The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Genesis 4

Gen 4:1

CAIN: Heb "gotten, or acquired" (AV mg). Word play between "qanah" (here) and "qanith" ("brought forth"). Poss, per Strong, Cain sig "create, erect"; thus sig "redeemer, purchaser", or "creator, father".

In no way did Eve lag behind her husband [cp Gen 3:20] in this expectation of the fulfillment of God's promise of a redeemer. In fact, she was so eager for the promised deliverance that she seized upon her firstborn as the "seed of the woman".

The name "Cain" has usually been considered to derive from the Hebrew "qanah" -- so as to signify "gotten, or acquired" (as in the AV margin). But more modern scholarship makes a connection with another Hebrew word, "qanith" -- which is now understood to signify "give birth to" or "create". The note in the New English Translation says, "Here is another sound play (paronomasia) on a name. The sound of the verb 'qanith' ('I have created') reflects the sound of the name Cain in Hebrew and gives meaning to it... There are two homonymic verbs with this spelling: one meaning "obtain, acquire" and the other meaning "create" (see Gen 14:19,22; Deu 32:6; Psa 139:13; Pro 8:22). The latter fits this context very well. Eve has CREATED a man!" [The passages listed in the NET note may be much better translated in light of this recently-discovered meaning of "qanith". For example, Pro 8:22 reads in the KJV: "The LORD POSSESSED me [Wisdom] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old" -- this uses the old meaning of 'qanah' (to get, or acquire), but surely misses the point; the context of Pro 8 is the Creation! The NIV, using the new scholarship, translates the same passage: "The LORD BROUGHT ME FORTH as the first of his works, before his deeds of old." And now 'Wisdom' is seen, rightly, as the first of Yahweh's "creations"!]

The KJV has Eve saying, "I have gotten a man from the LORD". But the NIV, and the NET, give us a fuller meaning. Now Eve may be seen to say, "I have created a Yahweh-man!" -- we might say, 'God manifest in the flesh' (1Ti 3:16) or 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself' (2Co 5:18).

This fits the context very well: it portrays Eve as a "Creator"; she has sought to be "like God" (Gen 3:5) -- and now -- in her mind -- she has finally succeeded: just like God, she has created a man! And the man she has created will truly redeem men from the curse of the serpent.

But, alas! It was a false hope. Eve's firstborn proved himself to be instead a son of the serpent, by his enmity against another "seed of the woman", his brother Abel. This enmity culminated in the murder of his righteous brother. Thus Cain, like his "father" the old serpent, showed himself "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44; 1Jo 3:12). He was not to be a "creator" of life, but a bringer of death.

(Cp Sarah's attempt to gain a blessing by her own efforts, in seeing a child born thru her handmaid Hagar: Gen 16:1-4.)

Gen 4:2

No mention of a second conception: were Cain and Abel twins?

ABEL: Heb "hebel", a breath. Sig "vanity" (cp Ecc 1:2n).

KEPT FLOCKS: Joh 10:11,14; 1:29r.

WORKED (WAS A TILLER OF): "Abad", ie, was a servant of...

Gen 4:3

"There is a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is death" (Pro 14:12).

IN THE COURSE (PROCESS) OF TIME: Indicates a set time to offer sacrifice (cp Gen 3:24n).

OFFERING: "Minchah" (Lev 2:1). A voluntary, bloodless offering, and thus a denial of Heb 9:22 ("Without shedding of blood... no remission of sins": cp Mat 26:28; Job 31:33). A mistaken belief that works may replace grace of God. A wrong to make God the receiver when He alone can give (Act 9:25). The cherubim of Gen 3:24 should have shown Cain the right course, but it did not.

Gen 4:4

A more perfect offering: Heb 11:4. The detail here implies that specific rules had been given (ie 3:24).

FAT PORTIONS: "Crucify the flesh" (Gal 5:24). A dedication of the blood/life: Lev 17:11.

FIRSTBORN: Firstborn in Law: Num 18:15-17; Exo 13:2. Double inheritance: Deu 21:15. Priesthood: Num 8:4-18. Authority: Gen 49:3; 2Ch 21:3. Christ was "firstborn" (Col 1:15-19). We are ecclesia of firstborn (Heb 12:23; Rev 14:4; Jam 1:17,19).

OF HIS FLOCK: The "Lamb" of Joh 1:29,36.

LOOKED WITH FAVOR: Alternately, "set on fire" (BS 10:139).

Gen 4:5

Cain, the choice of men: strong, clever, handsome -- no doubt like Esau and Saul. But God chose Jacob and David and Abel instead. Cain, desired by Eve as the seed (v 1n), grows up spoiled, selfish, and proud, due to attention lavished on him. Not pliable in God's hands. And thus envious of his brother.

"A way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is death" (Pro 14:12). A stubborn refusal to do right: Pro 21:27; 15:8.

ANGRY (VERY WROTH): The first religious controversy! Even to hate one's brother is to commit murder (1Jo 3:15).


Gen 4:7

WILL YOU NOT BE ACCEPTED?: "Have the excellency" (AV mg), ie the status for a firstborn son under the Law.

SIN: "Chattah", a sin-offering (Num 6:11,14,16). In the Pentateuch, these lie at the door of the tabernacle or temple. Here, could refer to east gate or door of garden (WHGT 58). A sin-bearer, or animal for sacrifice, could have been procured from Abel -- but Cain was too proud. (Cp Christ is his death, providing a sin-covering even for those wicked men who plotted his death.)

DESIRES: Cp idea in Gen 3:16.

YOU MUST MASTER IT (THOU SHALT RULE OVER HIM): Either (1) You will/should have the upper hand over sinful impulses, or (2) You desire the mastery of your brother, i.e. the office of the firstborn.

"It all began with one small wrong act that Cain was very able to put right. Cain offered a sacrifice of vegetables instead of the sacrifice of an animal and then became jealous that Abel's sacrifice was favoured by God while his own sacrifice wasn't. It was here that the LORD intervened and warned Cain what would happen if he did not put his actions right. God said, 'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.'

"Cain's decision was to stay bitter. To ease his problem, Cain made a bigger one by killing his brother. Now Cain had two problems. He had offered an unacceptable sacrifice and not put it right, and had murdered his brother.

"When the LORD confronted Cain about the death of Abel, he again tried to cover it up by lying.

"If Cain had just taken God's advice and put the first problem right, the rest of his sins would never have happened. Sin desires to have all of us, but we must master it. Let us not fall into the same trap as Cain and add sin to sin until it masters us" (RP).

Gen 4:8

LET'S GO OUT TO THE FIELD: Not in some mss; not in AV. But there is strong textual support for such a phrase: the LXX, Syriac Peshitta, Latin Vulgate, Samaritan Pentateuch, and Jerusalem Targum (ADI 13). Cain is luring his brother, deceiving him.

Cain killed his brother after "church" was over! The beginning of the continuing conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman: Mat 23:35; Jud 1:11; Heb 12:24; 1Jo 3:12.

Gen 4:9

WHERE IS... ABEL?: Cain had evidently buried the body of his brother (cp v 10).

I DON'T KNOW: The first (human) liar as well as the first murderer: Joh 8:44.

MY BROTHER'S KEEPER: The Law taught need to be bro's keeper: Lev 25:23-49. The lesson of the Gaal-Redeemer. Deu 23:7.

Gen 4:10

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?: As in Gen 3:13r.

YOUR BROTHER'S BLOOD CRIES OUT... FROM GROUND: The dead do not literally talk. Only their memory calls them back to mind, after manner of "souls under altar" (Rev 6:9,10; cp Heb 11:4; 12:24).

Gen 4:11

FROM THE GROUND (EARTH): That is, to be an exile: vv 12,16. Cp fate of Esau: Gen 27:39n. And cp the curse upon Jewry for the murder of Jesus: Mat 23:35; Deu 28:15-24. (See Pink 70).

Gen 4:13

A confession of sin. (But Cain seems more concerned with punishment than crime.) Thus Cain limits God's power, by ignoring His offer of mercy (v 7n).

Gen 4:14

PRESENCE: Lit "faces" (always plural in Heb): Elp 148; Gen 3:24n.

WHOEVER FINDS ME WILL KILL ME: There were prob already many descendants of Adam and Eve in the earth, some 100 or so years after the Creation. For Cain, "No peace for the wicked" (Isa 57:20). He was afraid of poss kinsmen/redeemers who would try to kill him. Cain's act set a precedent that others might follows. Cain's fate: a type of Israel's punishment of scattering, after they killed Christ.

Gen 4:15

PUT A MARK ON: "Appointed a sign for". Did Cain now avail himself of the previous offer (v 7) of a sacrifice, in Eden, God's "city of refuge"?

MARK: Making him easily distinguishable by appearance -- like Jews? Or, a "place", like the cities of refuge, where Cain will be safe from the avenger of blood. (But, after a while, Cain grows restless and leaves to build his own city.)

The story is told of two brothers, convicted of stealing sheep, who were branded on the forehead with the letters ST, to indicate "sheep thief." The one couldn't bear the stigma, became bitter, and moved away. Eventually he died and was forgotten. The other brother chose a different course. He said, "I can't run from what I did, so I'll stay here and win back the respect of my neighbors and myself." As the years passed, he built a solid reputation for integrity. One day a stranger saw him, now an old man, with the letters on his forehead. He asked a townsman what they signified. "It happened a long time ago," said the villager. "I've forgotten the particulars, but I think the letters are an abbreviation for 'saint'."

Cain too was a marked man who, like that first brother in the story, never thought beyond the severity of his punishment to the severity of his sin. He didn't realize that his "brand" was a blessing as well as a curse. It held in check the vengeance of his fellowmen so that he wouldn't be killed. God was granting Cain an opportunity to acknowledge his wrong, to plead for mercy, and to wipe out his reputation as a murderer. How tragic that he chose not to! (See Lesson, Scarlet letter, the).

Gen 4:16

CAIN WENT OUT: Cp Jon 1:3.

PRESENCE: "Faces".

CAIN WENT OUT FROM THE LORD'S PRESENCE: A divine sanctuary (perh an altar to God). If Cain had remained there, there would have been protection for him from any "avenger of blood" (v.15). But Cain decides to go out from God's protecting presence, showing his self-dependence (just as in the earlier matter of sacrifice) rather than relying upon God. In effect, he builds his own "temple" as well as his own city.

NOD: Only mention in Bible. Sig "wandering, exile", from rt "to waver, to flee, to disappear". Location unknown. To fulfill v 12.

EAST OF EDEN: For "east", see Gen 3:24n and Lesson: Eden.

Gen 4:17

"Cain's Wife: a Second Look": Compass 9:121. A survey of genetic difficulties with "inbreeding" -- and suggestion that these problems were far less severe in earlier times.

ENOCH: "Dedicated", in this case prob to a false god. Was Enoch destined to be the high priest of a temple city, dedicated to an apostate religious worship -- ie, the "way of Cain" (Jud 1:11)?

CAIN WAS THEN BUILDING A CITY: Abel already had a "city" (Heb 11:16).


Gen 4:18

IRAD: "Wild ass"; a man of flesh.

MEHUJAEL: "Smitten of God".

METHUSHAEL: "Man of God", a religious sort.

LAMECH: "Overthrower".

Gen 4:19

LAMECH MARRIED TWO WOMEN: First instance of polygamy. "From the beginning it was not so" (Mat 19:8).

ADAH: "Adorned", in beauty or self-glorification.

ZILLAH: "Shade", comfort, pleasure.

Gen 4:20

Cain's seed, the "seed of the serpent", made their names known in the fields of politics, "education", city life, "civilization", permissiveness, "culture", popular music. But all with no real God! Cp the world today. The pre-flood apostasy "said to God, 'Depart from us'" (Job 22:15-17).

JABAL: "Produce", i.e. pomp, pageantry.

FATHER: Figuratively, organizer, founder, master, patron, businessman. "Father" = "leader" (Gen 4:21; 45:8; 2Ki 5:13; 2Ch 4:16; Isa 22:21).

RAISE LIVESTOCK (HAVE CATTLE): Was the simple work of Abel now corrupted into a large, profitable business?

Gen 4:21

JUBAL: "Joyful music"; cp "Jubilee". A "band leader" of renown!

Gen 4:22

TUBAL-CAIN: "Flowing forth from Cain".

TOOLS: Including weapons? See v 23.

NAAMAH: "Pleasant". All women of Cain's line have names reflecting outward appearance, refinement, luxury.

Gen 4:23

A minor bruise brings a fatal retaliation. The RV of v 23 reads "I have slain a man for wounding me and a young man for bruising me." This reading seems likely due to the boastfulness of v 24. Also the words for "man" and "young man" are different, so it is possible that Lamech killed at least two people (maybe wiping out a whole family). Lamech's boast was that he was greater than God, who pronounced a mere seven-fold judgment against any who sought vengeance on Cain (v 15). "But I take vengeance 77-fold if need be!" LXX reads "70 times 7". Cp Peter's question, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Till seven times?" Christ's answer: "Until seventy times seven" (Mat 18:21,22): 'Let the gentle persistence of your forgiveness at least match the opposite murderous attitude of power-drunk Lamech.'

Gen 4:24

Lamech boasts that he no longer needs the divine protection afforded his ancestor Cain (v 15). Lamech is proud of his son Tubal-cain, a maker of weapons (v 22). Ct Mat 18:22: Christ forgives 77 times. Also cp Dan 9:24 ("70 sevens").

Gen 4:25

SETH: "Sheth", "appointed or put". If Abel typifies Jesus in sacrifice, Seth typifies him in resurrection -- a "son" to replace the one who was slain.

Gen 4:26

Now begins the separation between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.

ENOSH: "Frail". Used of man, implying weakness, humility (Psa 8:4; 90:3; 103:15).

TO CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD: Or, as AV mg, "to call themselves by the name of the LORD". The beginning of the "ecclesia". Men calling themselves the "sons of God/Yahweh". (2) Or, to plead for the Savior hitherto denied them (Gen 3:15; 4:1; etc).

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