Genesis 4

The Story of Cain and Abel

The disjunctive clause (conjunction + subject + verb) introduces a new episode in the ongoing narrative.
the man had marital relations with
Heb “the man knew,” a frequent euphemism for sexual relations.
his wife Eve, and she became pregnant
Or “she conceived.”
and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created
Here is another sound play (paronomasia) on a name. The sound of the verb קָנִיתִי (qaniti, “I have created”) reflects the sound of the name Cain in Hebrew (קַיִן, qayin) and gives meaning to it. The saying uses the Qal perfect of קָנָה (qanah). There are two homonymic verbs with this spelling, one meaning “obtain, acquire” and the other meaning “create” (see Gen 14:19, 22; Deut 32:6; Ps 139:13; Prov 8:22). The latter fits this context very well. Eve has created a man.
a man just as the Lord did!”
Heb “with the Lord.” The particle אֶת־ (’et) is not the accusative/object sign, but the preposition “with” as the ancient versions attest. Some take the preposition in the sense of “with the help of” (see BDB 85 s.v. אֵת; cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV), while others prefer “along with” in the sense of “like, equally with, in common with” (see Lev 26:39; Isa 45:9; Jer 23:28). Either works well in this context; the latter is reflected in the present translation. Some understand אֶת־ as the accusative/object sign and translate, “I have acquired a man – the Lord.” They suggest that the woman thought (mistakenly) that she had given birth to the incarnate Lord, the Messiah who would bruise the Serpent’s head. This fanciful suggestion is based on a questionable allegorical interpretation of Gen 3:15 (see the note there on the word “heel”).
Since Exod 6:3 seems to indicate that the name Yahweh (יְהוָה, yehvah, translated Lord) was first revealed to Moses (see also Exod 3:14), it is odd to see it used in quotations in Genesis by people who lived long before Moses. This problem has been resolved in various ways: (1) Source critics propose that Exod 6:3 is part of the “P” (or priestly) tradition, which is at odds with the “J” (or Yahwistic) tradition. (2) Many propose that “name” in Exod 6:3 does not refer to the divine name per se, but to the character suggested by the name. God appeared to the patriarchs primarily in the role of El Shaddai, the giver of fertility, not as Yahweh, the one who fulfills his promises. In this case the patriarchs knew the name Yahweh, but had not experienced the full significance of the name. In this regard it is possible that Exod 6:3b should not be translated as a statement of denial, but as an affirmation followed by a rhetorical question implying that the patriarchs did indeed know God by the name of Yahweh, just as they knew him as El Shaddai. D. A. Garrett, following the lead of F. Andersen, sees Exod 6:2–3 as displaying a paneled A/B parallelism and translates them as follows: (A) “I am Yahweh.” (B) “And I made myself known to Abraham…as El Shaddai.” (A') “And my name is Yahweh”; (B') “Did I not make myself known to them?” (D. A. Garrett, Rethinking Genesis, 21). However, even if one translates the text this way, the Lord’s words do not necessarily mean that he made the name Yahweh known to the fathers. God is simply affirming that he now wants to be called Yahweh (see Exod 3:14–16) and that he revealed himself in prior times as El Shaddai. If we stress the parallelism with B, the implied answer to the concluding question might be: “Yes, you did make yourself known to them – as El Shaddai!” The main point of the verse would be that El Shaddai, the God of the fathers, and the God who has just revealed himself to Moses as Yahweh are one and the same. (3) G. J. Wenham suggests that pre-Mosaic references to Yahweh are the product of the author/editor of Genesis, who wanted to be sure that Yahweh was identified with the God of the fathers. In this regard, note how Yahweh is joined with another divine name or title in Gen 9:26–27; 14:22; 15:2, 8; 24:3, 7, 12, 27, 42, 48; 27:20; 32:9. The angel uses the name Yahweh when instructing Hagar concerning her child’s name, but the actual name (Ishma-el, “El hears”) suggests that El, not Yahweh, originally appeared in the angel’s statement (16:11). In her response to the angel Hagar calls God El, not Yahweh (16:13). In 22:14 Abraham names the place of sacrifice “Yahweh Will Provide” (cf. v. 16), but in v. 8 he declares, “God will provide.” God uses the name Yahweh when speaking to Jacob at Bethel (28:13) and Jacob also uses the name when he awakens from the dream (28:16). Nevertheless he names the place Beth-el (“house of El”). In 31:49 Laban prays, “May Yahweh keep watch,” but in v. 50 he declares, “God is a witness between you and me.” Yahweh’s use of the name in 15:7 and 18:14 may reflect theological idiom, while the use in 18:19 is within a soliloquy. (Other uses of Yahweh in quotations occur in 16:2, 5; 24:31, 35, 40, 42, 44, 48, 50, 51, 56; 26:22, 28–29; 27:7, 27; 29:32–35; 30:24, 30; 49:18. In these cases there is no contextual indication that a different name was originally used.) For a fuller discussion of this proposal, see G. J. Wenham, “The Religion of the Patriarchs,” Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, 189–93.
Then she gave birth
Heb “And she again gave birth.”
to his brother Abel.
The name Abel is not defined here in the text, but the tone is ominous. Abel’s name, the Hebrew word הֶבֶל (hevel), means “breath, vapor, vanity,” foreshadowing Abel’s untimely and premature death.
Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.
Heb “and Abel was a shepherd of the flock, and Cain was a worker of the ground.” The designations of the two occupations are expressed with active participles, רֹעֵה (roeh, “shepherd”) and עֹבֵד (’oved, “worker”). Abel is occupied with sheep, whereas Cain is living under the curse, cultivating the ground.

At the designated time
Heb “And it happened at the end of days.” The clause indicates the passing of a set period of time leading up to offering sacrifices.
Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering
The Hebrew term מִנְחָה (minkhah, “offering”) is a general word for tribute, a gift, or an offering. It is the main word used in Lev 2 for the dedication offering. This type of offering could be comprised of vegetables. The content of the offering (vegetables, as opposed to animals) was not the critical issue, but rather the attitude of the offerer.
to the Lord.
But Abel brought
Heb “But Abel brought, also he….” The disjunctive clause (conjunction + subject + verb) stresses the contrast between Cain’s offering and Abel’s.
some of the firstborn of his flock – even the fattest
Two prepositional phrases are used to qualify the kind of sacrifice that Abel brought: “from the firstborn” and “from the fattest of them.” These also could be interpreted as a hendiadys: “from the fattest of the firstborn of the flock.” Another option is to understand the second prepositional phrase as referring to the fat portions of the sacrificial sheep. In this case one may translate, “some of the firstborn of his flock, even some of their fat portions” (cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV).
Here are two types of worshipers – one (Cain) merely discharges a duty at the proper time, while the other (Abel) goes out of his way to please God with the first and the best.
of them. And the Lord was pleased with
The Hebrew verb שָׁעָה (shaah) simply means “to gaze at, to have regard for, to look on with favor [or “with devotion”].” The text does not indicate how this was communicated, but it indicates that Cain and Abel knew immediately. Either there was some manifestation of divine pleasure given to Abel and withheld from Cain (fire consuming the sacrifice?), or there was an inner awareness of divine response.
Abel and his offering,
but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased.
The Letter to the Hebrews explains the difference between the brothers as one of faith – Abel by faith offered a better sacrifice. Cain’s offering as well as his reaction to God’s displeasure did not reflect faith. See further B. K. Waltke, “Cain and His Offering,” WTJ 48 (1986): 363-72.
So Cain became very angry,
Heb “and it was hot to Cain.” This Hebrew idiom means that Cain “burned” with anger.
and his expression was downcast.
Heb “And his face fell.” The idiom means that the inner anger is reflected in Cain’s facial expression. The fallen or downcast face expresses anger, dejection, or depression. Conversely, in Num 6 the high priestly blessing speaks of the Lord lifting up his face and giving peace.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? Is it not true
The introduction of the conditional clause with an interrogative particle prods the answer from Cain, as if he should have known this. It is not a condemnation, but an encouragement to do what is right.
that if you do what is right, you will be fine?
The Hebrew text is difficult, because only one word occurs, שְׂאֵת (seet), which appears to be the infinitive construct from the verb “to lift up” (נָאָשׂ, naas). The sentence reads: “If you do well, uplifting.” On the surface it seems to be the opposite of the fallen face. Everything will be changed if he does well. God will show him favor, he will not be angry, and his face will reflect that. But more may be intended since the second half of the verse forms the contrast: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching….” Not doing well leads to sinful attack; doing well leads to victory and God’s blessing.
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching
The Hebrew term translated “crouching” (רֹבֵץ, rovets) is an active participle. Sin is portrayed with animal imagery here as a beast crouching and ready to pounce (a figure of speech known as zoomorphism). An Akkadian cognate refers to a type of demon; in this case perhaps one could translate, “Sin is the demon at the door” (see E. A. Speiser, Genesis [AB], 29, 32–33).
at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”
Heb “and toward you [is] its desire, but you must rule over it.” As in Gen 3:16, the Hebrew noun “desire” refers to an urge to control or dominate. Here the desire is that which sin has for Cain, a desire to control for the sake of evil, but Cain must have mastery over it. The imperfect is understood as having an obligatory sense. Another option is to understand it as expressing potential (“you can have [or “are capable of having”] mastery over it.”). It will be a struggle, but sin can be defeated by righteousness. In addition to this connection to Gen 3, other linguistic and thematic links between chaps. 3 and 4 are discussed by A. J. Hauser, “Linguistic and Thematic Links Between Genesis 4:1–6 and Genesis 2–3, ” JETS 23 (1980): 297-306.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”
The MT has simply “and Cain said to Abel his brother,” omitting Cain’s words to Abel. It is possible that the elliptical text is original. Perhaps the author uses the technique of aposiopesis, “a sudden silence” to create tension. In the midst of the story the narrator suddenly rushes ahead to what happened in the field. It is more likely that the ancient versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac), which include Cain’s words, “Let’s go out to the field,” preserve the original reading here. After writing אָחִיו (’akhiyv, “his brother”), a scribe’s eye may have jumped to the end of the form בַּשָּׂדֶה (basadeh, “to the field”) and accidentally omitted the quotation. This would be an error of virtual homoioteleuton. In older phases of the Hebrew script the sequence יו (yod-vav) on אָחִיו is graphically similar to the final ה (he) on בַּשָּׂדֶה.
While they were in the field, Cain attacked
Heb “arose against” (in a hostile sense).
his brother
The word “brother” appears six times in vv. 8–11, stressing the shocking nature of Cain’s fratricide (see 1 John 3:12).
Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
Where is Abel your brother? Again the Lord confronts a guilty sinner with a rhetorical question (see Gen 3:9–13), asking for an explanation of what has happened.
And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?”
Heb “The one guarding my brother [am] I?”
Am I my brother’s guardian? Cain lies and then responds with a defiant rhetorical question of his own in which he repudiates any responsibility for his brother. But his question is ironic, for he is responsible for his brother’s fate, especially if he wanted to kill him. See P. A. Riemann, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Int 24 (1970): 482-91.
10 But the Lord said, “What have you done?
What have you done? Again the Lord’s question is rhetorical (see Gen 3:13), condemning Cain for his sin.
The voice
The word “voice” is a personification; the evidence of Abel’s shed blood condemns Cain, just as a human eyewitness would testify in court. For helpful insights, see G. von Rad, Biblical Interpretations in Preaching; and L. Morris, “The Biblical Use of the Term ‘Blood,’” JTS 6 (1955/56): 77-82.
of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!
11 So now, you are banished
Heb “cursed are you from the ground.” As in Gen 3:14, the word “cursed,” a passive participle from אָרָר (’arar), either means “punished” or “banished,” depending on how one interprets the following preposition. If the preposition is taken as indicating source, then the idea is “cursed (i.e., punished) are you from [i.e., “through the agency of”] the ground” (see v. 12a). If the preposition is taken as separative, then the idea is “cursed and banished from the ground.” In this case the ground rejects Cain’s efforts in such a way that he is banished from the ground and forced to become a fugitive out in the earth (see vv. 12b, 14).
from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
12 When you try to cultivate
Heb “work.”

ground it will no longer yield
Heb “it will not again (תֹסֵף, tosef) give (תֵּת, tet),” meaning the ground will no longer yield. In translation the infinitive becomes the main verb, and the imperfect verb form becomes adverbial.
its best
Heb “its strength.”
for you. You will be a homeless wanderer
Two similar sounding synonyms are used here: נָע וָנָד (na vanad, “a wanderer and a fugitive”). This juxtaposition of synonyms emphasizes the single idea. In translation one can serve as the main description, the other as a modifier. Other translation options include “a wandering fugitive” and a “ceaseless wanderer” (cf. NIV).
on the earth.”
13 Then Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word עָוֹן (’avon) is “sin, iniquity.” But by metonymy it can refer to the “guilt” of sin, or to “punishment” for sin. The third meaning applies here. Just before this the Lord announces the punishment for Cain’s actions, and right after this statement Cain complains of the severity of the punishment. Cain is not portrayed as repenting of his sin.
is too great to endure!
Heb “great is my punishment from bearing.” The preposition מִן (min, “from”) is used here in a comparative sense.
14 Look! You are driving me off the land
Heb “from upon the surface of the ground.”
today, and I must hide from your presence.
I must hide from your presence. The motif of hiding from the Lord as a result of sin also appears in Gen 3:8–10.
I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth; whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “All right then,
The Hebrew term לָכֵן (lakhen, “therefore”) in this context carries the sense of “Okay,” or “in that case then I will do this.”
if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.”
The symbolic number seven is used here to emphasize that the offender will receive severe punishment. For other rhetorical and hyperbolic uses of the expression “seven times over,” see Pss 12:6; 79:12; Prov 6:31; Isa 30:26.
Then the Lord put a special mark
Heb “sign”; “reminder.” The term “sign” is not used in the translation because it might imply to an English reader that God hung a sign on Cain. The text does not identify what the “sign” was. It must have been some outward, visual reminder of Cain’s special protected status.
on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down.
God becomes Cain’s protector. Here is common grace – Cain and his community will live on under God’s care, but without salvation.
16 So Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and lived in the land of Nod,
The name Nod means “wandering” in Hebrew (see vv. 12, 14).
east of Eden.

The Beginning of Civilization

17  Cain had marital relations
Heb “knew,” a frequent euphemism for sexual relations.
with his wife, and she became pregnant
Or “she conceived.”
and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was building a city, and he named the city after
Heb “according to the name of.”
his son Enoch.
18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father
Heb “and Irad fathered.”
of Mehujael. Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19  Lamech took two wives for himself; the name of the first was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the first
Heb “father.” In this passage the word “father” means “founder,” referring to the first to establish such lifestyles and occupations.
of those who live in tents and keep
The word “keep” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation. Other words that might be supplied instead are “tend,” “raise” (NIV), or “have” (NRSV).
21 The name of his brother was Jubal; he was the first of all who play the harp and the flute. 22 Now Zillah also gave birth to Tubal-Cain, who heated metal and shaped
The traditional rendering here, “who forged” (or “a forger of”) is now more commonly associated with counterfeit or fraud (e.g., “forged copies” or “forged checks”) than with the forging of metal. The phrase “heated metal and shaped [it]” has been used in the translation instead.
all kinds of tools made of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.

23  Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah! Listen to me!
You wives of Lamech, hear my words!
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man
The Hebrew term יֶלֶד (yeled) probably refers to a youthful warrior here, not a child.
for hurting me.
24  If Cain is to be avenged seven times as much,
then Lamech seventy-seven times!”
Seventy-seven times. Lamech seems to reason this way: If Cain, a murderer, is to be avenged seven times (see v. 15), then how much more one who has been unjustly wronged! Lamech misses the point of God’s merciful treatment of Cain. God was not establishing a principle of justice when he warned he would avenge Cain’s murder. In fact he was trying to limit the shedding of blood, something Lamech wants to multiply instead. The use of “seventy-seven,” a multiple of seven, is hyperbolic, emphasizing the extreme severity of the vengeance envisioned by Lamech.

25  And Adam had marital relations
Heb “knew,” a frequent euphemism for sexual relations.
with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son. She named him Seth, saying, “God has given
The name Seth probably means something like “placed”; “appointed”; “set”; “granted,” assuming it is actually related to the verb that is used in the sentiment. At any rate, the name שֵׁת (shet) and the verb שָׁת (shat, “to place, to appoint, to set, to grant”) form a wordplay (paronomasia).
me another child
Heb “offspring.”
in place of Abel because Cain killed him.”
26 And a son was also born to Seth, whom he named Enosh. At that time people
The word “people” is not in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation. The construction uses a passive verb without an expressed subject. “To call was begun” can be interpreted to mean that people began to call.
began to worship
Heb “call in the name.” The expression refers to worshiping the Lord through prayer and sacrifice (see Gen 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25). See G. J. Wenham, Genesis (WBC), 1:116.
the Lord.

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