Murder & Mercy (Genesis 4:8-16)

Before Cain’s hands murdered Abel, Cain’s heart had done the deed

“I have done the deed.”  As simply as that MacBeth told Lady MacBeth he had murdered King Duncan in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 

Simeon and Levi murdered a whole town.  Moses murdered an Egyptian.  David murdered Uriah.  Jezebel murdered Nabor.  Herod’s wife murdered John the Baptist. The Sanhedrin murdered Jesus.  It all started with the first murder in human history:  Cain murdering Abel. 

Last week we saw God warn Cain to master his sin or it would overtake him.  Cain did not listen.  And his sin overtook him.  Instead of following God, Cain followed his true father, the serpent, who was a “liar and a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44).

From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, “sin” began “living” within them.  It became “part” of them.  Their act of sin led to the principle of sin dwelling inside of them.  That principle is what the Bible calls our “flesh” or our “sin nature.”  It’s that spiritual cancer all of us have and it is the source of all the evil desire we ever have.  It’s what makes us want to rebel, want to be selfish, want to put ourselves first, and want to be independent of God.  All of us have that because all of us are descended from Adam and Eve.  They introduced this sin nature by their first sin.  

We ought to feel sad for them in one sense because they could remember purity.  They started out pure and innocent with no evil thoughts or desires within them.  Then they sinned and now the sin nature inside of them made all sorts of ugly nasty things come out of them.  All we’ve ever known is the ugly, nasty sin nature within.  It’s “normal” to us.  But Adam and Eve knew what it used to be like.  Sad.  

This section brings out some very practical issues.  

  • It shows how sin is not static, and when left unchecked it grows and metastasises.  Smaller sins unchecked will grow into bigger sins.   
  • It also brings up the importance of being correctible.  How do you handle someone confronting you about an issue in your life?  Or even harder:  how about rejection or disapproval?  Do you get stubborn, defensive and full of self-pity?  Or do you humbly take it to heart and make godly changes?  
  • This section also magnifies the mercy of God.  Cain deserved to be put to death.  Yet God not only didn’t execute Cain, he protected him from being killed himself.  Mercy.  
  • It also shows the consequences of sin.  While Cain wasn’t killed, he suffered consequences.  
  • This section also shows us that the quality of our worship is related to the quality of our moral condition.  In one sense Cain’s godless life led to his “worship-less” worship.  But in another sense, his weak worship paved the way to a growing godlessness in his life.  In other words two things are true about God-worshippers:  they should bring a godly life to their worship and their worship should fuel a godly life.  


It is told in a very simple way.  Cain invites Abel out someplace secluded and when they’re finally alone Cain turns and attacks Abel and kills him.  With a smile on his face Cain disguises the murder in his heart, like MacBeth said right before committing his murder:  “False face hides what false heart knows.”  

Before Cain’s hands murdered Abel, Cain’s heart had done the deed.  Turn to Mark 7:21 with me…. “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, MURDER….”  

Turn to John 7:19… “Why are you trying to kill me?”  Jesus asks them.  Nobody had knives or stones or any weapons out.  Nobody was trying in that moment to grab Him.  Was Jesus paranoid?  No.  Jesus knew that the authorities were in fact trying to kill him, the crowd a few verses later even talks about that fact.  

But Jesus was indeed accusing the crowd of trying to kill him too.  He saw into their hearts and knew that they were not with Him.  He knew they hated Him, as his whole two-chapter-long argument repeatedly demonstrates.  Murder was already in their hearts in the form of their hate.  Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21?  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”  In essence, both murder and anger would bring judgment because murder is the outward act done with the hands but angry hate is the inward murder done with the heart.  And remember, out of the heart comes the outward deeds.  

And with that thought I am reminded again of what Cain felt when God rejected his offering.  What was it?  Verse 5 said he was “very angry.”  And rather than repent, that sinful anger matured into its final stage of murder.

APPLICATION:  Follow the 2 Greatest Commandments:  Love God and love your neighbor.  Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  We saw last week Cain failed at the first and he did not love God with all he was and had.  Now this week we see he violates the second in that rather than loving Abel he hated him and killed him.  Now remember the 2nd command is to love others as you love yourself.  A few verses later Cain is afraid of being killed and complains to God.  Cain did not treat Abel the way he wanted to be treated.  He did not protect Abel from being killed the way he wanted protection.  

APPLICATION:  Since the wicked can’t murder God they murder those who belong to God.  


In confronting Cain we see 4 things:

First, God begins with a question he already knows the answer to.  This is how an All-Knowing God does things, remember?  “Adam, where are you?”  “Who told you that you were naked?  Did you eat from the tree I told you not to eat from?”  Yeah, God knew the answers then and He knows the answer now with Cain. God knows everything so His questions are not to gain information He doesn’t already have.  

God does this because He’s laying out the facts with questions.  He’s also exposing the real condition of the sinner by letting them respond to his question either by lying or telling the truth.  Adam and Eve told the truth when God questioned them.  Not Cain.  Which leads to point number 2….

Second, Cain’s response was to lie and defy.  Look at verse 9……  “Where is your brother?”  “I dunno.  He’s not my responsibility.”  Whoa.  He’s talking to God that way!  The defiance!

Cain’s life was one constant lie.  He lied in his worship with God.  He deceived Abel to get him out in the field.  Now Cain’s lies continue with God as he flat out denies knowing Abel’s whereabouts.  Cain’s father is really showing through here, “He was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.” (Jn 8:44).  

Can you see how Cain is so callous and indifferent here?  He isn’t trembling with a guilty conscience, he isn’t sweating and wringing his hands.  He seems totally relaxed, almost cocky, “How should I know?  Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The patience of God in that moment is incredible.  If I controlled lightning bolts I would have struck Cain down right there while hearing those words.  But God is so much more patient.  

APPLICATION:  Yes, we are our brothers’ keepers.  It means  care for our fellow man as we have opportunity.  If we can help physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually let us do it.  The Good Samaritan is a classic example of this rule.  Then 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  Being our brother’s keeper is seen in Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”  It’s compassion, the idea that the burden someone else is carrying I feel it too.  Compassion is that human to human connection that makes me hurt with someone who hurts and sing with someone who sings.  Or as 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part of the Body of Christ suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  BE YOUR BROTHER’S KEEPER.

Third, God says Abel’s blood cries out to Him.   Notice verse 10, “….”  Abel’s blood was testifying to God against Cain.  There is this idea in Scripture that blood testifies.   

  • God saw the blood of Naboth and his sons who were killed by King Ahab, “Yesterday I saw the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons, declares the LORD, and I will surely make you pay for it on this plot of ground, declares the LORD.” 
  • Isaiah 26:21 says, “See the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins.  The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer.”  It is my opinion that when Jesus comes back and it says his robe is dipped in blood that it is not referring to His blood, but the blood of the innocent and martyrs.  
  • Psalm 9:12, “For he who avenges blood remembers, he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.”  And then Psalm 72:14 says “for precious is their blood in his sight.”  
  • Hebrews 12:26 says the blood of Jesus is “a better witness.”  
  • First John 5:7 says, “There are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood [of Jesus].”

Later in Numbers 35:33-34 says that the land is defiled and polluted by bloodshed.  He sees it.  God sees and hears the blood of innocent victims.  He will as he said in Genesis 9 “demand an account” for every life taken.  Everyone who takes life will have to give an account to God for the life they took.  Every murderer.  Everyone responsible for COVID deaths.  Everyone responsible for the murder of innocent unborn babies.  The blood of every innocent life cries out to God for vengeance.  Their blood is precious to Him and He will come on a Day to bring vengeance for all the bloodshed on the earth.  

Fourth, God curses Cain.  Read verse 11 and 12….  Cain’s curse has two features.  The first is that the land will no longer produce for him.  In verse 12 God said, “when you work the ground it will no longer yield its crops for you.”  He defiled it with his brother’s blood.  This is different than what God did to Adam.  “Through painful toil you will eat of it…… will produce thorns and thistles for you……By the sweat of your brow you will eat of it…..” (3:17-19).  While God made it harder for Adam to get the earth to produce he could still get it to produce.  But with Cain God goes all the way.  “Never again Cain will it yield its crops for you.” 

Again we see the symmetry in God’s judgment.  Adam sinned with the earth’s produce and his judgment would be related to earth’s produce.  Cain sinned by sprinkling the earth with blood, so the earth would not grow for him.  Cain killed Abel so God killed the earth’s productivity for Cain.  Cain took Abel’s life and God took away the earth’s ability to provide for Cain’s life.  

So the first feature of Cain’s curse is the earth’s productivity.  The second feature is Cain’s banishment.  Notice verse 12, “You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”  Even in verse 16 it says Cain went to live east of Eden in the land of Nod.  Nod means “wanderer” or “exile.”  

Again we see the consequence of sin is banishment.  Adam and Eve banished from Eden.  Cain, now is banished.  This banishment is not just from the very land where he lived and sinned.  This banishment is said to be out of the “presence” of the Lord.  The land he lived in was the land God lived in with Him.  Not anymore:

  • Verse 14, “Today you are driving me from the land and I will be hidden from your presence…”
  • Verse 16, “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence….”

Apparently, even though God evicted Adam and Eve from Eden, He followed them and continued to be “with” them and they still had access to His “presence.”  But now Cain is driven from the presence of God.  


Finally we see Mercy for the Murderer.  Read verses 13-15….

Some commentators I read believed that Cain was repentant.  Somehow they think Cain was not complaining about his punishment being so severe, but, rather that his sin was so severe.  That somehow his conscience was so guilt-stricken that his words show he was broken and contrite.  And that’s why God had mercy on him.  

Sure.  And he also rode off on a unicorn afterwards.  Instead, Cain is doing again what Cain has consistently been doing:  thinking about Cain.  Cain was selfishly only thinking about Cain when bringing an offering.  Cain was selfishly only thinking about Cain when God rejected his offering.  Cain was selfishly only thinking about Cain when he killed Abel.  Now, again, Cain is selfishly only thinking about Cain when God punishes him.  Notice Cain specifically says in verse 13, “MY PUNISHMENT is more than I can bear.”  Cain is not writing any Psalm 51 of confession and repentance like David did.  Cain is not tearing his clothes in godly remorse like the Ninevites did.  Cain is most definitely NOT showing any repentance right now.  

In 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 Paul talked about the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.  Turn there with me and follow along.  

The bottom line is this:  godly sorrow brings about a whole new attitude of righteousness.  Godly sorrow affects changes in you that make you more godly.  You learn to be more righteous from your failure – AND the bitter taste of sinning makes you want to be more righteous.  You face the consequences because you care about what’s right and want to make things right even if you have to suffer for what you did.  Godly sorrow is what makes it possible for our failure in sin to become a stepping stone towards greater godliness.

On the other hand, worldly sorrow isn’t any of that.  Worldly sorrow doesn’t do any of that.  Worldly sorrow is different:  it is what you feel when you get caught because you got caught.  You feel bad for yourself because of the consequences you now have to suffer for your sin.  You don’t feel “bad” because of the immorality of what you did, or because of what you did was “wrong” and your conscience is convicting you, or you know it displeases God and you hate to displease God, or because of how you hurt others.  No, your only regret about sinning is now you have to pay a price for it.  This worldly selfish sorrow doesn’t bring any moral change in you.  It doesn’t make you correct towards righteousness.  It’s just “I feel bad because now things aren’t going well for me.”  That is Cain.

And Cain deserved death.  God was fully justified in that moment to cut Cain down.  But He doesn’t.  Mercy.  Cain the murderer met God the merciful.  Just like King David deserved to die for his murder of Uriah, but God spared him.  “The Lord has taken away your sin.  You are not going to die.” Nathan told him (2 Samuel 12).  Psalm 25 shouts, “Great O God is your love and your mercy.”  Or as Psalm 103 proclaims, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”  He didn’t do to you O Cain what your sins deserved.  Mercy.  

But God’s mercy goes even further.  Not only does He refrain from killing Cain, He ensures that no one else will kill him.  Verse 15 says, “Then God put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.”  Who knows what this mark was.  No one knows.  Whatever it was it effectively protected Cain.  Anyone who found him would somehow be warned of the sevenfold vengeance that would come upon them if they did kill Cain.  Cain took the life of his fellow man but God made sure Cain himself would not be killed by his fellow man.  Mercy.


Hebrews 12:24 says the blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”   How does the blood of Jesus and Abel “speak” anything?  And how is the blood of Jesus superior to Abel’s?  

I’m sure I could preach a whole sermon on that verse alone.  But I’ll end with this thought:  Abel’s blood cried out to God for justice.  Jesus’ blood was shed for our mercy.  Abel’s blood condemned his murderer.  Jesus’ blood cleanses sinners.  

Leave a Reply