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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Genesis 4

In Genesis 3 sin causes the separation between God and man (Isa 59:2a). Genesis 4 shows that the separation with God through sin also has consequences for the relationship between people.

Verses 1-2

Cain and Abel


Sinful people get sinful children (Jn 3:6a; Psa 51:5b; Job 14:4). The Lord Jesus is the only exception. He is born of Mary, a sinful woman, but not conceived by a sinful man. He was begotten by God the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35). Therefore it says of Him that He “knew no sin” (2Cor 5:21) and that He “committed no sin” (1Pet 2:22). He is the Son of God Who has not a sinful nature: “In Him there is no sin” (1Jn 3:5).

Eve gives her firstborn son the name “Cain”. That name means ‘obtained’ or ‘gain’. She may call him so because she believes he is the promised Seed (Gen 3:15). Soon she will learn that he is not. In the same way Samuel later also makes a mistake when he thinks that Eliab, David’s eldest brother, is God’s chosen king because this man is so tall (1Sam 16:6-7). Cain also gets a brother: Abel.

Both boys develop differently. There is nothing wrong with that. However, we do see in the difference in their activities an indication of the orientation of their hearts. Abel becomes a keeper of flocks. That seems an easy work, while Cain seems to be a hard-working man.

The fact that Abel becomes a keeper of flocks makes it clear that his heart goes out to God. He doesn’t have the flocks to eat from them himself. This is not yet the case, for it is only in Genesis 9 that God gives the flesh to man for food (Gen 9:3). Abel keeps flocks to sacrifice them to God, as we read in Gen 4:4. He is deeply aware of the fact that a man can only exist before God on the basis of an offering.

Verses 3-5

Cain and His Offering – Abel and His Offering


Although we are not reading about it, Adam and Eve will have told their children about what happened in paradise. They will have told of their sin and of their alienation from God. Then they will have told that God has provided an opportunity to have them back with Him by covering them with the skin of an animal that has been killed for that. They have realized that they can only exist before God on the basis of an animal slaughtered by God to clothe them with the skin of that animal.

Cain is the first to bring an offering. Abel also brings an offering. We read about “Cain and … his offering” and about “Abel and … his offering” (Gen 4:4-5). The person and his offering belong together. Abel and his offering are accepted, Cain and his offering are not. Here begins the separation that runs through the whole Bible: the separation between the family of God and the family of the devil (1Jn 3:10-12).

As people they are both sinners. There is no distinction in this (Rom 3:23). The rejection of Cain and the acceptance of Abel must therefore lie in the offering. That is exactly what Hebrews 11 says: “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain” (Heb 11:4). Abel is no better than Cain, but he has really taken the lesson of his parents to heart and comes to God with an animal of his flock. He understands that the blood of an innocent one is necessary to be accepted by God. God can accept that offering and He accepts the offeror in the offering.

Cain comes with a completely different kind of offering. He comes with the fruit of the ground, with the fruit of his own honest, hard work. But it is a bloodless offering. It is like with the fig leaves (Gen 3:7). Own effort can never bring reconciliation and bridge the gap that exists between the sinner and God. It refers to the own righteousness that a man tries to build up and of which he thinks that God should be content with that. This is what Jude in his letter calls “the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11), the self-willed way to approach God. Following that path leads one to turn his back on God and to live his own life, without considering Him, as we see later in this chapter (Gen 4:16-22).

Through the rejection of him and his offering the true nature of Cain comes to the surface. He is “of the evil one” (1Jn 3:12a). He becomes very angry at his rejection instead of humbling himself before God. This can be read from his face. His countenance falls or becomes gloomy.

Verses 6-7

The LORD Offers Cain a Solution


The LORD speaks to him about his anger. He gives Cain the opportunity to turn from his error and to “do well”, that is to bring the good offering and thereby take the right place before God.

The LORD also warns him of the consequences if he does not do so. Then sin will take full possession of him. If he listens, he will also be able to take the place of the firstborn and enjoy the blessing attached to it.

Verse 8

Cain Kills Abel


On the way of Cain the works of Cain happen: murder (1Jn 3:12b). Instead of responding to God’s call, Cain turns against his brother. The first sin – that of Adam and Eve – is one against God, the second is one against the neighbor. The second sin is the result of the first.

What did Abel do to Cain? Abel did nothing against Cain, but Cain begrudges Abel the grace he received from God. That’s how it always went. Those who believe they can serve God in their own righteousness have always persecuted those who want to live by grace (Gal 4:29). Religious leaders killed the Lord Jesus because He preached grace. Later they captured Paul and wanted to do the same with him because he went to the nations to preach the gospel to them (Acts 22:19-22).

Verses 9-12

The LORD Judges Cain


Like as after Adam’s sin, God comes after Cain’s sin with a question to the sinner. By asking questions God forces man to think about his actions and to give a well-considered answer. Cain does not answer evasive, like Adam and Eve, but with a pertinent lie. In Cain two main features of sin are expressed to which all sins can be traced: violence and lie or corruption.

God points out to him that He hears the voice of Abel in his blood. There is no point in denying it. God curses Cain for his obstinate refusal to acknowledge his sin. This curse will have an effect on the results of its cultivation of the ground. The soil will no longer provide him with what it had previously yielded. All his efforts will only show a moderate result.

Verses 13-16

Cain Leaves the LORD


If God as Judge confronts Cain with his sin, he can no longer get away from it. Then Cain takes a different approach. He believes his sin is too great to be forgiven. Here we see the two extremes. First Cain denied his sin. Now that he can no longer get away from it, he states that his sin is unforgivable. In both cases it becomes clear that he does not want to bow before God.

Both evasions are a lie of satan, preventing people from turning to God and accepting the offer of grace to be saved. The first is a justification of oneself, the second is a belittling of God, as if there were a sin with which He would not know what to do, for which the Lord Jesus could not die.

Guilt that is not forgiven fills man with constant fear (Pro 28:1a; Job 15:20-21; Psa 53:5a). Wherever Cain wanders around, everywhere he thinks he is in mortal danger. In every one he meets, he sees a representative of the law. The people who live on earth are his brothers and sisters, but even for them he is rightly afraid that he will die by their hand.

Yet God, in His goodness, still meets Cain with regard to his life on earth. By appointing a sign for him, others will see that God alone reserves the right to act with the sinner Cain. After this promise, Cain turns his back on the LORD. He leaves to the east, the direction to which God has driven out Adam and Eve (Gen 3:24) and settles to live there.

Verses 17-24

The Descendants of Cain


The first record of a genealogy in the Bible is that of Cain, the genealogy of the line of unbelief, of flesh. In Genesis 5 comes the genealogy of faith (Gen 5:1). Here we see the principle: “The spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual” (1Cor 15:46). We have seen this in the bringing of the offering: first Cain brings an offering, then Abel. The fact that Cain builds a city and calls it after the name of his son is proof that this record of genealogy is about people who live in unbelief. He writes his own glory on his building.

His descendant Lamech tramples on God’s institution of marriage by taking two wives. The children he has begotten with these wives have received qualities from God but they use them for themselves.

1. Jabal is “the father of those who dwell in tents and [have] livestock”, which we can apply to economic prosperity, property and convenience.
2. Jubal is “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe”, which we can apply to bringing entertainment through art and culture and other forms of amusement.
3. Tubal-cain is “the forger of all implements of bronze and iron”, which stands for science and technology.

These things characterize the world today. There is no need to ask God. Man arranges everything himself.

We also hear the bragging voice of Lamech who boasts of his power. He is the man who can stand up for himself. He finds himself head and shoulders above his ancestor Cain. No one will be able to do anything to him, Lamech, or that person will be punished much more severely than the one who would kill Cain. He finds himself that important.

Verses 25-26

Seth, the Substitute for Abel


After the dark painting of ‘the way of Cain’, a ray of hope lights up. We go back in time and hear about the birth of “Seth”. He replaces Abel. Seth means ‘compensated’ or ‘substitute’. Here we can see a general principle: what has been given to God or taken (back) by Him will always be compensated or replaced by Him.

Seth also gets a son, “Enosh”, which means “man” in the sense of “weak man” or “mortal man”. From that name appears the faith of Seth. Unlike Cain and his descendants, Seth does not expect anything from man, but everything from God. It is therefore remarkable that precisely in the days of Enosh “[men] began to call upon the name of the LORD”. While there are those who make a name for themselves on earth (Gen 4:17), there are those who, in the awareness of their own weakness, call upon the name of the LORD (cf. Pro 18:10).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.