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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Genesis 4

Verses 1-8

GENESIS - CHAPTER FOUR

Verses 1-8:

"Adam knew Eve his wife," in intimate sexual relationship. This does not imply that sexual relationships were forbidden or unknown in the Garden of Eden before the fall. The contrary is true, for the command to "multiply and fill the earth" was God’s mandate before the fall. The statement occurs here to indicate that while Adam and Eve came into being by a direct creation from God, humanity thenceforth is to be produced according to the established law of reproduction.

The firstborn of Adam and Eve was Cain, "acquisition," from kanah "to acquire." Eve’s faith is evident in that she addressed Jehovah as the One from whom she acquired this child, see Psalms 127:3. In the birth of this her first son, Eve saw the guarantee of Jehovah’s faithfulness to fulfill His promise concerning her coming Seed, Genesis 3:15.

"She again bare his brother," literally, she "added to bear." This is a peculiar Hebrew idiom in use as late as in the New Testament, see Luke 20:11. It does not imply that Cain and Abel were twins, although this is not outside the realm of possibility.

"Abel" is from habel, vanity. The name of this second son may be recognition of the judgment of woman in childbearing, Genesis 3:16, and of the sorrows and miseries of humanity because of sin. It may also imply her disappointment in her firstborn son.

Abel’s occupation became that of a shepherd. Cain became a farmer. They likely received instruction and training in these crafts from their father Adam. There is nothing in either occupation which would imply a difference in moral character, nor that one occupation is more favored of God than the other. God called and used men of both occupations in His service: David, the shepherd; and Elisha and Amos, both farmers (1 Kings 19:19-21; Amos 7:14).

"in process of time" is, "at the end of days." This denotes a definite era or period of time. In this case, the starting point of this era is unknown; thus it is impossible to determine just how much time is involved.

In patriarchal times it was customary for the sacrificial offerings to be made by the head of the family. This implies that both Cain and Abel were by this time married and the heads of families. Otherwise, Adam would have been the one to offer these sacrifices.

Both Cain and Abel brought "an offering" unto Jehovah. Cain’s offering consisted of the "fruit of the ground." Abel’s offering was of the firstborn and choice of his flock. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. The reason for this does not lie in the nature of the offerings themselves. In later years God required that His people offer sacrifice of the "fruit of the ground," Leviticus 2:1-3. It would be inconsistent with His nature to suppose God rejected Cain’s offering merely because it was "of the ground."

The reason Jehovah accepted Abel’s offering while rejecting Cain’s lies in the nature of the ones who made the offering. Abel’s offering was "by faith," Hebrews 11:4, and this is the reason God accepted it. Abel’s faith made his sacrifice "more excellent" than that of Cain. God rejected Cain’s offering because of sin, which dominated Cain’s life, verse 7.

"Cain was very wroth," literally, "it burned with Cain exceedingly." There was no sorrow for sin, no repentance because God had not accepted his sacrifice. There was only anger, wounded pride, resentment toward God and toward his brother, burning and seething in Cain’s heart. Cain’s anger was evident to the eye of Jehovah. In mercy the Lord sought to convict Cain and to bring him to repentance and faith.

"if thou doest well," points to Cain’s spiritual condition in which he made his offering. Had he presented the offering in the spirit of faith, as did Abel, God would have accepted it. The reason for his rejection is that sin was crouching before him as a ravening beast of prey, seeking to dominate his life. Cain could have attained mastery over sin, by following the steps of repentance and faith and submission. Instead, he gave in to sin, because of pride and arrogance in his heart.

The text does not give the content of Cain’s conversation with Abel. In the light of what followed, it may be that Cain discussed the matter of their respective sacrifices and this served only to increase Cain’s anger. It is likely that Cain’s act of violent murder was more than just a spur-of-the moment deed, but rather a deliberate act of pre-meditated murder.

Verses 9-15

Verses 9-15:

1) God’s first recorded question to man was, "Where art thou?" He addressed this to Adam (Genesis 3:9). His first question to Adam’s son was, "Where is thy brother?" Neither of these questions was asked for the sake of information. They were designed to bring the conviction of personal accountability and to cause the guilty to become aware of what they had done.

Cain’s reply reflects his character. (1) He was a liar; he denies knowing what had happened to Abel or where he was. (2) He was presumptuous; he thought he could hide from Jehovah what he had done. (3) He was selfish; he saw no need to care for his brother. (4) He was obstinate; he did not confess his sin. Subsequent events in Cain’s offspring reflect these same character traits.

(2) God’s, second question to Cain was similar to His second question to Adam. He did not ask this question for His own information. He asked it to bring home, in a vivid way, the enormity of Cain’s sin, and to impress upon the guilty soul the futility of trying to hide from God.

Abel’s blood cried out from the ground with a demand for justice upon his murderer. This is a common expression of the Scriptures regarding not only murder but other sins as well, see Genesis 18:20-21;Exodus 3:9; James 5:4. The crime of murder corrupts not only the one who commits it, but it pollutes the very land in which it is committed and calls out for Divine justice upon the guilty, see Leviticus 18:25-27;Numbers 35:9-34.

God informed Cain of the consequences of his deed. First, the ground itself would refuse to yield its fruit to his efforts. This was not an additional curse to what God had promised as the result of Adam’s sin. It appears to be specifically upon Cain and his descendants.. Cain was a farmer. Because of what he did to his innocent brother, his efforts and the efforts of his descendants would not prosper. This could be one reason why Cain’s descendants became the first city builders, and why they turned to mechanical inventions.

The second aspect of Cain’s judgment was that he would become "a fugitive and a vagabond," literally moving and wandering about the earth with no permanent home. This wandering was due to two factors: (1) his remorse over a guilty conscience; and (2) the earth’s denying him the fruit of his labors. The earth itself became an instrument to minister judgment.

Cain’s reply to God’s pronouncement of judgment was not one of confession and repentance. His concern was not for the fact that he had sinned by murdering his brother. It was for the severity of his punishment Cain spurned every avenue of grace.

Cain complained of the four-fold consequences of God’s judgment: (1) he would be expelled from "the earth," literally, the "ground" or the land area around Eden; (2) he would be shut out from God’s face, or from Divine providential care; (3) he would be perpetually a vagabond, a wanderer with no permanent home; and (4) he would be subject to death at the hand of anyone with whom he might come in contact. This implies that there were many descendants of Adam beside Cain and Abel, and that they had already begun to disperse over the earth to settle in other regions.

The Lord made a special promise to Cain, that he would be protected by a "mark" or sign, and that He would enforce a sevenfold vengeance upon any who would slay him. This special provision in no way mitigated Cain’s circumstances, or indicated that God disapproves of capital punishment. Rather, it emphasizes the principle, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19); and it serves as a stern warning against the sin of murder.

Jehovah placed a special identification upon Cain. "Mark" is oth, translated, "ensign." twice, "token" 14 times, and "sign" 20 times. The Septuagint semeion has the same I meaning as the Hebrew oth. Many opinions have been advanced, as to what this "mark" might have been. All opinions are but speculation; there is no way to determine what it was. It seems evident that it was some visible mark, that would readily be apparent to any whom Cain might encounter. Whatever it was, it was at least Cain’s reminder the rest of his life he was guilty of murdering his own brother.

Verses 16-18

Verses 16-18:

"Cain went out," denotes more than an end to the conversation with Jehovah. It marks the beginning of his exile from the center of human society in the environs of Eden. His journey took him from Jehovah’s presence physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This progression away from Jehovah is evident in his offspring. It follows the downhill path of sinful humanity which Paul describes in Ro 1:18-32.

"Nod," nodh, "wanderings." The geographical location of the land of Cain’s wanderings is unknown, except that it was eastward from Eden.

Where did Cain get his wife? This is a standard cliché of those who quibble over technicalities, and use these quibbles to discredit the authenticity of the Scriptures. The answer is obvious- Cain’s wife was either his sister, his niece, or his cousin.

Among the children of Cain and his wife was a son whom they named Enoch. He is the first recorded city-builder. The verb "builded" is literally "was building," implying that he began, but did not complete this project.

"Enoch," chanoch means "dedicated." On the surface it may appear that Cain and his wife dedicated this son to Jehovah. However, subsequent events show this is not the case. Cain is dedicated to his own selfish way, and he raised his sons to follow in his steps.

The fact that the first city-builders and urban dwellers were descendants from the rebel Cain may indicate that it was not God’s direct will for men to settle in cities, at least in the early stages of human history. It is evident that throughout history cities have been centers of crime, violence, immorality, poverty, disease, and corruption, much more so than rural or pastoral environs. The reason for this could be the moral character of those who found and govern them.

Names in the Bible are significant. They often reflect the hope or ambition of the parents for the child; and they are often prophetic to describe what the child will be when he grows to maturity. Cain’s descendants reflect the nature and aspirations of Cain and his sons.

"Irad" means "townsman" or citizen. This was a fitting name in view of Enoch’s role as a city-builder.

"Mehujael" is "smitten of God."

"Methusael" is "man asked of God," or "man of God." In this name there appears to be no recognition of Jehovah as God, but rather of the fact that God is powerful.

"Lamech" is of uncertain meaning, but likely denotes "strong man."

There are similarities in the names of some in Cain’s descendants to some in Seth’s offspring.

Verses 19-24

Verses 19-24:

Cain’s descendant, Lamech, is humanity’s first polygamist. The names of his two wives is significant. "Adah" means "ornament, or the adorned one," and "Zillah" means "shadow" or "musical one." This implies that Lamech chose his wives solely on the basis of sensual attractions. The sanctity of marriage was of no consequence to him.

Adah bore to Lamech a son whom they named "Jabal." His name means "traveller," and reflects his nomadic occupation. He became the "father," av, progenitor or founder of a nation, of those nomadic tent-dwellers who developed the breeding and pasturing of cattle and other large domesticated animals for the main purpose of procuring wealth.

Adah also bore a son named "Jubal" whose name signifies a jubilant or joyful sound. His offspring introduced the art and science of music. Their music was not for the purpose of praising and honoring Jehovah (Ps 150), but of gratifying the senses of their sin-nature. "Harp" is kinnor, a stringed instrument played on by the plectrum. It corresponds to the lyre. "Organ" is ugabh, the root word being "to breath or blow." It denotes a wind instrument, including the shepherd’s reed, or bagpipe.

The crafts and arts and sciences practiced by Cain’s descendants reflect a lifestyle that is sensual, luxurious, dedicated only to material values. There is no thought of Jehovah in what they do.

Zillah bore a son named "Tubal-caln." He became skilled in metallurgy and in smith-work. By this craft he could produce both implements to be used in farming operations and in military pursuits. The name "Tubal" comes from the same root as "Jabal," and "Jubal," which means "to flow." This refers to their nomadic nature, as well as to the crafts they employed.

Zillah also bore a daughter, "Naamah," whose name means "the beautiful one." The implication of the names of the women in Lamech’s life is that men had ceased to think of marriage as a sacred relationship in which the woman is the helper and complement in the husband-wife relationship. Man’s primary concern in marriage became physical attraction. The further deterioration of the lineage of Cain shows the consequences of this.

Lamech’s song to his wives is defiant and filled with self-pride. The language implies that a "young man," or a strong and virile man, had slightly wounded Lamech, and lightly bruised him. Lamech reacted violently, killing the young man. He then boasts that he would extract vengeance seventy-seven fold greater than that promised to any who would harm Cain, should anyone seek to punish him for what he had done.

Cain’s pride and rebellion against God shows up in the history of his offspring. He started the family movement away from God, and his children kept it going and even increased in rebellion, see Ex 20:5; 34:7.

Verses 25-26

Verses 25, 26:

"Adam knew his wife again," once more following the murder of Abel, the first pair had sexual , relations, and another son was born to them. Eve called his name "Seth," meaning "appointed, or compensation." This is an expression of her faith, that Jehovah had compensated her for her slain son and that He had appointed this child to be the one to carry on the lineage through whom the promised Seed would come. This does not imply that Adam and Eve had no other children. The Scripture narrative is concerned primarily with the lineage of the promised Seed of the Woman.

Seth grew to maturity, married, and had a son whom he named "Enos," meaning "mortal, decaying man." This name reflects godly Seth’s recognition of the fact of man’s sinful and decaying state.

"Then" or in the days of Seth and Enos, "began men to call upon the name of the Lord (Jehovah)." The expression implies the beginning of formal, organized worship, is contrast to the individual worship prior to that time.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-4.html. 1985.