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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 4

 

 

Verses 1-26


Cain and Abel. The Descendants of Cain

The narrative, which forms part of the Primitive document, impressively shows how sin, having once appeared, became hereditary in the human race, and speedily developed into its most revolting form. Its details enable us to see how jealousy, when indulged, leads to hatred and murder, and violates not only the ties of humanity but those of family affection; how the sinner casts off all regard for the truth and for his natural obligations; how progress in sin adds to the misery of man's lot; and 'conscience doth make cowards of us all.' The truths taught are, that God looks on the hearts of His worshippers, seeks to restrain the sinner ere he yields to passion, marks the death of the innocent, and graciously mitigates His punishment when His mercy is sought.

The story is but loosely attached to that of Paradise. It assumes that there is already a considerable population in the world, for no explanation is given whence Cain got his wife, or who were the people whose vengeance he feared. It presupposes the institution of sacrifice, of which nothing has been said previously, and of blood revenge. Various solutions of these difficulties have been suggested, but scholars now generally suppose that the story occupied originally a later position among the traditions than that in which we find it.

1. Adam] RV 'the man.' Cain] Heb. Kayin, 'a spear,' in Arabic 'smith' (see Genesis 4:22). Here connected with Kanah, 'gotten,' or 'acquired.' The Hebrews attached a great importance to names, which were mostly regarded as descriptive of some characteristic in the thing or person on whom they were bestowed. In the giving of a name, or in explaining one already given, strict regard was not paid to the actual derivation of the word. It was enough if the name resembled in any way a word which might be taken as applicable to the subject: cp. Abel, Noah (Genesis 5:29), Babel (Genesis 11:9), and the names of Jacob's sons in Genesis 29, 30. From the Lord] RV 'with the help of the Lord.'

2. Abel] perhaps from the Assyrian ahlu, 'a son.' Here it may be connected with Heb. hebel, 'a breath,' a fitting name for one whose life was so brief: see on Genesis 4:1.

3. On the nature and origin of sacrifice see Intro. to Leviticus.

4. And the Lord had respect, etc.] The characters of the brothers rather than their offerings are kept chiefly in view. Many, passages show that the decisive reason why a worshipper is accepted or rejected lies in the disposition with which he draws nigh (cp. 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11-17; Psalms 50:8-15; Hebrews 11:4). The manner in which God's approval was declared is not mentioned, but see Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 2 Chronicles 7:1. Possibly the contrast between his toilsome life in tilling the soil and the easier existence of Abel, makes Cain envious.

7. We may paraphrase thus, 'If thou doest well, is there not lifting up of the countenance, banishment of depression and gloom? And if thou doest not well, Sin is at the door, crouching in readiness to spring on thee and make thee a prey, but thou must resist its promptings' (RM 'Unto thee shall be its desire, but thou shouldest rule over it'). What is suggested is that, if a sullen and jealous disposition is harboured, it will only require opportunity to tempt to malice and cruelty.

8. And Cain told (RV) Abel] Heb. 'said unto' LXX and other versions insert here 'Let us go into the open country,' showing Cain's intention to murder. In his case the harboured jealousy tempted him not merely to take an opportunity of using violence, but to make one.

9. Cain sounds a much lower depth of depravity than his parents. Besides the guilt of murder, there is the impudent denial that he has harmed Abel, and the repudiation of responsibility for his safety.

10. Crieth unto Me] The thought of great evils crying to God is frequently met with in Scripture: cp. Genesis 18:20; Genesis 19:13. The ground, which has been unwillingly obliged to drink the blood of Abel, is represented as refusing to tolerate his murderer, or to make him an adequate return for his toil: cp. Job 16:18; Job 31:38-40. In Hebrews 12:24 the blood of Jesus, which appealed for men's pardon, is contrasted with that of Abel, which demanded retribution.

11. The earth] RV 'the ground.' Cain is banished from the ground which he had formerly tilled and had now polluted, to the wide world (Genesis 4:12), a sterner punishment than that of Adam and Eve.

14. From Thy face shall I be hid] Cain supposes that God's presence and protection are limited to his old home. Vagabond] RV 'wanderer.' Whosoever findeth me] See prefatory remarks.

15. Sevenfold] Vengeance should be taken upon seven of the murderer's family: cp. 2 Samuel 21:8. Set a mark upon Cain] RV 'appointed a sign for Cain.' Perhaps it was some token to assure him of safety, like the rainbow at the Flood. Others take it that Cain was marked in some way to show that he was under God's protection.

16. Went out from the presence of the Lord] from the land he had before inhabited. See on Genesis 4:14. Nod] The word, which means 'wandering,' is by some regarded as merely a figurative exprèssion for a nomadic life, but Cain appears to have built a city there (Genesis 4:17).

17-24. The descendants of Cain. In these vv. is traced the origin of the different forms of civilisation and culture. Their religious value lies in the fact that the inventions are attributed to men, whereas in heathen mythologies they were thought to be due to various deities.

It will be observed that great similarity exists between the names of the descendants of Adam in this chapter and those given in Genesis 5. The two accounts come from different documents, and although the names differ somewhat in form and order, it is now generally supposed that they are merely two versions of the same traditional list of the Patriarchs before the Flood. The most important difference is that, whereas in Genesis 5 Seth and Enos are given as the son and grandson of Adam, and Cainan (whom we may identify with Cain) appears as the great-grandson, in the present chapter Seth and Enos are put in a supplementary list (Genesis 4:25-26) and Cain appears as Adam's son. If the list in Genesis 5 is correct and the Cain of this chapter be identified with Cainan there, it is evident that there must have then existed a considerable population of his tribe. And this is indeed presupposed in Genesis 4:14 where Cain expresses his dread of Abel's avengers, and in Genesis 4:17 where he is said to have built a city.

17. Builded a city] The 'city' of course would be a collection of huts surrounded by a defensive palisade.

19. The first mention of polygamy in the Bible. The custom of having more than one wife does not seem to have been uncommon among the Hebrews, and we find legislation on the subject in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 but the divine intention was that a man should have but one wife: cp. Deuteronomy 2:24; Matthew 19:5.

20. The father] i.e. 'Originator'; the first to lead a pastoral life.

21. Organ] RV 'pipe.'

22. Tubal-cain] i.e. 'Tubal the smith': see on Genesis 4:1. An instructer of every artificer in] RV 'the forger of every cutting instrument of.' Brass] rather, 'copper' (RM), or bronze.

23. I have slain, etc.] RM 'I will slay a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me' On this rendering it would seem that Lamech, rejoicing, perhaps, in his son's invention of weapons, boasts that he would be able to amply repay any one who injured him. The words of Lamech are metrical and are the first instance of poetry in the Bible. Hebrew poetry does not depend on rhythm as with us, but in parallelism of ideas in each couplet, as may be traced in this instance; see Intro. to Psalms.

24. See Genesis 4:15 and note. 25, 26. A supplementary note mentioning the birth of Seth and Enos: see on Genesis 4:17. Seth] 'appointed'or 'substituted.' Enos] 'man.'

26. Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord] The Primitive or Jehovistic document uses Jehovah as the name of the God of Israel from the first; but the Priestly document speaks of the name being first revealed to Moses. See Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:2. What is here suggested is, either that Enos worshipped God as Jehovah (reading 'he began to call'), or that in his day men began to worship Jehovah by public invocation and sacrifice.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 4:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/genesis-4.html. 1909.

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