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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-26

Genesis 4:1. I have gotten. קניתי kaniti, from the root kana, he possessed. The LXX have betrayed their ignorance of the Eternal Word, or Wisdom, by frequently rendering this word created. God could no more create his own wisdom than Eve could create Cain. See Proverbs 8:22, and Sirach 24.

Cain; that is, a possession. Abel; that is, vanity. Augustine makes Cain to be a figure of the men of this world, who have their good things in the present life. Abel he regards as a figure of the children of God, who look on the present state as vanity, a shadow that passeth away, while they follow after the things of eternity. De Civit. Dei.

Genesis 4:2. Bare Abel; it is generally allowed that Cain and Abel were twins. Eve bare many daughters, who are not named in sacred history, and they of necessity became wives to their brothers, nephews, &c. That she also bare many sons before Seth, there can be no doubt; for Moses names only the greater patriarchs of the earth.

Genesis 4:4. The firstlings of his flock. He approached his Maker by an atoning victim for sin which God had enjoined on man, though the injunction is not named, being known and understood. To this, at the close of the service, the Mincha was added, consisting of flour, oil, and wine; part of which was burned on the altar, and the rest was a meat-offering. Cain, a mere unitarian, failed in this, and dared to approach without atonement for his sin.

Genesis 4:7. Sin lieth at the door. To understand this text of a sin-offering lying at the door, seems to promise Cain acceptance whether he did well or ill. It undoubtedly means that iniquity should be visited on himself and his children, as the events proved.

Genesis 4:8. Cain talked. The Samaritan text reads here, “Let us go out, &c.;” words which seem requisite to complete the sense; they are found also in the Vulgate. He advised his brother to go with him to a secret place, and slew him in about the 128th year of his age, when they were both fathers of families.

Genesis 4:26 . Then began men to call upon: some read to call themselves by; others, to use profaneness in calling on the name of the Lord. But the learned Rabbi Maimonides gives quite another turn to the text. “Then began men to fall away from the Lord.” It is true, however, that the Hebrews, the Goths, and the Greeks attached the name of God to their own name; as Samu el, Eth el bert, Theo dosius.


The preseding history of the fall is immediately followed by a chapter of tragic events. We learn from it, that public worship was established, and that the righteous and the wicked bowed before the altar of God. This is a reasonable service. Our sins and our mercies are all public, and our repentance and homage should be public also.

The Lord makes a difference between the oblation of the righteous and the wicked. He had respect unto the believing and righteous Abel, accepting his choice lamb, either by fire from heaven, or by evident prosperity in his cattle and lands. But unto Cain, who brought his fruits, though not his first fruits, he had no respect. It is so still: the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is his delight. Proverbs 15:8. Unless men bring their hearts to God, their exterior reverence is a vain oblation. Isaiah 1:13.

Cain, instead of being humbled for his sins, was wrathful and envious against his brother; and in fact, against God, who had made the difference. How cautious should we be to eradicate bad passions the moment when perceived, otherwise the consequences may be tragical also to us and our families.

God graciously expostulates with the wicked, to bring them to a better mind. He promised Cain acceptance in case of repentance and reformation; and threatened to visit on him and his house the most awful vengeance, if he perpetrated the wicked purposes of his heart. He has in a hundred places expostulated with the wicked to the same effect. Let us learn therefore, in opposing sin, to call to the aid of reason, all the promises and threatenings of God’s word. It is by faith and prayer, and by divine assistance, that we are to conquer the bad propensities of the heart.

The wicked we see are very artful in accomplishing and covering their crimes. Cain seduced his brother to a secret place; and after the murder he pretended that Abel was lost in the desert, or devoured by the beasts. One crime leads to another, yea, to wickedness without measure. Alas, the children of Cain do the same to this day. The history of all nations evinces, that the wicked have uniformly endeavoured to tarnish the virtues of their opponents, and to array their own foulest deeds in the garb of equity.

God will unmask all secret crimes, and pursue the guilty with the arm of vengeance. Fix your eye on this unhappy man. Wherever he goes, the sight of his murdered brother is before him; he still hears his cries, and sees him struggling in the agonies of death. Unable to bear the sight of Abel’s weeping family, and see the face of man, for he thinks they all read in his countenance the horrors of his conscience, he flies to solitude for succour. There he takes his misery along with him. Every thought inflicts some new wound, or a thousand wounds in one. There also he hears a voice calling him by name, Cain! See him turning his ghastly countenance, and rolling his eyes this way and that way; but seeing no one, he fears the more. Cain, Cain, where is thy brother Abel? He looks again; but with greater horror and affright, he says, am I my brother’s keeper? God hurls back the false and guilty plea with sevenfold vengeance, by adding, The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. Let every sinner tremble; let every sinner haste to bring forth the fruits of repentance for his secret crimes, for our God is a consuming fire, and he will make manifest the thoughts of the heart.

God sentenced him to hard labour on a barren soil, which reproached him with his crimes; to exile from his friends, for the land of Nod signifies the land of exile or vagrancy; and he was driven out from the presence of the Lord; that is, excommunicated from the church, and cut off from the family altar. How vain then are all hopes of committing sin, and escaping punishment! God, in like manner, will cut off all the wicked if they repent not.

But we learn, lastly, that a bad father is often the destruction of his family. Lamech, one of Cain’s line, transgressed the laws of marriage by a plurality of wives, and by murder, and began to fill the earth with those crimes which proved its destruction. What dreadful out-breakings of original sin! Let us pray the Lord to give us a new heart, and a right spirit.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-4.html. 1835.
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