Cain and Abel, 1-26

Genesis 4:1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”

Genesis 4:2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.

She gave birth to his brother Abel – ‘The second son of Adam and Eve may have been a twin because Genesis 4:2 literally reads, “And she continued to bear his brother Abel.”’ (Holman)

Genesis 4:3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.

Both Cain, v3, and Abel, v4, brought offerings to God, but only one was acceptable. As MHC notes, ‘hypocrites and evil doers may be found going as far as the best of God’s people in the external services of religion. Cain brought an offering with Abel; nay, Cain’s offering is mentioned first, as if he were the more forward of the two. A hypocrite may possibly hear as many sermons, say as many prayers, and give as much alms, as a good Christian, and yet, for want of sincerity, come short of acceptance with God.

Genesis 4:4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering,

Genesis 4:5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Why did the Lord accept the offering of Abel, but not that of Cain? We cannot be sure, although it may have been because Abel brought a blood sacrifice. What is clear is that we have here the first instance of election in the Bible.

Genesis 4:6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?

Genesis 4:7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Genesis 4:8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him – This is cited by the Sceptic’s Annotated Bible as the first instance of ‘cruelty and violence’ in the Bible.  So it may be, but this is very far from saying that ‘the Bible’ approves of Cain’s behaviour.  Too often, sceptics ignore the rather obvious rule that the Bible does not approve of everything it records.

Genesis 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

‘In 1928, a very interesting case came before the courts in Massachusetts. It concerned a man who had been walking on a boat dock when suddenly he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep water of an ocean bay. He came up sputtering and yelling for help and then sank again, obviously in trouble. His friends were too far away to get to him, but only a few yards away, on another dock, was a young man sprawled on a deck chair, sunbathing. The desperate man shouted, “Help, I can’t swim!” The young man, an excellent swimmer, only turned his head to watch as the man floundered in the water, sank, came up sputtering in total panic, and then disappeared forever. The family of the drowned man was so upset by that display of callous indifference that they sued the sunbather. They lost. The court reluctantly ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility whatever to try and save the other man’s life. In effect, the law agrees with Cain’s presupposition: I am not my brother’s keeper, and I have every legal right to mind my own business and to refuse to become involved.’ Gary Inrig — James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 116.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” – ‘I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them – How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain you are not you brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.’ (The Best of Spurgeon, 228)

Genesis 4:10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.

Genesis 4:11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

Genesis 4:12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Genesis 4:13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  Gen 4:14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

“My punishment is more than I can bear” – Probably ‘not to be understood as a complaint about his punishment but rather as an expression of remorse over the extent of his “iniquity.”‘ (EBC)

“Whoever finds me will kill me” – This detail raises questions about the traditional, literal, interpretation of early Genesis.  Among the more conservative interpretations offered are these:-

  1. Adam’s existence was preceded by that of inferior ‘humanoid’ populations, who were now widely scattered;
  2. Adam is expressing fear of future populations;
  3. Adam’s fear is groundless: he did not know that he and his family were the only humans who existed;
  4. The supposed ‘killers’ were not other people, but wild animals.

Enns (The Evolution of Adam) says, ‘There are evidently other human beings assumed to exist outside of the garden, people whom Cain fears will retaliate for his murder of Abel and from whom he picks a wife and settles in the “land of Nod” (Gen. 4:16). If Adam is the first human, how can this be? I do not find conventional explanations helpful here, such as the hypothesis that Adam and Eve actually had many more children—boys and girls not mentioned in the narrative, who apparently procreated with each other and then, for some undisclosed reason, left Eden to settle elsewhere and from whom Cain would have found a wife among his sisters or nieces.’  Enns suggests that if Adam is regarded as ‘proto-Israel’ (rather than as a literal historical figure and the first human being) then the presence of other people is no longer a problem.

Genesis 4:15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no-one who found him would kill him.

The Lord put a mark on Cain so that non-one who found him would kill him – more literally, ‘…gave a sign to Cain’.  It may be that the city built by Cain (v17) is to be regarded as a city of refuge, Num 35:9-34), and would thus be the protective ‘sign’ given to him.

Genesis 4:16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

East of Eden – and thus no longer associated with his parents.

Genesis 4:17 Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.

Billy Sunday was once interrupted in his harangue by a heckler, who shouted the question, then famous in all agnostic or atheistic circles, “Who was Cain’s wife?” Billy Sunday shot back the reply, “I respect any seeker after knowledge, but I want to warn you, young man, don’t risk being lost to salvation by too much inquiring after other men’s wives.”

Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant – But where did Cain’s wife come from? On a narrow reading of the text, it is apparent that she must have been a daughter of Adam and Eve, Gen 5:4. But if Cain married his own sister, was he not guilty of incest? If the human race was propagated from a single couple, then this would have been inevitable. By Moses’ time, various laws governing incest had been introduced, Lev 18:7-17; 20:11-21; Deut 22:30; 27:20-23. But prior to that time, close marriages were not unknown, as in the case of Abraham, who married his half-sister, Gen 20:12. Genetically, marriages between the children of Adam and Eve would have been much safer than those occurring in similar circumstances in later times. (See Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, 39f; Geisler, Baker’s Encyclopedia of Apologetics)

But such a narrow reading of the text may not be the best reading.  The idea that there were other people (or, at least, other hominids) around at the same time has already been implied in v14f.  The present verse not only mentions Cain’s wife, but also the building of a city, suggesting that there were not merely some, but many, potential inhabitants for it.

Richard Bewes tells us that when he was asked the question, beloved by hecklers, “Who was Cain’s wife?”, he delayed his reply, asking first the following questions: “How serious are you in asking this?”, “How would it change your attitude to Christianity if there was an answer?”, and “If I give you an answer to your intellectual satisfaction, will you become a Christian tonight?” (The Top 100 Questions, p229)

Genesis 4:18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

Genesis 4:19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.

‘Mormons cite this verse and their own scriptures (Doctrines and Covenants, section 132) in order to justify polygamy. Polygamy, however, came into existence only after the fall in the garden. The creation mandate directs that a man shall be joined to one wife (2:24). Other verses that teach monogamy include Pr 5:18–19; Mal 2:14–15; Mk 10:2–8; 1 Co 7:2, 10; 1 Tm 3:2, 12; and Ti 1:6. While there are examples of polygamy in the OT (2 Sm 5:13; 1 Kg 11:3), they did not receive God’s approval. Instead God, in His mercy, issued laws to protect the many wives and children of polygamists.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)

Genesis 4:20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.

Genesis 4:21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute.

Calvin on the achievements of the heathen in art and science, Gen 4:20-22
Moses now relates that, with the evils which proceeded from the family of Cain, some good had been blended. For the invention of arts, and of other things which serve to the common use and convenience of life, is a gift of God by no means to be despised, and a faculty worthy of commendation. It is truly wonderful, that this race, which had most deeply fallen from integrity, should have excelled the rest of the posterity of Adam in rare endowments. I, however, understand Moses to have spoken expressly concerning these arts, as having been invented in the family of Cain, for the purpose of showing that he was not so accursed by the Lord but that he would still scatter some excellent gifts among his posterity; for it is probable, that the genius of others was in the meantime not inactive; but that there were, among the sons of Adam, industrious and skilful men, who exercised their diligence in the invention and cultivation of arts. Moses, however, expressly celebrates the remaining benediction of God on that race, which otherwise would have been deemed void and barren of all good. Let us know then, that the sons of Cain, though deprived of the Spirit of regeneration, were yet endued with gifts of no despicable kind; just as the experience of all ages teaches us how widely the rays of divine light have shone on unbelieving nations, for the benefit of the present life; and we see, at the present time, that the excellent gifts of the Spirit are diffused through the whole human race. Moreover, the liberal arts and sciences have descended to us from the heathen. We are, indeed, compelled to acknowledge that we have received astronomy, medicine, and the order of civil government, from them. Nor is it to doubted, that God has thus liberally enriched them with excellent favours that their impiety might have the less excuse. But, while we admire the riches of his favour which he has bestowed on them, let us still value far more highly that grace of regeneration with which he peculiarly sanctifies his elect unto himself.’

(Commentary on Genesis, 217f)

Genesis 4:22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

Genesis 4:23 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me.

Genesis 4:24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Genesis 4:25 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.”

Genesis 4:26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.

At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord – See Gen 12:8; 21:33.