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Friday, September 29th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-26


Adam and Eve, having acquired a sinful nature, could only communicate the same nature to their children. Their firstborn was named Cain, which means "smith" or "fabricator," one who plans and fashions things in a pleasing way. Their second child's name, Abel, means "transitory". Their names indicate something of what their history proved. Cain depended on his own ability, while Abel depended on the Lord, having his earthly life only transitory, though still speaking after his death (Hebrews 11:4). Abel was a shepherd, Cain a farmer. Neither of these has any stigma attached to it: in fact Adam was commissioned by God to till the ground (ch.1:23), and Cain naturally followed this.

Eventually, however, both of these young men brought offerings to the Lord. They must have learned from their father that they could not actually approach God without an offering, and Adam would certainly only offer an animal, just as he knew that God had sacrificed an animal in order, to make garments for him and his wife.

However, Cain ignored this, no doubt considering that the fruit of his own work should be just as acceptable to God as an animal, while Abel offered a lamb, a firstborn of the flock. We may think this was simple enough for him, and not so simple for Cain, who as not a shepherd; but whether simple or not, man must not dare to choose his own thoughts in preference to God's thoughts. Certainly Cain could have easily obtained a lamb if he had wanted to. Abel's offering was acceptable to God, but Cain's was not. Man's sin can only be atoned for by the shedding of blood. The clean animal was thus a type of Christ, the only sacrifice acceptable to God. His blood shed makes full atonement for sin, which nothing else could do.

Cain became very angry rather than ashamed as he should have been: his countenance fell, that is, the very look of his face became sour and depressed. God spoke to him directly, questioning him in such a way that it ought to have appealed to his common sense. Why should he be angry? If he had done will, he would have been accepted. All he needed was the proper sacrifice. If he did not well, yet a sin offering was available to him at his very door. He could still bring the proper offering and be accepted, if he would. Thus God pleads graciously with the young man to change his mind.

However, Cain did not even answer the Lord, but did talk with Abel, no doubt in an arrogant, self-righteous way, for he was not only angry at God, but so jealous of his brother that he killed him. How sad a picture of the multitude of unbelievers since that time, who have resented God's authority and His grace (as though they were not in need of it!) and have persecuted those who have honestly confessed their faith in the Son of God.

As well as pride, anger, selfishness, stubbornness, jealousy and hatred, Cain adds dishonesty to his unsavory qualities when the Lord asks him, "Where is Abel your brother?" (v.9). though there was no announced law against murder, Cain showed that he knew he had sinned in killing Abel. If he had considered himself right, he would have told the Lord plainly that he had killed Abel. But when one is determined to defend his sin, he will continue to multiply his sinful actions and to cover them up by falsehood. Thus, in the first child born of Adam we see the ugly works of the flesh come strongly to the forefront.

Though God spoke to Cain directly, Cain showed no faith in God's omniscience. How futile and foolish it is to lie to God! but as well as lying, he asks irritably, "Am I my brother's keeper?" God did not have to answer this: Cain knew well enough that he was responsible to have some honest care for his brother, but he had not only neglected this: he had been guilty of the total opposite. God then speaks with solemn words to the criminal's conscience, "What have you done! The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" (v.10). Of course this means that Abel's blood cries out to God for righteous retribution (Compare Revelation 6:10).

God's sentence against Adam was that the ground would be cursed for his sake. Now Cain himself is "cursed from the earth" to which he had committed Abel's blood (v.11). The ground would no longer yield as abundantly as before: he would be made to feel that his work was not so satisfactory as he had tried to impress God that it was in his offering. If this curse had produced the proper effect in Cain, he would have honestly acknowledged his sin and the result could have been wonderfully different for him in regard to eternity. For it was evident that he must eventually leave the earth in which he had put his foolish confidence. But many today are the same as he: "they are enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their mind on earthly things" (Philippians 3:18-19). Their own proud works are more important to them than the sacrifice of Christ!

Cain would be "a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth" (v.12). This is a description of every unbeliever. As a fugitive he is virtually running away from God, never facing up to his guilt and his need of a Savior. As a vagabond, he is a wanderer, going in every direction to seek rest or satisfaction but never finding it. Thus even on earth the condition of the unbeliever is sad, but how much more so in eternity!

Cain's response to God (vs.13-14) was not contrite, but protesting. Instead of being ashamed, he was sorry for himself: "My punishment is greater than I can bear." This is in contrast to the words of the robber dying on a cross next to the Lord Jesus. He said, "we receive the due reward of our deeds"Luke 23:41; Luke 23:41. How much better it is to submit to God's penalty rather than to resent it, for submission leaves the way open for God to show mercy. But Cain says that God has driven him out from the face of the earth (not God's actual words), and adds that he would be hid from the face. Yet it was Cain himself who had chosen this: he had sought to hide his evil works from the Lord. How can one deliberately lie to the Lord and expect the light of God's face in his life? God practically confirmed Cain's choice by His word, and Cain is unhappy. In fact, he goes farther and says that whoever finds him would kill him. But is it not only to be expected that a murderer should live in fear of being killed? Why did he not think of this before he killed Abel?

However, the Lord set a mark upon Cain, saying that vengeance would be taken sevenfold on whoever would kill Cain. God was dealing with him, and man must not interfere. In Noah's day, later on, God gave authority to governmental powers to execute a murderer (Genesis 9:5-6), but in Cain's time human government had not been introduced. God was dealing with Cain directly. This is also a striking picture of God's dealing with the nation Israel after they had suffered as a fugitive, fleeing from the God of their fathers, and as a wanderer, finding no resting place for the sole of their foot. Still, God does not give permission to Gentiles to exterminate them, though this has been tried time and again. God's mark is upon Israel, and those nations that make her suffer will themselves suffer God's retribution.


Cain left the Lord's presence because he preferred this, as is clearly true of unbelievers today. He went to the land of Nod, which means "wandering," east of Eden (v.16). His wife there bore him a son who was named Enoch (meaning "dedicated"). Of course Cain's wife would be his sister, the daughter of Adam and Eve. We are told then that Cain built a city (v.17), which could take place only after some years, when his family had multiplied. Adam lived 930 years, long enough that his offspring could increase beyond his ability to count. We are not told how long Cain lived, but his brother Seth lived 921 years (ch.5:8).

Cain's building a city emphasizes the fact that man away from God sets his sights on building something great in the world. Cain wanted his city quickly, just as also, in Genesis 11:4 the successors of Noah wanted to build a city and a tower long before God's time. For God is still waiting for the day of glory to establish His city ("which has foundations" - Revelation 21:10), and the believer may wait patiently for this too.

In Cain's family there was also a Lamech as well as an Enoch (v.18), just as was the case in the offspring of Seth (ch.5:18,25). The Lamech in the line of Cain is the first bigamist of whom we read (v.19). His sons by Adah were Jabal and Jubal, the first occupied with trade and commerce, dwelling in tents and keeping livestock; the second a musician. Zillah bore a son to Lamech names Tubal-cain, an instructor of those skilled in brass and iron work. The line of Cain is therefore seen in a foremost place in reference to trade and commerce, the arts and the sciences. Of course the unbeliever concentrates on these things rather than on the knowledge of God, and often the ungodly prosper in the world.

However, linked from the very first with this prosperity are two principles of evil that cannot but undermine the whole society. These are seen in verse 23, corruption and violence. Lamech corrupted God's institution of marriage by having two wives. But he also confesses to his wives that he had been guilty of murder. These two degrading evils have spread throughout all the world, and today are continually advertised in the media, while government unsuccessfully tries to control the wild beastly character of men. However, he claims that he killed the young man because he had been hurt by him, and under these extenuating circumstances he thought he would be more protected from retribution than was Cain. If seven fold judgment fell on one who killed Cain, then the judgment against Lamech's killer would be seventy-sevenfold. Cain is a picture of Israel having killed the Lord Jesus and not confessing their crime. Lamech seems to be a type of Israel too, in a coming day confessing their guilt in having killed the Messiah. Then those nations that are determined to exterminate Israel will be punished with an overwhelming vengeance (Zechariah 12:9-14).


After reading of the development of Cain's see -- man in the flesh, -- we are told now of the birth of Seth, as Eve says, "another seed instead of Abel" (v.25). Abel was a type of Christ in His death: Seth is a picture of Him in His resurrection, and we read of Seth's seed in Chapter 5. As the second Man, the last Adam, we see the Lord Jesus having triumphed over death. In this place we hear Him say, "Here am I and the children whom God has given me" (Hebrews 2:13). His resurrection introduces a new chosen seed. Cain, clinging to the first creation, seems to gain the most, but he must lose it all, while what Christ has gained in resurrection is eternal. Though it seems that man in the flesh has taken the first place, yet the second Man will in His own time take over the place of highest prominence and glory. The son of Seth was Enoch, which means "frail man". this indicates that when one is born of God he realizes his frailty and dependence: therefore at this time "men began to call on the name of the Lord" (v.26). In this new line of Seth the dependence of faith is seen, not boastful, but in felt weakness that requires the grace of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 4". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/genesis-4.html. 1897-1910.
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