In light of Gen 4:2 and other verses, how does Cain resemble Adam?

Like father, like son: they are both tillers of the ground. They are both warned against sin by God, but nevertheless commit grave sins. After an arraignment, a punishment is announced—in both cases, concerning the difficulty of their work in farming the land—and in the end, they are sent eastward out of God’s immediate presence.

Why did Cain and Abel make an offering to God in Gen 4:3-4?

We are not told. It is possible that they were taught to do so by God; it is not likely that they would decide to begin this practice in precisely this way without some direction, at least not if the practice were God’s will from the Fall. Since (as we will shortly see) they still seem to live near the presence of God, they might well look upon God as a worshiped grandfather figure, so that these would serve as gifts; but the word for “offering” and not “gift” is used, yet there is no explicit indication that the offering here serve as substitutionary atonement.

Was this in Gen 4:3-4 the first sacrifice?

Abel’s was the first thing in the Bible called an offering, and perhaps Abel’s was the first sacrifice described. It seems possible that Adam might have made some earlier and taught his sons, but that would seem to contradict a very telling verse found at the end of the chapter: “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Gen 4:26) But as to the first sacrifice, it is possible that God’s preparation of skin garments in Gen 3 for Adam and Eve also count as a kind of blood sacrifice.

Does the text here (Gen 4:3, 6) imply that Cain and Abel lived in or near the presence of the Lord? How is this possible?

Yes. They do not offer on an altar; they brought their offerings “unto the Lord.” Moreover, when the Lord “had not respect” for Cain, he is immediately aware of it, meaning the Lord must have done, or failed to do, something to indicate his displeasure. Finally, we have the Lord in direct conversation with Cain, and the matter is definitively settled with “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen 4:16). They did not live in the Garden, although they might well have lived east of the Garden while still in the land of Eden. When Cain is sent away, he goes to a different land, Nod, and so presumably not in a visiting distance of God. What is interesting here is that the Garden thus might have resembled in function the Holy of Holies of a temple, which Cain and Abel might approach, and out of which they might hear the voice of the Lord. It is probably no accident that the future tabernacle, and even more the various temples were decorated in ways that resembled the Garden—even down to the cherubim protecting the Holy of Holies.

Why should it be that God did not approve of Cain’s offering, while he did approve of Abel’s (Gen 4:4-5)?

As so much else in the Bible, this is left seemingly unexplained and mysterious, but in fact the reason is made quite clear by the context, both immediate and broader. There seem to be two reasons. First, the Lord could see into the mens’ souls. He presumably could see that Cain was envious, vindictive, and violent. We are told that God wants “sacrifices of righteousness” (Ps. 4:5), and that sacrifices done by vicious, faithless souls are disgusting to him (Isa. 1:10-20). We are not told in advance that Cain was such a person, but his murderous rage and lack of contrition together show what sort of man he was. He was doubtless that way before the fateful offering. By contrast, Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable no doubt first and foremost because of the state of Abel’s soul. Hebrews 11:4 says as much: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous”. Similarly, Abel was described as “righteous.” (Matt. 23:35) But perhaps Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable also because he offered a blood sacrifice. Cain could have traded Abel for sacrificial animal, but deemed mere grain to be sufficient. Later, Moses was told, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev 17:11) To be sure, the same book also recounts the laws for making grain offerings—but as an accompaniment to the blood sacrifices.

The details of the offerings at Gen 4:3-4, and other details from the chapter, greatly resemble what is required under the Mosaic law. What are we to make of this?

Without giving a long list, it is worth observing that sacrifices were meant to be offered with faith and contrition; that “the fat” of the sacrifice was offered; that “first fruits” were offered; that Israelites were required by law to care for their brothers; that murder was severely punished; that blood revenge was prevented through the practices of sanctuary cities; etc. All these details seem to point up the fact that God used earlier events in Genesis as a kind of template on which the Mosaic law was based. It certainly seems as if the details would be viewed that way by students of the Mosaic law glancing back at Genesis. It is also possible that the author of Genesis, also having authored Deuteronomy, would expect the business about the city Cain escaped to (at Gen 4:17) to be read alongside the “sanctuary city” rules of Deut 19. Indeed, even the very word, or קוּם or qum, translated “rose up,” can also be found at Deut 19:11: “But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die… .” One must, of course, bear in mind that the author of Genesis was aware of God’s law, even it had not be handed down yet in the narrative. This does not, of course, mean that the antediluvian patriarchs were aware of or lived under the law—certainly not in detail.

Why was Cain angry and downcast in Gen 4:5?

This seems obvious on first glance: the creator of the universe preferred his younger brother over him. But on a second glance one must add: he felt entitled to approval, perhaps, for being both older and the first to make an offering; and it certainly seems that he was viciously proud. But (and on this see above) plainly, God’s approval is not to be won merely by offerings or sacrifices but by what the offerings are supposed to indicate and underscore: a righteous, contrite, and humble heart.

What is remarkable about God’s response to Cain in Gen 4:6-7?

It is one of the rare times when God gives feedback and advice to an individual’s emotional reaction. But Jonah receives a similar rebuke and question: “Doest thou well to be angry?” (Jon. 4:4) This indicates that from the earliest days, God expected not just right action but also a right attitude toward sin. Moreover, rather than issue another rule or commandment, he gives a rare instance of what might simply be called “advice”: sin lies at the door, waiting to pounce; it wants you, so you must master it. This intimate exchange also makes it seem as if God were a near relation or close family friend or neighbor, which it seems he was. One imagines that Adam’s family did not move out of sight of the Garden. Of course, they might have; God could appear anywhere at any time. But we know they were in the area because when expelled, Cain moves “east of Eden.” Finally, it is remarkable to consider that at this point in the narrative, God was, one might say, “micro-managing” human affairs and not merely relying on laws or representatives in the form of priests.

What is the meaning of “sin lieth at the door,” etc., at Gen 4:7?

Sin is portrayed as a ravenous beast, and so brings to mind Peter’s advice: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) You must assert control over it, master it. The tragedy is that in spite of this well-meant advice from God himself, Cain still immediately murders his brother out of envy.

What significance did the murder (Gen 4:8) hold for Jesus himself, as reported by Matthew and Luke?

Similar remarks from Jesus occur in both. On Matthew’s formulation, he warns his disciples that, as “prophets, and wise men, and scribes,” some of them should be killed and crucified, but that would be more of “the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias” (Matt. 23:34-35). The suggestion in both places is that a tradition of martyrdom for righteousness began with Abel. So in Abel, Jesus finds the first martyr—a personal sacrifice both bloody and painful, but also honorable and necessary.

How do the events of Cain’s discovery and punishment by God (Gen 4:9-16) unfold in a way similar to those of the Fall of Adam and Eve?

God begins with an arraignment—with a question to which he shows, almost immediately, he knows the answer. Then the same question: “What have you done?” He is sentenced in a way that makes his work even harder; he is exiled, sent even farther away from God’s presence; and then there is a reprieve from the worst of consequences, when he is marked in some way that will prevent him from being killed.

What does it mean to say “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen 4:10)?

While literally it suggests that the ghost of Abel was calling to God, its clear figurative, even poetic, meaning is that God is aware of the horror of a brother’s life blood covering the ground. The next verse continues the image, saying the earth “opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand”. It is eloquent that God chooses to describe the first murder in such poetic terms. It is interesting that there are many references to blood being shed upon the ground in the Bible. For example, “O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place.” (Job 16:18) Perhaps the most striking connection, however, is in the deliberate pouring out of blood on the earth next to the altar in a blood sacrifice (e.g., Lev 4:18). This hardly suggests that Abel is a sacrifice, but he is the first martyr, as Jesus intimates and as we have already seen.

Have all sins so far been “cursed,” as Cain was in Gen 4:11?

By my count, this would be God’s third named and documented curse in Genesis. The serpent (Gen 3:14) and Adam (Gen 3:17) are very specifically “cursed,” but Eve’s punishment was not described as a “curse,” although surely it was one. Anyway, here Cain is cursed in a way similar to Adam: the ground is cursed even more, and he is sent even farther away from God’s presence.

Why does God not execute Cain in Gen 4:11? That is the punishment required in the Mosaic code. Is exile not quite a lenient sentence?

Humanity did not yet live under the Mosaic code, which indeed states clearly: “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.” (Lev 24:17) The next murder occurs just a bit further down in the same chapter, when Cain’s wicked descendant, Lamech, kills a man and no punishment, either from man or God, is recorded. It is not until after the Flood that Noachian code include a more severe punishment: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (Gen 9:6) Now, Cain’s murder of Abel is only the second documented sin, and the first documented act of violence. It seems God might well forbear shedding more blood, even for the sake of justice, when the horror of this first murder is so awful. We are not told of Adam’s and Eve’s reaction to the slaughter, but they were no doubt devastated. The combination of murder when there were probably not many people on earth at the time (possibly only four), together with exile, was probably horror enough to teach the lesson, to that generation, that murder is to be avoided.

Why is Cain “cursed from the earth” (Gen 4:11) by God?

In short, and in terms of the figure, it is because he shed blood on the ground: life is sacred, so the blood of life is sacred, and so the shedding of life blood is absolutely forbidden and brings a curse. Since Abel’s blood was spilled on the same ground from which Cain earns his living, the blood is cursed from that ground. Moreover, Cain’s offering was the first fruits of the ground, and so he was punished in respect of his work—that is, from the ground out of which his offering came. No future offering from that source would be acceptable, which is why the ground would no longer produce crops for Cain.

Is Cain not the first to be exiled (Gen 4:12)? And is it not significant that he was exiled to the east?

While Adam and Eve were the first to be exiled from the Garden and God’s immediate presence, they were still in his presence and care. Matters are much worse for Cain, who was exiled entirely out of both God’s presence and the company of his mother and father. His exile to the east was a foreshadow of exiles to come. Thus he is a “type” of cursed sinner and is used as such several times later in the Bible.

What does “punishment” mean at Gen 4:13 and why is it greater than Cain can bear?

The word translated here “punishment” is עָוֹן or avon, glossed as “iniquity” or “punishment for iniquity.” As the word his this double-meaning, Cain’s suggestive statement is not merely a lament for the woes to come; it means, essentially, that the severity of the sentence has revealed to Cain, only too late, just how enormous his crime was.

Do Cain’s remarks at Gen 4:13-14 show he was contrite after his sentencing?

The fact that two verses are given to Cain’s description of his punishment might be thought to show this, but it is not altogether clear, because he never actually expresses regret or asks for forgiveness. He does show that he recognizes the severity of the curse and punishment, and he shows well-justified fear. It is well that he might react this way, considering that this is the harshest punishment meted our to humanity yet, being left to literally wander the wilderness without any help from man or God. But it is perhaps God’s mercy on him—bestowing the mark that forbids vengeance, at Gen 4:15—that is best evidence that Cain was contrite and perhaps not wholly lost.

How is it a particular curse to be cast out of the presence of God (Gen 4:15)?

First Adam and Eve were cast out of the immediate presence and guardianship of God in the Garden, and then Cain was cast wholly out of his presence. This is just the first of many instances of God’s hiding his face from those who have sinned: “And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought” (Deut 31:18). The reason this is a curse, of course, is that God provides for and blesses man.

What does “sevenfold” mean at Gen 4:15?

The number seven is the number of completion or fulfillment; it is used in this way numerous times throughout the Bible. It means, essentially, that anyone (such as Adam, the only other male whom we know to be alive at the time) who sought revenge on Cain would be punished greatly and “perfectly.” I conjecture that the force is something like “utterly destroyed.”

Why would God threaten to avenge a murderer sevenfold (Gen 4:15)?

There are a few reasons. First, since God took justice into his own hands, man was not to interfere; that was, in that very early age, for God alone. The sentence has already been declared and executed. A further punishment—in the form of vengeance approved by God—would be unjust simply because it would be an additional punishment. God would have taken a life for a life if that had been his sentence. Since he did not, that was not his will. Any further bloodshed would, therefore, not only constitute a new and unjustified act of violence, it would usurp God’s own prerogative of doing justice.

Do we know where the land of Nod (Gen 4:16) was?

No, we have no clue. Nor do we have any notion where the city of Enosh might have been. It was east of Eden, and if Eden were in northern Mesopotamia, then perhaps it was in southeastern Mesopotamia, near where some of the oldest Sumerian cities were. But we must also bear in mind that this was before the Flood, and therefore all such geographical speculation becomes silly; the terrain itself might have changed immensely.

How many people were in the world when the city of Enoch was founded (Gen 4:17)? How did Cain get a wife?

Evidently there were more than the ones specifically named in the text so far. After all, Cain had a wife, who would evidently have to be a near relation (a sister or a niece). We are specifically told in Gen 5:4 that Adam “begat sons and daughters.” Moreover, one must bear in mind that Adam was 130 when Seth was born (5:3), and that he lived another 800 years. Assuming that people aged very slowly then (as opposed to living out 800 years in extreme decrepitude), then both Adam and Eve could have been parents of hundreds of children. If Adam and his antediluvian progeny were typical, then each of those children could also have many children, so that the world could have many thousands of people in it after just a few hundred years, and not all of them would be near relations, either. It is not even clear that Seth, who was born when Adam was still a young, virile 130, was born after the incident with Cain and Abel, although I expect that was what the narrator intended, since that is the order in which the narrative proceeds. But if indeed Seth and others were born before Cain killed Abel, which is possible, then Cain might have had any number of cousins to live with the town of Enoch in the land of Nod.

What is the significance of Cain’s progeny and how they are described (Gen 4:17-24)?

First of all, they founded the first named city; note that cities, particularly cities of the east such as Babylon and Nineveh, were often associated with sin. Lamech was a murderer, so the iniquity did not leave the family. Another detail worth noting is that, if Jabal had been the original tent-dwelling nomadic herdsman—thus taking Abel’s place—then his ancestors, going back generations to Cain, must have been hunter-gatherers.

Is it not odd that there were two Enochs (Gen 4:17 and 5:18) in early times?

This is only the first of many instances of names with many bearers in the Bible. There are two Lamechs in the two different lines as well. There seems little reason to find significance in this particular juxtaposition. There are two or four Enochs in the Bible, depending on whether one counts “Hanoch” as the same name (the Septuagint renders them the same). The name means something like “initiated, inaugurated, trained.” Both men called “Enoch” might well have been initiated in the ways of their fathers.

How can we draw an interesting comparison between Lamech (Gen 4:18-24) and Enoch, the descendant of Seth (Gen 5:18)?

Of some little interest is the fact that Enoch was the great-great-great grandson of Seth, just as Lamech of the same number of generations removed from Cain. So in the fifth generation after Cain, there is a murderer (Gen 4:23); while in the fifth generation of Seth, when “men began to call upon the name of the Lord”(4:26), there is a man who walked with God and is caught up into heaven without dying (5:24).

Was Lamech the first polygamist (Gen 4:19)?

Perhaps: he was the first one recorded. That this was frowned upon even in OT days is arguably shown in Gen 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Other texts show that the better way, at least, was to have only one wife: “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself” (Deut 17:17; one of the rules for the future kings of Israel). Similarly, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). This meant that in those times, as with slavery, polygamy was tolerated by God, probably in a concession to the inevitable practices of primitive man.

Three sons of the murderer Lamech, himself a descendant of the killer Cain, are credited with founding various useful arts (Gen 4:20-22). What are we to make of this?

The irony is strange indeed. Cain’s descendant Lamech both begets children who give the world useful arts and himself commits the world’s second recorded murder. Jabal was (after Abel) the original nomadic herdsman; Jubal, the original musician; and Tubalcain, the original blacksmith. It is hardly as if such arts are frowned upon in themselves in the Bible; David was a shepherd and a musician, and as a general, a user of the blacksmith’s arts. So it is certainly striking that these origin stories are sandwiched between two murders. This is probably not accidental. Probably, in keeping with the theme of not seeking forbidden knowledge (Gen 3) or building towers to heaven (Gen 11), we are to infer that such practices, however fine they might be, pose a danger in the form of pride.

Is it true that Lamech is not only not punished by God, he is allowed to boast (Gen 4:23-24)? Why?

It is true. After “my wounding” which was “to my hurt,” he has slain a “young man.” From the sound of this, it is at best self-defense, but it looks like manslaughter. It is entirely possible that God permitted this because it was in self-defense (which is permitted in the Mosaic code). But I suspect that, especially due to his self-comparison to Cain, this was a murder; moreover, it was not “an eye for an eye,” but rather it was a life for a “hurt.” But if it was indeed a murder, then why did God allow the crime to go unpunished? It seems that he had washed his hands of Cain and his progeny: he had turned his face from Cain, and unlike Seth, that line did not seem to be calling upon the name of the Lord. It is worth noting that not many generations would succeed this one before God would destroy all of humanity in the Flood. Lamech’s violence and arrogance well exemplify the “wickedness of man” that doubtless even by that time had become “great in the earth” (Gen 6:5). If Lamech was long-lived, then probably he was killed in the Flood.

What does it mean to say that “men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26)?

There are two clear possibilities. One is that it was at that time that they began to use the name of the Lord, which in Hebrew is Yahweh (יְהוָֽה); the other is that they began to pray to and trust in the one true God. The latter is what is meant, but let us discuss the former suggestion. The Pentateuch narrative leaves open the possibility in Exodus 3, which many think is the case, that the name of God was not introduced to the Hebrews until the time of the Exodus. This verse seems to suggest it: “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (Ex 3:13) But, as we will discuss when we get to that text, it is entirely possible that the name of God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that Moses was simply asking which god he was speaking to. In that case, “calling on the name of the Lord” might mean simply learning of his name. So perhaps God gave his name, Yahweh, to the generation of Seth and Enos. But as an exegesis of Gen 4:26, that does not sound quite right to me. The phrase, “call on the name of the Lord,” is used throughout the Bible in a fairly consistent way, to mean to pray (literally to invoke the name of the Lord in prayer), to worship (“Bless the Lord, o my soul!”: Ps. 104:1), to trust and ally oneself with (“And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord”: 1 Kings 18:24). Those who “call on the name of the Lord” are the faithful followers of God. If, as I think is fairly clear, that is what the text means here, that seems to imply that it was not until the generation of Enos, or possibly of Seth, that men took the notion of worshiping God seriously. This says something quite damning about Adam and Eve: apparently, they did not learn from their treatment at the hands of God to call upon the name of the Lord. But what about Abel? You might say that this does dishonor to the memory of the righteous Abel, but since he was killed, he was not made “the father” of the herdsmen, either; that honor is given to Jabal. In the same way, Seth, or perhaps Enos, is made the first man to introduce the worship of the Lord, i.e., to introduce the practice among men.