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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-26

Genesis 4:0


From the story of Cain we gather the following thoughts:

I. Eve's disappointment at the birth of Cain should be a warning to all mothers. Over-estimate of children may be traced sometimes to extreme love for them; it may also arise on the part of parents from an overweening estimate of themselves.

II. We see next in the history of Cain what a fearful sin that of murder is. The real evil of murder (apart from its theftuous character) lies in the principles and feelings from which it springs, and in its recklessness as to the consequences, especially the future and everlasting consequences, of the act. The red flower of murder is comparatively rare, but its seeds are around us on all sides.

III. No argument can be deduced from the history of Cain in favour of capital punishments. We object to such punishments: (1) because they, like murder, are opposed to the spirit of forgiveness manifested in the Gospel of Christ, (2) because, like murder, they ruthlessly disregard consequences.


I. It is singular how mental effort and invention seem chiefly confined to the race of Cain, Feeling themselves estranged from God, they are stung to derive whatever solace they can from natural research, artistic skill, and poetic illusion. It is melancholy to think that so many of the arts appeared in conjunction with some shape or other of evil. The music of Jubal in all probability first sounded in the praise of some idol god, or perhaps mingled with some infernal sacrifice. The art of metallurgy and its cognate branches became instantly the instruments of human ferocity and the desire of shedding blood. Even poetry first appeared on the stage linked with the immoral and degrading practice of polygamy. Gifts without graces are but lamps enabling individuals and nations to see their way down more clearly to the chambers of death.

II. There are certain striking analogies between our own age and the age before the flood. Both are ages of (1) ingenuity; (2) violence; (3) great corruption and sensuality; (4) both ages are distinguished by the striving of the Spirit of God.

G. Gilfillan, Alpha and Omega, vol. i., p. 151.

References: Genesis 4:0 . Parker, vol. i., p. 145; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 336; S. Leathes, Studies in Genesis, p. 45. 4-9:17. J. Monro Gibson, The Ages before Moses, p. 116.

Verses 3-5

Genesis 4:3-5

Hebrews 11:4

We learn from our text:

I. That religion actuated men in the very earliest times. (1) Religion as a principle was found in the members of the first human family. The most prominent thing connected with Cain and Abel was their religion. (2) All nations of men have practised religion. Conscience, like the unresting heart that sends its crimson streams through the system, and so perpetuates its life, is untiringly impelling men to die to sin and live to God. (3) The religious is the most perfect type of manhood known. Humanity at its best is to be found only in the highest Christian state.

II. That mere natural religion is essentially defective. (1) In its offerings. Cain recognised only a God of providence in his offering; he did not feel that he needed to sacrifice as a sinner. (2) In the power which it exercises over the passions of man. Cain held a religion, but his religion did not hold him. (3) In its sympathy. Cain's heartless question "Am I my brother's keeper?" marks him out as a stranger to grace.

III. That spiritual religion alone commends a man to God. This is illustrated in the life of Abel. (1) He possessed faith. (2) He offered an acceptable sacrifice to God. (3) Spiritual religion has a favourable influence on character. The quality of Abel's piety, its depth and spirituality, cost him his life, and made him at the same time the first martyr for true religion.

D. Rhys Jenkins, The Eternal Life, p. 49.

References: Genesis 4:1 . B. Waugh, Sunday Magazine (1887), p. 277. Genesis 4:2 . Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 20. Genesis 4:3-5 . M. G. Pearse, Some Aspects of the Blessed Life, p. 62.

Verses 3-7

Genesis 4:3-7

I. The first question to be asked is this: What did Cain and Abel know about sacrifice? Although we should certainly have expected Moses to inform us plainly if there had been a direct ordinance to Adam or his sons concerning the offering of fruits or animals, we have no right to expect that he should say more than he has said to make us understand that they received a much more deep and awful kind of communication. If he has laid it down that man is made in the image of God, if he has illustrated that principle after the fall by showing how God met Adam in the garden in the cool of the day and awakened him to a sense of his disobedience, we do not want any further assurance that the children he begat would be born and grow up under the same law.

II. It has been asked again, Was not Abel right in presenting the animal and Cain wrong in presenting the fruits of the earth? I must apply the same rule as before. We are not told this; we may not put a notion of ours into the text. Our Lord revealed Divine analogies in the sower and the seed, as well as in the shepherd and the sheep. It cannot be that he who in dependence and submission offers Him of the fruits of the ground, which it is his calling to rear, is therefore rejected, or will not be taught a deeper love by other means, if at present he lacks it.

III. The sin of Cain a sin of which we have all been guilty was that he supposed God to be an arbitrary Being, whom he by his sacrifice was to conciliate. The worth of Abel's offering arose from this: that he was weak, and that he cast himself upon One whom he knew to be strong; that he had the sense of death, and that he turned to One whence life must come; that he had the sense of wrong, and that he fled to One who must be right. His sacrifice was the mute expression of this helplessness, dependence, confidence.

From this we see: ( a ) that sacrifice has its ground in something deeper than legal enactments; ( b ) that sacrifice infers more than the giving up of a thing; ( c ) that sacrifice has something to do with sin, something to do with thanksgiving; ( d ) that sacrifice becomes evil and immoral when the offerer attaches any value to his own act and does not attribute the whole worth of it to God.

F. D. Maurice, The Doctrine of Sacrifice Deduced from the Scriptures, p. 1.

References: Genesis 4:4 . G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 374; B. Waugh, Sunday Magazine (1887), p. 281.

Verses 4-5

Genesis 4:4-5

There are two things which distinguish the Bible from every other book: the view it gives us of man, and the view it gives us of God. The one is so human, the other so Divine; the one so exactly consistent with what we ourselves see of man, the other so exactly consistent with what we ourselves should expect in God, in other words, with what our own conscience, which is God's voice within, recognises as worthy of God, and ratifies where it could not have originated.

I. "The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect." Whence this distinction? Was there anything in the material of the two offerings which made the one acceptable and the other offensive? Have we any right to say, apart from the express language of Scripture, that by bringing an animal in sacrifice Abel showed a clear perception of the true way of atonement, and that by bringing of the fruits of the earth Cain proved himself a self-justifier, a despiser of propitiation? In the absence of express guidance we dare not assert with confidence that it was in the material of the two offerings that God saw the presence or the absence of an acceptable principle. In proportion as we lay the stress of the difference more upon the spirit and less upon the form of the sacrifice, we shall be more certainly warranted by the inspired word and more immediately within the reach of its application to ourselves.

II. It was by faith that Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. It was because of the presence of faith in Abel that God had respect unto him and to his offering. And so it is now. The worship of one is accepted and the worship of another disregarded, because one has faith and another has no faith. The worship of faith is the concentrated energy of the life of faith. Where God sees this, there He has respect to our offering; where God sees not this, to that person and to his offering He has not respect.

C. J. Vaughan, Lessons of Life and Godliness, p. 34.

References: Genesis 4:5-15 . R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 97. Genesis 4:6-7 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii., No. 1929.

Verse 7

Genesis 4:7

The key to the interpretation of these words is to remember that they describe what happens after and because of wrong-doing. They are all suspended on "If thou doest not well." The word translated here "lieth" is employed only to express the crouching of an animal, and frequently of a wild animal: "Unto thee shall be its desire, and thou shalt rule over it" Words like these were spoken to Eve: "Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee." In horrible parody of the wedded union and love, we have the picture of the sin that was thought of as crouching at the sinner's door like a wild beast, now, as it were, wedded to him.

I. Think of the wild beast which we tether to our doors by our wrong-doing. Every human deed is immortal; the transitory evil thought or word or act, which seems to fleet by like a cloud, has a permanent being, and hereafter haunts the life of the doer as a real presence. This memory has in it everything you ever did. A landscape may be hidden by mists, but a puff of wind will clear them away, and it will all be there, visible to the farthest horizon.

II. The next thought is put into a strong and, to our modern notions, somewhat violent metaphor the horrible longing, as it were, of sin toward the sinner: "Unto thee shall be its desire." Our sins act towards us as if they desired to draw our love to themselves. When once a man has done a wrong thing it has an awful power of attracting him and making him hunger to do it again. All sin is linked together in a slimy tangle, like a field of seaweed, so that the man once caught in its oozy fingers is almost sure to be drowned.

III. The command here is also a promise. "Sin lies at thy door rule thou over it." The text proclaims only duty, but it has hidden in its very hardness a sweet kernel of promise. For what God commands God enables us to do. The words do really point onwards through all the ages to the great fact that Jesus Christ, God's own Son, came down from heaven, like an athlete descending into the arena, to fight with and to overcome the grim wild beasts, our passions and our sins, and to lead them transformed in the silken leash of His love.

A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 171.

References: Genesis 4:7 . S. Cox, Expositor's Notebook, p. 1; J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 329; A. W. Momerie, The Origin of Evil, p. 101; B. Waugh, Sunday Magazine (1887), p. 489.

Verses 8-13

Genesis 4:8-13

Sin finds in the very constitution of the human mind the enginery of its own retribution.

I. The very consciousness of sin is destructive of a sinner's peace.

II. Sin tends to develop sin.

III. The consciousness of guilt is always more or less painfully attended with the apprehension of its discovery.

IV. A foreboding of judicial and eternal retribution is incident to sin.

V. From all this we see the preciousness of the work of Christ. He becomes a reality to us, only because He is a necessity. He gives Himself to blot out the past.

A. Phelps, The Old Testament a Living Book for all Ages, p. 137.

Verse 9

Genesis 4:9

The feeling of our sonship to God in Christ is a topic which requires to be constantly dwelt upon, because our conventional acceptance of such a relationship is apt to be compatible with a life which has no real apprehension of it.

I. Of the dangers which are partly rooted in our animal nature and partly fostered and intensified by the drift of our time, the one likely to press most heavily on us is that of exaggerated individualism. Where this is not tempered by an infusion of the religious spirit, we find it working with a disintegrating power, and in various ways vitiating both our personal and social life.

II. Almost every advance of civilisation which distinguishes our century has tended to give this principle some new hold on the common life. There is no corner of society, commercial or social, political or artistic, which it does not invade. The volume of its force is intensified as wealth increases and easy circumstances become more common. Our time is preeminently a time of materialistic egoism.

III. The evolutionist, telling us of the growth of all our sentiments, taking us back to germinal forms and then leading us upward through struggle and survival, makes the ruling motive in every early life essentially egoistic. The question arises, Where and how is this motive to change its character? Is this last utterance to be still but an echo of the primeval question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" If this be the last word, we must repeat again, however sadly Αρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανε .

IV. But we cannot rest in this conclusion. There is no possibility of rest until we have settled it with ourselves that our higher consciousness gives us touch of the reality of the Divine and everlasting, when it declares that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, joint-heirs with Christ. This we believe to be the last word for us on the mystery of our being and destiny.

J. Percival, Oxford Review and Undergraduates' Journal, Jan. 25th, 1883.

The first time the relationship of brotherhood is brought before us in Scripture does not present it in the most harmonious or endearing aspect, and yet the very rivalry and resentment which were engendered by it give an incidental sign of the closeness of the tie which it involves.

I. The brother tie is one whose visible and apparent closeness of necessity diminishes under the common conditions of life.

II. Although it is a link whose visible association vanishes, it ought never to be an association which fades out of the heart. There is always something wrong when a relationship like this disappears behind maturer attachments.

III. Whether from the hearth of home or from the wider range of brotherhood which the commonwealth supplies, the pattern and inspiration of true brotherhood is found in Christ, the Elder Brother of us all.

A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 251.

"Am I my brother's keeper?" This is the very gospel of selfishness, and a murderer is its first preacher. The gospel of selfishness is, that a man must take care of his own interests; and out of that universal self-seeking, provided it be wise and restrained, will come the well-being of all.

I. This is an age of rights rather than of duties. It is very notable that there is almost nothing about rights in the teaching of Christ. The Lord seeks to train the spirit of His followers into doing and suffering aright. But by preaching love and duty, the Gospel has been the lawgiver of nations, the friend of man, the champion of his rights. Its teaching has been of God, of duty, and of love; and wherever these ideas have come, freedom and earthly happiness and cultivation have followed silently behind.

II. Our age needs to be reminded that in one sense each of us has the keeping of his brethren confided to him, and that love is the law and the fulfilling of the law. The rights of men to our love, to our consideration, rest upon an act of Divine love. Their chartered right to our reverence is in these terms: That God loved them and sent His Son to be the propitiation for their sins, and the Saviour set to it His seal and signed it with His blood.

Archbishop Thomson, Life in the Light of God's Word, p. 301.

References: Genesis 4:9 . J. Cumming, Church before the Flood, p. 186; H. Alford, Sermons, p. 1; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 277; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 242; A. Hamilton, Sunday Magazine (1877), p. 660; J. D. Kelly, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 243; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 5; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1399; Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. iv., p. 272; J. Sherman, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 25, No. 39. Genesis 4:9 , Genesis 4:10 . H. Melvill, Sermons on Less Prominent Facts, p. 286. Genesis 4:10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 461, and vol. xii., No. 708. Genesis 4:13 . Parker, vol. i., p. 150. Genesis 4:15 , Genesis 4:16 . R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i., pp. 86 and 108. Genesis 4:17 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 268 Genesis 4:23 , Genesis 4:24 . S. Cox, Expositor's Notebook, p. 19; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 380; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 227.

Verse 26

Genesis 4:26

Prayer is speaking to God on any subject, with any object, in any place, and in any way.

I. Prayer so regarded is an instinct. It seems to be natural to man to look upwards and address himself to his God. Even in the depth of lost knowledge and depraved feeling, the instinct of prayer will assert itself. A nation going to war with another nation will call upon its God for success and victory; and an individual man, from the bedside of a dying wife or child, will invoke the aid of one supposed to be mighty, to stay the course of a disease which the earthly physician has pronounced incurable and mortal. Just as the instinct of nature brings the child in distress or hunger to a father's knee or to a mother's bosom, even so does created man turn in great misery to a faithful Creator, and throw himself upon His compassion and invoke His aid.

II. But prayer is a mystery too. The mysteriousness of prayer is an argument for its reasonableness. It is not a thing which common men would have thought of or gone after for themselves. The idea of holding a communication with a distant, an unseen, a spiritual being, is an idea too sublime, too ethereal for any but poets or philosophers to have dreamed of, had it not been made instinctive by the original Designer of our spiritual frame.

III. Prayer is also a revelation. Many things waited for the coming of Christ to reveal them, but prayer waited not. Piety without knowledge there might be; piety without prayer could not be. And so Christ had no need to teach as a novelty the duty or the privilege of prayer. He was able to assume that all pious men, however ignorant, prayed; and to say therefore only this, "When ye pray, say after this manner."

C. J. Vaughan, Voices of the Prophets, p. 139.

References: Genesis 4:26 . Expositor, 2nd series, vol. vii., p. 230; J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 331; B. Waugh, The Sunday Magazine (1887), p. 491; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 381.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/genesis-4.html.
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