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Go to Bible: Genesis 4
“knew.” The word “know” is the common idiomatic word used for sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse gives the most intimate and personal “knowledge” of the other, so “know” was used throughout the biblical world as an idiom for sexual intercourse (cp. Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 24:16; Matt. 1:25), which even included rape (Gen. 19:5; Judg. 19:25). Other idioms for sexual intercourse are, “go into” (2 Sam. 3:7), and “go near; approach” (Exod. 19:15), “uncover the nakedness” (Lev. 18:12); and sometimes “see the nakedness” (Lev. 20:17). For more on “know,” see commentary on Matthew 1:25.(top)
|Gen 4:2||- (top)|
“And it happened in the course of time.” The Hebrew is literally, “and it happened at the end of days.” The NET text note correctly states, “The clause indicates the passing of a set period of time leading up to offering sacrifices.” E. W. Bullinger writes: “The time as well as place and offering probably appointed” (The Companion Bible). The text does not specifically say this, but there clearly seems to have been a set time and place that a person would bring offerings to God, because both Cain and Abel “brought” offerings to Yahweh.
Also, however, the use of “days,” plural, in the Hebrew text usually refers to a period of time. Thus it is likely that this was not the first time that Cain and Abel had offered sacrifices and they had likely been doing it for a while. This may explain Cain’s defiant and irreligious attitude and action; he had grown tired of doing things “God’s way.” Thus he was like the priests who became weary of the sacrifices they had to make (Malachi 1:6-13).
Cain and Abel would have learned the when, where, and how of sacrifices from Adam and Eve, and would have participated in making them as they grew up. Now fully grown, they are responsible for their own sacrifices and spiritual well-being. It is suggested by some scholars that sacrifices arose spontaneously from people’s thanksgiving to their gods, but that seems highly unlikely.
|Gen 4:4||- (top)|
|Gen 4:5||- (top)|
“face fallen.” The literal Hebrew is, “Why has your face fallen,” and it is an idiom for being downcast, dejected. We might say, “Why are you so downcast?”(top)
“well...well.” The Hebrew word is yatab (#03190 יָטַב), and it means to be good, to do well, to be pleasing, to make glad. There is a profound but unstated truth here in Genesis 4:7, and that truth is that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth, and humankind, and He makes the rules. It is God who defines and determines what is “right” or “good” and what is “bad” or “evil.” Arrogantly, humans and human society often act like they can set the rules of life; that they can determine what is good and what is bad. But humans are fallen creatures in a fallen world and are not righteous like God, but are basically selfish, egotistical, meanspirited, and ungodly. History has proved this over and over. Every generation sees the outworking of the evil in humankind in the fact that every generation faces war, crime, and people mistreating other people.
Furthermore, and importantly, although humans can often exercise somewhat effective control over other humans, they cannot control the earth or the spiritual battle that rages behind the scenes between godly forces, such as God and angels, and evil forces, such as the Devil and demons. It is demonic forces that cause natural disasters, famines, floods, plagues, and such evils. Only God’s blessing can mitigate against those disasters, and the Bible shows us over and over that His blessing comes when people are obedient to Him (cp. commentary on Lev. 18:25).
Also, in the final analysis, a person’s life here on earth is short but what is coming in the future is everlasting. Coming in the future is Judgment Day, when each person will stand before the God who created them and be judged either as righteous or unrighteous according to His standards, not the standards of any human society. The righteous will be granted everlasting life, while the unrighteous will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and suffer everlasting destruction. So here in Genesis 4:7 is a simple and profound statement of truth: if a person does “well” according to God’s rules, they will be accepted. If a person does not do well, they will fall prey to sin, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), so they will be burned up in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Given the choices before us, the decision should be easy: obey God; it is profitable in this life and the next.
[For information on how to get saved, see commentary on Rom. 10:9. For more on the destiny of the unsaved, which is annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.” For more on the spiritual battle raging between Good and Evil, see commentary on Luke 4:6].
“will you not be accepted.” The Hebrew text is idiomatic and basically says: “will it not be lifted up?” The idiom refers to one’s face being lifted up to another if there is acceptance and agreement between you. Cain’s face fell when God rejected his offering (Gen. 4:5), but if he did God’s will his face would be lifted up. But the idiom is not easily understood in English, so many versions put the meaning of the idiom in their translation, as does the REV.
“sin crouches at the door.” The Hebrew word “sin,” usually a feminine noun, is constructed in the masculine here. Thus sin is personified as something of the male gender and may in this case even be a reference to the masculine noun, “serpent,” which occurs in Genesis 3. That sin is some kind of crouching creature, waiting to spring on its victim, is well portrayed by Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible: Volume 1, The Five Books of Moses). He translates verse 7, “If you intend good, bear-it-aloft, but if you do not intend good, at the entrance is sin, a crouching demon, toward you his lust—but you can rule over him.”
The NIV Study Bible text note on Genesis 4:7 says, “The Hebrew word for ‘crouching’ is the same as an ancient Babylonian word referring to an evil demon crouching at the door of a building to threaten the people inside.” Although the Devil and demons are always on the alert to be able to afflict people who turn away from God and godliness, there is an important truth in the Sin-Demon being at the door. Godly people can cleanse their houses of demonic materials and faithfully pray for the holiness and protection of their house, and that can keep demons from being able to enter, but demons may sometimes “wait at the door,” hanging around and waiting to find ways to afflict the inhabitants. God warned Cain about his sin and what could happen if he did not repent, but Cain ignored God’s warning and turned to the Devil for support and became “of that wicked one” (1 John 3:12). Cain committed the unforgivable sin, which is why he could not be forgiven, and he knew it (Gen. 4:13). [For more on the unforgivable sin, see commentary on Matt. 12:31].(top)
“Let’s go out into the field.” The phrase, “Let’s go out into the field” was dropped out of the Hebrew text by copyists, and does not appear in many versions. It has been properly restored in many modern versions from the Septuagint and Aramaic (cp. BBE; CEB; HCSB; NAB; NET; NIV; NJB; NLT; NRSV; RSV). There is a good chance that in his parable about the good and bad seed (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus took the illustration that “the field is the world” (Matt. 13:39) from the fact that Cain murdered Abel in the field.
“Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, was the first person to commit the unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:31-32) and become a child of the Devil. Cain became a child of the Devil by committing blasphemy against God in the time between Genesis 4:7 and 4:8. In Genesis 4:2-6, Cain had not given his best to God, and as a result, his sacrifice was not accepted. However, in Genesis 4:7, God told Cain that he could be accepted if he did “well,” i.e., did what God and wisdom directed. God also warned Cain that sin was close by, ready to pounce if it was given an opportunity. By portraying sin as a creature ready to pounce on Cain, God did His best to warn Cain, and us, of the Enemy that is always present and trying to turn us away from Him.
As late as Genesis 4:7, Cain could have repented and come back to God, but he did not. Instead of recognizing his sin and humbling himself to God, he arrogantly turned to the Devil as his god. After Genesis 4:7 God never again told Cain that there was a door of forgiveness and acceptance available to him. The New Testament lets us know that Cain became a child of the Devil: “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12 KJV). Thus, Cain was a child of the Devil when he murdered Abel, and murder is one of the things children of the Devil do to people who oppose them. The High Priest and his henchmen were children of the Devil and they wanted to murder Jesus Christ (John 8:37, 44).
Cain premeditated his murder of Abel, which is why he invited Abel into the field to get him away from the protection of the family (Gen. 4:8). Then, after murdering Abel, Cain lied to God about it and said he did not know where Abel was (Gen. 4:9), and lying is another one of the Devil’s primary traits, in fact, the word “Devil” means “slanderer,” and the Devil is the “father of lies” (John 8:44).
Cain was the first child of the Devil and the first person to commit what we now refer to as the “unforgivable sin.” Perhaps it was because he understood perfectly that he turned away from the true God and turned to the Devil to be his god that he knew that his sin could not be forgiven (Gen. 4:13). [For more on the unforgivable sin, see commentary on Genesis 4:9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15; and commentary on Matt. 12:31].(top)
“I do not know.” Cain is now a bold-faced liar and is even blind to the fact that God can see right through his lie. This kind of blindness, and lying and murder, are characteristics of the Devil and his children (see commentary on Gen. 4:8). No wonder Jesus said that the children of the Devil were not really even able to say anything good (Matt. 12:34).
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Children of the Devil prey on others and feel absolutely no responsibility toward them. The hate and indifference of the Devil and his children toward other people is completely in contrast to the love that God and his children have for others. Children of the Devil are notoriously interested in themselves rather than others. This explains why there is no biblical record of the religious leaders, some of whom were children of the Devil, rejoicing when Jesus healed or delivered someone. They invariably found some reason to disparage what he had done, even when he made the blind to see or raised the dead. There is no love for mankind among the children of the Devil, and Cain was one of them.(top)
“your brother’s blood.” This verse reveals the horror of the sin of murder. Today there is so much bloodshed in movies, TV, video games, and day-to-day life that our culture has become insensitive to the terrible sin of murder. We must make no mistake: human life is priceless, and murder is a grave sin in the eyes of God, and it pollutes the land spiritually (Num. 35:33; Ps. 106:38). In Genesis 4:10, the word “blood” is in the plural in the Hebrew text, which reads, “bloods.” This plural is the “plural of emphasis” to show the great seriousness of the crime of murder.(top)
“now you are cursed.” People who make the Devil their god and become children of the Devil are cursed just as the Devil himself is. Genesis 4:11-12 reveals some of the terrible consequences that those who choose to become children of the Devil suffer in this life. For one thing, Cain and subsequently all children of the Devil, are cursed when it comes to the ground. This is explained in Genesis 4:12: the ground will not produce good crops for them. We see this truth played out in the life of Cain because he started out as a tiller of the soil (Gen. 4:2), but after becoming a child of the Devil the soil would no longer produce abundantly for him, which is why he built a city (4:17). Godly men can live off the soil, but children of the Devil have to live off the production of others. It is no coincidence that Cain was the first city builder. Nimrod, a mighty hunter against God and whose very name means “Rebel,” was the second city builder (Gen. 10:9-12). Big cities have always been known for being centers of human depravity.
Another thing revealed in Genesis 4:12 about the children of the Devil is that they cannot be “at home” on the earth because they are by nature unsatisfied. They wander, sometimes from place to place, or from job to job, or from activity to activity, or from what they have to wanting more and more. Sadly, they also usually wander from victim to victim as they prey on others. Proverbs 4:14-16 says that the wicked cannot even sleep unless they are doing evil and hurting others.(top)
|Gen 4:12||- (top)|
“My sin is too great to be forgiven.” When the context and scope of Scripture are considered, this verse should be translated, “My sin is too great to be forgiven,” and not “My sin is greater than I can bear.” Cain knew he had committed a sin that could not be forgiven, and he did end up having to bear his sin, even though it was very great. The Hebrew word translated “forgiven” in the REV is nasa (#05375 נָשָׂא), and it can mean “to bear, carry,” “to lift up, be exalted,” or “to carry away, take away, forgive.” In Genesis 4:10 it should be “forgiven,” not “bear.” E. W. Bullinger in the text note of his Companion Bible translates this phrase as a question (“Is my iniquity too great to be forgiven?”), but there is no textual reason to translate the verse as a question, and beside that, Cain never asked for forgiveness; he tried to hide his sin and say he did not know where Abel was. George Lamsa translates the phrase accurately: “My transgression is too great to be forgiven” (The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, 1957).
The Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament produced about 250 BC, renders the phrase “My crime is too great for me to be forgiven” (Sir Launcelot L. Brenton, The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, Samuel Bagster and Sons, Limited, London, Gen. 3:13.). Also, the original translators of the 1611 King James Version put “forgiven” as a marginal reading in their Bible, which they did when they were not sure how to accurately translate a text. Although the actual 1611 KJV read (spelling as in 1611): “My punishment is greater, then I can beare,” the marginal note read (spelling as in 1611), “Or, my iniquite is greater, then that it may be forgiven” (The Holy Bible: 1611 Edition, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN) The Thomas Nelson 1611 Bible is a word-for-word reprint of the first edition of the Authorized Version, and in 1611, “then” had the meanings of both “then” and “than,” and the context revealed which sense it had. As the English language developed through the centuries and the word “than” came into common use, revisors went through and corrected the KJV so that it was easier to understand.
That Cain clearly stated he could not be forgiven is further supported by what he continued to say—four more statements of fact showing that he understood what he had done and its consequences, as we see in Genesis 4:14 (see commentary on Gen. 4:14).(top)
“Behold.” Of Cain’s four statements in Genesis 4:14, the first three are true. First, he was indeed driven from the “face” of the ground. The word “face” represents intimacy, a closeness of relationship. Scripture had told us earlier that the soil would not produce well for him. Second, Cain was hidden from the “face” of God, i.e., from an intimate relationship with Him. Many of the Devil’s people have a lot of “head knowledge” about God, but they do not really know Him and they cannot be intimate with Him. This explains why there are religious leaders in Christ’s time as well as through the ages who seem to have theological knowledge but whose hearts are far from God. Third, Cain became a vagrant on the earth, someone who could not make a home on it and live a satisfied life.
Given the truth of the first three sentences, there is every reason to believe that Cain’s fourth statement, that he would be killed, would have also proven true if God had not intervened. But God did intervene, and Cain was able to go on living. Cain said, “whoever” found him would kill him. In these early generations after the Fall, mankind was not specifically commanded to police each other, as they were after the Flood, starting with Genesis 9:6. Nevertheless, people recognized good behavior and evil behavior, just as they do now. The sin of becoming a child of the Devil and having to prey on other people was so heinous that it would elicit a kind of vigilante action, by which good people would kill Cain due to the evil actions that would flow out of his evil nature. God intervened so that Cain and people like him would have a choice between good and evil, between God and the Devil, not that there is not justice for evil acts, but people are not executed simply for following the Devil (see commentary on Gen. 4:15).(top)
“Not so.” These words were apparently omitted from the Hebrew text in a copyist’s error, but they are preserved in the Septuagint, Aramaic, and Vulgate versions. Some English versions, including the REV, include them (cp. Douay-Rheims; ESV; NIV; NLT; NRSV; Rotherham; RSV).
“appointed a sign for Cain.” The “mark” on Cain has been very misunderstood. Taking time to examine specific words in Genesis 4:15 will help us understand what it is saying. Cain would have been killed for his high treason against God, but God intervened so that he would not be killed, and said, “Not so” (the words “Not so,” in many English versions are taken from the sense of the Hebrew text—see the note in Bullinger’s Companion Bible—and from the Septuagint, Aramaic, and Vulgate versions.)
To ensure His statement would come to pass, God established a pledge or sign on Cain’s behalf so that he would be protected from the immediate wrath of God and people, a wrath Cain deeply deserved. To understand that God established a sign or pledge for Cain, we must carefully examine the Hebrew text of Genesis 4:15. Many versions read, that God “put a mark on Cain,” but that is not the proper translation. For one thing, the word “put,” should, in this context, be translated “appointed” or “established.” The Hebrew word is sim (#07760 שִׂים) and it occurs more than 550 times in the Old Testament. It has a large semantic range and is translated more than 30 different ways in the KJV. Its meanings include “appoint,” “ordain,” and “establish,” and in the context of the “mark” on Cain it is best understood as “appoint” or “establish.” God did not “put” a mark on Cain, but rather “established” a sign or pledge for him.
Also, the word usually translated “on,” should be “for,” meaning that God established a sign for Cain, i.e., on his behalf to keep him from being killed. The Hebrew prefix translated “on” in the phrase “mark on Cain” (NIV) is the Hebrew letter “L,” a prefix so flexible that the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon devotes eight and a half pages to defining it. Nevertheless, the first definition they give is, “to, towards, for,” and that is its meaning in this verse. It was a pledge or sign to or for Cain, i.e., to him and on his behalf.
Also, the word “mark” is not a physical mark. The Hebrew word is oth (#0226 אוֹת), and it means a sign, pledge, or token, not a physical mark like a tattoo or something. For example, the stars in the heavens are to be for “signs,” that is, they are to point to times and seasons (Gen. 1:14), they are not “marks” in heaven. If God had meant to say there was a physical mark on Cain, the Hebrew text would have employed the word tav as it does in Ezekiel 9:4 (“Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark (tav) on the foreheads of those who grieve”) or perhaps kethobeth, an imprinted writing (Lev. 19:28). The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament done about 250 BC, supports the fact that this was not a “mark.” The Greek word is semeion, which means a sign, token, or indication by which something is known. So, for example, when Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana, it was referred to as a “sign” (John 2:11; sometimes mistranslated as “miracle”), because it pointed to him as Messiah. Had the translators of the Septuagint thought the “mark” on Cain was physical, they would have used charagma, a physical mark or impression, like the “mark” of the beast (Rev. 13:17).
No physical mark would keep Cain from being killed. Even if the mark were self-explanatory, like a sign saying, “Do not kill,” there would be no guarantee people would obey it. Furthermore, the “mark” would not only have to keep Cain from being killed by others, but it would have to protect all those who through the ages would follow “the way of Cain” (Jude 11) and become children of the Devil. Finally, if the “mark” on Cain were a physical mark it would be easy to tell those people who were children of the Devil—just look for the mark on them!
Properly rendered, the Hebrew text should be translated, “And the LORD established a pledge for Cain (i.e., on Cain’s behalf), or perhaps, “And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain,” (as per the English Revised Version). The Bible does not tell us exactly what the sign or pledge that God established is, but it kept Cain and others who committed the unforgivable sin from being killed by all who meet them.
It is very important that we understand why God interceded for Cain. If Cain’s act of taking the Devil as his lord was worthy of death, why would God delay that judgment and justice? The answer is that God has given mankind genuine freedom of will, and He allows people to choose how and whom they worship, even if those choices are evil. God’s fairness allows people who choose not to worship Him to continue to live. If everyone who chose not to worship God was executed, then God would in essence be saying, “You have two choices: worship Me or die.” Then many who “chose” to worship God would be doing so out of fear of punishment instead of love for Him. God wants people to worship Him out of their love for Him, not because they are afraid that if they do not worship Him then they will suffer horrible consequences. God is love, and love is righteous and just, so He allows people to turn away from Him even if in doing so they support His archenemy. Of course, there will be a Day of Judgment when everyone will be rewarded or punished for what they have done, but the wicked are so arrogant that they are content to remain wicked, denying their wickedness, and/or denying the Judgment.(top)
|Gen 4:16||- (top)|
“knew.” The word “know” is the common idiomatic word used for sexual intercourse. See commentary on Genesis 4:1.
“Cain knew his wife.” According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were the first two humans created, and Cain was the first son, so the question often arises, “Where did Cain’s wife come from?” The answer is that Adam and Eve had many children, and in those early years, and actually for many years after that, people married their siblings, their brothers and sisters, or married close relatives. The same thing happened after Noah’s Flood, and inter-family marriage still occurs today in some isolated family clans.
Genesis 5:4 says that Adam “became the father of sons and daughters,” and since those sons and daughters were the only people on earth in those early days, they married each other. The early chapters of Genesis spend a lot of time on genealogies and who gave birth to whom, and that in part explains where the people groups that populated the earth before the Flood, which we know little about, came from. The same emphasis on who gave birth to whom occurs again after the Flood when only Noah’s family was left on earth (Gen. 10:1-32; 11:10-30). Even Abraham, who lived more than 300 years after the Flood, married his half-sister. It was not until the Law of Moses was given to the Jews that God stated that people should not marry their close relatives, and the reason for that law was because people were in fact marrying their close relatives (Lev. 18:6; 20:17).
It is also important to note that when Genesis 4:17 says that Cain had a wife, there is no mention of the amount of time that had passed between Cain killing Abel and living in the land of Nod, and his taking a wife. In the days before the Flood people lived for hundreds of years, and so many years could have passed before Cain married. In fact, women have always married early in the biblical world, and given that fact, if Cain was 100 before he married, he could have married a woman that was five or more generations removed from Adam. That would have not been necessary, of course, Cain could have married a daughter of Adam and Eve that was closer to his age—the Bible just does not say.
A principle of correct Bible Interpretation is that if something was commonly done, or if logic and wisdom lead to a specific conclusion, then that conclusion is usually valid. For example, there are generally no references in the Bible to anyone going to the bathroom, but that did not mean they didn’t, it just means that it was so logical and necessary that there was no need to specifically mention it, and that same principle applies to a myriad of ordinary customs that were not written about.
Genesis is clear that Adam and Eve were the first two humans and they had sons and daughters who then married. In those early generations they married their relatives for the simple reason that there was no one else to marry. Over 2,000 years after God created Adam and Eve, He commanded in the Mosaic Law not to marry a close relative. There is no need to speculate and invent all manner of unbiblical ideas about other races on earth at the time of Adam and Eve, which contradicts the clear and simple Genesis account. Cain married his sister or a close relative, as did everyone else in those early years after creation. This is so logical that it is not specifically mentioned, just as it is not mentioned for the grandchildren of Noah.(top)
|Gen 4:18||- (top)|
|Gen 4:19||- (top)|
“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 or 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” (Manners and Customs, # 1).
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].(top)
|Gen 4:21||- (top)|
|Gen 4:22||- (top)|
|Gen 4:23||- (top)|
|Gen 4:24||- (top)|
“knew.” The word “know” is the common idiomatic word used for sexual intercourse. See commentary on Genesis 4:1.(top)
|Gen 4:26||- (top)|