Genesis 4 – Cain and Abel
A. Cain’s murder of Abel.
1. (1) The birth of Cain.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.”
a. Now Adam knew Eve his wife: This is the first specific mention of sex in the Bible. The term knew or “to know” is a polite way of saying they had sexual relations and the term is used often in the Bible in this sense (Genesis 4:17, 4:25, 38:26, Judges 11:39, 1 Samuel 1:19).
i. This is a powerful way to describe sex. It shows the high, interpersonal terms in which the Bible sees the sexual relationship. Most terms and phrases people use for sex today are either coarse or violent, but the Bible sees sex as a means of knowing one another in a committed relationship. Knew indicates an act that contributes to the bond of unity and the building up of a one-flesh relationship.
ii. We have no reason to believe Adam and Eve did not have sex before this. Adam and Eve were certainly capable of sexual relations before the fall, because there is nothing inherently impure or unclean in sex itself, only in its misuse.
b. And bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD”: The name Cain basically meant, I’ve got him or Here he is. It is likely Eve thought that Cain was the seed that God promised, the deliverer who would come from Eve (Genesis 3:15). There is a sense in which Eve said, “I have the man from the LORD.”
i. Under normal circumstances, parents want good things for their children. They wonder if their children are destined for greatness. Adam, and especially Eve, had these expectations for Cain, but it went farther than normal parental hopes and expectations. Adam and Eve expected Cain to be the Messiah God promised.
ii. Eve thought she held in her arms the Messiah, the Savior of the whole world, but she really held in her arms a murderer.
c. A man from the LORD: Eve had faith to believe that the little baby she held would become a man. No baby had ever been born before. It is possible Adam and Eve wondered if their descendants would come forth fully mature, as they did.
2. (2-5) The birth of Abel and the offerings of Cain and Abel.
Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
a. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground: Agriculture and the domestication of animals were practiced among the earliest humans. Adam and his descendants did not spend tens of thousands of years living as hunter-gatherer cave dwellers.
b. Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD: We can surmise that Cain brought his offering to the tree of life because cherubim guarded the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), and cherubim are always associated with the dwelling place or meeting place with God (Exodus 25:10-22). It’s possible that Cain, Abel and later others met with God at the tree of life, where the cherubim guarded access to the tree and prevented any from eating its fruit.
c. The LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering: Abel brought an offering of blood (the firstborn of his flock) and Cain brought an offering of vegetation (the fruit of the ground). Many assume that this was the difference between their offerings, but grain offerings were acceptable before God (as seen in Leviticus 2), though not as an atonement for sin.
i. “The word for offering, minchah, is used in its broadest sense, covering any type of gift man may bring… Neither of the two sacrifices is made specifically for sin. Nothing in the account points in this direction.” (Leupold)
ii. The writer to the Hebrews clearly explained why the offering of Abel was accepted and the offering of Cain was rejected: By faith Abel offered up a more excellent sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4). Cain’s offering was the effort of dead religion, while Abel’s offering was made in faith, in a desire to worship God in spirit and in truth.
d. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat: This shows Abel’s offering was extra special. The fat of the animal was prized as its “luxury” and was to be given to God when the animal was sacrificed (Leviticus 3:16-17 and 7:23-25). The burning of fat in sacrifice before God is called a sweet aroma to the LORD (Leviticus 17:6).
i. The offering of Cain was no doubt more aesthetically pleasing; Abel’s would have been a bloody mess. But God was more concerned with faith in the heart than with artistic beauty.
ii. Here, it was one lamb for a man. Later, at the Passover, it will be one lamb for a family. Then, at the Day of Atonement, it was one lamb for the nation. Finally, with Jesus, there was one Lamb who took away the sin of the whole world (John 1:29).
e. Respected… did not respect: We don’t precisely know how Cain and Abel knew their sacrifices were accepted or not accepted. Seemingly, there was some outward evidence making it obvious.
i. There are Biblical examples of having an acceptable sacrifice consumed by fire from God (Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1). Perhaps an acceptable sacrifice, brought to the cherubim at the tree of life, was consumed by fire from heaven or from the flaming swords of the cherubim (Genesis 3:24).
f. Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell: Cain’s anger was undoubtedly rooted in pride. He couldn’t bear that his brother was accepted before God and he was not. It is even possible that this was public knowledge if God consuming the sacrifice with fire indicated acceptance.
i. The epidemic of sin quickly became worse. Cain now committed the relatively sophisticated sins of spiritual pride and hypocrisy.
3. (6-7) God’s warning to Cain.
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
a. Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? God dealt with Cain in terms of loving confrontation instead of automatic affirmation. God made it clear that Cain would be accepted if he did well.
i. Of course, God knew the answers to the questions He asked, but He wanted Cain to know and to resist the pull toward violence and anger within.
b. If you do not do well, sin lies at the door: God warned Cain about the destructive power of sin. Cain could resist sin and find blessing, or he could give in to sin and be devoured.
c. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it: We prevent sin from ruling over us by allowing God to master us first. Without God as our master, we will be slaves to sin.
4. (8) Cain murders Abel.
Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
a. Now Cain talked with Abel his brother: The sense is that Cain planned to catch Abel by surprise, lulling him with pleasant conversation. This shows Cain committed premeditated murder, and therefore clearly ignored God’s way of escape.
b. Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him: No human had ever died or been killed before, but Cain saw how animals were being killed for sacrifice. He extinguished Abel’s life in the same way.
i. The downward course of sin among the young human race progressed quickly. Now the hoped-for redeemer was found to be a murderer, and the second son was the victim of murder. Sin wasn’t stopped at the root or man’s moral condition quickly improved. Sin could not be contained.
B. God confronts Cain.
1. (9) God questions Cain.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
a. Where is Abel your brother: God knew the answer to this question. He asked Cain because He wanted to give him the opportunity to confess his sin and start to do right after having done wrong.
i. How futile it was for Cain to lie to God! It was madness for him to think God didn’t know where Abel was, or that he could actually hide his sin from God.
b. Am I my brother’s keeper? This reply of Cain is famous. The fact of the matter is that he was supposed to be his brother’s keeper, but was instead his brother’s murderer, and he murdered him for the lowest of reasons. Able had not injured Cain in any way. Cain’s murderous rage was inspired purely by a spiritual jealousy.
i. Spurgeon was shocked at the way Cain replied to God: “The cool impudence of Cain is an indication of the state of heart which led up to his murdering his brother; and it was also a part of the result of his having committed that terrible crime. He would not have proceeded to the cruel deed of bloodshed if he had not first cast off the fear of God and been ready to defy his Maker.”
ii. Jude 11 warns of the way of Cain, which is unbelief, empty religion leading to jealousy, persecution of those truly godly, and murderous anger.
iii. There is no greater curse on the earth than empty, vain religion; those who have a form of godliness but deny the power of God (2 Timothy 3:5). Many are afraid of secular humanism or atheism, but dead religion sends more people to hell than anything else.
2. (10-12) God’s curse upon Cain.
And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”
a. The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground: The idea of blood crying out to God from the ground is later repeated in the Bible. Numbers 35:29-34 describes how the blood of unpunished murderers defiles the land.
i. The blood of Abel spoke, and it spoke of judgment. The blood of Jesus also speaks, but of better things, of grace and of sin having been judged (Hebrews 12:24).
b. So now you are cursed from the earth: The curse upon Cain was that Adam’s curse would be amplified in regard to him. If bringing forth food from the earth would be hard for Adam (Genesis 3:17-18), it would be impossible for Cain (who was a farmer). If Adam were driven from Eden (Genesis 3:24), Cain would find no resting-place on all the earth (a fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth).
3. (13-15) Cain complains of the severity of God’s judgment.
And Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” And the LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him.
a. My punishment is greater than I can bear! Cain didn’t feel bad about his sin, but only about his punishment. This attitude did not end with Cain; like him, many people feel only bad about their punishment, not their sin.
i. “One of the clearest marks of sin is our almost innate desire to excuse ourselves and complain if we are judged in any way.” (Boice)
ii. “One of the consequences of sin is that it makes the sinner pity himself instead of causing him to turn to God. One of the first signs of new life is that the individual takes sides with God against himself.” (Barnhouse)
b. Whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold: As significant as God’s judgment against Cain was, God did not want Cain killed by others. This is possibly because the population of the earth was precariously low anyway.
c. The LORD set a mark on Cain: Therefore, God set an identifying and protective mark upon Cain. Despite the speculation of some, nobody really knows what this mark upon Cain was.
C. Cain and his descendants.
1. (16-17) Cain moves away and marries.
Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch.
a. And Cain knew his wife: Genesis 5:4 says Adam had other sons and daughters. Cain obviously married his sister. Though marrying a sister was against the law of God according to Leviticus 18:9, 18:11, 20:17, and Deuteronomy 27:22 (which even prohibits the marrying of a half-sister), this was long before God spoke that law to Moses and the world.
i. Here, necessity demanded that Adam’s sons marry his daughters. And at this point, the gene pool of humanity was pure enough to allow close marriage without harm of inbreeding. But as a stream can get more polluted the further it flows from the source, there came a time when God decreed there no longer be marriage between close relatives because of the danger of inbreeding.
ii. Even Abraham married his half-sister Sarah (Genesis 20:12). God did not prohibit such marriages until the time of Moses (Leviticus 18:9). Marrying a brother or sister was not forbidden until God forbade it.
b. And he built a city: Here we see the beginning of industry and of urbanization. From this beginning, it was strongly man-centered (and called the name of the city after the name of his son), not God-centered. The fall of the human race continued and even increased.
2. (18-22) The generations following Cain.
To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech. Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.
a. To Enoch was born Irad: The picture is one of rapid advancement. Succeeding generations quickly made progress in areas such as the founding of a city (Genesis 4:17), home building (the father of those who dwell in tents), music and the arts (the father of all those who play the harp and flute), and metalworking (an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron).
i. The idea that mankind actually advanced very quickly goes against most modern theories, but archaeology can only evaluate on the basis of what is preserved, and thus is somewhat speculative.
b. Methushael begot Lamech: The name Lamech may mean, conqueror. He was the sixth from Adam on Cain’s side. Lamech’s arrogance (Genesis 4:23-24) is a contrast to the godliness of Enoch, who was the sixth from Adam in Seth’s line (Jude 14).
c. Lamech took for himself two wives: Lamech was the first bigamist in history, going against God’s original plan for one man and one woman to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-8). The names of his wives and daughter show the emphasis in his heart: Adah means, “pleasure, ornament, or beauty.” Zillah means, “shade” probably referring to a luxurious covering of hair. His daughter’s name was Naamah, which means, “loveliness.” Lamech’s culture was committed to physical and outward beauty.
3. (23-24) Lamech’s arrogant boast.
Then Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
a. I have killed a man for wounding me: The way Lamech boasted about his murder of another, and the way he believed he could promise a greater retribution than God, shows a progressive degeneracy among humanity. Things quickly became worse with the human race, a true devolution.
b. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold: This is all a representation of humanism, a man-centered perspective. The city was Cain’s city; the focus of Lamech was his beautiful wives and his own perceived strength. But for all of Lamech’s boasting, neither he nor his descendants are ever heard of again in the Bible. He came to nothing.
4. (25-26) Seth is born to Adam and Eve.
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD.
a. And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son: Adam and Eve had many children who were not specifically named in the Biblical record, but Seth was worthy of mention because he in some sense replaced Abel and was the one to whom the promise of a deliverer from the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would be passed.
b. Then men began to call on the name of the LORD: Even in those wicked days, the worship of God was not unknown. Some have called Genesis 4:26 the first revival, because it was the first indication of a spiritual resurgence after a clear decline.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission