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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 4

 

 

Verses 1-16

Genesis 4:1-16. The Story of Cain and Abel.—This belongs to the J cycle of stories, but apparently not to the same stratum as Genesis 4:3, for it is assumed that the earth has a population from which Cain fears vengeance, and the curse in Genesis 4:11 f. ignores the cursing of the ground in Genesis 3:17-19. Originally then the story was placed in a later period of human history: its present position is perhaps due to the identification of Cain the murderer with Cain the firstborn of Eve. Whether the original story had to do with peoples or individuals is uncertain; in any case Stade's theory that it accounted for the nomad life of the Kenites is improbable in spite of the identity in the name.

The two brothers naturally brought their offerings from the produce of their callings. Cain's offering was not rejected because it was bloodless; the fault apparently lay in himself (Genesis 4:7). His failure breeds resentment, which, in spite of Yahweh's warning, leads him to kill Abel in the field, to which he had invited his brother to accompany him (mg.). Yahweh learns of the murder from the cry uttered by Abel's blood. It was a widely-spread belief that blood which fell on the ground cried for vengeance (Ezekiel 24:7 f., Isaiah 26:21, Job 16:18; Job 31:38 f., (see "Job" in Cent.B on these passages),Hebrews 11:4; Hebrews 12:24); hence precautions were taken to use methods which did not involve bloodshed, or at least to prevent the blood from falling on the ground. Cain has taken no such precautions, and when questioned by Yahweh lies brazenly and perhaps with a shameless witticism on his brother's occupation as "keeper" of sheep. So Yahweh sentences him to the life of the nomad in the desert, for the cultivated ground, having drunk Abel's blood, will not yield its strength to the fratricide. Brought to a more chastened frame of mind, Cain pleads that his punishment is too great to bear. For in the desert he will be hidden from Yahweh, whose presence is regarded as localised, and, murderer though he is, Yahweh is his God; and he will be exposed to the lawlessness of the desert. So Yahweh mercifully sets a visible mark on him, not to identify him to all men as the murderer Cain, but to warn any who may desire to kill him that sevenfold vengeance will be taken for his death. Thus shielded, Cain leaves Yahweh's presence for the wilderness, where he lived in the "Land of Wandering" (mg.)

Genesis 4:1. The text of the closing words is difficult, probably corrupt.

Genesis 4:4. fat: fat pieces, specially dedicated to God.

Genesis 4:4 b, Genesis 4:5. How acceptance and rejection were indicated is not said.

Genesis 4:7. The text is probably incurably corrupt; MT seems to mean that if Cain does well will there not be lifting up of his fallen countenance? otherwise sin couches like a beast at his door, waiting to rend him; it has a longing for him, but he ought to master it (see mg.).

Genesis 4:10. Render "Hark! thy brother's blood," etc.


Verses 17-26

Genesis 4:17-26. Cainite and Sethite Genealogies.

Genesis 4:17-24 probably belongs to the earliest stratum of J, in which the progress of civilisation is not interrupted by the Flood, and the human race is derived from Adam through Cain. When the story of the Deluge was added and the race of Cain was believed to have been exterminated in the Flood, a Sethite genealogy was required. Only a fragment (Genesis 4:25 f) of this is given from J, the redactor having omitted the rest since it was given with dates by P (5). The Sethite table is modelled on the Cainite, for several of the names recur in the same or a slightly altered form. While P gives a bare list, J adds interesting details. This section, moreover, does not belong to the same stratum of J as the story of Cain and Abel. In the latter, Cain is a homeless wanderer in the desert, in the former he is the builder of a city. He is thus a "culture-hero," and further steps towards civilisation were taken by Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain, who introduced the domestication of cattle, music, and metal-working. Genesis 4:23 f. is often thought to be a sword-song; exulting in the new resources given him by Tubal-cain, Lamech says that the vengeance taken for Cain will in his own case be far exceeded. But this is due simply to its present setting, for Tubal-cain is not said to have invented weapons, nor are weapons mentioned in the song. Originally it was probably independent. It contains a boast of Lamech that he avenges himself far more thoroughly than Cain is avenged. He kills in return for a blow and thus gets seven and seventy-fold vengeance. The code of blood-revenge practised is exceptionally ferocious. Such bragging of their prowess and fierceness before the women is common among the Bedouin. In its present form the Sethite genealogy represents Seth as a substitute for Cain, but originally it is questionable if it was so (cf. ICC); this writer may have regarded Seth as the first-born, Cain being ignored. Genesis 4:26 b seems to mean that the worship of Yahweh was introduced in the days of Adam's grandson, a representation which conflicts with Genesis 4:1-16.

Genesis 20. father: i.e. originator of this type of life. The text of the following words is uncertain.

Genesis 4:22. Corrupt. Read, perhaps, "he was a forger, the father of every artificer (mg.) of brass and iron."

Genesis 4:25. Adam: only here as a proper name in J.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-4.html. 1919.

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