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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



The birth of Cain and Abel, and their employment, Genesis 4:1-2.

Cain's offering, Genesis 4:3.

Abel's sacrifice, and God's acceptance, Genesis 4:4.

Cain's rejected; his discontent, Genesis 4:5.

God expostulates it with him, Genesis 4:6-7.

He murders Abel, Genesis 4:8.

God makes inquiry after Abel, Genesis 4:9.

The cry of his blood, Genesis 4:10.

God's curse upon Cain, Genesis 4:11-12.

His complaint, Genesis 4:13-14.

God mitigates it, Genesis 4:15.

Its execution, Genesis 4:16.

Cain's posterity, Genesis 4:17-18.

Lamech's two wives, Genesis 4:19.

They bear unto him sons, who dwell in tents, Genesis 4:20; invent musical instruments, Genesis 4:21; have skill in brass and iron, Genesis 4:22.

His boasting, Genesis 4:23-24.

The birth of Seth, Genesis 4:25. His son; the revival of religion, Genesis 4:26.

Verse 1

This modest expression is used both in Scripture and other authors, to signify the conjugal act or carnal knowledge. So Genesis 19:8; Genesis 24:16; Numbers 31:17; Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34.

Cain, whose name signifies a possession. A man, a male child, as Genesis 7:2, which was most welcome.

From the Lord; or, by or with the Lord, i.e. by virtue of his first blessing, Genesis 1:28, and special favour. Or, a man the Lord, as the words properly signify: q.d. God-man, or the Messias, hoping that this was the promised Seed.

Verse 2

Abel signifies vanity, a vain, mortal, miserable man, whereas she thought Cain to be more than an ordinary man; or this name might prophetically design his miserable life, and untimely and unnatural death. To till the ground was esteemed a more honourable calling than that of a shepherd, and therefore either chosen by the elder brother, or allotted to him by his father.

Verse 3


1. In general, at the return of the set time then appointed, and used for the solemn service of God. Or,

2. At the end of the year, when there might be now, as there was afterward among the Jews, more solemn worship and sacrifices; the word days being often put for a year, as Leviticus 25:29; 1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 27:7. Or,

3. More probably at the end of the days of the week, or upon the seventh and last day of the week, Saturday, which then was the sabbath day, which before this time was blessed and sanctified, Genesis 2:3.

Cain brought an offering, either to the place appointed for the solemn worship of God, or to his father, who at that time was both king, and prophet, and priest. Or brought, i.e. offered.

Verse 4

The firstlings; either,

1. The first-born, which God reserved to himself, both at this time, and afterwards by an express law, Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:13. Or,

2. The choicest and most eminent of the flock; for the best of any kind are oft called first-born, as Job 18:13; Jeremiah 31:19; Hebrews 12:23.

The fat thereof was either,

1. Properly, the fat being properly now required by God, as afterwards was expressed, Exodus 29:13,Exodus 29:22; Leviticus 3:3. Or,

2. The best of them, as the word fat is often used, as Genesis 45:18; Genesis 49:20; Numbers 18:12; Nehemiah 8:10; Psalms 147:14.

The Lord had respect, or, looked to him with a gracious eye, kindly accepted and owned him and his sacrifice, and testified this Hebrews 11:4 to Cain and all there present, either by express word, or by some visible sign; probably by consuming his sacrifice by fire from heaven, as the fathers generally think; whereby also God did afterwards frequently signify, his acceptance of sacrifices, as Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1. Unto Abel’s person, who was a truly good man; and then to his sacrifice, which was offered with faith in God’s mercy and in the promised Mediator, Hebrews 11:4.

Verse 5

Cain was very wroth; partly with God, who, had cast so public a disgrace upon him, and given the preference to his younger brother; and partly with Abel, because he had received more honour from God, and therefore was likely to have more respect and privilege from his parents than himself.

His countenance fell; whereas before it was lifted up and cheerful, now it fell down through sense of guilt, disappointment of his hope, shame and grief, and envy at his brother.

Verse 6

The Lord spoke unto Cain, that he might bring him to repentance, and the knowledge of his sin.

Why is thy countenance fallen? The cause of this dejectedness is not from me, but from thyself.

Verse 7

If thou doest well, or, for the future shalt do well, i.e. repent of thy sin, amend thy life, offer thy offerings with a willing and cheerful mind and honest heart, in faith and love, as Abel did,

shalt thou not be accepted? Or, pardoned, received into favour? Or, exalted, and either preserved in or restored unto those rights of the first-born, which thou art conscious to thyself that thou hast forfeited? Or, elevated in thy looks, i.e. would not, or should not, thy countenance have been upright and pleasant, which now is sad and dejected?

Sin is here taken, either,

1. Properly; so the sense is: Sin will be growing upon thee; one sin will bring in another, and that malice and purpose of revenge against thy brother, which now lies hid in the secret chamber of thy mind and heart, lies at the door ready to break forth into the view of the world in open murder. Or,

2. For the punishment of sin, as it is taken Genesis 19:15; Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 20:20; Numbers 18:1; 2 Kings 7:9; Zechariah 14:19; so the sense is, If thou wilt go on in sin, and execute thy wicked purpose, which I perceive lies working in thy heart, be sure thy sin will find thee out, as it is said Numbers 32:23. Thou shalt not long enjoy the fruits of thy wickedness, but a dreadful judgment shall tread upon the heels of thy sin, and lie like a furious mastiff dog at the very door of thy house, to seize upon thee at thy first coming in or going out. For that person or thing which is very near to us, or at hand, is said to be at the doors, Matthew 24:33; James 5:9.

Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. Those two clauses may relate either,

1. To sin, which may he here spoken of as a person, as it is Romans 7:8-11, &c. So the place may be rendered and expounded thus, The desire of sin is to thee, i.e. to assault, seduce, conquer, and destroy thee; as it is said, Luke 22:31, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you, & c. Or thus, its desire, objectively, not subjectively taken, i.e. thy desire, intention, or resolution of sinning, that evil motion of thy heart against thy brother, shall be against (as the Hebrew particle el oft signifies) thee, i.e. howsoever at present it pleaseth thee, yet it is really not only against him, but against thyself, and will certainly turn to thy own ruin; but (for so the particle and is commonly taken) if thou be wise, give no place to it, but resist it, do thou rule (for the future tense is oft put imperatively, as in the ten commandments, and it frequently signifies not what a man can or shall do, but his duty or what he ought to do, as is evident from Genesis 20:9; Malachi 1:6; Luke 3:14) over it, i.e. conquer and subdue it, which is thy duty; or, thou shalt rule over it, i.e. by my grace assisting thy endeavours, thou shalt be enabled to subdue thy evil concupiscences and passions, and so overrule, prevent, or remove those punishments which otherwise sin will infallibly bring upon thee. Or,

2. To Abel, and so the sense is, and (as for thy brother Abel, to whose faith and piety I have given this public and honourable testimony, which thy naughty heart makes an occasion of envy and malice, and intention of murder, that thou mayst not by a mistake be led to the perpetration of so horrid a crime, know that this favour of mine concerns only his spiritual privilege, and the happiness of the life to come, which thou despisest; but it makes no change in civil rights, nor doth it transfer the dominion from thee, whose it is by birth, unto him; nor doth he so understand it; for notwithstanding this) unto thee shall be his desire, subject, i.e. he shall and will nevertheless yield to thee as his superior, and thou, according to thy own heart's desire,

shalt rule over him. If it be said the name of Abel is not here mentioned, it may be answered, that this is sufficiently included in the pronouns his and him, and it is not unusual to put those relative pronouns alone, the antecedent being not expressed, but to be gathered either from the foregoing or following words; of which see Poole on "Genesis 3:1".

Verse 8

Cain talked with Abel, either,

1. Familiarly and friendly, as he used to do, thereby to make him secure and careless; or by way of expostulation and contention;

in the field, into which Abel was led, either by his own employment, or,

2. By Cain's persuasion; this being a fit place for the execution of his wicked purpose.

Slew him, possibly with stone or club, or with some iron tool belonging to husbandry.

Verse 9

Where is Abel? Not that God was ignorant where he was, but partly to convince him of his sin, and to lead him to repentance, and partly to instruct judges to inquire into causes, and hear the accused speak for themselves, before they pass sentence.

Thy brother, whom nature and near relation obliged thee to love and preserve.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Why dost thou inquire of me concerning him who is of age to look to himself? Is he such a stripling that he needs a guardian? Or didst thou ever make me his guardian?

Verse 10

I hear thy words, but what say thy actions? What a hideous crime hast thou committed! In vain dost thou endeavour to hide it or deny it. In the Hebrew it is bloods, either to aggravate the crime, or to show the plenty of the blood split, or to charge him with the murder of all those that might naturally have come out of Abel’s loins; which was a far greater crime in the nonage of the world, when the world greatly wanted people.

From the ground, upon which it was spilt by thy bloody hands.

Verse 11

As the earth was cursed for thy father’s sake, so now art thou cursed in thy own person;

from the earth, or, in regard of the earth, which shall grudge thee both its fruits and a certain dwelling-place, and which had more humanity to thy brother than thou hadst; for it kindly received and covered that blood which thou didst cruelly and unnaturally shed upon it.

Verse 12

Or, that ground, which doth or shall fall to thy share, besides the first and general curse inflicted upon the whole earth, shall have this peculiar curse added to it,

it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength, i.e. its virtue and fruit, in such proportion as it hath hitherto done.

A vagabond shalt thou be, banished from thy own land and kindred, and father’s house, and from the whole society of the faithful, and wandering hither and thither. Others render the words mourning and trembling; or, trembling and wandering. These two words note both the unquietness and horror of his mind and conscience, and the unsettledness of his habitation and condition, and, as some add, the trembling of his body.

Verse 13

Hebrew, My sin; but sin seems here to be put for punishment, as before, Genesis 4:7; Genesis 19:15; Leviticus 5:1; Psalms 69:27; Proverbs 12:21; for Cain was not so sensible of his sin as of the ill effects of it, as himself shows, Genesis 4:14.

Verse 14

Consider how severely thou usest me; thou hast driven me out, with public infamy, as the word signifies,

from the face of the earth, or, this earth, my native land,

and from thy face, i.e. favour and protection, as the public enemy of mankind, and as one devoted by thee to destruction.

Quest. Whom did Cain fear, when it appears not that there were any but his father and mother?

Answ. So ignorant people conceive; but it is a fond conceit to think that there were no more men than are expressed in this book, where God never intended to give a catalogue of all men, but only of the church, or those who had some relation to or concern with it. Nay, that there were very many thousands of men now in being, is very credible upon these rational grounds and suppositions.

1. That Adam and Eve did, according to God’s precept and blessing, Genesis 1:26, procreate children presently after the fall, and God’s gracious reconcilement to them; and consequently their children did so, when they came to competent age.

2. That those first men and women were endowed by God with extraordinary fruitfulness, and might have two, three, four, or more at a time, (as divers persons long after had), which was then expedient for the replenishing of the world; and the like may be judged of their children during the world’s infancy.

3. That this murder was committed but a little before the hundred and thirtieth year of Adam’s age, which appears by comparing Genesis 4:25 and Genesis 5:3. Before which time, how vast and numerous an offspring might have come from Adam, none can be ignorant that can and shall make a rational computation.

Verse 15

Therefore; or, assuredly, as the word signifies, Jeremiah 2:32; Jeremiah 5:2; Zechariah 11:17; that thou mayst see how I hate murder, and how impartially I shall punish all murderers; and that thou mayst be unhappily free from this fear, that thou mayst live for an example to mankind, for a terror to thyself and others.

Sevenfold, i.e. abundantly; he shall be plagued with many and grievous punishments, as the phrase is used, Leviticus 26:28; Psalms 12:7; Psalms 79:12, and in many other places.

A mark upon Cain. What this was, whether a trembling of his body, or a ghastliness of his countenance, or what other visible token of the Divine displeasure, God hath not revealed, nor doth it concern us to know.

Verse 16

i.e. He was banished from the place of God’s special presence and habitation, from the society of his father, and of the only church which God had upon earth;

and dwelt in the land of Nod, in the land which was afterwards called Nod, from Cain’s unsettled condition, because he continued wandering hither and thither in it.

Verse 17

Cain knew his wife; of which phrase see Poole on "Genesis 4:1".

He built a city; partly to divert his troubled mind with business and pleasure, and partly for his own security against the enemies and evils which his guilty conscience made him fear, notwithstanding the assurance which God had given him. And this he did as soon as he was in capacity for it, either by the increase of his own posterity, or by the accession of other degenerate sons of Adam to him, who either being banished, or having departed from the church, willingly associated themselves with their brethren in iniquity.

After the name of his son, Enoch; not after his own name, which he knew to be infamous and hateful.

Verse 19

Lamech, the wicked branch of that cursed root of Cain,

took unto him two wives, against God’s first institution, Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:15, and without God’s leave.

Verse 20

He taught shepherds to dwell in tents, and to remove them from place to place, for conveniency of pasture. The first authors or inventors of any thing are commonly called its fathers. And he was the inventor of the art of keeping and managing cattle.

Verse 21

Or, the lovely instrument; but what kind of instrument this was, even the Jews do not understand. The meaning is, he was the inventor of music and musical instruments.

Verse 22

Tubal-cain, whom (as the learned conceive, and the agreement of the name and function makes probable) the heathens worshipped by the name of Vulcan, the god of smiths; and his sister Naamah, by the name of Venus. He first taught men how to make arms, and other instruments of iron.

Naamah; so called from her beauty, which her name signifies.

Verse 23

Adah and Zillah, observing his fierceness and cruelty, feared that the vengeance of God or men would fall upon him, and upon them for his sake.

Be it so that I have slain a man, and that a young man, why do you concern yourselves in it? It is

to my own

wounding and hurt, not to yours; I must suffer for it, not you. Some take this to be a sorrowful confession of his bloody crime: q.d. I have murdered a man, to my wounding, &c. i.e. to my utter ruin, or to the wounding and grief of my heart and conscience. But this seems not to agree either with the quality of Cain’s family, or with the temper of Lamech’s person, or with the scope of the Holy Ghost in this place; which is to describe, not the virtues, but the crimes of that wicked race. According to the marginal translation, the sense may be this, Fear not for me; for if any man, though in his youth and strength, should assault me, and give me the first wound, he should pay dearly for it; and though I were wounded and weakened, the remainders of my strength would be sufficient to give him his death’s wound. The words also may be otherwise rendered; the particle chi being taken interrogatively, as it is Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 36:19, and elsewhere: Have I slain a man to my wounding, and or, or a young man to my hurt? i.e. that thereby I should deserve such a mortal wound or hurt to be inflicted upon me by way of retaliation? You have therefore no cause of fear, either for my sake or for your own.

Verse 24

If the slaughter of Cain shall be punished in him that shall kill him, whosoever he be, my death shall be much more certainly and severely revenged by God upon any man that shall murder me. These words may be either,

1. A profane scoff: q.d. Since Cain, my father and pattern in murder, was so far from being punished by the hand of God, that he had a special protection from him that no man should dare to touch him, I (whose murder is not so heinous as his was) shall not fare worse than he, and therefore have no reason to fear either God or men. Or,

2. An argument or ground of his security: q.d. I am not only secured by my own puissance, but by God’s providence; which certainly will be more watchful over me, who have not committed any such horrid crime, than over him that killed his own innocent brother.

Verse 25

She gave the name, but not without Adam's consent, Genesis 5:3. She spoke by Divine inspiration.

Note that the word

seed is used of one single person here, and Genesis 21:13; Genesis 38:8; which confirms the apostle's argument, Galatians 3:16.

Instead of Abel; to succeed his father Adam, as Abel should have done in the priesthood, and administration and care of holy things in the church of God.

Verse 26

Enos properly signifies a miserable man, to note the great wickedness and wretchedness of that generation, which the Hebrew writers generally observe.

To call upon the name of the Lord; to pray unto God, to worship God in a more public and solemn manner; praying being here put for the whole worship of God, as Genesis 12:8; Genesis 26:25, and in many other places. According to the marginal version, the sense is this: Then when the world was universally corrupt, and had forsaken God and his service, good men grew more valiant and zealous for God, and did more publicly and avowedly own God, and began to distinguish and separate themselves from the ungodly world, and to call themselves and one another by the name of God, i.e. the sons, servants, or worshippers of God as they are expressly called; and that, as it seems, upon this occasion, Genesis 6:2. And in this sense this phrase is elsewhere taken, as Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 44:5; Isaiah 65:1. Some render the place thus, Then began men to profane the name, i.e. the worship, of the Lord, by idolatry or superstition. But this seems neither to agree with the Hebrew phrase, nor to suit with this place, where he speaks of the posterity of Seth; who were the holy seed, and the only church of God then in the world.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Genesis 4". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/genesis-4.html. 1685.
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