7-10 - John says that God is just to forgive us, to cleanse us, if we confess and do not hide in the darkness by telling lies - like Cain. How can that be? It is because Jesus’ blood cries out to God as the payment for our sins. God would be unjust to not forgive us if we are appealing through Jesus and his blood. That’s how faithful God is. We are secure in his love. We can trust.

This love God has for us is completely transformative. In 1 John 3:13-16 - We face a world that hates us. In Jesus, we have passed from death to life. We have come to know love because of him laying down his life for us. Now our hearts are secure in God, we can willingly lay down our lives for the brethren and even people like Cain like Jesus did for us.