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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 4

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 4:1-26


Cain and AbelCain Murders AbelCain, Abel, and SethCain and AbelCain and Abel
Genesis 4:1-8Genesis 4:1-8Genesis 4:1-7Genesis 4:1-7Genesis 4:1-8
Genesis 4:8-16Genesis 4:8
Genesis 4:9-15Genesis 4:9-15 Genesis 4:9aGenesis 4:9-16
Genesis 4:9b
Genesis 4:10-12
Genesis 4:13-14
The Family of Cain Genesis 4:15-16
Genesis 4:16Genesis 4:16-18 The Descendants of Cain
Genesis 4:17-22 Genesis 4:17-22Genesis 4:17-22Genesis 4:17-22
Genesis 4:19-24
Genesis 4:23-24 Genesis 4:23-24Genesis 4:23-24Genesis 4:23-24
(vv. Genesis 4:23-24)(vv. Genesis 4:23-24)A New Son(vv. Genesis 4:23-24)(vv. Genesis 4:23-24)Seth and Enosh(vv. Genesis 4:23-24)Seth and His Descendants
Genesis 4:25-26Genesis 4:25-26Genesis 4:25-26Genesis 4:25-26Genesis 4:25-26

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. It has been asserted by many commentators that Genesis 4:1-24 describes the development of the rebellious seed of Cain, while Genesis 4:25-32 describes the development of the godly seed of Seth. Although this is helpful in looking at these chapters it completely breaks down in the evilness of all men seen in Genesis 6:5-6, Genesis 6:11-12, Genesis 6:13.

B. Many have asserted that chapter 4 is not a detailed western genealogy but an eastern Hebraic genealogy that simply hits the high points. If you add up the dates of Genesis 4:0 they seem to be overlapping and only cover about a 2,000 year span. Therefore, I believe that they are representative samples or symbolic numbers (like those of Jesus in Matthew and Luke), not exhaustive genealogies.

C. Chapter 5 has been described as the death chapter, but Genesis 5:21-24 hold out great hope for the redemption of mankind in the translation of Enoch. The same terms are used for Elijah in 2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5, 2 Kings 2:9, 2 Kings 2:10.

D. Genesis 3:8-9 reveals the terrible consequences of sin which continues from generation to generation.

E. The descendants of Cain are not documented like the descendants of Seth (i.e. not dates or ages given). Cain's line dies in the flood completely. Possibly because of who he married. All bi-pedal, tool-making, large skull creatures were not in the image of God.

Verses 1-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 4:1-8 1Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a man-child with the help of the LORD.” 2Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. 4Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7”If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 8Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Genesis 4:1 “the man had relations with his wife Eve” Literally, “Adam knew Eve.” The Hebrew term “knew” speaks of intimate personal relationship (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT, cf. Jeremiah 1:5). Whether this was the first sexual union between Adam and Eve is not stated. The Bible is silent about how many children they had and when they had them. We only know about the three named ones. This is very significant in interpreting the NT words for “knowing” God which show that it is not only factual content, but a personal relationship that is being emphasized. Basically mankind's response to God involves (1) truths to be believed, (2) a person to welcome, and (3) an appropriate life to live! See Special Topic below.


“Cain” The name “Cain” (qayin, BDB 884 III, KB 1097, and BDB 888-89) is a sound play on the Hebrew word “gotten” (qaniti). It seems to affirm that Cain was a special gift with the help of YHWH (possibly even a fulfillment of Genesis 3:15).

“a man-child with the help of the LORD” The translation, “man-child,” seems to catch the emphasis. Some assert that Eve had previous daughters and that this was the first male, but this is speculation. The closing phrase of Genesis 4:1, “with the help of the Lord,” (BDB 86) implies that this was a statement of faith by Eve based on Genesis 3:15-16. This is the first use of the name YHWH by itself. The next time it appears alone is in worship by the line of Seth in Genesis 4:26.

Genesis 4:2 “Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel” The rabbis say that because the phrase “and Adam knew Eve” is missing in Genesis 4:2 that Cain and Abel were twins, but this seems highly unlikely.

“Abel” The Hebrew term means “breath,” “vapor,” or “vanity” (BDB 211 II, cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2). There are three possible implications of this name:

1. this may reflect (a) Eve's discouragement about her fallen condition or (b) a prediction about the shortness of his life;

2. a possible link to the Akkadian word “son” (ibil); and

3. others have asserted that it is related to the word “weakness” because of Eve's discouragement over the curse of many children (cf. Genesis 3:16).

Genesis 4:3 “that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground” Notice that Cain is the first to bring an offering to the Lord (BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil IMPERFECT). There is nothing inherently inferior in a grain sacrifice versus an animal sacrifice. The significance is in the faith of the offerer, not the sacrifice itself. Possibly they brought the offering to the gateway of the garden of Eden.

Genesis 4:4 “Abel on his part also brought out of the firstlings of his flock” The key seems to be in the term “firstlings” (BDB 114). Cain brought some of his agricultural produce, but Abel brought the best of his flock, which showed an attitude of faith and respect. But it must be remembered that the text itself is very ambiguous and brief. We must be careful of reading too much into these early accounts.

NASB “and their fat portions” NKJV “and their fat” NRSV “their fat portions” TEV “the best parts of it” NJB “and some of their fat” SEPT “even some of the fattest of them” JPSOA “the choicest” NET “even the fattest of them”

Apparently here and in later Judaism, the intestines and the fat connected to it were what was offered on the altar: (1) they were seen as the seat of the emotions or (2) the fat was a symbol of prosperity and health.

The SEPT, JPSOA, and NET Bible understand this phrase as referring not to the fat of the intestines offered on the altar, but as the best of the flock. This fits the context better.

“and the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering” Literally this means “looked upon” with a positive connotation (BDB 1043, KB 1609, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. TEV and NJB). The how is uncertain although there have been many speculations. It is obvious that God communicated His joy for the one and His displeasure in the other. It has been noted by commentators, both ancient and modern, that God accepted Abel first and then his offering. This is always the order (cf. Hebrews 11:4). The problem with Cain was his attitude. It is possible that God is showing His sovereignty by loving the younger not the older. This is seen throughout Genesis.

Genesis 4:5 “Cain became very angry” The Hebrew words are very intense here which describe Cain's emotions (BDB 354, KB 351, Qal IMPERFECT plus the ADVERB “very,” BDB 547). Notice that he is angry at God but he will take his anger out on his brother. The context here is anger amidst worship. Possibly he was upset because he brought his offering first, but Abel's was accepted and his was not.

“his countenance fell” There is a word play between “fell” in Genesis 4:5 and 6 (BDB 656, KB 709) and “will not your countenance be lifted up” in Genesis 4:7. The term “lifted up” can mean “accepted” (BDB 669, KB 724, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, cf. NKJV, NRSV, TEV).

Genesis 4:6 “Why are you angry” Here again is God asking several questions, not for information, but to help the person to understand his own feelings and motives (cf. Genesis 4:9 and Genesis 3:9, Genesis 3:11, Genesis 3:13).

Genesis 4:7 “sin is crouching at the door” In this verse sin is personified as a wild animal whose desire is to destroy (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). There is a possible Akkadian connection with the word “crouching” which was used of the demonic (BDB 918, KB 1181, Qal PARTICIPLE). This shows the true nature of sin in our world.

“and its desire is for you” This same term “desire” (BDB 1003, KB 1802) is used in Genesis 3:16. It shows that the purpose of evil is our destruction (i.e. “to control” and “to dominate”).

“but you must master it” The VERB (BDB 605, KB 647) is a Qal IMPERFECT. This shows that we are not a puppet in the hand of evil, but we have the ability, with God's help, to resist evil (cf. Ephesians 6:13; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9), to repent and be restored! Cain was not bound by Adam's sin (cf. Ezekiel 18:2-4). We are affected by Adam and Eve's rebellion, but we are responsible for our own choices.

Genesis 4:8 “Cain told Abel his brother” There has been much discussion about this phrase. Some assert that Cain told Abel about what God had said in Genesis 4:6 and 7. Others assert, along with the Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, and RSV translations, that Cain lured him into the field so that he could kill him (i.e. premeditated murder).

“Cain rose up against Abel” Chapter 3 emphasized supernatural temptation; chapter 4 emphasized the development of the Adamic fallen nature in mankind. There is no tempter here, only full-blossomed sin resulting from the sin of Adam and Eve and which extends to all their descendants (cf. Romans 8:9-18, Romans 8:23; 1 John 3:12). The VERBS “rose up” (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERFECT) and “killed” (BDB 246, KB 255, Qal IMPERFECT) show the progressive violence.

Verses 9-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 4:9-15 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?” 10He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground. 11”Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12”When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” 13Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to bear! 14”Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15So the LORD said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.

Genesis 4:9 “Am I my brother's keeper?” The great problem with Cain was his unrepentant heart. The term “keeper” can mean “shepherd” (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE), which may be a play on the occupation of Abel (cf. Genesis 4:2).

Genesis 4:10 “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground” This phrase is very significant (“crying” BDB 858, KB 1042, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE). For the Hebrews, the life force was in the blood (cf. Leviticus 17:11; Revelation 6:9, Revelation 6:10). The word “blood” is PLURAL in Hebrew. Rashi says that the PLURAL refers to Abel and his potential seed. The PLURAL also shows intensity.

Genesis 4:11 “Now you are cursed from the ground” This is the first direct curse on man. With Adam's sin the ground was cursed. It is significant that Cain, being a farmer, can no longer use this as his occupation. He is banished into the desert which is the abode of demons and with it, the absence of agriculture activity.

Genesis 4:12 “it will no longer yield its strength to you” This is a Hiphil JUSSIVE form (BDB 414, KB 418). Many commentators have asserted that this is why Cain's line developed urban life as over against rural life (cf. Genesis 4:16-24).

“you will be a vagrant and a wanderer” These two similar sounding terms (BDB 631, KB 681 and BDB 626, KB 678, cf. Genesis 4:14) describe Cain's nomadic life. They are word plays on the land of Nod (BDB 627 II). These word plays show the literary shaping of these early chapters.

Genesis 4:13 “My punishment is too great to bear!” Cain is not sorry for his act but he is sorry for its consequences.

Genesis 4:14 “driven me this day from the face of the ground” This is the occupational result of Cain's sin while the next phrase “from Thy face I will be hidden” is the spiritual result (cf. Genesis 3:8) of Cain's sin.

“whoever finds me will kill me” Cain feared for his own life. The rabbis say that he was afraid of the animals. However, the context seems to imply that his own relatives, who would be “go'els” (blood avenger) for Abel, would kill him. This would imply that Adam and Eve had many unnamed children.

There is a very interesting discussion of Adam and Eve's relationship to other pre-historic humanoids in Kidner's The Tyndale Commentary on Genesis and Bernard Ramm's discussion of anthropology in The Christian's View of Science and Scripture. This verse implies many other rational creatures. For a discussion of humanoids and their dates of occupation of the ancient Near East see R. K. Harrison's Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 147-163 and Who was Adam? by Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross.

If Cain married a non-homosapien without God's Spirit, then Genesis 6:1-4 would be a mixing of God's special human creation with bipedal animals instead of humans with angels.

Genesis 4:15 “vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold” The term “sevenfold” seems to mean complete vengeance (BDB 988). Apparently God left Cain alive as an even more poignant sign of sin. The rabbis say that God will take vengeance on him in seven generations which would be Lamech. There is a rabbinical legend that Genesis 4:23 refers to Lamech and his son, Tubal-Cain, killing Cain by accident.

“appointed a sign for Cain” This was either a sign (BDB 16, “a mark”) of (1) God's mercy amidst judgment or (2) God's sustaining His judgment through time. The rabbis say that God put an animal horn in the midst of Cain's head. However, it seems more probable that it was a mark on the forehead (cf. Ezekiel 9:4, Ezekiel 9:6).

Verse 16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 4:16 16Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 4:16 “Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD” This seems to be a physical result typifying the spiritual result (“went out” BDB 422, KB 425, Qal IMPERFECT). Genesis 4:16-24 really show banished mankind starting a world system apart from God. This anti-YHWH world system can be seen in the kingdoms of Daniel's visions. It becomes typified in the great whore of Babylon in the book of Revelation and in John's use of the term “world.”

“the land of Nod” “Nod” is a Hebrew term for “wandering” or “the land of wanderers” (BDB 627 II). This is an obvious play on Cain's name. We do not know where this place is located but it is obviously more east of Eden than Adam and Eve had gone.

Verses 17-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 4:17-22 17Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his Song of Solomon 1:0; Song of Solomon 1:08Now to Enoch was born Irad, and Irad became the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael became the father of Methushael, and Methushael became the father of Lamech. 19Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron; and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

Genesis 4:17 “Cain had relations with his wife” Who did he marry? Most conservative scholars assume he married one of his sisters, but this is never stated in the Bible. Genesis 5:4 does state that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters. One wonders about the people outside the garden whom Cain was afraid of in Genesis 4:14 (see note at Genesis 4:14).

“she conceived and gave birth to Enoch” All etymologies of these names are very doubtful. The name Enoch may mean “beginner” or “initiator” (BDB 335). There is an obvious similarity between the list of Cain's children and the list of Seth's children in chapter 5 (ex. Enoch and Lamech). The exact reason for this etymological similarity is uncertain, but it shows (1) that the two families had many social connections, or (2) the spiritual differences of these two Enochs.

Also notice that the length of the lives of Cain's line are not given. This may imply that the extended ages of Seth's line are symbolic of renown or praise (as with the list of ten Sumerian kings who had extended lives before and after the flood. The length of life decreases after the flood but is still very long by today's standards).

“he built a city” This seems to be in direct defiance to God's command that he would be a wanderer (cf. Genesis 4:12, Genesis 4:14). Others have seen this as an example of Cain's fear that someone would kill him; therefore, he built a fort to protect himself and his family (similar to the purpose of the Tower of Babel).

Genesis 4:18 “Now to Enoch was born Irad” Possible etymologies of this term are: (1) ornament of the city; (2) townsman; or (3) fleet-footed (BDB 747).

“Mehujael” The possible etymologies of this term are (1) “God is giver of life”; (2) “God is giver of fountain of life”; (3) “smitten of God”; or (4) “formed of God” (BDB 562).

“Methushael” The possible etymologies of this term are (1) “Man of God”; (2) “strong youth”; or (3) “king” (BDB 607).

Genesis 4:19 “Lamech took to himself two wives” This is the first account of polygamy and it begins in the fallen line of Cain. The name Lamech is of uncertain origins (BDB 541).

“Adah. . .Zillah” These two women's names are a play on terms for physical beauty. The rabbis say that one was his wife to bear children and one was his mistress for pleasure. The name “Adah” can mean “ornament” or “morning” (BDB 725) ,while the name “Zillah” seems to mean “shade” or “shelter,” “tinkling” or “musical player” (BDB 853).

Genesis 4:20 “Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” This term seems to mean “wanderer” (BDB 385 II), which describes the nomadic life which he apparently developed.

Genesis 4:21 “Jubal. . .all those who play the lyre and pipe” Some assert that his name means “sound.” This is the beginning of certain gifts of musical skills. This tribal group developed not only the stringed instruments but also the wind instruments.

Genesis 4:22 “Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron” This man (BDB 1063) was the first to make weapons of war. It is possible that the three people mentioned in Genesis 4:21-22 are named to reflect their occupations.

“Naamah” This name means “pleasant” or “beautiful” (BDB 653 I). The rabbis say that she married Noah but this is highly unlikely.

Verses 23-24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 4:23-24 23Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; 24If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

Genesis 4:23 “Lamech said to his wives” This is one of the first uses of poetry recorded in the Bible (about 40% of the OT is in poetic form). It is grammatically connected with Genesis 4:22. Rabbinical legend says that his two wives had left him because he had killed Cain by accident and also his son, Tubal-cain, while hunting. This seems extremely fanciful. What it does emphasize is the development of sin to such an extent that Lamech was bragging on the stringency of his revenge. Some have asserted that he held up Tubal-cain's first weapon of war and made this rhythmical brag. There has been much discussion among commentators about the time element (past, future). Most assume that they refer to something that will happen, not to something that had happened.

Genesis 4:24 “seventy-sevenfold” This shows the severity of Lamech's revenge (cf. Genesis 4:15). Some commentators see a contrast between this and Jesus' words about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21, Matthew 18:22.

Verses 25-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 4:25-26 25Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD.

Genesis 4:25-26 This contextually should go with Genesis 5:0. Chapter and verse divisions were not part of the original text of either the Hebrew OT or the Greek NT.

Genesis 4:25 This is another word play between the Hebrew term “appointed” (shat, BDB 1011, KB 1483, Qal PERFECT) and Seth (shet, BDB 1011 I). This continuing literary (sound) play on the names in Gen. 1-11 shows its literary character.

Genesis 4:26 “he called his name Enoch” This is one of the Hebrew terms for “man” (BDB 60), synonymous with Adam (cf. Job 25:6; Psalms 8:4; Psalms 96:3; Psalms 144:3; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 56:2).

“Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD” This seems to imply regular public worship because of the use of the divine covenant name of YHWH (see Special Topic: Names for Deity and Special Topic: The Name of the LORD). Many have seen a contradiction between this verse and Exodus 6:3. Possibly, men had used the name of YHWH without knowing its full significance until the time of Moses. This is the beginning of the Messianic line (cf. Luke 3:38).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 4". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-4.html. 2021.
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