Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. Bible see other translations

“father.” In the biblical world and according to biblical custom, the word “father” had many meanings. Of course, it could refer to a man who was the literal father of a child. Also, because neither Hebrew nor Aramaic had a word for “grandfather” or “great-grandfather,” the word “father” was used of any ancestor. That is why the Bible speaks of “our father Abraham.” He is an ancestor.

The word “father” was also used of a person who was a father figure, mentor, or guide. Thus, Joseph said he had become a “father” to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8). In the book of Judges, first Micah of Ephraim, and then people of the tribe of Dan, asked a Levite to be a “father” to them, that is, be their spiritual guide (Judg. 17:10; 18:19). The prophet Elisha referred to the elder prophet Elijah as his “father” (2 Kings 2:12), and the servants of the Syrian commander, Naaman, referred to him as “father” because he was a mentor and guide (2 Kings 5:13). The king of Israel referred to the prophet Elisha as his “father,” his spiritual mentor and guide (2 Kings 6:21). Job had been a wealthy man and said he had been a “father” to the poor (Job 29:16).

Closely aligned with the use of “father” as a guide and mentor, “father” was used of someone who headed something up, a leader. Thus the leader of a caravan was referred to as its “father.” Also, if someone had a distinguishing characteristic, he was often referred to as the father of that characteristic. James Freeman points out that a man with a long beard might be called, “the father of a beard,” and he wrote, “Dr. Thompson was once called by the mischievous young Arabs, ‘the father of a saucepan,’ because they fancied that his black hat resembled that culinary utensil.”a

The word “father” was also used of someone who was the originator of something. In Genesis 4:20-21, Jabal is the “father” of those who live in tents and travel with their livestock, and Jubal is the “father” of those who play the harp and pipe. Satan is called “the father of lies” (John 8:44), while God is called “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3). Jesus, who will start the Coming Age after the Battle of Armageddon, is called “the father of the coming age” in Isaiah 9:6 (which is almost always mistranslated as “Everlasting Father”).

[The word “son” also has many different uses. For more on the use of “son,” see commentary on Matthew 12:27.]

“of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” It is interesting that things that greatly influence society come out of the genealogy of Cain but not out of the genealogy of Seth, the genealogy that led to Christ. Out of Cain’s line came shepherding and herding (Gen. 4:20), music from both stringed instruments and wind instruments (Gen. 4:21), and metalworking (Gen. 4:22). Yet Cain’s genealogy was totally wiped out in Noah’s Flood. Nevertheless, the lessons learned by Cain and his descendants were passed on to Noah and his family, and in that way survived the Flood.

Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, #1.

Commentary for: Genesis 4:20