Genesis 4

The Word Made Fresh

1Adam had intercourse with Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have a son, with God’s help!” 2Then she gave birth to his brother, Abel.

Abel became a shepherd, and Cain became a farmer. 3At harvest time Cain brought to God an offering of what he had grown, 4and Abel brought the tastiest portions of an animal from his flock. The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, 5but not for Cain and his offering. Cain was angry about it; you could see it on his face.

6The LORD asked Cain, “Why are you upset? Why the long face? 7Don’t you know you and your offering will be accepted when it is given in the right spirit? And if it is not in the right spirit, you are harboring sinfulness just under the surface. It is trying to take charge of you. You have to master it.”

8Cain spoke some harsh words to his brother Abel while they were together in the fields and Cain attacked Abel and killed him.

9The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?”

“I have no idea,” Cain said. “Am I supposed to keep track of him?”

10The LORD said, “What have you done? I can hear your brother’s blood crying out to me from the dirt! 11Now the ground curses you because it has swallowed your brother’s blood that you spilled. 12When you try to till the ground it will not yield it’s best to you. And you will be treated as a stranger wherever you might wander.”

13Cain complained to the LORD, “That is punishment I don’t deserve! 14Now you have driven me away from the land, and you won’t watch over me anymore. Everywhere I go I’ll be an outcast, and anyone I meet might try to kill me!”

15“No,” said the LORD, “anyone who kills you will be punished seven times.” And the LORD gave Cain a mark that would dissuade anyone who came upon him from killing him.

16Then Cain went away from the LORD’s presence, and settled down in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17In time, Cain had intercourse with his wife, and she gave birth to Enoch. Cain built a city and named it Enoch, after his son.

18Enoch had a son, Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and the Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19Lamech had two wives: Adah and Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal (the first of those who live in tents and herd cattle) 21and his brother Jubal, (the first musician, the ancestor of those who play the lyre and the pipe.) 22Zillah bore Tubalcain, a forger of bronze and iron tools. His sister was Naamah.

23Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me. I have killed a man because he wounded me. He was a young man, but he struck me. 24If Cain was to be avenged seven times, then surely Lamech will be avenged seventy-seven times.”

25Meanwhile, Adam and Eve had another son, and named him Seth. Eve said, “God has given me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.”26Seth became the father of a son, whom he named Enosh. Around that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Commentary

Summary: The Garden of Eden story establishes a pattern that is followed all through the Old Testament. People settle a place (the Garden); they disobey or rebel against God (they ate the forbidden fruit); they lose their place (they are banned from the Garden); there is a sign of grace (God clothes them). This pattern of settlement, rebellion, banishment, restoration will occur again and again.

1-8: The first thing Adam and Eve do outside the Garden is have children. If they had stayed in the Garden of Eden, do you think they would have ever had children? Or is it their mortality (or loss of immortality?) that makes children necessary? Two sons are born, Cain and Abel. Cain is a farmer (probably of grain – wheat or barley) while Abel is a shepherd. Specifically, Cain is a “tiller of the ground, and so follows his father’s vocation” (2:15). Time passes, and Cain and Abel both bring sacrifices to the LORD. There is as yet no organized religion, but ancient peoples seemed instinctively to want to solicit God’s cooperation by giving God a portion of that which they wanted God to bless. Cain brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground.” Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.” God had regard for Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.

Two questions immediately present themselves: How did they know that God preferred Abel’s offering? And why did God prefer Abel’s offering? The simplest answer is that during the next season Cain’s crops did not do as well, but Abel’s flocks thrived, thus indicating God’s approval. And God preferred Abel’s offering because Abel offered the firstlings of his flocks, while Cain simply went through the motions. In other words, Abel’s offering represented a real sacrifice, while Cain’s offering was a mere gesture.

Cain is angry and jealous, and God warns him. Do well (make a real sacrifice) and you will be accepted; don’t do well (just go through the motions) and you will be lured into sin – tempted to make up for your poor performance by practicing dishonesty and deceit.

8-16: Cain murders Abel, then shrugs off God’s inquiry by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Remember that Adam was placed in the Garden to “till it and to keep it.” Cain follows his father’s vocation (tilling) but does not have his father’s character (keeping). Now Cain loses his work, his livelihood, because of his crime. He is overwhelmed by the severity of the consequences of what he has done.

Let’s pause for a moment to look at the outline given in the summary above and see how this story follows the same pattern as the Garden of Eden story. People settle a place (unnamed in this case, but they farm and herd and so have settled); they disobey or rebel against God (Cain spills the blood of his innocent brother); they lose their place (Cain becomes a fugitive and wanderer); there is a sign of grace (God puts a mark on Cain to protect him).

By the way, we will see all through Genesis a pattern of God’s favor passing over the oldest son. Ishmael takes a back seat to Isaac, Esau to Jacob, Reuben to Joseph. In Exodus, Moses is the younger brother of Aaron. Later, King David will be the youngest son of Jesse. Perhaps Cain’s behavior is the reason God passes over the oldest in these families. In the New Testament, however, Jesus is the oldest child of Joseph and Mary. Is that how God heals the rupture?

17-24: Cain settles somewhere else eventually. He finds a wife, which we find curious since we thought there were no other people in the world at the time. One suggestion is that Adam and Eve were not the first two human beings, but rather were the first ones to have a direct relationship with God. Adam, remember, was created on the third day (see Genesis 2:4-7), then God created human beings in Chapter 1:26, perhaps using the first two as a model. (This also implies that everything on the earth was made with humanity in mind.) So there are other people in the world outside the Garden, and among them Cain found a wife. They have a child. Cain builds a city named after his son. Obviously, there is a substantial population available for such an enterprise. Cain’s descendants are named. Music is invented. Tools are developed. Then Cain’s great-great-great-grandson Lamech kills another man and claims Cain’s immunity from retribution.

25-26: Adam and Eve have a third son, Seth. Seth also apparently finds a wife and they have a son, Enosh. Now we are told that this is when people first begin to call on the name of the LORD. Some form of organized religion was being practiced that early in human history.

Takeaway

To the sin of obtaining the knowledge of good and evil is added the sin of wantonly taking the life of another. Doing so is tantamount to playing God. Yet God is determined for humanity to succeed, even to the point of protecting the guilty.