Your Brother’s Blood
Few things in life are as exciting as when a man and woman welcome a baby into the world. What a joy to hold the little one! What a marvel to think that a brand new person has sprung into being! What a thrill to think that you’ve had a part in producing this new life! You dream of what the child might someday become. You picture the little one growing up to be a good‑looking, charming, athletic genius who achieves great things and is loved by all. It’s exciting to have a new baby, and the excitement is even greater if the baby is your first.
Now, take all the excitement of having a baby—of having your first baby—and then imagine having the very first baby in the world. Imagine you were the only man in the world, married to the only woman in the world. You never before saw a human baby or knew what such a creature would be like, and then one day you found yourself with first baby ever born. It almost blows your mind to think about it, but that’s what Adam and Eve experienced.
Adam and Eve were the first humans. They were specially created by God, fully formed. They never went through infancy themselves and never saw a baby until they had their firstborn. When Eve gave birth to a son, she and Adam must have been filled with wonder at this brand new human. They probably dreamed all sorts of great things for their baby’s future. Little did they know that their darling new son would someday break their hearts and become a murderer and a fugitive.
In Genesis chapter 4 the Bible tells about the world’s first baby: “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel (4:1‑2). When baby Cain was born, his mother marveled at him. But Cain grew up to be a killer and murdered his brother Abel.
At one time Adam and Eve lived in a perfect paradise, with no strife or death. But then they listened to Satan and disobeyed God. When Satan was tempting them, he made sin seem fun and uplifting. But once they committed the sin, things turned out differently than Satan had advertised. Adam and Eve felt ashamed and afraid. God had warned them ahead of time that disobedience meant death, and after they sinned, God confirmed that they would die. It was bad enough that they had fallen into sin and death themselves, but their misery was magnified when sin took control of their son Cain and death took the life of their son Abel.
If you’re a mother or father whose son or daughter has died, you know the grief is awful, and if your dear one died not of illness or accident but was murdered, the anguish is even worse. Perhaps the only thing worse than being the parent of a murder victim is being the parent of a murderer. What a dreadful feeling to know that the child you brought into the world with such high hopes has done something so horrible. Combine all this—the horror of having a son murdered and another son the murderer—and it’s hard to imagine how shattered Adam and Eve must have felt.
Did they ever taste any comfort? After Abel was murdered and Cain fled, were Adam and Eve ever able to move ahead with renewed hope, with a sense that all was not lost? We’ll return to that question later, but first, let’s find out how the world’s first baby became the first killer.
Why did Cain attack Abel? Because of religion. Throughout history there have been many religious conflicts that led to killing. This was the first. Genesis 4 says,
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
The problem between Cain and Abel began with religion, with the way each brother related to God. Many acts of bloodshed since then have also been rooted in religious differences.
Does this mean the world would be a better place if nobody were religious at all? No. In fact, atheistic communists killed more people in the last century than any other ideology in world history. Religious people can be brutal, but irreligious people can be even more brutal.
Cain was angry at his brother over religious differences, but his anger was not Abel’s fault or God’s fault. It was Cain’s own fault. Cain wanted to relate to God through his own brand of religion, rather than through the kind of religion God approves of. Cain and Abel were both religious. But God accepted Abel and his offering, and rejected Cain and his offering.
Genesis doesn’t spell out exactly why God received one but not the other. One consideration is that Abel brought a blood sacrifice, while Cain did not. Earlier, when Adam and Eve sinned, God shed the blood of animals and provided skins to cover Adam and Eve. Perhaps God instructed them that from then on, blood sacrifice should be part of their worship. Throughout Genesis and the rest of Old Testament times, worshipers could not simply come to God with any offering they pleased. They had to offer the blood of another creature as a sacrifice for their own sin. This pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice when Jesus’ blood would be poured out on a cross to pay for sin.
If Adam and Eve and their children were told by God to worship him and seek his forgiveness and favor through confessing their sins and offering a blood sacrifice, then Cain disobeyed. He did things his own way and denied his sinfulness and his need of salvation. Instead of bringing a blood sacrifice, he offered some produce from the plants he raised. Those fruits of the soil may have looked more beautiful than Abel’s bloody sacrifice. But God does not accept worship that ignores his commands and denies his way of providing forgiveness. Today, anyone who tries to come to God without the blood of Jesus will not find favor with God any more than Cain did.
Abel came to God through a blood sacrifice which pointed to Jesus, but Cain did not. Cain and Abel not only came with different offerings but with different attitudes. God doesn’t just look on the outward act. He looks into the heart. Abel trusted and loved God; Cain didn’t. Abel came to God in faith; Cain didn’t. Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.”
If you want to worship God in a way that meets with his favor, you can’t just go through the motions. Your heart must be in tune with him, and your everyday behavior must be godly. Even though you’re not perfect, you must be sorry for your failings and growing in obedience to God. If your attitude is wrong and your everyday actions don’t honor the Lord, then don’t expect him to approve of you just because you go through some ritual or give an offering. The Bible says, “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him… The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him” ((Proverbs 15:8,26). You can’t fool God any more than Cain could. If you are not right with the Lord through faith, none of your religious activities will gain his favor.
Repent or Resent?
If God doesn’t receive you with favor, who is to blame? You might blame God. He’s narrow‑minded. He’s not fair. He shouldn’t play favorites. God should accept you the way you are and make you feel good about your brand of religion, whatever it may be. If you’re told that God accepts someone else’s worship but not yours, you get mad. The Bible says, “A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).
That’s how Cain reacted to God. He didn’t humble himself or seek to find out where he had gone wrong in relation to God. Instead of being upset with himself, Cain got furious with with God and his brother, and his face fell.
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 master it” (Genesis 4:6‑7).
Cain was at a crossroad. God was giving him another chance. Cain was unacceptable to God at that moment, but he didn’t have to stay that way. Rather than resent, he could repent. If only Cain sought forgiveness, sought to be right with God, and did what was right, God would still accept him. But if Cain went on in his sin, if he remained at odds with God and with Abel, another possibility was lying in wait. Sin was preparing to pounce and take complete control of Cain. Cain’s real enemy was not the Lord but his own sin. Cain must yield to God and master his sin, or else sin would seize total control of him.
The Bible doesn’t say exactly how God spoke to Cain. It’s likely that God’s voice came to him directly. No doubt Cain’s God‑given conscience also warned him. In addition, God probably used Abel to urge Cain to change. Jesus later spoke of Abel as the first of the prophets (Luke 11:50‑51). Abel’s good conduct made Cain look bad by contrast, and as the first prophet, Abel probably urged Cain to repent and to get right with God. But though God gave ample opportunity to repent, Cain refused.
According to Genesis, “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out into the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (4:2‑8). That was murder one, the first murder in history. It was also murder one in the sense that that it was first degree murder. It was not an accident. It was not self‑defense. It was not a sudden flareup of temper. It was deliberate, premeditated murder. Cain planned it ahead of time. He lied to Abel, invited him to the field while hiding his real intent, and murdered Abel there.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Perhaps it makes you shudder that a man would murder a member of his own family. But that’s what every murder is: the killing of someone from your own family. All of us are related through Adam and Eve. Destroying another person or pretending that someone else’s wellbeing is none of your concern means that you have the same attitude as Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Maybe you are horrified at how murderous some people can be. You shake your head about at various parts of the world torn by war, by ancient feuds, by racial and tribal conflict, by religious hatred, by atrocities and genocide. You shudder at murders on the streets and in homes. You wonder how anybody can do such awful things.
But what if the seeds of murder lie right within your own heart, waiting to pounce? If you hate or despise someone from another ethnic background, you have the heart of a murderer. Wars and terrorism don’t just happen, you know. They appear where seeds of rage and hatred had been growing for quite some time. The same is true of murders you hear about in the news. Hatred was growing in the heart well before blood was actually spilled. If you’ve been nursing a grudge, or if you feel hatred for a certain person or group of people, you’re a lot closer to being a murderer than you might like to think.
Hatred takes different forms. It may be anger and resentment and desire for revenge. Then again, it may be cool and distant. A man who kills during an armed robbery doesn’t necessarily have any strong feelings against his victim. He just wants what the other person has, and he couldn’t care less about that person’s life. A company which increases its earnings by exposing people to great risk isn’t angry at the people it endangers. It just doesn’t care about them. A man and woman who abort their baby don’t have a grudge against the baby. They just don’t want to care for the little one. If Cain was bad to say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” after he killed him, what about killing a helpless unborn baby and then saying, “My body is my own. Am I my baby’s keeper?”
Whether hatred is fierce and angry, or cool and detached, the killer instinct reveals itself in Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is, “No, you’re not your brother’s keeper. You’re something much more. You are your brother’s brother!” It’s not enough simply to keep track of others and look out for them. You must love your neighbor as yourself. The Bible says,
This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous… Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:11‑15).
Cain lied to God, saying that he didn’t know where Abel was and that his brother’s wellbeing wasn’t his concern anyway. But lies don’t fool God. The Bible says, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” “Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord—how much more the hearts of men!” (Proverbs 15:3,11). There is no such thing as the perfect murder. Even if nobody else knew what Cain had done, God knew. Cain could silence his brother’s mouth, but his brother’s blood had a voice all its own, a voice which God heard clearly.
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
How did Cain respond when God confronted him? Did he admit he was wrong and say he was sorry? No, his only regret was getting caught and punished. He didn’t ask God to forgive him and change him. He merely felt sorry for himself. Even though he had killed his own brother and deserved to die himself, even though God was lenient and did not give Cain the full punishment he deserved, he complained it was too much for him.
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Cain was a marked man. God would protect him, and Cain would survive for a long time to come, but he would always feel hunted and restless. How could a man who killed his own brother trust others? “The wicked man flees though no one pursues,” says the Bible. “A man tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive till death” (Proverbs 28:1,17). Cain would always feel that God opposed him, that other people were out to get him, and that even the earth itself was against him. “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). Such is the terrible power of sin. No wonder the Bible warns us against following “the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11).
Hope is Not Dead
This is a grim story, but it should not make anyone give up hope. We should beware of sin’s awful effect, but we should also take note God’s kindness. Even though Cain was wicked, the Lord kept after him, calling him to change. Cain didn’t, but that doesn’t mean you and I have to remain unrepentant like Cain. Sin may be crouching at your door, but God still calls you to master it by faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, even if sin has already overwhelmed you, even if you’ve committed murder, you can still return to God instead of wandering till you end up in hell. Let me read to you from a letter someone wrote to me:
The last few years of my life, I spent in very sinful practices. I pushed anyone away that tried to tell me that what I was doing was wrong. Now I am going to spend the rest of my life in prison for murdering my best friend. It took God 21 days to break down my pride until I cried out to him to save me. I confessed my sin and have turned my back on my past. His grace has saved me. I deserve hell for my sins, but I praise him for the faith that he gave me to believe.”
There’s hope even for a murderer. The apostle Paul was at one time a killer of Christians and a hater of Christ before the Lord saved him and made him the world’s greatest missionary. So if you hear the terrible story of Cain and feel that you, too, have allowed sin to dominate you, don’t think that you are beyond all hope. Instead, believe that Jesus came to save sinners.
When God challenged Cain, he said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Abel’s blood cried out for the guilty to be punished, but the blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Jesus’ blood cries out for sinners not to be punished but pardoned. In fact, if you trust in Jesus, then his blood is truly “your brother’s blood.” Jesus is of the same family as his people. “So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hebrews 2:11). Turn from sin and count on Christ to forgive you and change you. Then your brother’s blood, the blood of Jesus, will claim the Father’s pardon for you and purify you from all sin (1 John 1:7).
There’s hope for lost sinners who see too much of Cain in themselves, and there’s hope for those who persecuted like Abel. If you live for the Lord and speak for him, you may face opposition, even death. Sometimes the godly are crushed or killed while the wicked grow stronger. It may seem that serving the Lord is a hopeless cause. But don’t be fooled. Cain didn’t get away with his crime. God called him to account. And Abel’s death was not the end of him. Abel is alive right now in the home God prepared for him, and Abel’s influence continues on earth even thousands of years after he was murdered. “By faith he was commended as a righteous man,” says the Bible. “And by faith he still speaks even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4). The blood of martyrs proclaims their faith with even greater power than their words or deeds, and those who suffer for the Lord’s sake receive “a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35).
Meanwhile, what about grieving parents and others who must go on living after sin and death have struck so close to home? Adam and Eve went through the heartbreak of losing their godly son Abel to death and losing their wicked son Cain to evil. Could they ever smile or have new hope? Genesis 4:25-26 says,
Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him. Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.
Adam and Eve lived for centuries and had many daughters and sons besides Cain and Abel, but their child Seth was special. They saw in him a gift from God to comfort them and stand in the place of Abel. They saw Seth and his son Enosh grow up to be men who worshiped the Lord. Adam and Eve must have rejoiced that even though their own sin was passed on to their offspring with sometimes horrifying results, God continued to preserved a family line that would know the Lord and serve him faithfully. Their earlier hopes had been shattered, but they still had reason to have hope and thank God for his goodness, for they saw that even where sin abounded, God would always have people to be his own.
Hope was not dead, and still today, hope is not dead. For God is alive. And God’s Son Jesus, born from the line of Seth, lives and reigns. He saves and comforts all who are his.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.