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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Haydock's Catholic Bible CommentaryHaydock's Catholic Commentary

Verse 1

Through God. Hebrew may signify also: "even God," as if she thought this was the promised seed, who, as Onkelos paraphrases it, would serve the Lord. (Calmet) --- So little could she foresee the future conduct of Cain, whose name may be derived either from kone, possession and acquisition, or from kun, lamentation. The latter interpretation would have been better verified by the event, and the name of Abel, vanity, or sorrow, for which his parents allege no reason, might also have been reversed, on account of his justice, for which he is canonized by Christ himself, and declared the Just. Pious and significant names were imposed by either parent. Cain was the second man. He was not conceived till after the fall, and was therefore the first born in original sin. (Haydock)

Verse 4

Had respect. That is, shewed his acceptance of his sacrifice (as coming from a heart full of devotion): and that we may suppose, by some visible token, such as sending fire from heaven upon his offerings. (Challoner) --- The offerings of Cain are mentioned without any approbation: those of Abel are the firstlings and fat, or the very best; by which he testified, that he acknowledged God for his first beginning. Sacrifice is due to God alone, and to Him it has always been offered in the Church. We have the happiness to offer that truly eucharistic sacrifice to God, of which those of ancient times were only figures. What sacrifice can our erring brethren shew? (Worthington; Calmet)

Verse 7

Over it. This is a clear proof of free-will. To destroy its force, Protestants translate over him, as if Cain should still retain his privilege of the first-born, notwithstanding all his wickedness, and should rule over Abel, who would willingly submit, "unto thee his desire," &c. But God had made no mention of Abel. The whole discourse is about doing well or ill; and Cain is encouraged to avoid the stings of conscience, by altering his conduct, as it was in his power, how strongly soever his passions might solicit him to evil. (Haydock) --- The Hebrew is understood by Onkelos, and the Targum of Jerusalem, in the sense of the Vulgate. The latter reads, "If thou correct thy proceedings in this life, thou wilt receive pardon in the next world. But if thou do not penance for thy sin, it shall remain till the day of the great judgment, and it shall stay, lying at the door of thy heart. But I have given thee power to govern thy concupiscence: thou shalt sway it, either to embrace good or evil." Calmet shews that the Hebrew perfectly admits of this sense. St. Augustine will not allow of the turn which the Manichees gave it. "Thou shalt have dominion over (illius.) What? thy brother! (absit) by no means: over what then, but sin? (City of God xv. 7.) Protestants formerly abandoned the translation of 1579, (which they have again resumed) and translated better, "unto thee shall be the desire thereof, and thou shalt rule over it," which R. Abenezra explains also of sin. To which of these editions, all given by royal authority, will Protestants adhere? Luther wrote a book against free-will, and Calvin would not admit the very name. But we, with all antiquity, must cry out with St. Jerome, contra Jov. 2: "God made us with free-will, neither are we drawn by necessity to virtue or vice; else where there is necessity, there is neither damnation nor reward." (Worthington; Haydock)

Verse 8

Let us go forth abroad. These words are now wanting in the Hebrew; being omitted, according to Kennicott, since the days of Aquila 130; they are found in the Samaritan copy and version, in the Septuagint, &c. (Haydock) --- The Masorets place a mark, as if something were defective here, and in 27 other verses, or in 25 at least. (Haydock) --- Abel’s violent death was a figure of that of Jesus Christ, inflicted for the like cause. See Hebrews xii. 2. (Calmet) --- In consequence of these crimes, Cain separated from the Church, and the Jews became no longer God’s people: both Cain and the Jews became vagabonds. (Haydock) --- The Targum of Jerusalem observes, that Cain talked against God’s providence and the future world, which Abel hearing with marked indignation, Cain took occasion to kill him. (Worthington)

Verse 13

My iniquity, &c. Like Judas, Cain despairs. The Rabbins make him complain of the rigour of God’s judgment, "My sin (or punishment) is too great to be borne." I must then be driven from the land of my nativity, from the society of my brethren and parents, from thy presence, for ever. Why do I then live? Let the first man I meet, kill me. (Liranus)

Verse 14

Every one that findeth me, shall kill me. His guilty conscience made him fear his own brothers, and nephews; of whom, by this time, there might be a good number upon the earth: which had now endured near 130 years; as may be gathered from Genesis v. 3, compared with chap. iv. 25, though in the compendious account given in the Scripture, only Cain and Abel are mentioned. (Challoner) --- Cain is little concerned about any thing but the loss of life. (Menochius)

Verse 15

Set a mark, &c. The more common opinion of the interpreters of holy writ, supposes this mark to have been a trembling of the body; or a horror and consternation in his countenance. (Challoner) --- God gave this first murderer a reprieve, allowing him time for repentance; but he neglected it, and died a reprobate; having been, during life, the head of an apostate church, and of the city of the devil, which has ever since opposed the city of God, and the society of the faithful. Though all his posterity were drowned in the deluge, some were soon found, even in the family of Noe, who stood up for the wretched pre-eminence in wickedness and rebellion, against the truth. See St. Augustine; Worthington; &c. (Haydock)

Verse 16

A fugitive, according to his sentence. Hebrew nod, which the Septuagint have taken for a proper name. "In the land of Naid, over against Eden," (Haydock) or in the fields of Nyse, in Hyrcania, to the east of Eden and Armenia. (Calmet)

Verse 17

His wife. She was a daughter of Adam, and Cain’s own sister; God dispensing with such marriages in the beginning of the world, as mankind could not otherwise be propagated. --- He built a city, viz. In process of time, when his race was multiplied, so as to be numerous enough to people it. For in the many hundred years he lived, his race might be multiplied even to millions. (Challoner) --- The Hanuchta, which Ptolemy places in Susiana, (Calmet) may perhaps have been built after the flood, in the same place. Josephus says, Cain was the first who fortified a city; designing it for a retreat, where he might keep the fruits of his robberies, Antiquities 1. 3. Peirere founds his ill-concerted system of Preadamites, or of men existing before Adam, on the history of Cain exercising husbandry, building a city, &c.; as if there were any difficulty in supposing, that the arts would have made some progress in the lapse of above a century. (Haydock)

Verse 19

Two wives. Lamech first transgressed the law of having only one wife at a time. (chap. ii. 24.) None before the deluge is mentioned as having followed his example, even among the abandoned sons of men. Abraham, the father of the faithful, and some others, after that event, when the age of man was shortened, and the number of the true servants of God very small, were dispensed with by God, who tolerated the custom of having many wives at the same time among the Jews, till our Saviour brought things back to the ancient standard. (Matthew xix. 4.) And why do we excuse the patriarchs, while we condemn Lamech? Because the one being associated with the wicked, gives us reason to judge unfavourably of him, while Abraham is constantly mentioned in Scripture with terms of approbation and praise, and therefore we have no right to pass sentence of condemnation upon him, as some Protestants have done, after the Manichees. Hence the fathers defend the one, and reject the other with abhorrence. (Haydock) --- Tertullian (Monog. c. 5.) and St. Jerome, contra Jovin. 1, says, "Lamech, first of all, a bloody murderer, divided one flesh between two wives." It was never lawful, says Pope Innocent III. contra Gaudemus, for any one to have many wives at once, unless leave was given by divine revelation;" and St. Augustine joins with him in defending the patriarchs, by this reason, "When it was the custom, it was not a sin."

Verse 22

Noema, who is supposed to have invented the art of spinning. (Calmet) --- All these worthy people were distinguished for their proficiency in the arts, while they neglected the study of religion and virtue. (Haydock) --- The inventors of arts among the Greeks lived mostly after the siege of Troy. (Calmet)

Verse 23

Said. This is the most ancient piece of poetry with which we are acquainted. (Fleury.) --- Lamech may be considered as the father of poets. (Haydock) --- I have slain a man, &c. It is the tradition of the Hebrews, that Lamech in hunting slew Cain, mistaking him for a wild beast: and that having discovered what he had done, he beat so unmercifully the youth, by whom he was led into that mistake, that he died of the blows. (Challoner) --- St. Jerome, 9. 1. ad Dam. acknowledges the difficulty of this passage, on which Origen wrote two whole books. (Worthington)

Verse 24

Seventy times. A similar expression occurs, Matthew xviii. 22, to denote a great but indefinite number. God had promised to revenge the murder of Cain seven fold, though he had sinned voluntarily; so Lamech hopes that, as he had acted by mistake, and blinded by passion, in striking the stripling, the son of Tubalcain, he would deserve to be protected still more from falling a prey to the fury of any other. But many reject this tradition as fabulous, unknown to Philo, Josephus, &c. Moses no where mentions the death of Cain. Some, therefore, understand this passage with an interrogation; as if, to convince his wives that his sin was not so enormous as was supposed, he should say, Do not think of leaving me. What! have I killed a young man, as Cain did Abel, and still he is suffered to live unmolested; or have I beaten any one so that I should be punished? Onkelos, in effect, puts a negation to the same purport, "I have not killed, &c.:" (Calmet) others understand this passage, as if Lamech considered his crimes as much more grievous than even those of Cain. (Tirinus)

Verse 26

Began to call upon, &c. Not that Adam and Seth had not called upon God before the birth of Enos, but that Enos used more solemnity in the worship and invocation of God. (Challoner) --- He directed all his thoughts towards heaven, being reminded by his own name, which signifies one afflicted, that he could look for no solid happiness on earth. Seth had brought him up, from his infancy, in these pious sentiments, and his children were so docile to his instructions, that they began to be known in the world for their extraordinary piety, and were even styled the Sons of God, chap. vi. 2. (Haydock) --- Religion was not a human invention, but many ceremonies have been adopted, at different times, to make an impression on the minds of the people. Before Enos, the heads of families had officiated in their own houses; now, perhaps, they met together in places consecrated to the divine service, and sounded forth the praises of the Most High. Enos was probably most conspicuous for his zeal on these occasions: at least, a new degree of fervour manifested itself in his days. On the other hand, "the name of the Lord began to be profaned" about this time, as the Rabbin understand this passage, by the introduction of idolatry; which is a common effect of a dissolute life, which many began now to lead, Wisdom xiv. 12. (Calmet) --- The beginning of fornication is the devising of idols. We have, nevertheless, no certain proof of idols being introduced till many years after the deluge. (Haydock)

Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Genesis 4". "Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hcc/genesis-4.html. 1859.
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