Genesis 4 Study Notes


4:1 Adam and Eve now begin to fulfill God’s original command to them, to “be fruitful” and “multiply” (1:28). Eve, whose name means “life,” now becomes the life-giver. Eve knew that the child was more than the result of her and her husband’s love; he came into being with the Lord’s help. A wordplay in the Hebrew suggests that the name Cain (qayin) came from the verb had (qaniti) in Eve’s comment, I have had a male child.

4:2 The name Abel means “breath”; the term is used elsewhere in the OT to refer to that which passes away quickly and is insubstantial (Ps 62:10; Ec 1:2).

4:3 Cain’s sacrifice marks the first mention of an offering to the Lord in the Bible. The Hebrew term used here suggests a freewill gift given to an authority.

4:4-5 Ironically, the first recorded offering given to God was also the first one rejected by him. Since grain offerings were authorized in the law of Moses, the fact that Cain’s offering was of vegetation rather than an animal is not why God did not have regard for it. Cain’s furious reaction suggests that the offering was rejected because of sin in his heart, not the nature of his offering. See note at vv. 6-7.

4:6-7 The Bible makes it clear that God had rejected Cain’s offering because of Cain’s wicked lifestyle (1Jn 3:12). The animal-like description of sin as crouching is reused in 49:9 to describe a lion. The parallel use of desire in this verse and 3:16 suggests that sin wishes to be as intimate with humanity as a woman is with her husband. The only way to avoid this is to be its master, not its companion.

4:8 In a move that demonstrates premeditation, Cain led Abel to the field and attacked him in a place where there were no human witnesses. Though the blood of animals had been shed prior to this (v. 4), Cain’s killing of his brother brought about the first death of a human. The curse of human death pronounced against Adam (2:17; 3:19) had now been realized.

4:9 God’s use of questions with guilty sinners continues here (v. 6; cp. 3:9-13). By claiming he did not know where his brother was, Cain added lying to his sin of murder. God once made Adam a guardian (Hb shamar) of the garden (2:15). Cain now asked if he was to be his brother’s guardian (Hb shamar). The Bible’s answer to Cain’s question is yes (Lv 19:18; Mt 22:39; Gl 5:14).

4:10 Unlike his father Adam (3:12), Cain never confessed his guilt, even though God directly confronted him with his sin. Though Abel never spoke in the preceding narrative, his blood now cried out from the ground.

4:11 God’s judgment began with a curse whose wording in the Hebrew parallels the curse placed on the snake. This is particularly fitting since both were liars and murderers (Jn 8:44). It is possible to translate God’s statement here as “You are more cursed than the ground.” The curse against a murderer is repeated in the law of Moses (Dt 27:24).

4:12 Cain’s punishment destroyed his livelihood as a farmer and turned him into a restless wanderer.

4:13 Cain’s response has several possible English renderings. The CSB—which reflects the unrepentant attitude Cain showed earlier—expresses Cain’s anguish, but no remorse. The Septuagint and Martin Luther translated it as, “My sin is too great to be forgiven,” while early rabbis took it as a question: “Is my sin too great to forgive?” In view of Cain’s previous and later actions, the CSB’s translation seems best.

4:14 Just as his father Adam had been driven out (Hb garash) of the garden, Cain noted that God was banishing (Hb garash) him from the face of the earth. Since he would hide (or possibly, “be hidden”) from God’s protective presence, he feared that other descendants of Adam and Eve (5:4) would kill him to avenge Abel’s murder.

4:15 True to his compassionate and forgiving nature (Ex 34:6-7), God made two provisions for Cain to protect him despite his sin.

4:16 Cain’s departure from the Lord’s presence was both physical and spiritual (Jnh 1:3,10). Nod means “wandering.” The land of Nod is never mentioned again in the Bible. Perhaps the phrase simply referred to any location in which Cain resided. The notation that Cain departed to live east of Eden identifies him with other sinners who also moved east (see note at 3:24).

4:17 The parallel tracks of Adam’s and Cain’s lives—sin, judgment by God, banishment, and eastward movement—continue with the notation that after these things Cain was intimate with his wife (cp. v. 1). In spite of his grave sin, Cain still fulfilled the divine command to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). But Cain’s efforts to become the builder of a city were one more expression of disobedience to God, for God had ordained Cain to be a wanderer (v. 12). The city of Enoch is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, and its location is unknown.

Cain’s genealogy in vv. 17-24 has similarities with Seth’s genealogy (5:3-32). Two of the names in both lines are identical (Enoch, Lamech) and others are similar (Cain/Kenan; Methushael/Methuselah). In addition, the seventh member of both genealogies (Cain’s Lamech, Seth’s Enoch) are given special emphasis, and both conclude with a person who has three named sons. Notable differences exist as well: Seth’s genealogy is longer and contains life span details, but it omits any mention of occupations or wives’ names.

4:18 Three individuals here—Irad . . . Mehujael, and Methushael—are mentioned in the Bible only in this verse.

4:19 More details are provided in this genealogical section for Lamech, the seventh member of Adam’s line through Cain, than for any other. His three named sons made crucial contributions to human culture. However, the description of Lamech’s life paints a troubling picture of an individual who lacked respect for marriage or human life. By taking two wives for himself Lamech became the first polygamist, a violation of God’s intentions for marriage (2:22; Mk 10:6-8).

4:20 Jabal brought about key advances in the profession of the nomadic herdsmen—those who cared for sheep, goats, and cattle (Hb miqneh). This represents an advance beyond what Abel had done since he is only known to have tended sheep and goats (v. 2; Hb tso’n).

4:21 Jubal advanced civilization in the area of the musical arts, playing a key role in developing two of the most important musical instruments of the ancient world, the lyre and the flute.

4:22 Tubal-cain’s metallurgical advances in creating bronze (made by combining copper and tin) and smelting iron would prove crucial for crafting tools and weapons.

4:23 Lamech’s so-called “Song of the Sword,” the longest recorded speech by a human to this point in the Bible (twenty-one Hebrew words), represents the dark climax of the Cainite genealogy. His level of retaliation against a man and a young man goes far beyond the biblical limits (Ex 21:23-25), and his boast of killing for vengeance foreshadows the conditions that led to the flood in Noah’s day (Gn 6:11).

4:24 Using twisted logic, Lamech seemed to suggest that God would provide him with greater protection than he did Cain since he had killed double the number of men.

4:25 The name Seth (Hb sheth) is a wordplay on the verb translated has given (Hb shath). Once again (v. 1), Eve recognized God as the ultimate source of her offspring. The expectation that Seth would be more righteous than Cain is established by Eve’s statement that God gave him to her in place of Abel. In fact, the family line that ultimately produced Jesus is traceable through Seth (Lk 3:38).

4:26 The name Enosh, like the name Adam, means “humanity.” In a very real sense Enosh’s birth marks a new and brighter beginning for humanity, as people now began to call on the name of the Lord, “Yahweh.” Yahweh is God’s personal name (Ex 3:15).