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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-26



Genesis 4

We now commence with the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis. We have an account in this fourth chapter of a number of "first" things: The first birth, the first man born of Adam and Eve; the first recorded act of worship under the reign of grace as set forth in the third chapter and last verse. We have here the first system of theology apart from expiation of sin by sacrifice and apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit, known in the New Testament as "the way of Cain." Paul talks about the way of salvation in the New Testament as "this way." Now here we have a distinct parting of the ways. Cain is the author of one way, and that way is to deny the guilt of man, to deny that he needs a Saviour, to refuse to seek God through a bloody, sacrificial offering. It is further manifested by hatred of the true religious spirit and, as John says, it originated with the devil. He says the devil was the father of Cain. We have here the first murder. In this same chapter we have the first account of a pastoral or nomadic life, that of dwelling in tents. We have the first account of the building of cities; the first account of the manufacture of tools – edged tools from iron or brass. We have the first case of bigamy, man taking more than one wife. We have the first case of one man killing another on account of an insult committed against a female member of the family. We have the first poem, which we will consider more particularly when we get to it. So there are many first things in this fourth chapter. No man can understand the fourth chapter of Genesis who does not interpret the last verse of the third chapter to mean that God dwelt between the Cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, under the visible symbol of the sword flame, or Shekinah, and with a view to keep open the way to the tree of life.

This record states that it came to pass at the end of days, or after a time, that Gain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to Jehovah. That expression, "the end of days," suggests a proper time in which to worship God, the sabbath day as the appointed time in which to appear before God. Cain and Abel came before God; came to him where he resided, visibly in the symbol of the Shekinah, at the east of the garden of Eden. This is supported by the language of Gain when he says that he was driven forth from the presence of God; and he went away from the presence of God. He went away from the place where God was; he went away from the manifestation of God at that place; he went away from the means of approach to God at that place. It also clearly follows from this language that there was not only a place where God could be approached but that appointed means of approach had been established for sacrifice. Neither Gain nor Abel would have known anything about sacrifices unless sacrifices had been appointed. God would have otherwise said, "Who hath required this at your hand?" So that the children of Adam and Eve unquestionably were instructed that there was a place to find God, that there was a time in which to come before him, and that there were means through which to approach him. They were unquestionably instructed in these things.

We also learn from this text that there were two kinds of offerings at least; one was a bloody offering and the other a thank offering. The bloody offering consisted of the offering of the firstling of the flock, and the unbloody, or thank offering, was the offering of the fruits of the field. Both of these are later incorporated into the Mosaic law established upon Mount Sinai – both the thank offering and the bloody offering, – but it is clearly taught in the subsequent history, and suggested in this history, that the very thank offering to God which disregards the bloody offering and is dissociated from it, is void of value in coming before God. The record states that Abel not only brought of the firstlings of his flock, but also of their fat. Now we know from the subsequent legislation that this proves that there was an altar established there in the presence of God, an altar upon which the victim should be offered, upon which the fat should be burned. You will find this in the Mosaic law in Numbers.

The record states that Jehovah regarded, or received, or approved, first of Abel himself, and second of his offering. It is a prevalent Jewish tradition that the way in which God signified his approval was by sending fire down from heaven to burn up the offering which Abel placed upon the altar. There are many things in the subsequent history that justify this interpretation, that by fire God bore witness to Abel and his offering. He bore witness by fire. When Elijah offered his bullocks upon the altar he asked God to signify his approval by fire from heaven, and fire did come down from heaven and burn up the offering of Elijah. So that answers one of the questions propounded to you: In what way did God bear testimony to Abel’s faith?

The record also states that, when God signified no approval of Cain, nor of his offering, Cain became angry exceedingly, and that his countenance fell; he became very mad. We will see the fruit of that anger after a little, the falling of his countenance and the anger in his heart at being rejected because of the fault in himself. This made him an enemy of his brother whom God did approve, and from that time to this those who reject the vicarious system of expiation hate those who embrace it. There is nothing more evident in the world today than the hatred in the natural heart against the method of approach to God through a sacrifice, through the expiatory or substitutionary victim; and that which is the heart of the gospel they hate far more than they hate the devil. The devil is the author of their system of religion, if it may be called a religion at all. Dr. Eliot, ex president of Harvard, hates the doctrine that he has dissented from and commends the way of Cain. He abhors the thought that man is lost without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and the substitution and expiation of Jesus Christ. And hence he avows that "the new religion" will have no such dogmas. He has gone in the "way of Cain."

"Why art thou angry? Why is thy countenance fallen? Is there not, if thou doest well, a lifting up of that fallen countenance?" God is convicting him upon this subject: that his anger is unjustifiable; that there is no good reason for it, that there is no good reason for that fallen countenance; and that if he would do well (and to do well according to the law required that an expiatory victim should be offered) – that if he would do well his countenance would be lifted up. Then God explains: "And if thou doest not well, sin is crouching at the door; and toward thee is his desire; and do thou rule over him." – Conant. That latter part of the seventh verse is exceedingly difficult to interpret. I will repeat it: "And if thou doest not well, sin is crouching at the door; and toward thee is his desire; and do thou rule over him." Now I will tell you what two interpretations have been given. They are both by as distinguished names as there are in the world. After I have given you these interpretations I will let you accept either one, but I will give you my opinion as to which is the better one. Understand that in a matter that is so intricately difficult it does not become a teacher to be too dogmatic and affirm that his view is the right one. I will read and show you where the difficulty comes in: "And if thou doest not well, sin is crouching at the door." The difficulty here is as to what sin means. One line of interpreters says that it means sin in the usual acceptation of the term. Another line of interpreters says that it means sin offering. The Hebrew use of both meanings is abundant in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Now, if we translate that "sin-offering," this would be the idea: "And if thou doest not well, there is a sin-offering at the door. Go and offer it. It is not too late. Your sacrifice was rejected because you did not present the sin-offering. Now you are angered. Are you doing right to be angered? There is a way in which that downcast countenance can be lifted up. There is a way in which you, condemned, may be accepted, justified. There is a sin-offering ready at hand, if you will just offer it." But if it means sin in the common sense of the word, then this is the meaning: "If you do not well, sin, like a wild beast, crouches at your door ready to spring on you and destroy you." Dr. Alexander Maclaren, who is said to be the prince of expositors, gives that view. Dr. Conant, who is in great favor with me as a Hebrew scholar and in biblical interpretation, also gives that idea, that if a man does not do right sin is at his door like a wild beast waiting to destroy him. The Jews give that interpretation, and you may see that is Luther’s interpretation and the interpretation of most of the German scholars. My own opinion is that the first view given is right; that sin means a sin offering. That is my judgment. I am sure that the Septuagint necessitates that interpretation. I am sure that most of the early fathers gave it that meaning; and, I am sure that most of the English commentators give it that meaning; I am also sure that is the only way to interpret the rest of the verse, "And toward thee is his desire and do thou rule over him." Now, whoever says that sin means something like a wild beast crouching at the door to destroy a man interprets the rest of the sentence this way: "Sin’s desire is toward thee, but do thou rule over it." The trouble about it is that the pronouns are masculine. You cannot say without straining it that sin has a desire toward a man. It breaks the sense to say that a man is to rule over that wild beast. Hence our translators of nearly all versions make these pronouns masculine, not referring to sin. Then to whom do they refer? Now I will give you my opinion of that. "And toward thee is his desire." Whose desire? Abel’s, and thou shall rule over him, Abel. Cain is the first-born. He has the right of primogeniture. Now see the sensibleness of that interpretation. These two men came to make an offering. The older brother’s offering is rejected; the younger brother’s offering is accepted. The older brother begins to infer from that that the younger brother is to be his ruler; that there is to be a change in the law of primogeniture. Hence his hatred and he is ready to kill Abel rather than submit to him. God says, "Why art thou angry and thy countenance fallen? Is there not, if thou doest well, an excellency for thee, a primogeniture to thee? And if thou doest not well, there is a sacrifice ready to offer. Then the desire of Abel shall be to you and you shall rule over him." That is my idea of the meaning of it. Cain wants to be first and he does not want to admit that he needs a Saviour. He does not want to make a sacrifice looking to his atonement. He does not come before God as a sinner. He is perfectly willing to come before God as a tenant. "You made me and gave me my strength and power and made this earth I am cultivating, and I am willing to give a tenant’s recognition by giving the firstfruits of the soil. But if you add that I am to come as a lost sinner and seek the salvation of my soul through an atonement, I won’t do it. And if you condition my being the head of this family on my making this sacrifice, I will defeat it in another way. I will kill this man Abel that is to take my place."

The first murder was committed through the spirit of persecution on account of religion, and since that time in every land streams of blood have flowed from the persecuting spirit. The thought is this: Whoever does right; whoever obeys God, has accepted God and received the witness of God, by those very facts condemns the one who does wrong. He is a standing condemnation, just as Jesus said the Ninevites and the queen of Sheba would condemn the unbelieving Galileans at the judgment, and if you live a clean life, if you hold things sacred you do not commend yourselves to sinners. Sinners hate you, as Jesus said of his disciples: "As they have hated me, so they will hate you." As a wolf, or an owl, or a bat hates the light because its deeds are evil, so men living in darkness love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. And if this be true with reference to the light that comes from the sun, moon and stars, how much more is it true with reference to the light which comes from God I "This is the condemnation," says Jesus, "that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." The light exposes their deeds. Your light shining before men by contrast exposes the darkness that is in the man who rejects your God, and the dark places of the earth are the habitations of cruelty. John gives us the real origin of murder. He says that it was the devil, and that Cain in committing murder – in being angry against God and in committing murder – was acting under the promptings of the devil. "Cain was of the wicked one," says John, "and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous."

We now come to the point of inquisition on the part of God. "And Jehovah said to Cain, Where is thy brother? Cain said, I know not." There is another sin – a lie. He did know. And here is another sin that followed when he said to God, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" "Why do you come to me in this inquisition about Abel? Go to Abel himself, or go to Adam and Eve, the father and mother of Abel. What do you come to me for?" Here arose a widely prevalent doctrine among sinners that in no sense is one man another’s keeper; that there is no responsibility on one man for the well-being of another. When Moses came to enact a law on this subject he said, "If a man be found slain in the field, and it is not known who killed him, you shall measure the distance from that dead body to the cities around, and the city which is nearest to that dead man shall be held responsible, and the rulers of that city shall come and make an oath before God that this murder came through no fault of theirs." If they were negligent in the administration of Justice, if they had any customs, if they licensed any evil business that tended to murder, then there was responsibility on them for that dead man. When that officer was killed in Fort Worth, Texas, I stated in a sermon this law, quoted that passage in the Mosaic law and referred to the ancient customs on this subject, and then said that the authorities of that city which fostered the saloon whose saloonkeeper committed the murder, in a measure were responsible for that murder. There arose in the Middle Ages a trial of this kind; Sir Walter Scott tells about it in "The Fair Maid of Perth." One of the burghers of the city had been killed, a certain household was suspected, and they were required to come, from the head of that house to the lowest menial in the service, where the dead body lay. They must touch the dead body wrapped in white linen and swear that they had nothing to do with it; and the tradition was that if the murderer came and touched the dead body blood would flow afresh from the wound. And therefore, according to Sir Walter Scott, the murderer would not stand the test; he was afraid and preferred a trial by combat. It is said of Lorenzo Dow that he was an expert in detecting a guilty man through the working of conscience. He stopped one night at a house and during the night some chickens were stolen. The man of the house asked him if he could find out which one of the Negroes had stolen that chicken. "Yes," he said. "Bring them here before me." Whereupon he said to the Negroes: "I have put here a pot – just a common cooking pot – turned upside down. Now you darkies do not know what is under that pot; Just bear in mind now this thought: that maybe a stolen chicken is under this pot, and when the guilty man touches it that chicken will crow." And when they all passed around and touched the pot he made them exhibit their fingers. One Negro had only seemed to touch it, and hence no soot was found on his finger at all. "You stole that chicken," says Dow; "you made out that you touched the pot but did not, because you were afraid. You are the thief and must confess it." The psalmist says, "When thou makest inquisition for blood, thou rememberest." When man makes inquisition for blood many witnesses conveniently forget the facts. But when God makes inquisition for blood He remembers, he knows. At an association I was once asked to preach a sermon that would tend to convict men of sin, and I took that text: "When thou makest inquisition for blood, thou rememberest." It was a singular fact that about a hundred people in the audience were convicted of sin. God’s method of inquiry into a cause is perfect. The darkness can hide nothing from him. He reads the very thoughts of the human heart, and so now he is making inquisition for Abel’s blood: "Where is thy brother?" And when Cain lied God said, "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground." What a doctrine is here! The voice of blood – teaching that the earth which swallows up blood, the earth which drinks up the blood of the slain man, cries out to heaven for vengeance, and the murderer goes away saying, "Who knows I did it, if I just say that I do not know and if I deny that I am responsible for it? Am I my brother’s keeper? Then whence will come any testimony to convict me? We were out there by ourselves and no man witnessed it." But God tells Cain about a witness; that the earth would not conspire with crime; that blood had a voice, and that blood cries to heaven. Spurgeon preached on the passage in Hebrews, "And to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel." It was a great sermon. He contrasts Abel’s shed blood with the voice of Christ’s blood. He describes the soul of Abel expelled from the body by bloody murder, and rushing up to heaven in the presence of God crying out, "Avenge my murder." But he says the blood of Jesus comes into the presence of God and says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Now notice the curse: "And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened its mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee its strength." No matter where he should go in the world the ground would be against him, the ground that held the blood of his brother, the blood of his victim, and he could not stay long at a place. The thought of this murder would pursue him. It is said that Daniel Webster in prosecuting a murderer (and his speech is reckoned among the classics) described the workings of the conscience of a murderer; what a coward it made of him; how his crime was always before him; how he would turn at any sudden sound, as if expecting a pursuer, crying out at night in his dreams, because the avenger of blood was on his track. "When thou tillest the ground it shall no more yield to thee its strength, a fugitive and a wanderer thou shalt be in the earth." A man kills another in England; he flees to the United States. Every policeman, he thinks, has had the news telegraphed to him about that murder over there. He goes over to Canada, he is still restless. He goes across the ocean into the islands of the sea. Wherever he goes there is the apprehension in his heart that he may be held up by the officers of the law, held to account for his brother’s blood.

Now, let us see what Cain said to that sentence: "My iniquity is greater than I can bear." To bear iniquities is to endure the penalty of the iniquities. That is the meaning all through the Bible. So it is just the same as if he had said, "My penalty is greater than I can bear," i.e., it is unendurable. Then he sums it up by saying, "Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth, and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me." This is the first point: "And from thy face must I hide myself." In Genesis 4:16 we have the record: "And Cain went away from the presence of Jehovah, and dwelt in the land of Nod." "Nod" means wandering. He went from that place where God’s presence dwelt, at the east of the garden of Eden. "And I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth." Now here he speaks his apprehension: "And it shall come to pass that every one who finds me shall slay me." Jehovah gives him this assurance: "Whoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." That is, man shall not be judge) no individual can take into his own hands the right of vengeance. You cannot justify yourself in shooting down a murderer; God is the judge, not you. We will come later, in the Mosaic legislation, to study the law of the avenger of blood, but this is not before us now, nor does it oppose the meaning here.

"And God appointed a sign for Cain, lest any finding him should smite him." But, as the thought prevails among the Negroes, God put a mark on Cain that everybody could see. I heard a lawyer once say, standing over a man on trial for murder, "Sir, the mark of Cain is on your face; you carry with you the handwriting of God on your countenance." It is questionable that this is the mark. God set a sign for Cain to give him assurance that he would at least be free from individual or human vengeance. As yet there was no organization of civic society. After a while we will come to that and show that at least after Noah left the ark God provided capital punishment. Society might punish a murderer but no individual could do it.

Cain builded a city; Lamech was a bigamist; one of his children was the father of those who dwell in tents and with cattle, and another was the father of all who handle the harp and the pipe, which stands for the representation of stringed instruments, the flute representing the wind instruments. Is there anything in this suggestion? Does the restlessness of sinners promote intervention of musical instruments as a means to soothe sorrow? Does the restlessness of sin in the heart tend to promote invention of stringed instruments? Strange that Cain’s descendants were the first city builders, the first inventors of musical instruments and the first inventors of manufactured implements from iron and brass. Take that thought for what it is worth and try to answer the question for yourselves.

Genesis 4:22 closes with the fact that the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah, and the only reason I can see for inserting that statement is that she is the one through whom Lamech received his wound, and on account of which he killed a young man; that because of a wrong to this kinswoman, his own daughter, Lamech killed a young man. The Southern people know all about that. There has been a rule with them that every man is justified in taking the life of another who brings shame on his family. So Lamech composes a poem. There is a parallelism in these lines:

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech:

For I have slain a man for wounding me,

And a young man for bruising me;

If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,

Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.

That is, if God would punish an individual who would kill Cain, because Cain murdered his own brother, he would avenge on the individual who would kill Lamech seventy and sevenfold, because Lamech claims that he was more justified than Cain.

Now, the chapter closes thus: "And Eve bare a son and called his name Seth; for God hath appointed me another seed in the place of Abel; for Cain slew him. And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enosh. Then began men to call upon the name of Jehovah." We have had in the latter part of the chapter the sidetracking of the Cainites. We will come to them again later. We have had the generations of Cain; now we come to the new name, "Seth," and the Sethites. In the days of the sons of Seth, and in those of Enosh, men began to call upon the name of the Lord. Thus religious worship of the true kind was revived. Some have interpreted it: "Then men began to be called by the name of Jehovah," i.e., sons of God. Now we have gotten through with another (third) division of the book of Genesis, an important one.

1. Give the "first" things of Genesis, the fourth chapter.

2. What hope was inspired in Eve’s heart by the birth of Cain?

3. Show the analogy between the expectation of Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

4. State the system of theology embodied and implied in each of these offerings,

5. What name does the New Testament give to Cain’s theology?

6. Who are the followers of his way now?

7. There was a radical difference between Cain and Abel. In which of the following particulars did it consist:

(1) Human parentage;

(2) Hereditary nature;

(3) Occupation;

(4) Intrinsic value of their offerings;

(5) Or spiritual parentage?

8. Give New Testament account of Cain’s parentage.

9, What bearing on this fourth chapter has the interpretation of the last verse of the third chapter?

10. What may be fairly inferred as to previous appointment of sacrifices together with the time, place and object of their being offered by the fact that Cain and Abel did, "at the end of days," come before the Lord with their offerings?

11. What was the bearing of this fact on the salvation of Adam and Eve?

12. What two kinds of offerings are indicated in this chapter and what is the evidence of the establishment of the altar of sacrifice?

13. What is meant by Jehovah having respect for one offering and disrespect for the other offering?

14. In what respect was Abel’s offering better than Gain’s?

15. In what way did God bear testimony to Abel’s faith? Give proof.

16. Cite New Testament proof that Abel secured even earthly immortality.

17. What effect did God’s approval of Abel’s offering have on Cain and how evidenced?

18. What is the attitude of the natural heart toward a substitutionary sacrifice? Illustrate.

19. How does God convict Cain?

20. Give the author’s interpretation, of Genesis 4:7.

21. On what ground was the first murder committed and what is the attitude of sinners toward God’s children generally?

22. What inquisition did God make and what the Mosaic law on this point?

23. Give three illustrations. – Fort Worth, Texas, Sir Walter Scott, and Lorenzo Dow.

24. What was the psalmist’s testimony on this point and what use was made of the text by the author?

25. What is the meaning of "the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground"?

26. What is meant by the voice of the blood of Abel in Hebrews 12:24; that is, does it mean Abel’s own blood shed by Cain (Genesis 4:10) or the blood of sacrifice shed by Abel (Genesis 4:4)?

27. In either case show how the sprinkling or application of Christ’s blood speaketh better things than Abel’s blood.

28. What was the curse pronounced upon Cain?

29. Illustrate the effect of this murder on Cain’s conscience?

30. What was Cain’s response and the meaning of "bearing iniquity"?

31. What idea of locality is involved in Cain’s going away from the presence of the Lord?

32. Show wherein Cain committed the unpardonable sin.

33. What purpose was served in exempting Cain from human vengeance and in the visible mark, or sign, which protected him?

34. What was the mark placed upon Cain?

35. Who was Cain’s wife?

36. Cite the achievements wrought by Cain’s several descendants, and show what things originated with them.

37. What is the meaning of… If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold?

38. Who was appointed unto Eve as another seed in the place of Abel?

39. What doctrines set forth in this appointment?

40. Should the last clause of Genesis (fourth chapter) be rendered "began to call upon the name of the Lord," or "be called by the name of Jehovah"?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Genesis 4". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/genesis-4.html.
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