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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



God hath respect to the offering of Abel, and rejects that of Cain: Cain kills his brother; God denounces sentence upon him for his fratricide. The posterity of Cain. Lamech's address to his wives. The birth of Seth from Adam; of Enos from Seth.


CHAP. IV. One of the most fatal effects of the fall of Adam was to derive a depravity upon his whole posterity, whereof the tragical end of Abel was the first unfortunate example. The birth of her first son had filled Eve with pleasure: but this was not the last time that children, whose coming into the world has caused transports of joy to those from whom they received their birth, have brought sorrow and bitterness to them all their life after.
The two first brothers ought to have been united by the strictest bonds of friendship: all the fields, all the products thereof, yea, the whole earth was theirs. No handle was there for those public divisions, which in the following ages have been so fatal to society; nor for those private quarrels which have passed from parents to children, and been transmitted as an inheritance throughout their families. Nevertheless, fatal force of envy! Cain was the murderer of his brother Abel!
How deceitful are the judgments formed upon the external appearances of men! Who would not have believed in seeing these inhabitants of the first world; both of them sons of the same family; both of them acknowledging the true object of religious worship; both of them, in appearance, animated with the same desire of paying their homage to him; who, I say, would not have thought that they were equally acceptable in his sight? Nevertheless, one of them makes an offering pleasing to the Great Searcher of hearts, while the other is rejected by him! It is God alone who can judge of the heart: and since he discerns its inmost secrets, how vain to approach him with dissimulation and hypocrisy! O God, in all our addresses to thee, give us true faith, pure hearts, and right intentions! for thou wilt accept, we are assured, no services, but such as are brought by persons who more or less possess these pious dispositions; whom sometimes thou sufferest to be oppressed by the wicked: a proof, from the very first, that piety must look for its reward in another and better state than this.

The innocence of a good man is often a sufficient reason to draw upon him the hatred of a bad one; the virtues of the good are the reproaches of the wicked. Cain could not bear with patience the distinction made between him and his brother! his anger was kindled against him, because God justified him; and the apology, proceeding from so powerful a Being, redoubled the jealousy which it ought to have extinguished, and hastened the enormity which it ought to have prevented! But God's justice was not to be eluded: indeed men's contempt of the goodness of God will always formidably arm his justice against them.
The same principle, which leads wicked men to commit crimes in hopes of impunity, throws them into despair upon the denunciation of punishment. Cain was in the utmost dread of sinking under the weight of the threatened and intolerable chastisements. But God, who remembers to have compassion even in the midst of his anger, vouchsafed to remove that apprehension, though he removed not the horror and remorse which always attend a guilty conscience; the dread and certainty of which ought to be sufficient to deter men from atrocious villainy.

Verse 1

Genesis 4:1. And Adam knew his wife, &c.— All the speculations respecting this passage might have been spared, if the words had been rendered, Adam HAD known his wife Eve, a translation which the original perfectly well bears. Moses, it is evident, gives only the most concise account of things, regardless of smaller matters. He was to give a general history of the creation of the world, and of man; of the fall, and expulsion from Paradise; of the effects of that fall, and of the promised seed more especially, to which alone he seems peculiarly heedful, neglecting all the line of Adam, save that by which this seed was deduced from Seth, to Noah, Abraham, &c.

Bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord The reason of the names in the Old Testament is generally given at the same time with the names themselves; as here Cain קין cain, is so called by his mother, because she had gotten, or acquired, קניתי caniti, a man; for Cain signifies gain or acquisition. There is something peculiar in the Hebrew here, I have gotten a man, אתאּיהוה eth-Jehovah, THE LORD. "Eve imagined," says Calmet, "that she had gotten the Saviour, son liberateur, her deliverer, the bruiser of the serpent's head, in her son Cain." Jonathan, the son of Uzziel, renders it, I have brought forth this man who is the angel of the Lord, that is, the Messiah, whom the Jews called by the name of the Angel, or Messenger, of the Lord. Malachi 3:1; Malachi 3:18. The reader must observe, upon this interpretation, how consistent the whole scheme of scripture is, and especially how the events properly connect in these chapters; as the promise of the seed; the name of Eve; the reason of the coats of skins; the placing of the Shechinah at the gate of Paradise; the triumph of Eve upon the birth of Cain; and, may we not add, the sacrifices and religious services of Cain and Abel, mentioned in the subsequent verses?—But for those who do not acquiesce in this interpretation, they must suppose eth את to be used for meeth מאת, and must consider it as a mere female exultation in Eve on the birth of her firstborn son.

Verse 2

Genesis 4:2. Abel This word signifies vanity. Calmet says, that Eve having observed in the conduct of Cain that he was not the deliverer which she imagined, gave to her second son a name which might denote the vanity of her former hopes: or she might be desirous to express, that the infant was born subject to the inconstancy and vanity of the things of this world, which she herself began to experience more and more every day. Grotius and others remark, that as the employments of these two brothers were the most simple and useful, so are they mentioned as the most early amongst men, by historians of all nations.

Verse 3

Genesis 4:3. Brought an offering The words here used are the same with those applied to the legal offerings: יבא iabo, brought, is always used for the sacrifices brought to the door of the tabernacle: and מנחה minchah, for an offering or present made to God or man, as a means of appeasing wrath, &c. See Psalms 20:3. Accept [or turn to ashes] thy burnt sacrifice, menche. The reader is desired to bear this remark in mind.

Verse 4

Genesis 4:4. Abel, of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat, &c.— Cain's offering was suitable to his profession, and Abel's was equally so to his: there does not appear to me any reason of preference on this account. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, Abel of the firstlings and fattest of his flock: for this, I apprehend, is clearly meant by what we render, and of the fat thereof. For the text may, with the greatest propriety, be rendered, Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fattest, or choicest of them. The word חלב cheleb, says the learned Stockius, denotes the best and most excellent of any thing: as Genesis 45:18. Ye shall eat the fat of the land, that is, the best and most excellent fruits of the earth. Compare Psalms 147:14.Deuteronomy 32:14; Deuteronomy 32:14. Num 18:12 the best of the wine, and the best of the oil, in the original, is cheleb, the fat. These are sufficient to justify my interpretation, which indeed the Syriac and Arabic versions support, each rendering it, the fattest of them.

The Lord had respect unto Abel There is no difficulty in understanding what is meant by this phrase, which imports, that God gave Abel some evident token of his approbation of him and his gift, which he withheld from Cain: but the great question is, what this token was, and how it was given? Now the stream of interpreters, Jewish and Christian, agree, that it was by "fire consuming the offering." And if what I have observed on Num 3:24 be true, that there was a perpetual fire before the cherubim, the mercy-seat or Shechinah, we shall be under no great difficulty of receiving this interpretation, especially when we consider the many similar instances related in the scriptures. Bishop Patrick's note here is very judicious: "The Jews say, God testified his acceptance of Abel's offering by fire coming from heaven; (or rather, I think, by a stream of light, or flame from the Shechinah, or glorious presence of God,) to whom it was offered, which burnt up his sacrifice." Thus Theodotion of old translated these words, He looked upon Abel's sacrifices, and set them on fire.

But there is still another question respecting this matter, namely, why God gave this distinguishing mark of preference to Abel? A question, in my opinion, easily resolved by means of the author to the Hebrews, who tells us plainly, that by FAITH Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. Hebrews 11:4. Now as without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb 11:6 we have here a clear demonstration in what the superior excellence of Abel's offering consisted. He brought it with a firm persuasion of the being of that God whom he came to worship, as well as with a satisfactory belief that what he was doing was acceptable to him, and would be rewarded by him, which necessarily implies all proper dispositions of mind. Cain was devoid of this faith, and brought his offerings either as a mere matter enjoined, or with a hypocritical pretence to devotion. And do we not discern this difference every day? Has it not been always discernible between the true and the false professors of religion, between those who come to God's holy altar in faith, and those who do not?

Some have observed on this passage, that Cain's offering was only a minchah or gratitude-offering, and that Abel's was a sin-offering in the proper sense of the word. This he offered, crediting the Divine promise of the Great Atonement: whilst his deistical brother contented himself with merely acknowledging the being and temporal bounty of a God. It has been also observed from the Hebrew text, that Abel brought both the minchah and the chatah, the thank-offering and sin-offering: and this the author of the epistle to the Hebrews seems to express, when he says, "God testified of his gifts" (in the plural). Hebrews 11:4.

Opinions have been very different concerning the institution of sacrifices; and we have neither compass here, nor, perhaps, sufficient ability at any time to decide this question. But if the interpretations we have given be just, the probability seems strongly on the side of their institution from the very beginning. The words remarked in Heb 11:3 seem to bear strong evidence; the similarity of the circumstances with the Jewish sacrifices, the mention of the first-born and fattest of the flock; St. Paul's calling Abel's offering a Θυσια, Heb 11:4 which properly denotes a slain victim, a bloody sacrifice; but, above all, the reason which he gives of God's preferring Abel's to Cain's sacrifice, seem to us to infer that the offerings were not arbitrary, but instituted by God: by faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice, &c.

It may further be observed, that upon the footing of original institution, it becomes easy to account for the practice of sacrificing throughout the world; a practice so unnatural in itself, that no tolerable solution of it can, in my judgment, be given, without referring to the great sacrifice of Christ, prefigured by those which God appointed. And it may still farther be urged, that as Noah, Abraham, &c. sacrificed, and no account is given of God's injunction to them, it is most reasonable to believe that the institution commenced from the time it became necessary, that is, from the fall.

Verse 5

Genesis 4:5. Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell Cain's jealousy and envy of his brother filled his heart with anger and indignation against him, passions which immediately discovered themselves in his gloomy, downcast, and revengeful countenance. Upon which the Lord condescends to expostulate with him; "Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? what reasonable and just ground is there for thy jealousy, envy, and anger? If thou hadst done well (sacrificed as thou oughtedst) shouldest thou not have been accepted? for thou servest a God who is no respecter of persons, but a just rewarder of men according to their works: as therefore thou mayest certainly expect his favour on doing well; so, if thou doest not well; a sin-offering lieth at the door of the fold; so the original word signifies. Be at rest, רבצ, robetz, and unto thee shall be his (thy brother's) desire, and thou shalt rule over him. He is still thy younger brother, and shall be subject to thee. Thou shalt still retain the privilege of thy birth-right, and needest not be jealous or envious of thy brother, who shall continue in the due subjection of a younger brother to thee."

REFLECTIONS.—The sons of Adam no sooner were grown up for labour, but we find them before the Lord. Religion was the first thing, no doubt, he taught them, and divine worship is a principal part of it.

1. They appeared, according to their vocations, with their respective offerings of the fruit of the ground and of the flock. According as the Lord hath blessed us, we are bound to honour him with our substance, whether for the support of his cause, or the relief of the distressed. He will count this done to himself. But among the worshippers of God there will ever be found hypocrites: men forward enough to bow the knee, and give alms, and appear religious, but void of true faith. Such was Cain.
2. In consequence, Cain's offering was rejected, whilst Abel's was accepted. But what was the effect upon Cain? Anger against God, as if he were unjust in his regards; and envy at his innocent brother, because of God's favour to him, kindle in his bosom, dart from his fiery eyes, or disfigure his pale and fallen countenance. Behold a lively picture of the devil: how like is the offspring to the parent; a fallen man to a fallen angel?
3. The children of God are ever the objects of anger and envy to the children of this world.
4. God condescends to reason with Cain on the perverseness of his conduct. The sinner that perishes, shall be left inexcusable. It were well, if on the first motions of sin in the heart, or on the first glance of the kindling eye, this question were in our thoughts, Why art thou wroth? There was no reason for it: for acceptance was as free for him as for his brother, if he came in the same way: it was infidelity and disobedience only that excluded him; but the moment he returned, he would have found favour: if he had brought the sacrifice of faith, it would have been welcome; for God is ever ready to receive the returning sinner. O may his goodness lead us to repentance!
5. Many were the aggravations of Cain's foul crime. It was his brother whom he slew; a brother to him ever dutiful and submissive, a person distinguished with God's favour, and one who, unsuspicious of danger, talked with him as a friend. But what can stand before malicious envy? No doubt the time was, when Cain would have started at the horrid deed; but when once a man gives place to the devil, there is no conception to what a pitch of daring wickedness he may arrive. Obsta principiis. Watch the first risings of sin; and if you would not commit murder, refrain from anger.

Verse 9

Genesis 4:9. I know not: am I my brother's keeper? There is no wonder, that he, who from such vile motives could murder his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous, 1Jn 3:12 should, with an impudent sullenness, give the lie to his Maker. See the dreadful effects of the fall immediately indicating themselves, to display which, was probably one great reason of recording this history. Again, Abel, as Calmet observes, unjustly murdered by his eldest brother, admirably denotes the violent death of the Lord Jesus Christ by the hands of the Jews. St. Paul says, that the blood of Jesus speaketh better things than that of Abel, Hebrews 12:24.

Verse 10

Genesis 4:10. The voice of thy brother's blood crieth, &c.— i.e.. Calls upon me for vengeance. See ch. Genesis 18:20-21.

Verse 14

Genesis 4:14. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth that is, of this part of the earth, or country: and from thy face shall I be hid; an expression which must be restricted, as well as the former; for how could he be hid from the face of God, if we understand it of his all-seeing eye? May it not, therefore, refer to that presence of God, which was appropriated to some certain place? And therefore may we not reasonably conclude, that the same Shechinah, or Divine Presence, mentioned before, and placed at the garden of Eden, is here referred to? And indeed the word פני peni, face, here used, is generally referred to God's presence in the tabernacle, &c. It is the opinion of many, that Cain came to worship at the place appointed, when the Lord thus convicted him of his crime; an opinion the more probable, from Gen 4:16 where it is said, Cain went out from the presence of the Lord; that is, "from the place of his peculiar presence and worship." All which, it must be observed, tends to shew the consistency of the sacred scripture, and to confirm our general plan of interpretation.

Every one that findeth me, shall slay me By this expression, Cain demonstrates the dreadful effects of vice on the mind, which it terrifies with continual alarms, creating fear where no fear is. Hence it evidently follows, that there were many persons on the earth at this time. Now according to the computation of the best chronologers, it was in the hundred and twenty-ninth year of Adam's age that Abel was slain: for the scripture says expressly, that Seth (who was given in the lieu of Abel) was born in the hundred and thirtieth year, (very likely the year after the murder was committed,) to be a comfort to his disconsolate parents. So that Cain must have been a hundred and twenty-nine years old, when he abdicated his own country: at which time there must have been a great quantity of mankind upon the face of the earth; it may be, to the number of a hundred thousand souls:* for if the children of Israel, from seventy persons, in the space of four hundred and thirty years, became six hundred thousand fighting men, (though vast numbers must have died during this increase,) we may very well suppose, that the children of Adam, whose lives were so very long, might amount to a hundred thousand in a hundred and thirty years, which are above four generations.

* It has been shewn, that, supposing Adam and Eve to have had no other sons than Cain and Abel, in the year of the world 128; yet, as they had daughters married with these sons, their descendants would make a considerable figure on the earth. For, supposing them to have been married in the nineteenth year of the world, they might have had each of them eight children, some males and some females, in the twenty-fifth year. In the fiftieth year there might have proceeded from them, in a direct line, 64 persons; in the seventy-fourth year there would be 572; in the ninety-eighth 4096; in the hundred and twenty-second, they would amount to 32,768. If to these we add the other children descended from Cain and Abel, their children, and the children of their children, we shall have, in the aforesaid hundred and twenty-eighth year, 421,164 men above the age of seventeen, without reckoning the women, both old and young, or the males under seventeen.

Verse 15

Genesis 4:15. Therefore whosoever, &c.— As Cain was reserved for exemplary punishment, God delivers him from the apprehension of death, and assures him, that seven-fold vengeance, that is, very severe vengeance, (for the word sevenfold is often put for an indefinite, but great number,) shall be taken on any person who should slay him.

And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, &c.— The literal translation is, and the Lord gave to, or placed before Cain a sign, אות aut, σημειον, LXX, that no one who found him should kill him, i.e.. assured him of this by some external mark or miracle. As the Hebrew and the Septuagint clearly agree in this translation, it puts an end at once to all those frivolous inquiries concerning the mark, as it has been called, which God put upon Cain. See Exodus 10:1.Isaiah 66:19; Isaiah 66:19; Isaiah 66:24. It is not improbable, but this sign or miracle was given in the presence of so many, that all were soon informed of the will of the Lord concerning Cain.

Verse 16

Genesis 4:16. Went out from the presence, &c.— From the altar of God, says Mr. Locke, after Bertram. "There was a divine glory, called by the Jews, the Shechinah, which appeared from the beginning, (as I often remarked before, says Bp. Patrick,) the sight of which, it is probable, Cain never again enjoyed."

Dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east, &c.— Great inquiries have been made, where, and what, this land of Nod was. It appears to us, and we are not singular in the opinion, that no particular land is mentioned; nor do we conceive the word rendered Nod, to be a proper name. The curse denounced upon Cain was, that he should be a vagabond נד nod; and the sacred historian says in this verse, that (in completion of the curse) Cain dwelt in the land, or on the earth נוד nod, a vagabond, wandering about, an exile, from the east of Eden.

From the view which we have taken of this account of the murder of Abel, it is plain, that it stands clear of all contradiction. The time when his brother murdered him was in the hundred and twenty-ninth year of the world's creation, when, according to a moderate computation, their descendants and those of their parents could not but be very numerous. The manner in which he murdered him, might not be with a sword or spear, (which, perhaps, were not then in use,) since a club, or stone, or any rural instrument, in the hand of rage and revenge, was sufficient to do the work. The place where he murdered him, is said to be, the field, not in contradistinction to any large and populous city then in being, but rather to the tents, where their parents, and others, might live. The cause of his murdering him was a spirit of envy and malice. Ainsworth observes, that "as there are seven abominations in the heart of him who loveth not his brother, Pro 26:25 there were the like number of transgressions in Cain's whole conduct: for, 1st, he sacrificed without faith: 2nd, he was displeased that God respected him not: 3rdly, he hearkened not to God's admonition: 4thly, he spake dissembling to his brother: 5thly, he killed him in the field: 6thly, he denied that he knew where he was: 7thly, he neither asked nor hoped for mercy from God, but despaired, and so fell into the condemnation of the devil."

Verse 17

Genesis 4:17. And Cain, &c.— It is evident from this verse, how brief the narration of Moses is, how he passes over time, and connects events of many years distance. For it is plain, that several years must have passed from the exile of Cain to his building this city. He chose rather to call it after his son's name than his own, probably because of the odium under which he lay.

Verse 18

Genesis 4:18. Unto Enoch was born, &c.— It is observable, that while the genealogy of Seth is accurately deduced to Noah, and while an exact account is given of the age of his descendants, the genealogy of the descendants of Cain is carried but a little way, and no mention is made of their age. The reason is evident: Moses wrote this history for the chosen seed, from whom should spring the great Messiah; and to deduce the grand original promise.

REFLECTIONS.—The murder of Abel was secret, and no doubt carefully concealed. But there is a great eye, from which nothing is hid, nothing is secret: and he in this world orders his providence, often in ways almost miraculous, to bring the blood that is covered to light. Mark here the direct, wilful lie, and most insolent answer of Cain; and mark the reply of God, pointed with conviction, covering him with confusion, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. Blood hath a voice to reach the skies.

(1.) Shall murdered bodies thus cry out, and murdered souls be silent? Hear, ye careless sinners! whose lips and lives cast abroad firebrands, arrows, and death. Tremble, ye negligent pastors! how many lost immortal souls are laying their blood at your door? (2.) Where shall the man flee, whose sin hath testified to his face, whose guilt is evident? To the blood of Jesus. This crieth louder for mercy, than Abel's did for vengeance: happy the soul whose cries of sin are drowned in deeper cries of the blood of the Saviour! Even a murderer need not despair.
Again, we may observe, that Cain's punishment was less than his iniquity deserved; yet he murmurs against it, as more than he can bear. The hardened heart of man is thus ever disposed to charge God foolishly. Doth a living man dare to complain of any present burden? Let him rather stand astonished that he is out of hell. Depend upon it, they who quarrel with the punishments of sin, as too severe, will feel them to their cost by and by; and be made to own the justice of them too. Three sore judgments were upon him; rejection from God's face; expulsion from the comforts of society and the church of God; and a restless and tormented conscience. Hence we may learn, that the soul which departs from God, is the prey of constant disquiet: though it seeks rest, it finds none.
We have also here Cain's banishment in consequence of his sin. The presence of the Lord he no longer desired, but dreaded; and therefore sought to fly from it. He had done now with worship and sacrifices. None sink so low, none grow so infamously vile, as those who, having made profession of godliness, return, as the dog, to their vomit.

Verse 19

Genesis 4:19. Lamech took unto him two wives, &c.— This account of Lamech has been the subject of much inquiry; and indeed it is very difficult to be understood. "That Lamech had used force against some other man," says Dr. Delaney, "is evident: as also that he thought himself much more criminal in doing so, even than Cain; as appears from the words, if Cain shall be, &c." Now the true reason why God guarded Cain from destruction, under so severe a penalty upon any one who should slay him, was demonstrably this: that he might preserve him, as a living monument of the curse of God upon murder. Granting this to be the reason, and that Lamech knew it, (as he could not but know it,) his exclamation to his wives is plainly a confession that he had been guilty of a much greater crime than Cain; and therefore concluded, that God might justly render him a much more dreadful monument of his wrath than he had rendered Cain; and in this terror, that bitter exclamation falls from him, if Cain shall be avenged seven-fold, truly Lamech seventy and seven.

Verse 20

Genesis 4:20. Jabel—the father of such, &c.— It is usual with the Hebrews to call him the Father, who is the inventor of any thing: and, indeed, the same manner of speaking was usual with the Greeks and Romans.

Verse 25

Genesis 4:25. Called his name Seth—for God hath appointed, &c.— Here you see, as before, Gen 4:1 the reason of the name given, Seth, i.e.. appointed, or given in the place of Abel, to continue the chosen line, the promised seed. Seth gave his son the name of Enos (אנושׂ) expressive of the weak and miserable condition of man through sin.

Verse 26

Genesis 4:26. Then began men to call, &c.— Our marginal translation seems to give us the most proper sense: then began men to call themselves by the name of the Lord: i.e.. that distinction then took place, which afterwards prevailed so generally between the children of God and the children of men: see chap. Genesis 6:2. The true believers were denominated sons of that Lord whom they served, while the rest of mankind were called the sons of men.

REFLECTIONS.—Great, no doubt, was Adam's grief for his lost Abel; and perhaps greater for his rebellious Cain: but he shall not have all sorrow and no comfort. God will in some sort make up the breach. Though he shall have enough to awaken the remembrance of his own sin, he shall not be left utterly destitute. 1. God gives him another son, to be the establishment of his family, and in whose house the worship of God should be perpetuated in the room of Abel. Sanguis martyrum semen ecclesiae, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. 2. The name given him; Seth, typifying that emphatical Seed, the Messiah, who should be placed as an ensign on a hill, and to whom should the gathering of the people be. And now they behold a comfortable prospect of the perpetuity of the true religion.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-4.html. 1801-1803.
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