A Verse by Verse Study of Genesis 4:1-26
Having a favorite is natural. We all have preferences, and they tend to lean towards people with the right attitude: authentic, truthful, kind, and sincere.
Now while God doesn’t choose favorites, he clearly preferred one brother’s attitude and actions over the other.
If pleasing God matters to us, and it should, we need to find out what attitudes and actions God is looking for. Serving God with the right attitude is necessary for pleasing God.
This blog post is all about how to serve God with the right attitude.
In Genesis 4:1-2, Adam and Eve are now outside of paradise, living in a world tainted by sin. These verses tell us that Adam and Eve conceive two sons: Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve’s children were the first to be born in this fallen world. They were the first to be born with a sinful nature, capable of sinful desires and thoughts.
Born into a Fallen World
Imagine being Adam and Eve. They knew what a sinless world looked like – felt like. They knew perfect paradise first-hand. Now they must struggle to find food, shelter, and safety. They now know pain, sickness, and sorrow.
But they knew God’s ways. They taught their children right from wrong. They taught their children to honor and worship God. Though man now had a sinful nature, they had the choice to sin or to do what was right.
1. A Right Attitude Is: A willing obedience to do what is right.
The Two Gifts
Now in Genesis 4:3-4, we see time fast forward and Cain has become a cultivator and gardener, while Abel has become a shepherd.
Adam and Eve have continued to walk with God. They have taught their children to serve and worship the One true God.
Many scholars believe that Adam and his family continued to gather to worship God near the entrance of the Garden of Eden. They most likely visited there periodically, bringing with them sacrifices to offer him. And as you can see in this passage, God still talked to Adam and his family. Though they were cut off from Eden, they were not cut off from God.
And in these verses, the writer recounts how Cain and Abel each brought their own offering to God. Cain brought the best of his harvest, and Abel brought the best of his first-born lambs.
And it simply says that God accepted Abel’s gift, but he didn’t accept Cain’s. People often think God chose Abel over Cain because of the offering choice: a blood sacrifice over vegetation. But you can see that, later in Leviticus, grain offerings are completely acceptable gifts to present to God.
What was the difference? Why was one acceptable, while the other was not?
The answer can be found in the New Testament:
‘It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts.’Hebrews 11:4 (NLT)
2. A Right Attitude Is: a commitment of faith in God, rather than our works.
The Wrong Response
In Genesis 4:5-7, Cain’s pride was hurt, and he showed it. Verse 5 says that Cain was ‘very angry and he looked dejected’. God asked Cain why he was so angry and warned him about having the right attitude and doing what was right.
‘But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.’Genesis 4:7 (NLT)
God was giving Cain a chance to turn things around. To not do what he was about to do! God is sovereign and all-knowing. He knew Cain’s heart and thoughts. Could God have stopped Cain? Yes. But the gift of free-will was given to us by God so that we could freely choose to follow and obey him.
3. A Right Attitude Is: listening to God’s rebuke and turning towards him.
From Bad to Worse
2 Corinthians 10:5 says,
‘We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.’NLT
It all starts with sinful thoughts, and if we could halt those thoughts right there – control them and make them obedient to Christ, there would be a lot less crime in the world.
But Cain held onto those sinful thoughts: pride, jealousy, and hatred, and he let them grow unchecked.
Genesis 4:8 tells us that one day, Cain invited Abel to join him in the fields and he killed him. It wasn’t a result of a heated argument, or an accident. It was a premeditated murder.
4. A Right Attitude Is: the recognition of harmful thoughts and giving them over to God.
Digging the Hole Deeper
I’m sure that Adam and Eve told their children, “Don’t bother lying to God – he knows everything!’.
Genesis 4:9 looks very familiar, as God questions Cain about what he’s done, and Cain tries to hide the truth from God.
Cain takes it a step further though, because instead of just claiming simple ignorance, he has an air of sarcasm in his tone when he says, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’.
Notice how Cain seemed to think he could get away with murder, even when being interrogated by God himself. This is because Cain lacked faith in God.
We all sin. We won’t live out perfect righteousness in this life, but when we do, we need to confess it to God and repent.
5. A Right Attitude Is: being able to admit when we are wrong and repent.
As parents, we sometimes need to punish our children. If we constantly let them off the hook as soon as they confess or say, “sorry” they will soon learn that consequences to bad choices don’t exist.
We too need to learn from our mistakes and face tough consequences. But just like parents, God is not trying to ruin our lives, but improve them. He is working at shaping our hearts and characters.
Genesis 4:10-12 tells us how God punished Cain. Cain buried Abel in the ground and so Cain was cursed from the ground. He would be a homeless wanderer and be unable to grow crops no matter how hard he worked.
In verse 13, Cain responds by whining and complaining. His punishment was unfair! He worried that he would be killed just like he killed Abel.
6. A Right Attitude Is: accepting consequences and learning from them.
Cain Leaves God’s Presence
Cain claimed that God banished him from his presence, but God never said that.
In fact, though God knows whether we’ll ever have a repenting heart, he is always ready to forgive.
But God listened to Cain, and he was merciful. In Genesis 4:15, God put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who would try to kill him, resulting in seventy-times the punishment. God preserved Cain. Cain would die by natural causes.
But then in verse 16, after God showed Cain mercy, it simply says that Cain left the Lord’s presence. Cain walked away from the Lord.
This is an obvious ‘no no’. It’s clear to us when we are examining someone else’s life. But in what direction are we going? Are we walking toward, or with the Lord?
7. A Right Attitude Is: walking towards God, and with him.
Genesis 4:17-24 describes Cain’s descendants. Cain and his wife have children and their children have children. Genesis 4:25-26 describe Adam’s descendants.
Notice the comparison between the two lineages:
- From Cain’s lineage comes Lamech, who in verses 23-24, brags about murdering someone and believes he deserves even more protection than was promised to Cain.
- From Adam’s lineage comes Enosh, and it says in verse 26, that ‘at that time people first began to worship the Lord by name.’
Through Adam’s line, people were turning back to God, and it was through Adam’s line that Jesus would come to earth as our Savior.
A Choice to Make
We all could just as easily end up like Cain. It seems hard to believe, but once we begin down that slippery slope of allowing pride to seep in and wanting to go our own way instead of God’s, sinful thoughts grow into sinful desires, which can result in sinful actions.
We all have a choice to make: to serve God, or Satan. We may fool ourselves into believing we serve ourselves, but that is only an illusion created by Satan.
If it is God whom we want to serve, than we are required to have the right attitude.
Serving God with the right attitude requires a changed heart: one that is in tune with God’s heart.
Say Yes to God: A Call to Courageous Surrender by Kay Warren. We all have plans for our lives. Is it the same plan that God has for us? Giving in to God is not easy and often the more difficult path. But seeking God’s will and serving him with the right attitude results in the best life possible – the life God has planned for us.