In Genesis 4 we read the tragic account of the first murder in history. Cain, the oldest son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel. Envious of his brother because the Lord respected Abel’s sacrifice but not him and his sacrifices, Cain ignored God’s admonishment and murdered Abel.
Some Christians believe that God favored Abel’s sacrifices because Abel offered the firstborn of his flock and its fat (v. 4) while Cain simply brought an offering of his crops (v. 3). The text does not say whether Cain offered the best of his crops. While there is a special significance to blood sacrifices in Scripture, the Bible makes it pretty clear that God accepted grain as an offering in some situations (Leviticus 2).
The real problem was Cain’s attitude. First John 3:12 states that Cain was of the wicked one and his deeds were evil. Cain’s refusal to follow the Lord’s warning demonstrates that his heart was the biggest problem.
More could be written about this issue, but I wanted to address a question that has been asked of many Christians, and unfortunately, most people do not answer it appropriately. When the Lord confronted Cain after Abel’s death, He told him that he would be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth (v. 12). Cain expressed fear that anyone who found him would kill him (v. 14). Since Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, who was Cain afraid of? Why was he concerned that somebody might find him and kill him?
A common answer to this question is that God must have made other people besides Adam and Eve. After all, didn’t Cain go to the land of Nod and find a wife? Um, No. That’s not what the Bible says. It says that he went to the land of Nod and had relations with his wife (Genesis 4:16–17). In other words, his wife came with him. Who was she? We’ll get to that in a moment.
There are some big problems with the notion that Cain was afraid of other people that God might have created. First, if there were others who lived wherever Cain was heading, why would they want to harm him for something he did to a person they presumably did not know and had probably never even heard of? How would they even know he did such a terrible thing?
The bigger problem is that the Bible makes no mention of these proposed people, and it actually rules out such an idea. The Bible states that Eve was the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20). This would not be accurate if God made others. Also, the New Testament explains that because of Adam’s sin, we are all sinners (Romans 5:19). Of course, we will be held accountable for our own sins—not Adam’s, but we die because of Adam’s sin. This whole idea is contingent upon Adam being the head of humanity. Paul said in Acts 17:26 that God made all men of “one blood.” Once again, this is true because we are all from Adam.
So if God did not make other people, then who was Cain afraid of? The solution is much easier than you might think, but you have to think through the text a little more than how it is usually presented in Sunday school. We must first answer another question in order to help solve this mystery. How old were Cain and Abel when the murder took place?
How Old Was Cain?
Most people tend to picture Cain and Abel as young men, possibly even teenagers, when Cain killed Abel. However, such an idea is almost certainly wrong. In fact, they were probably about one hundred years older than that. Wait. What? A hundred years older? Yep, that’s what I wrote. Consider the clues left in the Bible about this issue.
In Genesis 4:25 Eve gives birth to another son, Seth, and it’s clear that she views him as a replacement for Abel. She said, “God has given me another child in place of Abel because Cain killed him” (NET). In Genesis 5:3, we learn that this happened when Adam and Eve were 130 years old, and that Seth was just one of many other children that Adam and Eve had. Since Seth was viewed as Abel’s replacement, then he was almost certainly the next son born to them after Abel’s death. This means that Abel would have been murdered nearly 130 years after Adam was created. And if Cain was born within the first few years of Adam and Eve being banished from the garden, then Cain would have been over 120 years old at the murder of Abel. We have no reason to think that it would have taken very long for Eve to conceive. When God created them He instructed them to be fruitful and multiply, and Genesis 4 and 5 show us that they certainly did that.
If you think of Cain and Abel being in their 120s when this event occurred, does it become clearer who Cain might have been afraid of? There would have been plenty of time for Adam and Eve to have many other children, just as Genesis 5:4 teaches. So Cain’s siblings may have wanted revenge against him. Not only that, since Abel was nearly Cain’s age, he would have been old enough to have children and grandchildren by the time Cain murdered him. The Bible doesn’t tell us if he had any offspring, but there is no reason to think he would have remained single for over 100 years when God wanted people to multiply. Abel’s descendants, if he had them, would have been the most likely candidates for revenge against Cain.
Who Was Cain’s Wife?
So if Cain went to Nod with his wife, and Abel may have been married, then where did their wives come from? The answer is very simple. In all likelihood, Cain’s wife was his sister, although it’s possible she was his niece (if Abel or another brother married a sister and had a daughter). This answer fits all of the biblical data, and we need to remember that the command against close intermarriage was not given until Leviticus. It makes sense from a genetic perspective why close intermarriage would have been problematic at that time, but the closer we go back to the beginning, the fewer genetic mistakes existed in people. So there would be less risk of severe genetic defects in the offspring.
Book chapters have been written and presentations have been given on the subject of Cain’s wife so I won’t go into more detail here, other than to point out a case of extreme hypocrisy. Skeptics frequently mock the Bible here, claiming that it teaches incest (check out the links in the previous sentence for a response to this), but let’s take a look at what most of these skeptics believe. They believe that every single person and every plant and animal on earth came from a single-celled organism that somehow came to life by time and chance. Besides the absurdity of life arising on its own and one kind of organism changing into another kind, consider the problem of incest multiplied a billion-fold. At every stage of the alleged evolutionary chain from the first microscopic organism to man, a significant amount of inbreeding must have occurred. This is particularly problematic for those who believe in the form of evolution known as punctuated equilibrium. Think about it, each time a new species in this supposed chain arose they would have very few options for mates, if any. Those that might be available would be from within that small group or family.
So why was Cain afraid when he was sent away? Most likely, he had plenty of close family members who might have sought revenge. This conclusion rarely comes to mind for people because we frequently have a wrong picture in our minds about how old Cain and Abel were in Genesis 4. Rightly understanding their ages brings into clearer focus the solution to our primary question.
Speaking of wrong pictures, we might have another one related to Cain and Abel. What did Cain use to murder Abel? A rock? There are pro-Second Amendment billboards and many illustrations that promote this idea, like the one used in this post, but the Bible does not tell us what he used. It certainly is possible that he used a rock, so these pictures aren’t necessarily wrong, but there are many other things Cain might have used.