Part D. From Adam to Noah (4:1—5:32)
D1. The first murder (4:1-16)
D2. Genealogy of Cain (4:17-24)
D3. The birth of Seth (4:25-26)
† The moral condition of man continued to degenerate. Cain committed the most serious of all crimes: murder. The problem of killing was becoming serious, clearly seen from the casual reference by Lamech of his acts of murder. The word “kill” appears 5 times in this chapter (v.8,14,15,23,25).
† Progress of sin:
Chapter 3 (Adam)
Chapter 4 (Cain)
disobedience to God’s command (act against God)
murdering own brother (act against God & man)
eating a forbidden fruit
terminating a human life
sin through outside temptation (by the serpent)
deliberate sin from inside man’s own heart
talking to the serpent before sinning
sinning even after rebuked by God
when God inquired, admitting his sin
when inquired, lying and mocking God
silently accepting punishment
protesting about punishment
4:1 knew Eve his wife (NIV: lay with his wife Eve): OT frequently uses “know” to describe sexual relationship. It implies that sexual relationship improves mutual knowledge. This may not mean that they only had sexual relations after they ate the forbidden fruit. The reason is that human beings were commanded to multiply before the Fall (Gen 1:28).
Cain: The name (Heb. qayin) sounds like the Hebrew verb qaniti which means “gotten”, “gained”, “brought forth”, or “produce. Eve perhaps used the name to mean “brought forth”, bringing forth a son in her divinely assigned role. Some think the name means “smith”, referring to the metalworker.
I have gotten: “Gotten” (Heb. qanah, literal: bought) sounds like the name Cain (Heb. qayin), as if Cain was valued by Eve above everything else.
a man: not “a child”, possibly referring to the fact that while Eve came out of a man, now a man came out of Eve.
the Lord (Heb. Yahweh): used by Eve for the first time; reminding of the God who saves. Eve imagined herself as a kind of partner of God in man-making. This may reflect her renewed dependence on God.
o The last phrase “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” can also be interpreted as “I have gotten a man from the Lord” or “I have gotten a man like the Lord,” since the preposition used here can have different meanings. If it is the latter case, it appears to reflect the pride of Eve who thinks she can make a man like God. This interpretation, however, is not widely supported.
4:2 Abel: The
name (Heb. hebel) sounds like the
Hebrew word for empty, vanity, or breath (hebēl),
possibly implying his short life (fleeting life span like breath) and
apparently without any descendants. It may also mean weakness, vanity (Ps
39:5), or grief, as if he reminded Eve of the misery of their lives away from
o Calvin thinks that Cain and Abel were probably twin brothers. However, if this is true, Abel’s name should be placed first according to Biblical tradition which places the chosen one first.
keeper of sheep: Many people chosen by God were shepherds: Jacob (Gen 30:36), Joseph (Gen 37:2), Moses (Ex 3:1), David (1Sa 16:11).
worker of the ground: Cain had the same occupation as Adam, nothing to be ashamed of.
4:3 in the course of time: Hebrew meaning “at the end of days”, probably on the Sabbath. Some
translate it “an era ended,” referring to the expulsion from
offering of the fruit of the ground: probably similar to OT grain offering of grains and flour (Lev 2:1-3,14-16); but Cain’s offering was not described as first fruits like Abel.
4:4 firstborn: immediate offering after the first produce (Ex 23:19; Lev 2:14; Dt 26:1-11); thus offering the best to God.
fat portions: the best part (Gen 45:18; Eze 34:3; 39:19).
had regard (NIV: looked with favour): How did God show His favour? Probable methods: [a] fire descending from heaven burning up the offering, [b] prosperity in the work of the worshipper. In Hebrew, “have regard” or “to look at any thing with a keen earnest glance” has been translated “kindle into a fire,” so that the consumption by fire is a probable explanation (Gen 15:17; Jdg 13:20).
4:5 very angry: violent anger; literally, “it burned to Cain exceedingly.”
his face fell: looked depressed.
4:6 Why are you angry?: Similar to Adam, God used questions to appeal to his conscience.
4:7 if you do well: The conditional “if” indicates that Cain must have done something unworthy. A possible rendering is, “Shalt thou not have the excellency?” which then refers to the high privileges and authority belonging to the first-born in patriarchal times (Dt 21:17). However, the acceptance of the firstborn by God is not automatic, e.g. Ishmael and Esau.
if you do well....if you do not do well: can also mean “if you think it is good...if you think it is not good.” He could either accept God’s rejection of his offerings as a good thing or not as a good thing. If he though it was good, he could feel better (by lifting his face). If not, then beware of sin (but he still could make a choice).
be accepted: meaning lifted up (will there not be a lifting up [of your face]?), opposite to the felling of Cain’s face in v.5. It can also mean “holding your head up.” God gave Cain another chance to get accepted.
sin is crouching at the door: The sinner would become a victim and be destroyed by sin (Jer 5:6). God forewarned Cain that a wrong course meant giving sin an opportunity to destroy him.
o Sin is likened to an animal crouching or lurking at the door. This pictures sin temporarily under control of its master but coming alive when stirred. Sin is personified as a demonic spirit ready to pounce on Cain once he opens the “door” of opportunity.
desire: same word as “desire” in Gen 3:16 describing Eve. Sin would be tirelessly following (stalking) Cain, or sin would try to control Cain.
you must rule over it: God advised Cain to keep control of sin. Now that he received divine counsel, he could no longer claim helplessness nor ignorance.
Some view God’s word to Cain not as a reprimand but a consolation. While God did not favour Cain’s offering, He still cared about Cain so much that He talked to him directly. Cain’s relationship with God had not been broken. God obviously was not “punishing” Cain for the offerings. God warned Cain and asked him to ponder his choice.
4:8 Cain spoke to Abel: In the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint, the verse contains the request of Cain: “Let us go out to the field.” (missing in Masoretic text, the Hebrew Bible) This was probably part of the plan of murder. Some explain “spoke” as “spoke against” or “asked to meet” or “sought”.
in the field: wide area with few people to witness the murder, perhaps a quiet spot in the field that Cain worked on, showing that it was a planned murder.
killed: Cain violently murdered Abel, caused by jealousy of his brother being favoured by God. Jealousy caused the first murder in the world. It is a dangerous sin that can cause broken relationship in the family and in church.
4:9 Where is your brother?: similar to the question asked of Adam after the Fall: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
brother: The word appears 5 times in v.8-11. The rivalry between brothers happened many times among the patriarchs, such as Ishmael vs all his brothers (Gen 16:12; 25:18), Esau vs Jacob, Jacob’s sons vs Joseph.
I do not know: a lie. Just like Satan, Cain was a murderer and a liar (Jn 8:44).
am I my brother’s keeper?: Cain mocked God by talking back, showing the absence of any repentance. “Keeping” can mean legal protection. Cain was questioning why God ask him to provide legal protection to his adult brother. “Keeping” is also used frequently in OT to describe rearing of sheep, then the mocking question became “Am I a keeper of my sheep-keeping brother?” It was a rhetorical question expecting a negative answer but the unexpected response from God disclosed Cain’s crime.
4:10 What have you done?: similar to the question to Eve (Gen 3:13). It was a question to poke Cain’s conscience, not a question to demand an answer because God did not wait for the answer and continued.
the voice of your brother’s blood: It can be translated as: “Listen, the voice of your brother’s blood…” as the word “voice” can be translated as a verb (Isa 13:4; 52:8). God knows all secret criminal deeds; they stir the heart of the divine Judge to dispense justice.
4:11 cursed: the first cursed person in the world (Adam and Eve were not personally cursed).
the ground opened its mouth: It refers to the cry of Abel’s spirit from Sheol (Hades in NT, a place for departed spirits). The figures of Abel’s blood crying out and the ground swallowing the blood intensify the horrific crime committed by Cain.
no longer yield: After the ground was profaned with spilt innocent blood, the field would no longer produce for Cain as it had for Adam. He had to abandon his occupation of farming.
4:12 fugitive and wanderer: (literal: restless and isolated/banished) perpetual exile, no home to stay in, moving and running away all the time.
4:13 My punishment is greater than I can bear: Cain’s punishment included: [a] could no long farm, [b] exiled from his land, [c] fugitive from his relatives, fear for his life, [d] wandering without a home.
o The sentence can also be translated as “Is my sin too great to forgive?” If this is the case, then Cain showed his remorse which could explain why God protected him. But it is more likely that Cain’s response was a complaint, that is, Cain protested that his punishment was too harsh. Because of his self-pity and resentment, he was expelled afterwards “from the presence of the Lord,” indicating no forgiveness from God.
o 1Jn 3:11-12 describes Cain as the “evil one” because he hated his brother and murdered him.
4:14 whoever finds me will kill me: Cain would be at least a young man at this time. Adam and Eve might have other younger children after Cain and Abel. Further, over the course of Cain’s long life, there could be many opportunities for retribution by Adam’s other children if Cain’s crime was found out.
4:15 Not so!: God showed His mercy to Cain who deserved no mercy. He contradicted Cain’s fearful outburst and said that nothing more than the original sentence (banishment) would occur.
vengeance: The word usually speaks of divine retribution against God’s enemies or His people, though it may describe retaliation by civil authority (Ex 21:20).
put a mark: The mark was something that people would recognize as God’s sign of protection. It could be some easily seen mark (perhaps on his forehead, Eze 9:4-6) that bore the imprint of supernatural work.
sevenfold: symbolizes complete vengeance from God and will be certain and severe. Some Jewish tradition takes the sentence to mean “He (Cain) will be punished after 7 generations,” that is, killed by the 7th generation descendant. (see note on v.23.)
4:16 Nod: means
“wandering”, isolation, exile, or vagrancy, same root as “wanderer” in v.12.
Cain was further removed from
4:17 his wife: either his sister or his niece (child of Adam’s other children). Marriage to close relatives was only prohibited later in the Law of Moses (Lev 18:9).
Enoch (3rd generation Cainite from Adam): not the same as the Sethite Enoch in ch.5. The name means introduce, initiate, or dedicate, perhaps from his being the dedicator or founder of the city.
built a city: Does this indicate Cain ending his exile? Possibilities: [a] It indicates the end of the Cain’s wandering life, after an unknown period of time. [b] Cain disobeyed God again. [c] Cain only built the city that Enoch inhabited; he continued to wander.
Cities with their highly dense
populations are commonly reputed to behave wickedly (as
4:18 Irad (4th generation Cainite): name meaning wild ass, onager, cane huts, or fugitive.
Mehujael (5th generation Cainite): name meaning “ecstatic of God”, “God has smitten”, or “God gives life”.
Methushael (6th generation Cainite): name meaning “man of God” or “man of Sheol”.
Lamech (7th generation Cainite): meaning of name unknown.
4:19 two wives: first record of polygamy, transgressing the original law of marriage. While the OT does not explicitly prohibit polygamy, cases of polygamy almost always led to tragic results.
Adah: name meaning ornament.
Zillah: name meaning shadow, shade, or shrill; or related to the Hebrew word for “cymbal”.
o Some suggest that the two wives were praised respectively for their physical beauty and sweet voice.
4:20 father: instructor of all who worked in that occupation, e.g. Handel as father of oratorio music. Jabal was the father of livestock, perhaps keeping different livestock (while Abel only kept the sheep).
Jabal (8th generation Cainite): name meaning stream or produce, perhaps implying that he was an inventor.
4:21 Jubal: name meaning jubilant or produce, the same as Jabal, his brother; inventor of musical instruments.
4:22 Tubal-cain: Tubal means “smith” in Sumerian (ancient language); Cain also means “smith”. He was the legendary first metalworker.
forger: may also be translated as “father” as in v.20-21, or may mean “hammerer/sharpener”. His metallurgy probably included weapons as well as agricultural tools. As a son of Lamech, his craft could be used by Lamech for his assault and murder.
Naamah: The Midrash (Jewish commentaries) recognized that the root of her name can refer to “song” or pleasantness. Perhaps Naamah is meant to be associated with her half brother Jubal, the founder of instrumental music—he as accompanist, she as singer. Some speculate that she was Noah’s wife.
v.20-22 recorded the rapid advance of human civilization including: tent building, keeping livestock, advance in music and musical instruments, metallurgy, metallic instruments, perhaps weapons for fighting. These help to counteract the teaching that the first people on the Earth were merely some kind of half-animals.
Note that these civilization builders were all descendants of Cain.
4:23 said to his wives: Lamech bragged to his wives for his sinful behaviour of revenging a wound with murder. Perhaps this is an indication that murder was very common in his time.
o This is commonly called the “Song of the Sword” in which Lamech boasts his prowess as a combatant, celebrates his heinous deeds, and intimates any challengers.
have killed: The verb appears two times in this verse. Both verbs are conditional perfect. The statement means: “If a man wounds me, I would have killed him; if a young man strikes me, I would have killed him.” Lamech was an extremely violent man who would kill anyone, young or old, for any wound he received. His name should be called “avenger”.
o As the Song is a poem, poetic parallelism may show only one man, a young man. However, the term “young man” may refer to an infant (Gen 21:8), a teenager (Gen 21:16), or a young male adult (Ru 1:5).
o According to some Jewish tradition, this verse refers to the murder of both Cain and Tubal-cain by Lamech (7th generation from Adam). This tradition was based on the interpretation of the word “sevenfold” in v.15 as “7 generations.” If so, it follows then Lamech was alleging that the punishment for his murders would only come after 77 generations, practically never.
4:24 seventy-sevenfold: While Lamech freely murdered, he also prohibited others from doing the same to him. Lamech contended that if Cain’s value was reprisal 7 times, then his acclaimed deeds merited much more. This was Lamech’s personal decision to multiply Cain’s sevenfold vengeance. He was probably implying that his family, or clan, or tribe would certainly revenge for him. That is possibly another indication of the high frequency of murders.
4:25 Seth: (Heb. shet) sounds like Hebrew for “he appointed” or “granted” (Heb. shat). The Hebrew noun seth may mean foundation (Ps 11:3; Isa 19:10), pointing to the new beginning in the person of Seth. Eve interpreted the birth of Seth as God’s response to the loss of the righteous Abel.
God has appointed for me: as a replacement for Abel. After Lamech’s unashamed boasting of his violent behaviour, the appearance of Seth represented a ray of hope that points eventually to God’s salvation.
Eve used Elohim as God’s name to emphasize His power. It may also be an echo
of the dialogue between the serpent and Eve in
offspring: literally “seed”, same in the whole Genesis. Perhaps Eve was hoping that this was the one prophesied by God in Gen 3:15.
4:26 Enosh: synonymous with adam, referring to [a] all humanity or [b] as the name of an individual. It could imply the new “Adam” who inaugurated a new righteous line. It could also refer to the frailty and insignificance of “man”.
began to call upon the Lord: Organized religion (public regular worship as a group, as opposed to individual worship) became part of civilization. LXX and Vulgate attribute to Enosh the innovation of calling on the name of the Lord. They view Enosh as a righteous hero.
o “Call” can mean [a] “invoking” the Lord in prayer and worship or [b] “proclaiming” in the sense of declaring the revelation of God (Ex 33:19; 34:5; Dt 32:3).
o If the name of Yahweh was already proclaimed at this time, why did God need to reveal His name to Moses at Sinai (Ex 3:6,15; 6:2-3)? Jewish and Christian interpretation understood God’s revelation at Sinai as concerning a special aspect of divine power and character, not just the name Yahweh itself. Contextually, the issue was not the name of God per se (Ex 7:5) but rather the nature of God. Revelation of the “name” to Moses concerned the content and meaning of Yahweh that was not as fully understood by the patriarchs. The Lord’s “name” in Moses’ experience was related to God’s unique self-disclosure of His goodness, mercy, and majesty.
Cain’s family was a microcosm of human failure in today’s world: technical advance and moral failure. Whereas Cain’s descendants founded the civilized arts, Seth’s descendants began the practice to worship the Lord together. Whereas Lamech (from Cain) was remembered a polygamist and a murderer, Enoch (from Seth) was remembered as one who walked with God (both of them occupied the honoured 7th position after Adam).
† Here is a good lesson on parenting, based on how God disciplined Cain (Gen 4:6-7):  appealed to Cain’s conscience by asking a question,  explained to Cain the benefits of obedience,  pointed out the consequences of rebellion,  reminded Cain of the power of temptation and sin in his life, as well as the resources he already possessed to overcome them,  left it up to Cain to decide, right or wrong, and to face the consequences. Human character growth cannot happen unless the exercise of free choice is permitted. Yet, when the free choice leads to wrong deeds, the culprit is punished (Gen 4:11-12).
† God is a merciful Saviour despite man’s sin, e.g. protecting Cain, appointing Seth to replace Abel. He will always accept our repentance no matter what the situation is.
† We should learn to watch out for different sins described in this chapter, e.g. jealousy, anger, hatred, revenge, lies, pride.