The Way of Cain
Robert Wurtz II
But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. (Jude 1:10–11 KJV)
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. (1 John 3:11–13 KJV)
Cain became angry when God didn’t accept his offering. But, of course, God is under no obligation to receive or accept an offering (Malachi 1:7-8). Based on Cain’s behavior in Genesis 4:9 (NKJV), we know that he didn’t fear (reverence) God. So we shouldn’t be surprised when discovering more about his character in later writings.
Cain seemed to have an “anything goes” outlook that violated God’s revealed will. Numerous passages within the Old and New Testament offer clues as to what went wrong with Cain and his offering.
Hebrews 11:4 tells us, “By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain (…).” We know that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Faith becomes possible when God speaks a word or reveals Himself. For Abel to offer an acceptable sacrifice, it had to be done according to revelation. In other words, God revealed to Adam and Eve the proper sacrifice and passed that revelation to Abel, who obeyed it.
On the other hand, Cain brought from the fruit of the ground despite probably knowing the same truth that Abel knew. What is mysterious is why he would rather shed his own brother’s blood rather than shed the blood and bring the fat of an acceptable sacrifice. There is a verse in the LXX (Greek OT) that’s missing from the Masoretic text revealing that Cain told Abel “Let’s go out to the field” and then killed him. The mystery clears up a bit in 1 John 3:12 as we learn that Cain was “of that wicked one,” the Devil. The Devil was a murderer from the beginning.
As he demonstrated by killing Abel, shedding blood was not the problem for Cain, but rather, obedience to what God had revealed was the problem. Hence, Cain’s sin appears to be a simple rebellion against God, followed by extreme contempt for his brother who was willing to obey God, followed by a festering rage that ended in murder. Again, Satan was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth (John 8:44). Cain was “of the wicked one” —meaning that his behaviors were in keeping with Satan’s.
So we have Satan who did not stand in the way of truth, and we have the phrase, “the way of Cain.” The word “way” could be translated as a route, a path, or metaphorically a way of thinking, feeling, acting, manner of life, and conduct. Cain behaved as if he wasn’t accountable to God. He dared to murder his brother in cold blood, and then when God asked him where Abel was, he sarcastically answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Hebrew word translated as keeper is shamar, and it’s the same word used in Genesis 2:15 where Adam was supposed to “keep” the Garden of Eden and of the Cherubim who “kept” the way to the Tree of Life with flaming swords (Genesis 3:24). He didn’t keep him, he killed him, and God knew it.
The “way of Cain” as opposed to “the way that leads to God” was more like Proverbs 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” Why? “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The implication is that searching is involved, or God reveals the path supernaturally. Either by revelation or investigation, the way is known, and somebody must decide to walk in it.
One cannot find the way of salvation while being willingly ignorant of it or refusing to heed the evidence that leads to it. Willful ignorance renders guilty before God because it’s a form of rebellion.
The question becomes, are you and I leading people towards God’s way and the way of salvation, or are you leading them towards compromise, rebellion, and sin?
If a person disagrees with God and has a worldly attitude that says, “I did it my way,” they influence people for evil. We are all influencing others. We are all leading in some sense. However, leaders in positions of influence or authority in the church or society must set a biblical standard, which isn’t popular.
When someone, like righteous Abel, is willing to maintain the biblical standard when others don’t want to, it exposes the rebellious. They might say, “that person is setting a standard or precedent that we will have to live up to,” and begin attacking them.
Abel set the bar very high for his brother. There was no room for “I did it my way” because Abel did it “God’s way.” Like the prophets who came after him, Abel pointed his older brother Cain to the righteous standard by his example. In this way, Abel was the first prophet (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:50-51). He was the first person to be murdered and martyred because he obeyed God to the fullest extent he knew how.
Abel wanted to lead people to righteousness, while Cain wanted to lead people in compromise and sin. Cain was the type of man who would get angry when someone was willing to obey God at a level greater than him. Keep that clear because this is “the way of Cain.” Had the concept existed at the time, I believe he would have condescendingly referred to his brother Abel as “Holier than thou.” This is a very dangerous and devilish attitude.
People who view the righteous as “holier than thou” tend to teach lawlessness by their words and conduct. When my children were teenagers, I did everything I knew to teach and lead them in righteousness. However, a particular youth pastor we knew told my kids things like, “that’s just your dad,” to diminish my influence and justify his compromised lifestyle. It angers those “in the way of Cain” to see people serving God with their whole hearts.
Cain didn’t understand that there is no such thing as “obeying God too precisely.” He resented those trying to honor God at the highest possible level, even though people who do that are still falling short of the glory of God. People sometimes say, “You are taking this religion thing too far!” Or they will suggest that it’s unnecessary to take God and His word so seriously. This is “the way of Cain.”
The hostility of the Cain’s of this world towards people who obey God is Satanic on multiple levels. First, Cain wanted people to detest God’s ways, and he did whatever he could to get people to rebel against God—even if they were pressured, tricked, or deceived into doing it. Second, when he couldn’t tolerate the light that his brother Abel radiated, he murderously snuffed it out.
In post-biblical Jewish tradition, Cain wasn’t merely the first murderer but was the archetypal sinner and the instructor of others in sin. Some writers saw him as the prototype of hatred and envy toward one’s brothers (TBenj 7:5; 1 John 3:11; IClem 4:7). Josephus (Ant 1.52–56) portrayed him as guilty of greed, violence, lust, and the great corrupter of humankind. For Philo, Cain was the archetypal egoist (Det. 32, 78) and the leader of others in the ways of sin (Post 38–39, see Word Biblical NT Commentary).
In addition, however, it is possible that Jude 10-11 also has in mind a tradition found in the Targums, which represented Cain as a heretic who didn’t believe in the Great White Throne Judgment or Hell. Unlike Abel, he simply didn’t believe God. Cain’s liberal theology impacted his life in profound ways, but mainly it manifested as murderous resentment for people who lived righteously.
The implication of 1 John 3:11 is that the world will hate us if we live righteously. Therefore, we should not be surprised if our righteous living reflects on their corruption and they get angry, bitter, and hateful. The world didn’t get along with Abel, the prophets, or Jesus. If we live righteously and holy before God, we will incite that same bitter wrath towards us. Why? Because “the way of Cain” is the way of rebellion, all who walk that path will share in Cain’s fate. In other words, “The way of Cain” is the broad road to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat (Matthew 7:13).