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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-5

The Offerings of Cain and Abel

v. 1. And Adam knew Eve, his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. In the order of natural procreation, according to the blessing which the Lord had pronounced upon the man and his wife, Eve gave birth to a son, whom she named Cain (possession). The reason for giving her first-born son this name is shown in her joyful exclamation: I have gotten a man, Jehovah (which is the exact translation). The first Messianic prophecy had been given, and faith in this prophecy lived in the heart of Eve. Although she therefore made a mistake in the person when she believed this son of hers to be the promised Messiah, she showed that her desire was directed toward the man, toward the Seed of the woman, who was to crush the head of the serpent. July, Adam and Eve were the first sinners, but also the first believers, the beginning of the Church of God on earth. We walk in the footsteps of Eve's faith.

v. 2. And she again bare his brother Abel. This was her second child, her second son, whose name Abel (vanity) indicates that she was feeling the vanity of this earthly life and hoped all the more eagerly for salvation. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. Thus the two brothers continued in the calling of their father, the younger son devoting himself to the keeping of the smaller domestic animals and the older to the tilling of the soil.

v. 3. And in process of time, at the end of many days, at the expiration of a long period, it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. This shows the manner in which the earliest worship of the Lord took place. Both Cain and Abel, having been instructed by Adam in the knowledge of the Lord, brought offerings, or sacrifices, Cain choosing some of the fruits of the field as his gift.

v. 4. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. In the very mention of the gift there is an indication of the difference in the attitude of the hearts; for whereas it is said of Cain only in general that he brought of the fruit of the soil, it is stated concerning Abel that he brought of the first-born of his flock, such as were in the best of condition, rich in fat. The gifts thus expressed the difference between Abel's free and joyful faith and Cain's legal, reluctant state of heart, Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering;

v. 5. a. but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. The Lord searches the reins and the heart. He noted the humble faith of Abel, whose one thought was to give the Lord a proof of the sincere gratitude for all the goodness and mercy which had been vouchsafed him. But God saw also the hypocrisy of Cain's heart, the fact that he was not interested in the worship which his hands were performing. He therefore indicated His pleasure in the one case and His displeasure in the other, either by some outward sign visible in the smoke of the offering, or by a subsequent rich blessing in the case of Abel, or through the mouth of Adam, as the priest of the family congregation. It is not the outward size of our gifts and offerings which makes them acceptable in the sight of the Lord, but the attitude of our hearts and minds toward God. He wants pure love flowing out of sound faith.

Verses 6-8

The First Murder

v. 5. b. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. This paragraph shows the progress of actual sin, from the evil desire of the heart to the sinful act. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel because of the latter's humble faith and his consequent acceptance by God. He was angry exceedingly, he was filled with bitter wrath, which was reflected in his face, in the expression of his eyes, in his distended nostrils. He fell to dark brooding and evil plotting.

v. 6. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? The Lord's warning at this time had reference both to the cause and to the possible consequences of Cain's wrath. He implies, first of all, that the brooding posture assumed by Cain, was unreasonable, foolish, in the circumstances.

v. 7. If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. The fault lay altogether with Cain himself; for if he had done well, if he had had faith and shown this faith in truly good works, in acceptable offerings, then he would have experienced the appreciation for which he seemed anxious, and could have lifted his countenance in token of a good conscience. If, on the other hand, his sacrifice was not brought in true faith and he was now angry over his rejection, then sin, like a wild, predatory beast, would crouch at the door of his heart, eager for even the slightest opportunity to enter and to work its will. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. That is as it should be in the heart of the child of God. Although the desire of sin is always directed against man with the intention of gaining control over him, yet the believer will keep the upper hand, will hold the wrath of the heart back with the firmness of the sanctified mind.

v. 8. And Cain talked with Abel, his brother. The warning of the Lord was disregarded, deliberately set aside, as he started a quarrel with his brother. And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him. Cain did not try to keep the sinful desire of his heart in subjection, and so the end of the quarrel was murder. Note that the words "his brother" are repeated again and again, in order to emphasize the heinousness of the first murder. In our hearts also evil thoughts are found: murders, with all the jealousy, envy, bitterness, hatred, and anger that this climax of wickedness presupposes, and our constant endeavor must be to conquer the inclination toward all these sins and to keep the example of pious Abel before our eyes.

Verses 9-15

God's Judgment upon Cain

v. 9. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel, thy brother? The arraignment of God in this case is like that against Adam and Eve after their transgression. The Lord confronts the murderer with a direct question regarding the whereabouts of his brother Abel, with the intention of working repentance in his heart. And he said, I know not. Am I my brother's keeper? That is the attitude of the hardened sinner, to deny all responsibility, to challenge the Lord with a bold lie: I don't know; am I supposed to be my brother's special keeper and guardian? Sin, willfully committed, always hardens the heart, until all hope of repentance, of a godly sorrow, is futile.

v. 10. And He said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. The great Judge now flatly confronts the murderer with the evidence of his crime: The voice of the blood of thy brother, every single drop of it, is crying to Me from the earth. Blood that is shed in malicious murder may not cry with a voice audible to men, but it cries to God, as the Avenger of all crimes, nevertheless; for murder belongs to the deeds that cry to heaven, a fact which lived in the consciousness of even the heathen nations.

v. 11. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. The curse of God rested upon Cain in such a way that it denied him a form of sustenance by way of tilling the ground, the work with which he had till now gained his livelihood. Because the earth had been obliged to open her mouth wide, in the act of swallowing the innocent blood of Abel, therefore the soil now rebelled against the murderer, refusing to serve him as heretofore.

v. 12. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. The irrational creature suffers and groans on account of the sin of man. The earth refuses to yield a crop to the murderer, no matter how hard he should attempt to coax it by the most careful tilling. A feeling of inward quaking, of trembling, of restlessness, would result in Cain's outward fleeing, in a roving without home and without definite relationships. To this day this is the mark of the murderer, for his conscience will give him no rest, but drives him from one city to another, from one country to the next.

v. 13. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Instead of turning to the Lord in true repentance, Cain gives himself up to utter despair, declaring that the guilt of his sin is too great for him to endure, that the punishment meted out to him is too heavy for him to bear. His words imply an accusation against the Judge, who has laid upon him such an unendurable burden.

v. 14. Behold, 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. In bitter resentment the words pour forth from the mouth of Cain, accusing God of denying him as much as a single spot on the face of the earth where his foot might find rest. Moreover, whereas God had formerly revealed Himself also to him in the worship of the family, Cain now was condemned to be hidden from the face of God, in constant danger of the avenger of blood who might arise from among his brothers and sisters. The complaint of Cain was at the same time a plea for some sort of assurance on the part of God respecting his own safety.

v. 15. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore, whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. That was God's answer to Cain's plea, a decree which delivered him to the pains of an evil conscience, after which he may later have welcomed death as a relief. A sevenfold vengeance the Lord threatened to every one who would slay Cain. At the same time the Lord transmitted to Cain some sign, or token, which secured immunity for him against any avenger of blood. Cut off from the companionship of decent human beings, therefore, ostracized so far as the children of God were concerned, Cain became a fugitive and a vagabond, a warning example to all men that would hear of his case that God will not be mocked. Thus the Lord always takes care of His saints, and will avenge their blood upon their enemies. They that trust in Him shall not be ashamed.

Verses 16-24

The Family of Cain

v. 16. And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. From over against the face of the Lord, from the place where the Lord revealed Himself to His people, Cain, with one of his sisters, who was his wife, journeyed toward the east of the land of Eden, where the garden of the Lord was situated. He cut himself off from all intercourse with the Lord and with His people.

v. 17. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived and bare Enoch. Since of one blood all nations of men are made to dwell on the earth, it was necessary, in the early days, for brothers and sisters to marry. Later, the Lord Himself changed this order, the marriage of close relatives at this time being apparently also against a law of nature. Cain called his first son Enoch (dedication), since he believed that his generation would be built up through this son. And he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch. Literally the text has it that Cain was building a city, that is, a fortified enclosure, as a stronghold for his entire family; it was the work of a lifetime, and gave him some sense of security, affording him a shelter whenever his restlessness permitted him to return home.

v. 18. And unto Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begat Mehujael; and Mehujael begat Methusael; and Methusael begat Lamech. In each case, of course, only the first-born or the most prominent son is named, the number of offspring being very large, as the entire Bible account indicates.

There is a brief account of the family of Cain:

v. 19. And Lamech took unto him two wives; the name of the one was Adah and the name of the other Zillah. It was a descendant of Cain that first changed the order of God with regard to monogamy. He married two wives, thus instituting polygamy, by which the purity of marriage was perverted either into wife-slavery or into the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes.

v. 20. And Adah bare Jabal; he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. Here was the beginning of the nomadic life, with the raising and grazing of cattle and no fixed dwelling-places.

v. 21. And his brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. This was the second son of Lamech and Adah whose name has been preserved, the inventor of the zither, a kind of stringed instrument, and the horn, or wind instrument. This, then, was the beginning of musical art.

v. 22. And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron; and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah. Tubalcain was the inventor of various sharp tools for cutting metals, especially brass and iron. That was the beginning of crafts in the world. The entire narrative indicates that the minds of the Cainites were directed solely to this world and its enjoyment. Even the names which they gave to their women shows this, for Adah means "the ornamented one," Zillah "the sweet-sounding one," and Naamah "the lovely one. " The powers given to man for the ruling of nature were thus abused for the gratification of various personal desires and lusts.

v. 23. And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man to my wounding and a young man to my hurt.

v. 24. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly, Lamech seventy and sevenfold. Here is the first instance of the art of poetry, but even this is placed into the service of sin; for this is the form of the poem:

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

Ye wives of Lamech, listen to my speech;

For a man have I killed for my wound and a young man for my welt;

For sevenfold will Cain be avenged, and Lamech seven and seventy fold.

Thus Lamech boastfully sang in praise of his son's invention which had enabled him to take quick vengeance on some man with whom he had had a quarrel and who managed to wound him. Far from feeling any remorse over his deed, he glorifies the name of his forefather Cain, whom the Lord had given the assurance that He would avenge him in case any one should dare to harm him, and claims for himself a much greater glory for his murder. That reveals the depravity of the children of the world as it had fully developed in the age of Lamech. And thus today also the culture of the world does not hinder sin, but offers new opportunities to it. Arts and crafts, commerce, industry, they all are in the service of mammon, they all are used to harm one's neighbor.

Verses 25-26

Seth and Enos

v. 25. And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth; for God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. The names of other children of Adam and Eve are not mentioned, only that of Seth, who took the place of the first-born, and whose name Eve herself explained: "For the Lord has set to me another descendant in the place of Abel, because Cain slew him. " What human wickedness had taken from her in the deed of Cain the divine goodness replaced in the person of Seth.

v. 26. And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos. Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord. The family of Seth was the family of believers, and it was during the lifetime of his son Enos that men began formally to proclaim the name of Jehovah, to institute public services for the purpose of worshiping Him in prayer, praise, and the giving of thanks. So the name of the Man, Jehovah, in whom Eve had trusted, was now preached openly; the coming of the Messiah was openly declared. Thus today, in the midst of a world steeped in sin, the glorious Gospel of the Savior is proclaimed, and we have comfort in the assurance of our salvation through His power.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/genesis-4.html. 1921-23.
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