CAIN AND ABEL (Genesis 4:1–16)

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CAIN AND ABEL.—Gen. 4:1–16

Some Vocabulary First

4:1. קַיִן Qayin, (male) Cain: first son of Adam and Eve (Ge 4:1–25 passim+); also, a part of a compound name, Tubal-Cain. Cain. (ASV and RSV translate the same.) This is the name of Adam’s murderous son (cf. KD for fuller treatment). The root has a late (but clear) connection with metalworkers (G. A. Cooke, A Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903, pp. 286–87). Perhaps this explains its application to peoples of Abraham’s day (Gen 15:19). It occurs sixteen times of Adam’s son. Cf. qayin I, spear, and II, Kenite, Kenites, Kain. As is usually the case in popular etymologies, however, the proper name is probably not associated with this precise etymological root qyn “to forge,” but, as Gen 4:1 shows, by assonance and word play with another root, qānāʾ “to possess” or “to bring forth.”[1]

4:2. הֶבֶל (hebel) vapor, breath.

The denominative verb appears five times in the ot, four times in the Qal and once in the Hiphil (Jer 23:16). Of particular interest here are the parallel verses Jer 2:5 and II Kgs 17:15: They went after vanities and “became vain.” (NIV; “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”) Two inexorable principles are illustrated here: (1) every man takes on to some degree the character and nature of the God he worships; (2) the characteristic of all false gods is that they destroy their worshippers.[2]

4:3. מִנְחָה (minâ) meat offering, offering, present, gifts, oblation, sacrifice. (ASV uses “meal-offering.” RSV uses “cereal-offering.” Both use “tribute.”)

Scholarly opinion is divided as to the root of minâ. Some trace this feminine noun to a verbal root mn “to lead or guide.” Most, however, posit a Hebrew, root mn “to give.” Arabic manaa has the technical meaning “to lend someone something” (e.g. a she-camel, goat, sheep, or a parcel of land) for a limited period of time so that the borrower can have free use of the produce of the loan (e.g. the offspring, milk, crops, etc.), and then return the original property. The fruit then becomes a free gift. Snaith sees no occurrence of the word in Ugaritic, but UT 19: no. 1500 tentatively identifies at least one occurrences of mn in a tribute list (Text 137:38, not 137:28, as cited in UT) and another in the Anat/Baal Cycle in a parallel construction with “tribute” (AisWUS no. 1597 “gift.” “tribute”).

The word is used in secular contexts of gifts to superior persons, particularly kings, to convey the attitude of homage and submission to that person. In I Sam 10:27, the Israelites who despised Saul “brought him no present” (minâ), i.e. did not acknowledge the new king. Then, in I Kgs 4:21 [H 5:1], Solomon received tribute (minâ) from the kings of the nations he ruled. (LXX uses dōron about thirty times for minâ.) There are several other instances of this meaning, e.g., II Kgs 10:25; II Kgs 8:8–9; 17:4; 20:12; Isa 39:1.

The religious use of the term derives from the secular. Specifically, a minâ is a gift of grain, although Snaith seems to be correct in saying that since minâ originally meant gift or tribute. it could loosely be used in this sense even when it took on specific cultic meaning. Of particular interest in this connection is the distinction between zeba (q,v,) and minâ in I Sam 2:29; 3:14 and Isa 19:21; between ʿôlâ (q.v.) and minâ in Jer 14:12 and Ps 20:3 [H 4]; and between šelem (q.v.) and minâ in Amos 5:22. Cf. also (Gen 4:3–4. [Both Cain and Abel offered a minâ to the Lord (Gen 4:3–4). But whereas it is said of Abel that he offered the choicest portions of the animals to the Lord, an act reflecting his heartfelt commitment to him, it is merely said of Cain that he offered a minâ from the fruit of the ground. The Lord rejected this formality. Cain’s lack of true submission (note also his bloodless sacrifice) issued finally in sinful behavior (Gen 4:7f.). r.l.h.] These uses of minâ indicate that the term does not mean an animal sacrifice in the specific sense.

The cereal offering is defined in Lev 2:1–16 and 6:14–23 [H 7–16]. It could be in the form of raw grain in the sheaves, dry roasted grains coarsely crushed, ground into flour (wheat only; barley flour seems to have been reserved for the “jealousy offering” of Num 5:15, 25), or made into loaves or cakes and baked in an oven or panfried in oil. Frankincense and salt were also part of the prepared minâ, but no leaven or honey was to be added.

The minâ, offered every morning and evening, was a holy offering, eaten only by the priests, not shared with the worshipers. The idea of atonement is not specifically present in minâ, although that of propitiation certainly is. The offering of the new produce of the land along with ordinary leavened bread (Lev 23:16) indicates submission of the totality of the life of God’s people to the Great Suzerain.[3]

4:7. 638    חָטָא (ḥāṭāʾ) miss, miss the way, sin, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness.


638a       חֵטְא (ḥēṭʾ) sin.

638b         חַטָּא (aṭṭāʾ) sinners.

638c         חַטָּאָה (aṭṭāʾâ) sin, sinful thing.

638d         חֲטָאָה (ḥăṭāʾâ) sin, sin offering.

638e         חַטָּאת (aṭṭāʾt) sin, sin offering.

The root occurs about 580 times in the Old Testament and is thus its principle word for sin. The basic meaning of the root is to miss a mark or a way.[4]

Sin: (Heb. chattath; Gr. hamartia) Any spoken word (Job 2:10; Ps 39:1), wrong action (Lev. 20:20; 2 Cor. 12:21) or failing to act when one should have (Num. 9:13; Jam. 4:17), in mind and heart (Prov. 21:4; Rom. 3:9-18; 2 Pet 2:12-15) that is contrary to God’s personality, ways, will and purposes, standards, as set out in the Scriptures. It is also a major sin to lack faith in God, doubting in mind and heart, even subtly in our actions, that he has the ability to carry out his will and purposes. (Heb. 3:12-13, 18-19). It is commonly referred to as missing the mark of perfection. Sinner: (חָטָא chata ἁμαρτωλός hamartōlos) In the Scriptures “sinners” is generally used in a more specific way, that is, referring to those willfully living in sin, practicing sin, or have a reputation of sinning. – Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30; 7:37-39; John 9:16; Rom. 3:7; Gal. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 7:26; Jam. 4:8; 1 Pet 4:18; Jude 1:15.[5]

רָבַץ lie, crouch as an animal.


4:16. נֹוד Nod, flight, exile; r. flee.

This chapter is a continuation of the second document. Yet it is distinguished from the previous part of it by the use of the name Jehovah alone, and, in one instance, Elohim alone, to designate the Supreme Being. This is sufficient to show that distinct pieces of composition are included within these documents. In the creation week and in the judgment, God has proved himself an originator of being and a keeper of his word, and, therefore, the significant personal name Jehovah is ready on the lips of Eve and from the pen of the writer. The history of fallen man now proceeds. The first family comes under our notice.

Genesis 4:1  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 Now the man knew[6] Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain,[7] and said, “I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah.”

Genesis 4:1. Here the first husband and wife become father and mother. This new relation must be deeply interesting to both, but at first peculiarly so to the mother. Now was begun the fulfilment of all the intimations she had received concerning her seed. She was to have conception and sorrow multiplied. But she was to be the mother of all living. And her seed was to bruise the serpent’s head. All these recollections added much to the intrinsic interest of becoming a mother. Her feelings are manifested in the name given to her son and the reason assigned for it. She “bare Cain and said, I have gained a man from Jehovah.” Cain occurs only once as a common noun, and is rendered by the Seventy δόρυ, spear-shaft. The primitive meaning of the root is to set up, or to erect, as a cane, a word which comes from the root; then it means to create, make one’s own, and is applied to the Creator (Gen. 14:19) or the parent (Deut. 32:6). Hence, the word here seems to denote a thing gained or achieved, a figurative expression for a child born. The gaining or bearing of the child is therefore evidently the prominent thought in Eve’s mind, as she takes the child’s name from this. This serves to explain the sentence assigning the reason for the name. If the meaning had been, “I have gained a man, namely, Jehovah,” then the child would have been called Jehovah. If Jehovah had even been the emphatic word, the name would have been a compound of Jehovah, and either אישׁ man, or קָנָה gain, such as Ishiah or Coniah. But the name Cain proves קָנִיתִי I have gained to be the emphatic word, and therefore the sentence is to be rendered “I have gained (borne) a man (with the assistance) of Jehovah.”


The word “man” probably intimates that Eve fully expected her son to grow to the stature and maturity of her husband. If she had daughters before, and saw them growing up to maturity, this would explain her expectation, and at the same time give a new significance and emphasis to her exclamation, “I have gained a man (heretofore only women) from Jehovah.” It would heighten her ecstasy still more if she expected this to be the very seed that should bruise the serpent’s head.

Eve is under the influence of pious feelings. She has faith in God, and acknowledges him to be the author of the precious gift she has received. Prompted by her grateful emotion, she confesses her faith. She also employs a new and near name to designate her maker. In the dialogue with the tempter she had used the word God (אֱלֹהִים). But now she adopts Jehovah. In this one word she hides a treasure of comfort. “He is true to his promise. He has not forgotten me. He is with me now again. He will never leave me nor forsake me. He will give me the victory.” And who could blame her if she verily expected that this would be the promised deliverer who should bruise the serpent’s head?


Genesis 4:2  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 And again she bore[8] his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Genesis 4:2. His brother Abel. Abel means breath, vanity. Does a sense of the vanity of earthly things grow in the minds of our first parents? Has the mother found her sorrow multiplied? Has she had many daughters between these sons? Is there something delicate and fragile in the appearance of Abel? Has Cain disappointed a mother’s hopes? Some of all these thoughts may have prompted the name. There is something remarkable in the phrase “his brother Abel.” It evidently points with touching simplicity to the coming outrage that was to destroy the peace and purity of the first home.

The two primitive employments of men were the agricultural and the pastoral. Here is the second allusion to some use which was made of animals soon after the fall. Coats of skin were provided for the first pair; and now we have Abel keeping sheep. In the garden of Eden, where the tree of life was accessible, an exclusively vegetable diet was designed for man. Whether this continued after the fall, we are not informed. It is certain that man had dominion over the whole animal kingdom. It can scarcely be doubted that the outer coverings of animals were used for clothing. Animals are presently to be employed for sacrifice. It is not beyond the bounds of probability that animal food may have been used before the flood, as a partial compensation for the want of the tree of life, which may have been fitted to supply all the defects of vegetable and even animal fare in sustaining the human frame in its primeval vigor.


Man in his primitive state, then, was not a mere gatherer of acorns, a hunter, or a nomad. He began with horticulture, the highest form of rural life. After the fall he descended to the culture of the field and the tending of cattle; but still he had a home, and a settled mode of living. It is only by a third step that he degenerates to the wandering and barbarous state of existence. And only by the predominance of might over right, the selfish lust of power, and the clever combinations of rampant ambition, comes that form of society in which the highest state of barbaric civilization and the lowest depth of bondage and misery meet.

Genesis 4:3  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 And in the course of time[9] Cain brought to Jehovah an offering of the fruit of the ground.

Genesis 4:3. At the end of days. This may denote the end of the week, of the year, or of some longer period. The season of the year was probably the ingathering, when the fruits of the earth and the firstlings of the flock would come in, and when it was not unnatural for the first family to celebrate with a subdued thankfulness the anniversary of their creation. And the present occasion seems to have been the time when Cain and Abel, have arrived at the years of discretion and self-dependence, solemnly come forward with their first voluntary offerings to Jehovah. Hitherto they may have come under their parents, who were then the actual offerers. Now they come on their own account.


Here, accordingly, we ascend from the secular to the eternal. We find a church in the primeval family. If Cain and Abel offer to God, we may imagine it was the habit of their parents and has descended to them with all the sanction of parental example. But we may not venture to affirm this in all its extent. Parental example they no doubt had, in some respects; but whether Adam and Eve had yet ascended so far from the valley of repentance and humiliation as to make bold to offer anything to Jehovah, admits of question. Right feeling in the first offenders would make the confidence of faith very slow of growth. It is even more natural for their children, being one remove from the actual transgressors, to make the first essay to approach God with an offering.

Cain brings of the fruits of the soil. We cannot say this was the mere utterance of nature giving thanks to the Creator for his benefits, and acknowledging that all comes from him, and all is due to him. History, parental instruction, and possibly example, were also here to give significance to the act. The offering is also made to Jehovah, the author of nature, of revelation, and now, in man’s fallen state, of grace. There is no intimation in this verse of the state of Cain’s feelings towards God. And there is only a possible hint, in the “coats of skin,” in regard to the outward form of offering that would be acceptable. We must not anticipate the result.

Genesis 4:3-4 BDC: Why was Cain’s offering unacceptable to God?

Genesis 4:4-5  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And Jehovah had regard for Abel and his offering; 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.[10]

Genesis 4:5 BDC: Does God have respect for mankind?

Genesis 4:4-5. And Abel brought. Abel’s offering differs from that of his brother in outward form. It consists of the firstlings of his flock. These were slain; for their fat is offered. Blood was therefore shed, and life taken away. To us who are accustomed to partake of animal food, there may appear nothing strange here. We may suppose that each brother offered that which came to hand out of the produce of his own industry. But let us ascend to that primeval time when the fruit tree and the herb bearing seed were alone assigned to man for food, and we must feel that there is something new here. Still let us wait for the result.

And Jehovah had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. We have now the simple facts before us. Let us hear the inspired comment: “Ηίστει, by faith Abel offered unto God πλείονα θυσίαν a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (Heb. 11:4). There was, then, clearly an internal moral distinction in the intention or disposition of the offerers. Abel had faith,—that confiding in God which is not bare and cold, but is accompanied with confession of sin, and a sense of gratitude for his mercy, and followed by obedience to his will. Cain had not this faith. He may have had a faith in the existence, power, and bounty of God; but it wanted that penitent returning to God, that humble acceptance of his mercy, and submission to his will, which constitute true faith. It must be admitted the faith of the offerer is essential to the acceptableness of the offering, even though other things were equal.

But, in this case, there is a difference in the things offered. The one is a vegetable offering, the other an animal; the one a presentation of things without life, the other a sacrifice of life. Hence, the latter is called πλείων θυσία; there is more in it than in the former. The two offerings are therefore expressive of the different kinds of faith in the offerers. They are the thinking and exhibition in an outward symbol of the faith of each. The fruit of the soil offered to God is an acknowledgment that the means of this earthly life are due to him. This expresses the barren faith of Cain, but not the living faith of Abel. The latter has entered deeply into the thought that life itself is forfeited to God by transgression, and that only by an act of mercy can the Author of life restore it to the penitent, trusting, submissive, loving heart. He has pondered on the intimations of relenting mercy and love that have come from Jehovah to the fallen race and cast himself upon them without reserve. He slays the animal of which he is the lawful owner, as a victim, thereby acknowledging that his life is due for sin; he offers the life of the animal, not as though it were of equal value with his own, but in token that another life, equivalent to his own, is due to justice if he is to go free by the as yet inscrutable mercy of God.

Such a thought as this is fairly deducible from the facts on the surface of our record. It seems necessary in order to account for the first slaying of an animal under an economy where vegetable diet was alone permitted. We may go further. It is hard to suppose the slaying of an animal acceptable, if not previously allowed. The coats of skin seem to involve a practical allowance of the killing of animals for certain purposes. Thus we arrive at the conclusion that there was more in the animal than in the vegetable offering, and that more essential to the full expression of a right faith in the mercy of God, without borrowing the light of future revelation. Hence the nature of Abel’s sacrifice was the index of the genuineness of his faith. And Jehovah had respect unto him and his offering; thereby intimating that his heart was right, and his offering suitable to the expression of his feelings. This finding is also in keeping with the manner of Scripture, which takes the outward act as the simple and spontaneous exponent of the inward feeling. The mode of testifying his respect to Abel was by consuming his offering with fire, or some other way equally open to observation.

So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. A feeling of resentment, and a sense of disgrace and condemnation take possession of Cain’s breast. There is no spirit of inquiry, self-examination, prayer to God for light, or pardon. This shows that Cain was far from being in a right frame of mind.

Genesis 4:6-7  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 Then Jehovah said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will there not be a lifting up?[11] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 BDC: Why would the language, ‘sin is crouching at the door, its desire is for you,’ be used if, before the Flood, as animals only ate vegetation?

Genesis 4:6-7. Why are you angry? and why has your countenance fallen? Jehovah does not yet give up on Cain. In great mercy, he reasons with him. He puts a question which implies that there is no just cause for his present feelings. Neither anger at his brother because his offering has been accepted, nor anger in himself because his own has not, is a right feeling in the presence of the just and merciful God, who searches the heart. Submission, self-examination, and amendment of what has been wrong in his approach to God, alone benefit the occasion. To this, accordingly, Jehovah directs his attention in the next sentence.


If you do well, will there not be a lifting up? To do well is to retrace his steps, to consider his ways, and find out wherein he has been wrong, and to amend his offering and his intention accordingly. He has not duly considered the relation in which he stands to God as a guilty sinner, whose life is forfeited, and to whom the hand of mercy is held out; and accordingly he has not felt this in offering or given expression to it in the nature of his offering. Yet Jehovah does not immediately reject him, but with long-suffering patience directs his attention to this, that it may be amended. And on making such amendment, he holds out to him the clear and certain hope of acceptance still. But he does more than this. As Cain seems to have been of a particularly hard and unheedful disposition, he completes his expostulation, and deepens its awful solemnity, by stating the other alternative, both in its condition and consequence,—

And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Sin past, in its unanswered and unacknowledged guilt; sin present, in its dark and stubborn passion and despair; but, above all, sin future, as the growing habit of a soul that persists in an evil temper, and therefore must add sin unto sin, is awaiting you at the door, as a crouching lion seeking his prey. As one lie borrows an endless train of others to keep up a vain appearance of consistency, so one sin if not repented of and forsaken involves the dire necessity of plunging deeper and deeper into the gulf of depravity and retribution. This dread warning to Cain, expressed in the mildest and plainest terms, is a standing lesson written for the learning of all mankind. Let him who is in the wrong retract at once and return to God with humble acknowledgment of his own guilt, and unreserved submission to the mercy of his Maker; for to him who perseveres in sin there can be no hope or help. Another sentence is added to give intensity to the warning,—

Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” This sentence has all the pithiness and familiarity of a proverb. It has been employed before, to describe part of the tribulation the woman brought upon herself by disobedience, namely, the forced subjection of her will to that of her husband in the fallen state of humanity (Gen. 3:16). It is accordingly expressive of the condition of a slave under the hard bondage and arbitrary caprice of a master and a tyrant. Cain is evidently the master. The question is, Who is the slave? To whom do the pronouns “his” and “him” refer? Manifestly, either to sin or to Abel. If to sin, then the meaning of the sentence is, the desire, the entire submission and service of sin will be yielded to you, and you will, in fact, make yourself master of it. Your case will be no longer a heedless ignorance, and consequent dereliction of duty, but a willful overmastering of all that comes by sin, and an unavoidable going on from sin to sin, from inward to outward sin, or, in specific terms, from wrath to murder, and from disappointment to defiance, and so from unrighteousness to ungodliness. This is an awful picture of his fatal end, if he do not instantly retreat. But it is necessary to deal plainly with this dogged, vindictive spirit, if by any means he may be brought to a right mind.


If the pronouns be referred to Abel, the meaning will come to much the same thing. The desire, the forced compliance, of your brother will be yielded to you, and you will rule over him with a rigor and a violence that will terminate in his murder. In violating the image of God by shedding the blood of your brother, you will be defying your Maker, and fiercely rushing on to your own downfall. Thus, in either case, the dark doom of sin unforsaken and unremitted dooms fearfully in the distance.

The general reference to sin, however, seems to be the milder and more soothing form of exclamation. The special reference to Abel might only exasperate. It appears, moreover, to be far-fetched, as there is no allusion to his brother in the previous part of the address. The boldness of the figure by which Cain is represented as making himself master of sin, when he with reckless hand grasps at all that comes by sin, is not unfamiliar to Scripture. Thus the doer of wickedness is described as the master of it (Eccl 8:8). On these grounds we prefer the reference to sin, and the interpretation founded on it.

There are two other expositions of this difficult sentence which deserve to be noticed. 1st. “And as to thy brother, unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him with all the right of the first born.” But (1) the reference to his brother is remote; (2) the rights of primogeniture are perhaps not yet established; (3) the words do not express a right, but an exercise of might against right arising in a fallen state (Gen. 3:16); (4) the Judge of all the earth is not wont to guarantee the prerogatives of birth to one who is in positive rebellion against him, but, on the other hand, he withdraws them from the unworthy to confer them on whom he will. For these reasons we conceive this exposition is to be rejected. 2d. “And unto thee shall be sin’s desire; but thou shalt overcome it.” But (1) the parallelism between the two members of the sentence is here neglected; (2) a different meaning is assigned to the words here and in Gen. 3:16, (3) the connection between the sentence thus explained and what goes before is not clear; (4) the lesson taught is not obvious; and (5) the assurance given is not fulfilled. On these grounds we cannot adopt this explanation.

The above address of Jehovah to Cain, expressed here perhaps only in its substance, is fraught with the most powerful motives that can bear on the mind of man. It holds out acceptance to the wrong doer, if he will come with a broken heart and a corresponding expression of repentance before God, in the full faith that he can and will secure the ends of justice so that he can have mercy on the penitent. At the same time it points out, with all clearness and faithfulness to a soul yet unpracticed in the depths of iniquity, the insidious nature of sin, the proneness of a selfish heart to sin with a high hand, the tendency of one sinful temper, if persisted in, to engender a growing habit of aggravated crime which ends in the everlasting destruction of the soul. Nothing more than this can be done by argument or reason for the warning of a wrong doer. From the mouth of the Almighty these words must have come with all the evidence and force they were capable of receiving.

Genesis 4:8  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 Cain said to Abel his brother. “Let us go out into the field.”[12] And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

Genesis 4:8, 12-13 BDC: Why did Cain not receive capital punishment for the murder he committed?

Genesis 4:8. Cain said to Abel his brother. Cain did not act on the divine counsel. He did not amend his offering to God, either in point of internal feeling or external form. Though one speaks to him from heaven he will not hear. He conversed with Abel his brother. The topic is not stated. The Septuagint supplies the words, “Let us go into the field.” If in walking side by side with his brother he touched upon the divine communication, the conference did not lead to any better results. If the divine expostulation failed, much more the human. Perhaps it only increased his irritation. When they were in the field, and therefore out of view, he rose up against his brother and slew him. The deed is done that cannot be recalled. The motives to it were various. Selfishness, wounded pride, jealousy, and a guilty conscience were all at work (1 John 3:12). Here, then, is sin following upon sin, proving the truth of the warning given in the merciful forbearance of God.

Genesis 4:9  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 Then Jehovah[13] said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 4:9. Where is Abel your brother? The interrogatory here reminds us of the question put to the hiding Adam, “Where art thou?” It is calculated to strike the conscience. The reply is different from that of Adam. The sin has now advanced from hasty, incautious yielding to the tempter, to reiterated and deliberate disobedience. Such a sinner must take different ground. Cain, therefore, attempts to parry the question, apparently on the vain supposition that no eye, not even that of the All-seeing, was present to witness the deed. “I know not.” In the madness of his confusion he goes further. He disputes the right of the Almighty to make the demand. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” There is, as usual, an atom of truth mingled with the amazing falsehood of this surly response. No man is the absolute keeper of his brother, so as to be responsible for his safety when he is not present. This is what Cain means to insinuate. But every man is his brother’s keeper so far that he is not himself to lay the hand of violence on him, nor suffer another to do so if he can hinder it. This sort of keeping the Almighty has a right to demand of every one,—the first part of it on the ground of mere justice, the second on that of love. But Cain’s reply betrays a desperate resort to falsehood, a total estrangement of feeling, a quenching of brotherly love, a predominance of that selfishness which freezes affection and kindles hatred. This is the way of Cain (Jude 11).

Genesis 4:10  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.

Genesis 4:10. What have you done? Jehovah now charges him with his guilt: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” In the providence of God, blood has a voice crying to him to which he cannot but give heed. It is vain, then, to attempt concealment.

Genesis 4:11-12  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
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 fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”

Genesis 4:11-12. The curse (Gen. 9:25, n.) which now fell on Cain was in some sense retributive, as it sprang from the soil which had received his brother’s blood. The particulars of it are the withdrawal of the full strength or fruitfulness of the soil from him, and the degradation from the state of a settled dweller in the presence of God to that of a vagabond in the earth. He was to be banished to a less productive part of the earth, removed from the presence of God and the society of his father and mother, and abandoned to a life of wandering and uncertainty. The sentence of death had been already pronounced upon man.

Genesis 4:13-14  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 Cain said to Jehovah, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

Genesis 4:13-14. My punishment is greater than I can bear. To bear iniquity is in Hebrew phrase to undergo the punishment of it. And the prospect of this, as it presents itself to the eyes of Cain, is so appalling that he shrinks from it as intolerable. To be driven from the face of the soil, inhabited by the other surviving members of the human family, to an unknown and therefore terrible region; to be hidden from the face of God, who manifested himself still to the race of Adam in their present abode; to be a vagabond and a fugitive in the earth, far away from the land of his birth; and to be liable to be slain in just revenge by anyone who should find him,—such is the hard fate he sees before him. It is dark enough in itself, and no doubt darker still in the exaggeration which an accusing conscience conjures up to his imagination. The phrase, everyone finding me, implies that the family of Adam had now become numerous. Not only sons and daughters, but their children and grandchildren may have been growing up when Cain was sent into exile. But in his present terror even an excited fancy suggested an enemy at every turn.

Young Christians

Genesis 4:15  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 So Jehovah said to him, “Not so![14] Whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And Jehovah put a mark on Cain so that no one finding him would slay him.

Genesis 4:15 BDC: – How did God “put a mark on Cain”?

Genesis 4:15. The reply of Jehovah is fitted to quell the troubled breast of Cain. Therefore. Because your fears of what you deserve go beyond what it is my purpose to permit, I give thee assurance of freedom from personal violence. To be avenged seven-fold is to be avenged fully. Cain will no doubt receive even-handed justice from the Almighty. The assurance given to Cain is a sign, the nature of which is not further specified.

This passage unfolds to us a mode of dealing with the first murderer which is at first sight somewhat difficult to be understood. But we are to bear in mind that the sentence of death had been already pronounced upon man, and therefore stood over Adam and all his posterity, Cain among the rest. To pronounce the same sentence therefore upon him for a new crime, would have been weak and unmeaning. Besides, the great crime of crimes was disobedience to the divine will; and any particular form of crime added to that was comparatively unimportant. Wrong done to a creature, even of the deepest dye, was not to be compared in point of guilt with wrong done to the Creator. The grave element in the criminality of every social wrong is its practical disregard of the authority of the Most High. Moreover, every other sin to the end of time is but the development of that first act of disobedience to the mandate of heaven by which man fell; and accordingly every penalty is summed up in that death which is the judicial consequence of the first act of rebellion against heaven.


We are also to bear in mind that God still held the sword of justice in his own immediate hands and had not delegated his authority to any human tribunal. No man was therefore clothed with any right from heaven to call Cain to account for the crime he had committed. To fall upon him with the high hand in a willful act of private revenge, would be taking the law into one’s own hands, and therefore a misdemeanor against the majesty of heaven, which the Judge of all could not allow to pass unpunished. It is plain that no man has an inherent right to inflict the sanction of a broken law on the transgressor. This right originally belongs to the Creator, and derivatively only to those whom he has entrusted with the dispensation of civil government according to established laws.

Cain’s offences were great and aggravated. But let us not exaggerate them. He was first of all defective in the character of his faith and the form of his sacrifice. His carnal mind came out still more in the wrath and vexation he felt when his defective offering was not accepted. Though the Almighty condescends now to plead with him and warn him against persisting in impenitent silence and discontent, lest he should thereby only become more deeply involved in sin, he does not retreat, but, on the contrary, proceeds to slay his brother, in a fit of jealousy; and, lastly, he rudely and falsely denies all knowledge of him, and all obligation to be his protector. Notwithstanding all this, it is still to be remembered that the sentence of death from heaven already hung over him. This was in the merciful order of things comparatively slow of execution in its full extent, but at the same time absolutely certain in the end. The aggravation of the first crime of man by the sins of self-will, sullenness, envy, fratricide, and defiant falsehood, was but the natural fruit of that beginning of disobedience. It is accordingly visited by additional tokens of the divine displeasure, which manifest themselves in this life, and are mercifully calculated to warn Cain still further to repent.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Cain’s guilt seems now to have been brought home in some measure to his conscience; and he not only stands aghast at the sentence of banishment from the divine presence but instinctively trembles, lest, upon the principle of retributive justice, whoever meets him may strike him to the death, as he had done his brother. The long-suffering of God, however, interferes with preventing such a catastrophe and even takes steps to relieve the trembling culprit from the apprehension of a violent death. This leads us to understand that God, having formed a purpose of mercy toward the human family, was sedulously bent upon exercising it even towards the murderer of a brother. Hence, he does not punish his repeated crimes by immediate death, which would have defeated his design of giving him a long day of grace and opportunity to reflect, repent, return to God, and even yet offer in faith a typical atonement by blood for his sin. Thus the prohibition to slay him is sanctioned by a seven-fold, that is, an ample and complete vengeance, and a sign of protection mercifully vouchsafed to him. The whole dealing of the Almighty was calculated to have a softening, conscience-awakening, and hope-inspiring effect on the murderer’s heart.

Genesis 4:16  Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 Then Cain went out from the presence of Jehovah, and dwelt in the land of Nod,[15] east of Eden.

Genesis 4:16. The presence of Jehovah seems to have been at the entrance of the garden, where the cherubim were stationed. There, probably, the children of men still lingered in faith and hope before the Lord, whom they still regarded as their Maker and merciful Savior. They acknowledged his undeserved goodness in the form of sacrifice. The retreat of Cain from the scene of parental affection, of home associations, and of divine manifestation must have been accompanied with many a deep, unuttered pang of regret and remorse. But he has deeply and repeatedly transgressed, and he must bear the consequence. Such is sin. The sacred writer might have recorded many similar deeds of cruelty and bloodshed in the after-history of man. But it is the manner of Scripture to note the first example, and then to pass over its subsequent repetitions in silence unless a particular transaction has an important bearing on the ways of God with man.

By James G. Murphy and Edward D. Andrews


  • Edward D Andrews, BIBLE DIFFICULTIES: How to Approach Difficulties In the Bible, Christian Publishing House. 2020.
  • Edward D. Andrews, INTERPRETING THE BIBLE: Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Christian Publishing House, 2016.
  • Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982).
  • Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., “Appearance,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988).
  • Hermann J. Austel, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999).
  • Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
  • James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
  • John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1-4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).
  • John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
  • Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
  • Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. Big Book of Bible Difficulties, The: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. Kindle Edition.
  • Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Chronology, Old Testament,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
  • W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996).



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[1] Leonard J. Coppes, “2017 קַיִן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 797–798.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, “463 הָבַל,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 204.

[3] G. Lloyd Carr, “1214 מנח,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 514–515.

[4] G. Herbert Livingston, “638 חָטָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 277.

[5] Various original language words for sin and transgression.

  • Error: (עָוֹן awon; Gr. ἀνομία anomia; παρανομία paranomia) is found five times in the book of Lamentations. The Hebrew word awon essentially relates to the erring, acting illegally or wrongly. This aspect of sin refers to committing perverseness, wrongness, lawlessness, law-breaking, which can also include the rejection of the sovereignty of God. It is an act or a feeling that steps over the line of God’s moral standard, as something God forbids, or the person ignores carry out (doing) something that God requires, whether it be by one’s thoughts, feelings, speech, or actions. It also focuses on the liability or guilt of one’s wicked, wrongful act. This error may be deliberate or accidental; either willful deviation of what is right or unknowingly making a mistake. (Lev. 4:13-35; 5:1-6, 14-19; Num. 15:22-29; Ps 19:12-13) Of course, if it is intentional; then, the consequence is far more serious. (Num. 15:30-31) Error is in opposition to the truth, and those willfully sinning corrupt the truth, a course that only brings forth flagrant sin. (Isa 5:18-23) We can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Ex 9:27, 34-35; Heb. 3:13-15.
  • Transgression: (עָבוּר abur or עָבֻר abur; Gr. parabasis) Sin can take the form of a “transgression.” This is an overstepping, namely, to exceed a moral limit or boundary. Biblically speaking, this would be crossing the line and saying, feeling, thinking or doing something that is contrary to God’s personality, standards, ways, will and purposes, as set out in the Scriptures. It is breaking God’s moral law. – Num. 14:41; Deut. 17:2, 3; Josh. 7:11, 15; 1 Sam 15:24; Isa 24:5; Jer. 34:18; Rom. 2:23; 4:15; 5:14; Gal. 3:19; 1 Tim. 2:14; Heb. 2:2; 9:15.
  • Transgression: (Heb. pesha) is wantonness, crime, wrongdoing. One who violates a law, a duty, or a moral principle. An action or behavior that is contrary to a standard be it a human standard or divine, with emphasis on the rebellious nature of the wrong committed.
  • Trespass: (Gr. paraptōma) This is a sin that can come in the way of some desire (lusting), some thinking (entertaining a wrongdoing) or some action (carrying out one’s desires or thoughts that he or she has been entertaining) that is beyond or overstepping God’s righteous standards, as set out in the Scriptures. It is falling or making a false step as opposed to standing or walking upright in harmony with the righteous requirements of God.–Matt. 6:14; Mark 11:25; Rom. 4:25; 5:15-20; 11:11; 2 Cor. 5:19; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 1:7; 2:1, 5; Col 2:13.
  • Sinner: (חָטָא chata ἁμαρτωλός hamartōlos) In the Scriptures “sinners” is generally used in a more specific way, that is, referring to those willfully living in sin, practicing sin, or have a reputation of sinning. – Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30; 7:37-39; John 9:16; Rom. 3:7; Gal. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 7:26; Jam. 4:8; 1 Pet 4:18; Jude 1:15.
  • Evil Desire, lust, coveting, craving: (ἐπιθυμία epithumia) This is an inordinate, self-indulgent craving to have what belongs to another or engage in what is morally wrong, which displaces our affection for God. – Gal. 5:16; 1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:14.
  • Shameless Conduct, Sensuality, Debauchery, Promiscuity, Licentiousness, Lewdness: (ἀσέλγεια aselgeia) This is one who indulges in sensual pleasure without any regard for morality. This behavior is completely lacking in moral restraint, indulgence in sensual pleasure, driven by aggressive and selfish desires, unchecked by morality, especially in sexual matters. This refers to acts of conduct that are serious sins. It reveals a shameless, condescending arrogance, i.e., disregard or even disdain for authority, laws, and standards. – Mark 7:22; Rom. 13:13; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1 Pet. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:2, 7, 18; Jude 4.
  • Sexual Immorality: (Heb. זָנָה zanah; Gr. πορνεία porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality. – Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.
  • Shameful Behavior: (זִמָּה zimmah) This is wickedness, shameful behavior or conduct that is lewd, shameless regarding sexual behavior. (Lev. 18:17; 19:29; 20:14; Judges 20:6; Job 31:11; Jer. 13:27; Eze. 16:27) It can also refer to the evil thought process that one goes through in plotting their wickedness. (Ps 26:10; 119:150; Pro. 10:23; 21:27; 24:9; Isa 32:7; Hos 6:9) Finally, it can be the plans that result from thinking person’s evil desires. – Job 17:11.
  • Sin, Hardened by Deceitfulness of: (Gr. sklērynthē apatē hamartias) The sense of sklērynthē is stubborn or to be hardened. One is being stubborn and obstinate when it comes to the truth. The sense of apatē is deception. A person causes another to believe something that is not true by misleading or deceptive views. The sense of hamartias is sin, failure or falling short. Hamartia is anything that is not in harmony with or contrary to God’s personality, standards, ways, and will. This can be in word, deed, or failing to do what should be done, or in mind or heart attitude. – Heb. 3:13.

[6] Meaning Adam had sexual relations with Eve

[7] That is, gotten one

[8] That is, gave birth; Lit And she added to bear

[9] Lit of days

[10] Or his countenance fell

[11] This is a shortening of the Hebrew idiom “to lift up the face,” which means “to accept” favorably

[12] Likely Genesis 4:8 originally included two consecutive clauses that end with the expression “in(to) the field” (bassadeh). It is most likely that the scribe’s eye skipped over the earlier expression ending with the expression “into the field” to the same word in the second instance; therefore, accidentally omitting the quotation. Clearly, the LXX, as well as the SPSYR, and the VG have been useful in identifying this error in the Hebrew text. The odds are increased greatly that “let us go over into the field” was in the original because of it being found in such a wide number of versions, especially with the Septuagint being one of those versions.

[13] The Tetragrammaton, God’s personal name, יהוה (JHVH/YHWH), which is found in the Hebrew Old Testament 6,828 times.

[14] The BHS/MT, along with the KJV, ASV, NASB, and the LEB has the reading “Therefore whoever kills Cain.” This reading would suggest that God is agreeing with Cain that his punishment is too severe (vv. 13–14). On the other hand, we have a variant in the LXXSYR, and VG, along with the ESV, NIV, NRSV, REB, and the UASV that reads “Not so! Whoever kills Cain.” In this reading, God is correcting Cain’s fearful rant in his response, not dealing with his being expelled, telling him that his punishment is not too severe. The external evidence is found in such a wide number of versions (SYRVG), especially with the Septuagint being one of those versions.

[15] That is, wandering

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