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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. Adam knew Eve A euphemism, based upon a profound conception of the marital relation . “Generation in man is an act of personal free-will, not a blind impulse of nature . It flows from the divine institution of marriage, and is, therefore, knowing the wife . ” Keil .

Bare Cain In the Hebrew the word Cain has the emphatic particle את before it, the Cain . In these most ancient narratives names have special significance, and the name Cain is most naturally derived from the Hebrew קון , kun, or קנה , kana, the word immediately used by Eve, and translated in our text, I have gotten. A better translation would be, I have begotten . The name Cain, then, would signify offspring, or one begotten, rather than possession, as held by many writers . See Furst’s Hebrews Lex . and T . Lewis’s note in Lange in loc .

A man from the Lord Literally, a man, the Jehovah . This exact rendering appears to us better than our common version, which follows the Targum of Onkelos; better than the Sept . and Vulg . by the Lord; better than any attempt to paraphrase the passage, or construe the את as a preposition . With MacWhorter (see Bib . Sacra for January, 1857, and the volume entitled “Yahveh Christ, or, the Memorial Name”) and Jacobus, we understand Eve’s exclamation as a kind of joyful eureka over the firstborn of the race, as if in this seed of the woman was to be realized the promise of the protevangelium recorded in chap . 3:15 . Keil’s objection to this view, on the ground that Eve knew nothing of the divine nature of the promised seed, and could not have uttered the name Jehovah, because it was not revealed until a later period, is unwarrantable assumption . The statement of Exodus 6:3, (where see note,) that the name Jehovah was not known to the patriarchs, does not mean that the name was never used before the days of Moses; and if these are not the very words of Eve, or their exact equivalent, why should we believe that she said any thing of the kind? If the name JEHOVAH was used at all by Eve, it is likely that something of its profound significance had been revealed in connexion with the first promise of the coming One. And it would have been very natural for the first mother, in her enthusiasm over the birth of her first child, to imagine him the promised Conqueror. But, as T. Lewis observes, “The greatness of Eve’s mistake in applying the expression to one who was the type of Antichrist rather than of the Redeemer, should not so shock us as to affect the interpretation of the passage, now that the covenant God is revealed to us as a being so transcendently different. The limitation of Eve’s knowledge, and perhaps her want of due distinction between the divine and the human, only sets in a stronger light the intensity of her hope, and the subjective truthfulness of her language. Had her reported words, at such a time, contained no reference to the promised seed of the woman, the Rationalist would doubtless have used it as a proof that she could have known nothing of any such prediction, and that therefore Genesis 3:15, and Genesis 4:1, must have been written by different authors, ignoring or contradicting each other.” Eve’s hasty and mistaken expectation of the coming Deliverer is a fitting type of the periodic but mistaken pre-millennialism of New Testament times, which has, with almost every generation, disturbed the Church with excitement over the expected immediate coming of Christ.

Verses 1-15

CAIN AND ABEL, Genesis 4:1-15 .

“The consequences of the fall now appear in the history of the first family. By careful attention to the record, we may learn the true nature of the primitive religion, its rites, its hopes, and faith. We may also see here most instructive traces of the primeval civilization. While fearful sin stains the firstborn of man, sadly crushing the joyful hopes of the first mother, a pious son also appears, setting forth thus early the contrast and conflict between good and evil, which is to run through human history. The good at first is overcome by the evil; Abel is slain by Cain; but another son (Seth, set or placed) is set in his place at the head of the godly line.” Newhall.

In the following chapter the careful reader will note, 1) in the two types of men the first outward development of the two seeds that of the serpent and that of the woman, (Genesis 3:15;) 2) agriculture and the keeping of flocks as the earliest employments of men; 3) the doctrine of sacrifices established at the very gate of Paradise: 4) God’s earliest manifestations of favour to the righteous and of displeasure towards the sinner; 5) the beginnings of polygamy; 6) art, culture, and human depravity and sinfulness keeping pace with one another; so that an advanced civilization, in spite of all the refining and ennobling tendencies of art and culture, may, without the divine favour, only serve to intensify the corruption and violence of men; 7) the Cainites, in founding the first city, and by worldly inventions and arts, lead the way in building up the godless kingdom of the beast, the world-power of Antichrist; the godly seed, by faith and piety begin to build the kingdom of heaven.

Verses 1-26

The Generations of the Heavens and the Land, Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 4:26.

In chapters 1, and Genesis 2:1-3, the sacred writer gives us his account of the creation of the heavens and the land; he now proceeds to give us their generations, תולרות . His historical standpoint is the day from which these generations start; the day when man was formed of the dust of the ground, and of the breath of life from the heavens. So the first man is conceived of as the product of the heavens and the land by the word of God. Hence, Adam was the son of God, (Luke 3:38,) and the day of his creation was the point of time when Jehovah-God first revealed himself in history as one with the Creator . In chapter i, which narrates the beginning of the heavens and the land, we find mention of Elohim only, the God in whom (as the plural form of the name intimates) centres all fulness and manifoldness of Divine Powers . At the beginning of this section stands the name יהוה , Jehovah, the personal Revealer and Redeemer, who enters into covenant with his creatures, and places man under moral law .

The information supplied in this chapter is fundamental to the history of redemption. Here we learn of man’s original estate; the conditions of the first covenant of works; the sanctity of the family relation; and the innocency of the first human pair. Without the information here supplied the subsequent history of man and of redemption would be an insoluble enigma.

Verse 2

2. She again bare Literally, she added to bear; which expression has usually been construed to mean that Cain and Abel were twins; but such meaning is not necessarily in the words . They simply mean that Eve bore another son . Nor is it necessary to suppose that Abel was born next after Cain; between the two, Adam and Eve may have begotten many sons and daughters . Genesis 5:4. The name Abel, (which means a breath, a vapour, vanity, or nothingness,) suggests that the mother, so joyful and hopeful over her firstborn, had now perceived her error, and the vanity of hopes of human birth . Or, perhaps, the name Abel was given with a fearful presentiment of his lamentable death .

A keeper of sheep… a tiller of the ground Thus the occupations of shepherding and agriculture appear side by side in this most ancient history . The notion that man’s primitive condition was that of savagery, in which he lived by hunting, and from which he subsequently advanced into nomadic pursuits, and later still into the pursuits of agriculture, has no support here . Adam was put in the garden to dress and keep it, (Genesis 2:15,) and on his expulsion thence he was probably instructed to keep sheep for sacrifice and clothing, (Genesis 3:21. ) But there is no evidence that the first generation of men were endued with any superior gifts or with a high civilization . The conditions of such a civilization were, from the nature of the case, wanting . The first men were neither savages nor barbarians; but their numbers were limited, and their habits and pursuits of the most simple kind .

Verse 3

3. In process of time Heb, at the end of days . Of how many days is not specified, and some understand at the end of the year, or at the time of the gathering of fruits; others explain the phrase indefinitely, as our version, or as Keil: “After a considerable lapse of time.” It seems better, however, to understand it of the days of the week that is, at the end of the ordinary and well-known week of seven days. In this sense we have here another trace of the original institution of the Sabbath as a day of worship.

Cain brought of the fruit A most natural offering for a tiller of the ground to bring, and a gift sufficiently proper in itself. But his failure to bring also a bleeding sacrifice may well be looked upon as evidence of a want of faith in the doctrine of sacrifices, and a disposition to substitute what was most convenient to him for all that the law of sacrifice required.

Verse 4

4. Abel… brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof The best and most complete offering which he could make, not the most convenient, or the ones that came first to hand . He seems to have apprehended something of the profound doctrine, afterward made so prominent, that without shedding of blood there is no remission, and hence especially the reason why the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. In what way this respect, or favourable look, was shown is not recorded, but the ancient and prevailing opinion is, that God sent down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. Comp. Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38. Jehovah’s look was thus a fire-glance from heaven that set the offering aflame . The word translated offering ( מנחה ) is always used in the Mosaic laws of a “meat offering,” or bloodless sacrifice; but here it is applied to Abel’s gift as well as to Cain’s .

Verse 5

5. But unto Cain… not respect Why? From Hebrews 11:4, we infer that it was because of some lack of faith, for “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain . ” Cain’s, then, was not the blossomings or the fruit of faith in Jehovah . It sprung from no profound conception of the grounds or need of sacrifice . And, perhaps, as suggested above, Cain’s lack of faith was evinced by his neglect to bring a bleeding victim . If animal sacrifices were of divine institution, (see note on 3:21,) Cain must have known the fact and the mode; but so far from regarding it, he seems not to have been even careful to bring the firstfruits of the ground . Hence his offering was not a doing well . Genesis 4:7.

Cain was very wroth Manifestly yielding to passions of jealousy and anger .

His countenance fell Like a sullen, spoiled child, pouting with bad passion, and waiting for an opportunity of revenge .

Verse 6

6. The Lord said unto Cain By an angel or by the lips of Adam, or by one of Cain’s brothers or sisters .

Why… wroth A question and an appeal that might well have wrought in Cain a conviction of his wrong .

Verse 7

7. Shalt thou not be accepted Rather, is there not an uplifting, that is, of the countenance . The downcast, sullen look is not a mark of him that doeth well .

Sin lieth at the door In the Hebrew sin is a feminine noun, and lieth is a masculine participal, because, says Keil, with evident allusion to the serpent, “sin is personified as a wild beast, lurking at the door of the human heart, and eagerly desiring to devour his soul . ” 1 Peter 5:8. But we cannot, with Keil and others, understand that which follows, unto thee shall be his desire, as referring also to sin personified, for the words as used can scarcely justify the paraphrase: sin, lying at the door of thy heart, has strong desire to enter in and control thee; nevertheless, if thou do well, thou shalt obtain the mastery, and rule over sin. The better interpretation is that which refers the pronouns his and him to Abel. The Lord thus assures Cain that he has nothing to fear from Abel, whose תשׁוקה , desire, (tender and loyal devotion,) is strong and fervent towards him as his elder brother, and, therefore, certain to attempt no interference with Cain’s right of primogeniture to rule over him, and thus enjoy all the privileges of his natural pre-eminence .

Verse 8

8. Talked with Abel Rather, said to Abel . The Septuagint, Samaritan, Syriac, and Vulgate supply: Let us go into the field; but the Hebrew text does not relate what he said, but, as in Genesis 3:22-23, hastens to the sequel, the bloody action in the field. The repetition of the words, his brother, seems designed to impress the awful wickedness of the deed .

Slew him The first death was by violence; the first murder a fratricide . “And wherefore slew he him?” inquires the apostle . 1 John 3:12. “Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous . ” “Cain was of that wicked one,” whom the Lord declares (John 8:44) to have been “a murderer from the beginning,” “a liar, and the father of it.” By his lying he deceiveth the whole world and makes himself the murderer of man. Cain identified himself with that wicked one, became a child of the devil, and representative of the seed of the serpent. The first murder sprung from jealousy; jealousy begat hatred, and hatred beget murder. Hence the apostle says: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15.

Verse 9

9. Where is Abel God’s judgment with Cain, as with Adam, begins with the searching WHERE? Comp . Genesis 3:9.

I know not It is easy for a murderer to lie.

I my brother’s keeper Am I his shepherd, to watch over him? A word of daring impudence and defiance; a sort of retort on the Lord’s care of Abel. “How is it that thou, who hadst delight in him, and didst show him such favouritism, hast not watched over him!”

Verse 10

10. What hast thou done In this verse it is well to emphasize and compare together the words thou, thy brother, me . The guilt of the bloody deed rests upon Cain’s dark soul; the brother’s blood cries to heaven; God hears, and will not ignore the cry . “The pious Abel had pleaded with his fierce brother in vain, but the great God hears the cry of injured innocence. He is the God of those whom men forget and scorn. Every groan and cry that tyranny and persecution crush from broken hearts are gathered up in the all-embracing heaven, and poured into that ever-listening ear.” Newhall. The Hebrew words for blood and crieth are in the plural, as if to suggest that all the drops or streams of blood thus violently shed took on so many imploring tongues. “The blood, as the living flow of the life, and the phenomenal basis of the soul, has a voice which is as the living echo of the blood-clad soul itself. It is the symbol of the soul crying for its right to live.” Lange.

Verse 11

11. Cursed from the earth The curse shall seem to come forth out of the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood. As the next verse further explains, the ground, which so readily drank the innocent blood, will not be fruitful to the murderer’s tilling . The earth, cursed by reason of Adam’s sin, (iii, 17,) will seem to pour forth special judgments upon Cain . Others explain, less in keeping with the natural meaning of the words and the context: Thou art cursed away from the land; that is, banished out of this land, or district, where thy father and brothers dwell .

Verse 12

12. Not henceforth yield Not add, or continue to yield, so abundantly as in the past . How much has righteousness in man to do in securing bountiful harvests, and averting pestilence and famine!

Her strength Her full fruitage, as the forceful and legitimate outcome of her fertility . In Job 31:39, the word ( כח ) is translated fruits .

A fugitive and a vagabond The Hebrew words here form a paranomasia, נע ונד , na’ wa-nadh, something like plodding and nodding . The first word means a restless wanderer, the second a roving fugitive .

Verse 13

13. My punishment is greater than I can bear The words thus rendered will bear two interpretations, that given in the text, and that of the margin: My sin is greater than can be forgiven . Both interpretations are very ancient, and both yield a pertinent sense; but the next verse, in which Cain goes on to bewail the greatness of his curse, sustains the view that Cain deplored his punishment more than his sin . Both views, however, may be so far united as to show that in the murderer’s soul there was a mingling of guilt, sorrow, and dismay .

Verse 14

14. Thou hast driven Cain seems to charge all his curse on God, as if ignoring that he himself was the guilty cause .

From the face of the earth Special reference to the district of Eden. Compare Genesis 4:16. His sentence to be a vagabond and a fugitive involved this separation from Eden.

From thy face From that hallowed spot on the east of the garden of Eden where the symbols of the divine Presence were set, (Genesis 3:24,) and where, probably, all sacrifices to Jehovah had hitherto been offered. Comp. Genesis 4:16.

Every one… shall slay me Thus in that first age we note how the guilty conscience fears the avenger of blood. It has been plausibly supposed that the murder of Abel occurred not long before the birth of Seth, (see Genesis 4:25,) when Adam was one hundred and thirty years old, (Genesis 5:3;) at which time there was probably a considerable population in man’s primeval seat . “By every one we are not to understand every creature, as though Cain had excited the hostility of all creatures, but every man . Cain is evidently afraid of revenge on the part of relatives of the slain, who were either already in existence or yet to be born . ” Keil .

Verse 15

15. Therefore Because there was just reason for such fear of the blood-avenger, and in order to save Cain from such death, the Lord uttered what follows in the text.

Vengeance… sevenfold Judgment and penalty of the most extreme character, passing down, perhaps, to children’s children through many generations. God takes the punishment of Cain into his own hands, not because he was not deserving of death, but because in that early time it were better to preserve Cain a living monument of the curse of blood-guiltiness.

Set a mark upon Cain Some sign by which he would be everywhere known as the cursed man, and which also might serve as a token to him that he should not fall by the avenger of blood. But the exact nature of the mark no one now knows, and conjectures are worthless.

Verse 16

THE CAINITES, Genesis 4:16-24.

16. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord From that sacred spot on the east of the garden, where Jehovah had revealed his presence and glory to Adam and his sons . Comp . Genesis 4:14.

Land of Nod The word Nod means wandering, and is from the same root as that translated vagabond in Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:14. It probably took this name from Cain’s fleeing and dwelling there, and the writer uses it here proleptically . Its location, on the east of Eden, may serve to suggest the contrast between Nod ( flight, banishment, wandering) and Eden, ( delight, pleasure.) Arabia, Susiana, India, and other countries have been fixed upon as the land of Nod, but these are mere conjectures.

Verse 17

17. Cain knew his wife See on Genesis 4:1. “The text assumes it as self-evident that she accompanied him in his exile; also that she was a daughter of Adam, and, consequently a sister of Cain. The marriage of brothers and sisters was inevitable in the case of the children of the first men, if the human race was actually to descend from a single pair, and may, therefore, be justified in the face of the Mosaic prohibition of such marriages, on the ground that the sons and daughters of Adam represented not merely the family, but the race, ( genus,) and that it was not till after the rise of several families that the bonds of fraternal and conjugal love became distinct from one another, and assumed fixed and mutually exclusive forms, the violation of which is sin.” Keil.

Enoch Meaning initiated, as if with this son, and the city called after his name, Cain was instituting a new order of things.

He builded Literally, he was building. He began to build the city, perhaps before Enoch was born, and he continued building it long after. “The word city is, of course, not to be interpreted by modern ideas; a village of rude huts, which was distinguished from the booths or tents of the nomads, would satisfy all the conditions of the text.” Speaker’s Com. And yet something more pretentious than mere huts may well be understood. Nor is it far-fetched and irrelevant to trace in this first city-building the earliest attempt to centralize worldly forces, and construct something like world-empire, one of the outward forms of the later Antichrist. For the “mystery of iniquity” was already working in this very line of Cain, “who was of that wicked one.” 1 John 3:12. The location of this city named Enoch is, like the land of Nod, unknown .

Verse 18

18. Irad… Mehujael… Methusael Compare the similar names in the Sethite genealogy recorded in the next chapter, Jared, Mahalaleel, and Methuselah . Hence some have supposed a confusion growing out of two forms of one and the same old legend . But why may not different families have adopted similar or identical names in that as in later ages? Enoch and Lamech are names that occur in both genealogies, but the piety of the sons of Seth, bearing these names, is in notable contrast with the worldliness of Cain’s Enoch and the polygamy of Cain’s Lamech. This contrast seems to have been drawn out, as if to prevent the possibility of confounding the two genealogies.

Verse 19

19. Lamech took… two wives Here is the first recorded instance of bigamy, and it is here noted as originating in the race of Cain . “The names of the women,” says Keil, “are indicative of sensual attractions, Adah, the adorned; and Zillah, the shady, or the tinkling . ”

Verse 20

20. Jabal… father of… tents… cattle Though descended from a city-builder, he adopted the nomadic life; but, unlike Abel, who probably held to a settled habitation and kept only sheep or small cattle, Jabal led a wandering life, living in tents, which were easily pitched and easily removed from place to place. Thus he was the originator of genuine nomadic life.

Verse 21

21. Harp and organ Here used as general names of stringed and wind instruments of music . “That the inventor of musical instruments should be the brother of him who introduced the nomad life is strictly in accordance with the experience of the world . The connexion between music and the pastoral life is indicated in the traditions of the Greeks, which ascribed the invention of the pipe to Pan and of the lyre to Apollo, each of them also being devoted to pastoral pursuits . ” SMITH’S Dictionary of the Bible .

Verse 22

22. T ubal-cain It is quite natural to compare this name and character with the Vulcan of Roman mythology, but the names have no necessary connexion .

Instructor of every artificer Rather, a forger of all that cuts brass and iron . The invention of metal instruments marks an advancing civilization, but is no evidence in itself that the previous times were barbarous or savage . Their wants were fewer, but increasing population, pursuing new arts and enterprises, furnishes the conditions of many inventions .

Naamah This name of Tubal-cain’s sister, which means the lovely, or the beautiful, is apparently introduced as further showing the worldly spirit and tastes of the Cainites . According to the Targum of Jonathan, she was the mistress of sounds and songs a poetess .

Verse 23

23. Lamech said This father of skilful inventors was himself a genius, and the author of this oldest fragment of poetical composition, of which the following is a literal translation:

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice,

O wives of Lamech, listen to my saying;

For a man have I slain for my wound,

And a child for my bruise .

For sevenfold avenged should Cain be,

And Lamech seventy and seven .

It is not strange that this mere fragment of antediluvian song is obscure and difficult of explanation. The common version conveys the idea that Lamech was smitten with remorse over the murder of a young man, and this is the explanation of some of the older expositors. But the language of Genesis 4:24 illy accords with such a view, and the entire passage breathes the spirit of violence and confident boasting rather than of remorse.

A better interpretation is, that which supposes Lamech to have slain a man in self-defence. The words “for my wound” and “for my bruise” would then be equivalent to “for wounding me,” “for bruising me,” and the song is Lamech’s attempt to comfort his wives in view of the manslaughter, and assure them that no one would dare avenge the deed.

Others make the poem a sort of triumphant exultation over Tubal-cain’s invention of brass and iron weapons, and translate the past tense of the verb slay as future, or else as present, expressing confident assurance: “I will slay the man who wounds me, and the youth who presumes to harm me.” Genesis 4:24 is understood to express the boast that he could now avenge his own wrongs ten times more completely than God would avenge the slaying of Cain. This interpretation accords with the context, and brings out the spirit of the passage, but has against it the perfect tense of the verb I have slain, הרגתי .

May we not blend the two last mentioned views, and, retaining the strict sense of the words, as translated above, explain that Lamech, by the use of weapons of his son’s invention, had in some duel or personal conflict slain a young man, possibly one of his own children, ילד ; and yet, so far from feeling remorse or penitence over the deed, exultingly sang to his wives this song of his prowess, and boastingly declared that any one who should attempt to take vengeance on him for the deed would suffer more than ten times the vengeance pronounced against the murderer of Cain. “By the citation of the case of his ancestor Cain he shows,” says Lange, “that the dark history of the bad man had become transformed into a proud remembrance for his race.” According to this view, we discern in this old Cainite song that spirit of violence and lust which waxed worse and worse until it brought upon the wicked world the judgment of the flood. For a full synopsis of the various expositions of this passage, see M’CLINTOCK and STRONG, Cyclopedia, art. Lamech.

Verses 25-26

SETH AND ENOS, 25, 26.

Having traced the development of the race of Cain, the sacred writer now turns to record the origin of that godly line whose genealogy appears at greater extent in the following chapter.

25. Seth The name means placed, or appointed, as Eve explains in the words: For God… hath appointed me another seed, etc. The mother of this divinely chosen seed speaks by a divine inspiration .

26. Enos Or Enosh . This name, according to most critics, means weakness, frailty, and according to Keil, “designates man from his frail and mortal condition . Psalms 8:4; Psalms 90:3. In this name, therefore, the feeling and knowledge of human weakness and frailty were expressed the opposite of the pride and arrogance displayed by the Cainite family . ”

Then began men to call Literally, Then it was begun to call in the name of Jehovah . That is, with the line of Seth began a more open and established mode of worship by calling directly upon God in prayer, and using the hallowed name Jehovah . Thus the Sethites came in time to be known as “the sons of God . ” Genesis 6:2. These devout worshippers had probably now come to believe that the promised Deliverer, whom Eve had hoped to see in her firstborn, was to be God himself, and to him they now transfer the name Jehovah. “With a new divine race, and a new believing generation, there ever presents itself the name Jehovah, and even with a higher glory. Now it is for the first time after Eve’s first theocratic jubilee-cry of hope.” Lange.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-4.html. 1874-1909.
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