GENESIS 4:1-26


When we look at a picture or a landscape, we first let our eyes sweep over the entire panorama, thus soaking up the design in one initial glance.  Then after gaining an initial impression, we proceed to look at it more intently, noticing details and specifics.  In this way, we are able to appreciate the picture more fully when we have first considered it as a whole.


The same is true of Bible study.  As we begin to study any given passage of the Bible, it will become more meaningful if we first look at the passage as a whole and in contrast to the surrounding chapters.  In the case of Genesis 4, it is best understood in the light of the previous chapter.


Genesis 3

Genesis 4

Opens with Adam and Eve in the garden

They give birth to Cain and Abel outside the garden

As the chapter opens, Adam and Eve are innocent

As the chapter begins, Cain and Abel are sinners

Satan comes to the woman and speaks with her openly

Satan is tempting Cain in the background where we cannot see him.  This attack is much more subtle than the one against Eve

Adam and Eve’s sin was in disobeying God by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil

Cain’s sin is threefold:

• He offers an unacceptable sacrifice

• He becomes angry and jealous

• He murders his brother

God seeks out Adam and Eve and interrogates them until they admit their guilt

God seeks out Cain and interrogates him, but he still refuses to acknowledge his guilt

__brdrs The earth is cursed as a result of Adam’s sin

The earth no longer yields it increase for Cain

The chapter ends in Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden

The chapter ends in Cain’s banishment to the land of Nod


What we see is that the trend of sin that was begun with the fall in the garden would now continue to spread along with the growth of humanity.




            Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.” (Genesis 4:1).


The old King James Version translates this idiom literally when it says that Adam knew Eve his wife.  Whereas they were previously the only two members of the human race, their union now brought forth offspring.


The name of Cain means “gotten” or “possession.”  Eve named Cain as a celebration of his birth and a recognition that he was a gift.  I can still recall when my daughter was born.  As I stood there looking at her behind the glass, I was impressed by the fact that she had just the right number of arms and legs.  Her eyes and mouth and nose were all in the right places.  Her nose was lined up in the center of her face.  She gave an audible indication that her lungs were in working order.


I am certain that Eve looked upon the newborn baby and was impressed.  This was a man!  As impressive as this would have been, another aspect must have also occurred to Eve.  It was that she had been given a promise regarding the seed of the woman and now she had given birth to an offspring.  Could this be the promised seed?  Was this the one through whom the promise would be fulfilled?  There is an interesting contrast to be seen between Cain and the Messiah.



Jesus Christ

Brought an unworthy sacrifice

He was the worthy sacrifice

He offered a sacrifice that did not involve the shedding of blood

He was the sacrifice who shed His own blood

He because angry and jealous

He prayed for the forgiveness of those who wronged Him

He murdered his brother

He gave His life to make us His brothers


Jesus was the ultimate son of Adam who gave Himself for His brothers, laying down His own life in our place that we might live in His place.  Whereas Cain offered an unbloody sacrifice that was rejected, Jesus offered Himself as the sacrifice that was accepted by God.





            And again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. (Genesis 4:2).


The name Abel means “vanity” or “emptiness.”  It is the same word that is used throughout Ecclesiastes to describe the emptiness of life without God. By contrast with the birth of Cain and the emphasis placed upon his name, there is no mention of such celebration when we come to Abel.  He is just born.  There is no special mention of how he came to be named.


That often happens with firstborn and second born.  There are hundreds of photos taken of the firstborn child.  His first step.  His first haircut.  His first words.  By the time the second born child comes along, the camera is broken.


Cain and Abel were brothers.  They were the first brothers ever to be born.  Sons of Adam and Eve, they had the whole world before them.  We don’t know much about their upbringing or their early life, but we do know that there came a time when they each sought to brings an offering to the Lord.


These two are seen in contrast to one another.




Disobedient to authority

Obedient to authority

A sinful man

A sinful man

Rejection of God’s grace

Faith in God


Notice that body Cain and Abel were sinful men.  A sacrifice was required of both of them because they both needed a Savior.  The difference is that one came in faith to the Lord while the other was rejected because of his unbelief.





            Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. 4 And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. (Genesis 4:2-4a).


Cain and Abel each felt it important to bring an offering to the Lord.  We do not know from where they got this idea.  Perhaps they recognized the truth that the increase we receive from our labors comes ultimately from the Lord.  On the other hand, the Hebrew phrase translated “in the course of time” means literally, “at the end of days” and signifies what might have been a particular terminus quo that had been established by the Lord.


It was only natural that each would bring an offering that was based upon his particular chosen profession.


           Abel was a keeper of flocks,


           Cain was a tiller of the ground.


These were both honorable professions and each brought a sacrifice from the area of his own chosen profession.  The results of those offerings were quite different.





            And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:4-5).


Scholars have long discussed why God rejected Cain while accepting the sacrifice of Abel.  A number of reasons have been suggested.


·        Cain's offering was of the fruit of the ground and the previous chapter of Genesis speaks of how the ground had been cursed.  The problem with such a position is that we read later in the Bible of good and legitimate offerings from the ground such as the firstfruits and meal offerings.


·        It has been pointed out that Cain's offering was a bloodless offering.  While this is true, there were other bloodless offerings that were acceptable to the Lord, although they were not offerings for atonement for sin.  It might be argued that the pattern for a blood offering had been set by the making of coats of skin in the previous chapter, but nothing is specifically said of this in the context of the Genesis account.


·        Cain's offering was not accompanied by an attitude of love and faith.  This is suggested by the words of the Lord in verse 7, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”


It is possible that EACH of these reasons was at least one of the reasons for the rejection of Cain’s sacrifice.  However, it is the last that is suggested by the New Testament commentary given in Hebrews:


            By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4).


What made Abel’s offering “a better sacrifice than Cain”?  The writer to the Hebrews makes no mention here about the differences between a bloody versus and unbloody sacrifice.  Rather he points to the fact of Abel’s faith as being the determining factor.  Further testimony of this is seen in John’s first epistle.


            For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. (1 John 3:11-12).


John describes Cain as being “of the evil one” and that “his deeds were evil.”  This points to the character of Cain as being the deciding factor in God’s rejection of him.


This raises an important lesson.  It is possible to be outwardly religious and at the same time to be inwardly far away from God.  Jesus often accused the Pharisees of this.  They excelled at outward religious practices, but their hearts and attitudes were quite different.  Cain had gone through an outward religious practice of bringing an offering to the Lord, but he had a problem with an inner attitude that came to the surface when his offering was rejected.


How did Cain and Abel know that one offering had been accepted while the other had been rejected?  The book of Genesis does not tell us.  Some have thought that it was through an act of God whereby fire came and consumed the approved offering.  Such a thing took place on a number of different occasions.


           Gideon was instructed to prepare an offering and to lay it upon a rock.  When he had done this, the angel of the Lord touched it with a staff and fire arose out of the rock and consumed the offering (Judges 6:17-21).


           On one occasion when Moses and Aaron had been in the tabernacle and had returned to bless the people, fire came and consumed the offering on the altar (Leviticus 9:24).


           When David built and altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices, the Lord responded by sending fire onto the offerings (1 Chronicles 21:26).


           At the dedication of the temple, after Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices (2 Chronicles 7:1).


           When Elijah prayed before all of Israel on Mount Carmel, God showed His presence by sending fire down from heaven and consuming the offering (1 Kings 18:36-39).





            Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7).


The Hebrew word for anger in this instance is a general word for anger and carries the idea of kindling a fire.

The Lord comes and questions Cain.  This is a rhetorical question.  It does not really require an answer.  It is not as though God is puzzled by Cain’s actions.  The Lord knows and understands what is in the hearts of men.  The question is for Cain’s benefit.  It is asked to call him to a change of attitude.


There is also a warning here.  It is that sin is crouching at the door.  Sin is pictured like some wild beast that is waiting around the corner, seeking to pounce upon its prey.  This is reminiscent of how Jesus describes Himself in the letter to Laodicea as He stands at the door and knocks.


Unfortunately, Cain did not heed the warning from God.  Instead he allowed his anger to go unchecked and it was not long before it boiled over into a murderous rage.   This is the first recorded instance of anger in the Bible.





            And Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:8).

It is ironic that Cain kills Abel when his sacrifice was such that it did not involve the killing of even an animal.  If Cain’s sin involved a refusal to offer an animal sacrifice, then the subsequent taking of Abel’s life is an added irony.


Cain became the first murderer.  Instead of dealing with the problem of his anger, he allowed it to flow out unrestrained.  Instead of repenting of his inner attitude and confessing his sin, he allowed it to remain and to grow until overflowed into outright murder.


Throughout this chapter we see a continuing trend as Cain’s attitude against God gives way to a wrong action that is met with a divine correction.  It really began with that inner attitude that caused Cain to offer a wrong sacrifice.  It began with something that was within Cain from the beginning.  It began with his self will.


Sin invariably begins with an inner attitude that underlies the outward action of the outward sin.  At any point along the way, Cain could have broken from this destructive cycle through confession of his sin and repentance and a return to the Lord.  Instead, he continues to spiral downward throughout this entire chapter.  This is seen in the ensuing verses when the Lord comes to question Cain.


Cain’s spiraling sin is echoed in our own lives when we continue in sin and do not repent and return at the earliest opportunity.  This serves as a reminder to us to keel short accounts with God and to be purposeful in our ongoing repentance.





            Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9).


The Lord directs a question to Cain.  We are not to assume from this question any lack of God’s knowledge of the events that had transpired.  The questioning does not take place for God’s benefit or because of God’s ignorance of that which had taken place.  God knew what would be the outcome of these events before Cain and Abel were even bonr.


The questioning takes place for Cain’s benefit.  The Lord is giving Cain the opportunity to repent of His sin and to seek forgiveness.  This is similar to God’s questioning of Adam and Eve in the garden.


This verse stands at the pivot of a chiastic pattern.  Everything that come before leads up to this question and everything subsequently echoes with those events that brought us to this point.  This verse is the pivotal point of the story.


Adam and Eve give birth to Cain and Abel (4:1-2)



Cain Rejected: Sacrifice no good (4:3‑5)



Cain "Downcast" over sacrifice rejection (4:5b)



Cain warned of sin (4:7)



In the field: Cain kills Abel (4:8)


God: “Where is your brother?” (4:9)


In the field: Brother’s blood cries out (4:10)


Cain cursed because of sin (4:11)



Cain "Downcast" over punishment (4:13-15)



Cain Rejected: Out of the Lord's presence (4:15)


Cain and his wife give birth to Enoch (4:17)



God comes to Cain to question him concerning his sin in the same way that God came to Adam and Eve in the garden after they had sinned.  The fact of God’s coming is a sign of GRACE.  He comes and He questions Cain to give Cain the opportunity to confess and repent of his sin.


It is the same thing that the Lord had done in the case of Adam and Eve.  Once they had sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit, the Lord had come and had questioned them.  History is now repeating itself in the echo of a continuing sin.


Genesis 3

Genesis 4

The Serpent comes and deceives Eve

God warns Cain that sin is crouching at the door

Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit

Cain murders his brother

Adam and Eve begin the cycle of sin

Cain continues the cycle of sin

God comes in the cool of the day to seek out and question Adam and Eve

God comes to seek out and question Cain about his brother

Adam and Eve are banished from the garden

Cain is banished to a foreign land


The point is that the fall is repeating itself in the next generation.  That which took place in the fall of mankind is perpetuated to ensuing generations.

The question Cain asks echoes back to us.  Do you see yourself as your brother’s keeper?


Cain’s reply is reflective of his own hardened heart:  Am I my brother's keeper?  The truth is that he has become his brother’s murderer when he should have been his brother’s keeper and guardian.  By contrast, Jesus became our keeper and our guardian and our savior, even at the expense of His own life.





            And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground. 11 And 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 shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth." (Genesis 4:10-12).


            ...and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24).

Notice the reference to better blood.  The blood of Abel gave testimony.  What did it cry?  It cried for justice.  While the blood of Abel called for justice, the blood of Jesus calls for mercy.

The blood of Abel is said to be calling from the ground.  The same ground that had been cursed in the previous chapter now bears testimony to the continuing curse of sin as the blood of righteous Abel has been spilled thereon.  Numbers 35:33 speaks of how innocent blood pollutes and defiles the land.  The ground is seen to be defiled as a result of the murder of Abel and this defilement has a subsequent result in how Cain will be able to work the land.


           The ground was already under a curse from the previous chapter.  It would require a labor and a struggle to bring forth food from the ground.


           Cain is cursed from the ground because of his defilement of that ground with the blood of his righteous brother.  As a result, even the labors and the struggles of the previous chapter will not be enough for him to gain a living through the cultivation of the ground.


Psalm 80:1 and 99:1 speak of the Lord being enthroned above the cherubim.  Though this points to the symbolism of the ark of the covenant, in the early days of Genesis, the cherubim were said to be stationed at the entrance of the garden.

           Cain will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.  Since he can no longer make a living by tilling and laboring and struggling with the ground, he will be forced to travel to other lands in order to make a living.


It would seem that both Cain and Abel and the community of mankind had originally elected to remain in the vicinity of Eden.  Though they had been expelled from the garden, they now lives in the area that was near to the garden.  They were outside the garden but still near to the presence of God.  But Cain would no longer be permitted to remain here.  He was now to become a wanderer from his fellow man and from the presence of God.





            And Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Behold, Thou hast driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me." (Genesis 4:13-14).


Cain’s appeal makes no mention of repentance over his deeds or sorrow for the death of Abel.  He is only concerned with what he considers to be the harshness of his punishment.  He is not sorry for his sin, but only sorry that he has been caught and that now he will have to suffer the consequences of his actions.


Cain expresses a fear of those who might seek to avenge the murder of Abel.  Who would be these hypothetical avengers?  Cain does not say, but they would presumably come from the ranks of any other future children of Adam and Eve.  Cain had not been overly concerned about taking his brother’s life, but now he is afraid that someone might come and take his own life.





            So the LORD said to him, "Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain, lest anyone finding him should slay him. (Genesis 4:15).


This mark is for Cain’s protection.  God’s work of protection on behalf of Cain is given on the basis of GRACE.  Cain does not deserve protection.  His actions have resulted in the death of his brother and he is deserving of death.


On the other hand, the laws of capital punishment had not yet been given.  They would be established in Genesis 9:6 following the flood but, for now, Cain will be permitted to live and he will even be protected.


The Bible does not tell us what this mark involved or how it appeared or even what part of Cain’s body bore the mark, though many have engaged in various sorts of speculation.  One reason for the Bible’s silence on this matter might be due to our tendency to label those today who might have a similar mark and think it a sign of their moral failings.





            Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16).


This reference to “the presence of the Lord” is another indication that the Lord had made His presence manifested outside the garden.  This may have been located at the entrance of the garden where the cherubim were stationed (Genesis 3:24).  This would have been the natural place for Cain and Abel to offer up their sacrifices.  But from this time on, Cain will be banished, not only from others of his family, but also from the presence of the Lord.


He travels to an area that is called Nod.  This is a play on words, for in verse 12 God had said that Cain would be a wanderer (Hebrew: Nad").  He is a wanderer who travels to the land of wandering.





            And Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son. 18 Now to Enoch was born Irad; and Irad became the father of Mehujael; and Mehujael became the father of Methushael; and Methushael became the father of Lamech. (Genesis 4:17-18).


Cain’s wife has not been mentioned prior to this point.  From where did she come?  We read in Genesis 5:4 that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters.  We can naturally assume that Cain took one of these other daughters to be his wife.  The laws against incest had not yet been given.  Even in Abraham’s day, a marital union between brother and sister was not unknown.


Cain leaves the presence of the Lord and the community of mankind that lives in the shadow of that presence to go to another land where he builds a city.  He has been banished from humanity, so he will form his own human society.



Significance of Name


“Gracious” or “Dedicated”


From the word for “city.”  It describes a city dweller, a “citizen.”


“Smitten of God”


“Who is a man of God?”


Meaning uncertain; possibly “to my own.”


It is noteworthy that there is some resemblance between these names and the names of the line of Seth as given in Genesis 5.  This similarity might suggest that there eventually came to be communication and correspondence between these two groups.





            19 And Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah. 20 And Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 And his brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.

            22 As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal‑cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron; and the sister of Tubal‑cain was Naamah. (Genesis 4:19-22).


Lamech marks the culmination of the line of Cain.  If Cain shows an expasion and a development of the sin of Adam and Eve, then Lamech shows an expansion and a development of the sin of Cain.  There is a lesson here for parents.  It is that your children will always take and develop the legacy you have given them.  We ought therefore to consider the legacy we are leaving and to be intentional about how we shape that legacy.


Lamech’s legacy begins with polygamy.  He takes for himself two wives.  This was contrary to the creation design.  God had not created Adam, Eve and Gertrude.  Though there was no law against polygamy, neither was it authorized or condoned.  The Mosaic law would warn the future kings of Israel against the multiplications of wives (Deuteronomy 17:17).


The Scriptures accurately record both the polygamy of Lamech as well as that of a number of the patriarchs, but they also tell of the family problems that were engendered by those relationships.


           Jealousy between the wives (Genesis 29-30; 1 Samuel 1:6).

           Trouble among the children (Genesis 37; Judges 9; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9).


We are not told that the polygamy of Lamech led to any specific problems, but we shall see in the next paragraph that his attitude toward others was not that of a godly man.  For now, we are given an overview of his children and of their accomplishments.






To bring or carry along

He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.


Ram’s horn

He was involved in music (from which we get our English word “Jubilee”).


Metal smith

The eastern Massoretes understood this to mean Tubal the metal worker. [1]

Iron (Barzel), on the other hand, is a more recent discovery.  Iron beads have been found in Egyptian jewelry as early as 3400 B.C. and is thought by many to have been used even earlier.  But it was not until 1400 that the Hittites developed a closely guarded monopoly of smelting the iron ore which they mined from the mountains of eastern Anatolia.



We can assume the attributes of physical beauty.


The reason for this genealogy is that we might have a snapshot of the characteristics of the descendants of Cain.  They were a civilized and a cultured people and perhaps even a religious people, but they were without the Lord.





23 And Lamech said to his wives,

"Adah and Zillah,

Listen to my voice,

You wives of Lamech,

Give heed to my speech,

For I have killed a man for wounding me;

And a boy for striking me;

24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold,

Then Lamech seventy‑sevenfold." (Genesis 4:23-24).


This is one of the first recorded songs in history.  It is the song of a boastful man.  While Cain had committed murder, Lamech had done much more.  He had killed a man and he had also written a song to commemorate his deed.  We are led to compare these two men.




Murdered his own brother

Killed a man for wounding him

God promised to protect Cain.

Lamech promises to protect himself.


Lamech’s song points out his world view.  He is a humanist.  He places his own well-being as supremely important.  His humanism does not give him a high view of his fellow man.  To the contrary, he presents a very low view of man.  He sees his fellow man as having no worth and no value.


There is a principle here.  It is only when you have a proper God concept that you can hold to a high view of man.  Rather than elevating man, humanism does the reverse.




The universe is self-existing and not created.

The universe was created by God and exists by His hand.

Man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.

Man is created in the image of God and therefore has value as he exhibits that image.

The nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.

Because He is the Creator, the Lord has the right and authority to establish the concepts of right and wrong which give us a basis for human values.


The humanist has no basis for right or wrong other than Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  Lamech demonstrates a similar philosophy by showing his fitness by killing a man who sought to harm him.





            And Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, "God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel; for Cain killed him." 26 And to Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 4:25-26).


Now our perspective shifts back to Adam and Eve.  They had given birth to Cain and Abel and we have traced the careers of both men.  It was a tragedy.  One son was killed and the other became a murderer.  Now we see the birth of another son.  This son brings a hope of good things to come.


           Seth: His name means “appointed” and he is given this name because God had appointed another offspring to replace the murdered Abel.  It is through Seth that the Messiah shall come.


There is a sense in which Seth can be seen as a type of Christ.  He is appointed by God to take the place of Abel who has been put to death.  In the same way, Christ was appointed to take our place and was even put to death in place of us.


           Enosh: This is the normal word for “mortal man” and is regularly found in the books of Job and Psalms (What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? - Psalm 8:4).  It could be that we are to see this name in contrast with Lamceh who had pointed to his own strength and self sufficiency.  While Lamech boasted of his strength, Seth points to his weakness.  It is only when you come to terms with your own weakness that you will be ready to call upon the name of the Lord.


It is now that we read that men began to call upon the name of the LORD.  This suggests that, even in the midst of the growing corruption of the descendants of Cain, there was a remnant who sought to follow the Lord.  The idea of calling upon the name of the Lord is a concept that we will trace throughout the rest of Genesis.  We will be able to gauge the spiritual temperature of Abraham and his descendants by how we see them call upon the name of the Lord.


We can do the same today.  How is your spiritual temperature?  You cannot measure it by knowledge or even by activities.  You can measure it by your prayer life and by how you call upon the name of the Lord.


To Thee I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

And call upon the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:17).


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[1]  Tubal-Cain was the forger of implements of bronze and iron.  Bronze (Nechosheth) is an alloy of copper mixed with about 10% tin which increases its strength (the greater the ratio of tin, the lower the melting point).  Examples of copper implements date back as early as 6000 B.C. while bronze artifacts have been dated at 3700 B.C.