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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-26



What were the occupations of these brothers? What does the name of God in (Genesis 4:3 bring to mind from our second lesson? We are not told how God showed respect for Abel’s offering and disrespect for Cain’s, but possibly, as on later occasions, fire may have come out from before the Lord (i.e., in this case from between the cherubim) to consume the one in token of its acceptance. A more important question is why God showed respect for it? Reading Hebrews 11:4 we see that “by faith” Abel offered his sacrifice. This means faith is some previous revelation or promise of God touching the way a guilty sinner might approach Him. Such a revelation was doubtless given in Genesis 3:21 , which has been reserved for consideration until now.

Where did God obtain the “coats of skins” mentioned there except as some innocent animal (a lamb?) was slain for the purpose? In this circumstance doubtless is set before us in type the truth afterwards revealed that there is such a thing as a sinner’s placing the life of another between his guilty soul and God (Hebrews 9:22 ). Abel grasped this truth by faith, and submitted his will to God’s testimony regarding it. Just what teaching he had concerning it we do not know, but the result shows that it was sufficient. He approached God in the revealed way, while Cain refused to do so. It is not that Cain’s offering was not good of its kind, but before a man’s offering is received the man himself must be received, and this is only possible on the ground of the atoning sacrifice and the shed blood of Jesus Christ to which Abel’s offering pointed (see Matthew 20:28 ; John 14:6 ; Acts 4:12 ; Romans 3:21 ; Romans 3:25 ; Heb 11:11-14 ; 1 Peter 1:18-21 ; 1 John 1:7 ; Revelation 1:5-6 ).

What was the effect on Cain (Genesis 4:5 )? Notice that the question put to him: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” might be rendered: “If thou doest well, shall it (thy countenance) not be lifted up?” When a man does ill he cannot look God in the face. But the following sentence is equally interesting: “If thou doest not well, sin lieth [croucheth] at the door.” The idea is that sin, like a hungry beast, is waiting to spring upon Cain if he be not wary. But another idea is possible. The word for sin being the same as for sin-offering, it may be that God is calling Cain’s attention to the fact that hope of acceptance remains if he will avail himself of the opportunity before him. The lamb, the sin-offering, is at hand, it lieth at the door why not humbly lay hold of it and present it as Abel did? What a beautiful illustration of the accessibility of Christ for every sinner. Does Cain accept or reject the invitation? What was the final outcome? (Read here 1 John 3:12 .)

THE FIRST CITY BUILT (Genesis 4:9-18 )

What sin did Cain add to murder (Genesis 4:9 )? What additional curse is now laid upon the earth and upon Cain on account of his sin (Genesis 4:11-12 )? How does the Revised Version translate “vagabond”? The explanation of the mark is unknown, but it may have been set upon Cain lest by his death the populating of the world would have been arrested at a time when it was almost uninhabited.

Genesis 4:16 is significant: “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord.” His parents were still in the presence of the Lord (see the last lesson concerning the cherubim and the flaming sword), but he is excluded further. This is the sinner’s fate in time and eternity. He now lives in the world without God and without hope (Ephesians 2:12 ), but even this will be exceeded in the day mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 , which please read. In what land did Cain dwell, and what geographical relation to Eden did it bear? The meaning of Nod is wandering, and it is affecting to think of Cain, and every sinner unreconciled to God through Jesus Christ, as a wanderer in the land of wandering.

The next verse brings up a question often asked: Where did Cain get his wife? The answer is: From among his sisters; for although such are not named, there can be no doubt that daughters were born to Adam and Eve. Marriages of this character are repugnant now and unlawful (Leviticus 18:9 ), but it was not so at the beginning, since otherwise the race could not have been propagated.

When it is now said that Cain “builded a city,” we should not think of a modern metropolis but only a stockade perhaps, and yet it represents an aggregation of individuals for the promotion of mutual comfort and protection. During Cain’s long lifetime it may have attained a prodigious size.


The posterity of Cain is not given till we reach the seventh from Adam, Lamech, whose history is narrated at length. Of what sin was he guilty in the light of revelation (Malachi 2:15 )? “Adah” means ornament, and “Zillah” shade, and it is not unlikely that the sensuous charms of women now began to be unduly prominent. The suggestion of wealth and possessions is presented in Genesis 4:20 , art comes into view with Jubal (see especially the Revised Version), and the mechanical sciences with Tubal-cain. The cutting instruments speak of husbandry and agriculture, but also alas! of war and murder, preparing us for what follows in Lamech’s history. The latter’s words to his wives are in poetry, and breathe a spirit of boasting and revenge, showing how man’s inventions in science and art were abused then as now.

These antediluvians, in the line of Cain at least, seem to have done everything to make their life in sin as comfortable as possible in contrast to any desire to be delivered from it in God’s way.

MEN OF FAITH (Genesis 4:25 ; Genesis 5:24 )

What is the name of the third son of Adam? While contemporaneous with Cain what indicates that he was younger? What is immediately predicated of his line (Genesis 4:26 )? Notice the capital letters in the name of God, and recall the Hebrew word for which it stands and the truth it illustrates. If now men began to call on the name of Jehovah, the God of promise and redemption, may it indicate that they had not been calling on Him for some time before? Does it then speak of a revival, and single out the Sethites from the line of Cain? In the same connection, notice that nothing is said of their building cities, or owning possessions, or developing the arts and sciences. Nor is mention made of polygamy among them, nor murder, nor revenge. Not that they may have been wholly free from these things, but that the absence of any record of them shows a testimony to their character as compared with the descendants of Cain. They were the men of faith as distinguished from the men of the world. Thus early was the stream of humanity divided.

Notice again the phrase “the generations of” and refer to what was said about it in an earlier lesson. Here it introduces the line of Seth as distinguished from Cain and for the purpose of leading up to the story of Noah, with whose history the next great event in the story of redemption is identified.

But first notice Noah’s ancestor Enoch (Genesis 5:18-24 ). This is not the same Enoch as in Genesis 4:17 , but a descendant of Seth. What mark of faith is attached to his life story (Genesis 5:22 )? And what reward came to him thereby (Genesis 5:24 )? How does Hebrews 11:5 explain this? The translation of Enoch into the next world is a type of the translation of the church at the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ). Enoch was a prophet and spoke of that day (Jude 1:14 ). And notice finally that he was the seventh from Adam in the line of Seth, as Lamech was in the line of Cain. What a contrast between the two, between the people of the world and the people of God, the men of reason and the men of faith! What a contrast in their lives and in the end of their lives!

This lesson had better not close without some reference to the longevity of men in those days. It is singular that it is not spoken of in the line of Cain. May it be attributed to the godliness in that of Seth? Examine Psalms 91:1-16 , especially the last verse, and consider also what Isaiah 65:20 says on the longevity of men in the millennium. Observe too, that this longevity was a means of preserving the knowledge of God in the earth, since tradition could thus be handed down for centuries from father to son.


1. Can you recite Hebrews 11:4 ?

1. With what previous event may Abel’s act of faith be connected?

2. If Abel walked by faith, by what did Cain walk?

3. What two constructions might be placed on the phrase, “sin lieth at the door”?

4. What was the name of the oldest city in the world?

5. Who was the first polygamist?

6. Was primeval civilization based on holiness or sin?

7. What did men begin to do in the days of Seth?

8. Whose history shows death to be not inevitable?

9. What evidential value is found in the longevity of antediluvian man?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/genesis-4.html. 1897-1910.
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