Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The propagation of the human race did not commence till after the expulsion from paradise. Generation in man is an act of personal free-will, not a blind impulse of nature, and rests upon a moral self-determination. It flows from the divine institution of marriage, and is therefore knowing (ידע) the wife. - At the birth of the first son Eve exclaimed with joy, "I have gotten (קניתי) a man with Jehovah;" wherefore the child received the name Cain (קין from קוּן = קנה, κτᾶσθαι). So far as the grammar is concerned, the expression את־יהוה might be rendered, as in apposition to אישׁ, "a man, the Lord" (Luther), but the sense would not allow it. For even if we could suppose the faith of Eve in the promised conqueror of the serpent to have been sufficiently alive for this, the promise of God had not given her the slightest reason to expect that the promised seed would be of divine nature, and might be Jehovah, so as to lead her to believe that she had given birth to Jehovah now. את is a preposition in the sense of helpful association, as in Gen 21:20; Gen 39:2, Gen 39:21, etc. That she sees in the birth of this son the commencement of the fulfilment of the promise, and thankfully acknowledges the divine help in this display of mercy, is evident from the name Jehovah, the God of salvation. The use of this name is significant. Although it cannot be supposed that Eve herself knew and uttered this name, since it was not till a later period that it was made known to man, and it really belongs to the Hebrew, which was not formed till after the division of tongues, yet it expresses the feeling of Eve on receiving this proof of the gracious help of God.
But her joy was soon overcome by the discovery of the vanity of this earthly life. This is expressed in the name Abel, which was given to the second son (הבל, in pause הבל, i.e., nothingness, vanity), whether it indicated generally a feeling of sorrow on account of his weakness, or was a prophetic presentiment of his untimely death. The occupation of the sons is noticed on account of what follows. "Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground." Adam had, no doubt, already commenced both occupations, and the sons selected each a different department. God Himself had pointed out both to Adam-the tilling of the ground by the employment assigned him in Eden, which had to be changed into agriculture after his expulsion; and the keeping of cattle in the clothing that He gave him (Gen 3:21). Moreover, agriculture can never be entirely separated from the rearing of cattle; for a man not only requires food, but clothing, which is procured directly from the hides and wool of tame animals. In addition to this, sheep do not thrive without human protection and care, and therefore were probably associated with man from the very first. The different occupations of the brothers, therefore, are not to be regarded as a proof of the difference in their dispositions. This comes out first in the sacrifice, which they offered after a time to God, each one from the produce of his vocation. - "In process of time" (lit., at the end of days, i.e., after a considerable lapse of time: for this use of ימים cf. Gen 40:4; Num 9:2) Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a gift (מנחה) to the Lord; and Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and indeed (vav in an explanatory sense, vid., Ges. 155, 1) of their fat," i.e., the fattest of the firstlings, and not merely the first good one that came to hand. חלבים are not the fat portions of the animals, as in the Levitical law of sacrifice. This is evident from the fact, that the sacrifice was not connected with a sacrificial meal, and animal food was not eaten at this time. That the usage of the Mosaic law cannot determine the meaning of this passage, is evident from the word minchah, which is applied in Leviticus to bloodless sacrifices only, whereas it is used here in connection with Abel's sacrifice. "And Jehovah looked upon Abel and his gift; and upon Cain and his gift He did not look." The look of Jehovah was in any case a visible sign of satisfaction. It is a common and ancient opinion that fire consumed Abel's sacrifice, and thus showed that it was graciously accepted. Theodotion explains the words by καὶ ἐνεπύρισεν ὁ Θεός. But whilst this explanation has the analogy of Lev 9:24 and Jdg 6:21 in its favour, it does not suit the words, "upon Abel and his gift." The reason for the different reception of the two offerings was the state of mind towards God with which they were brought, and which manifested itself in the selection of the gifts. Not, indeed, in the fact that Abel brought a bleeding sacrifice and Cain a bloodless one; for this difference arose from the difference in their callings, and each necessarily took his gift from the produce of his own occupation. It was rather in the fact that Abel offered the fattest firstlings of his flock, the best that he could bring; whilst Cain only brought a portion of the fruit of the ground, but not the first-fruits. By this choice Abel brought πλείονα θυσίαν παρὰ Κάΐν, and manifested that disposition which is designated faith (πίστις) in Heb 11:4. The nature of this disposition, however, can only be determined from the meaning of the offering itself.
The sacrifices offered by Adam's sons, and that not in consequence of a divine command, but from the free impulse of their nature as determined by God, were the first sacrifices of the human race. The origin of sacrifice, therefore, is neither to be traced to a positive command, nor to be regarded as a human invention. To form an accurate conception of the idea which lies at the foundation of all sacrificial worship, we must bear in mind that the first sacrifices were offered after the fall, and therefore presupposed the spiritual separation of man from God, and were designed to satisfy the need of the heart for fellowship with God. This need existed in the case of Cain, as well as in that of Abel; otherwise he would have offered no sacrifice at all, since there was no command to render it compulsory. Yet it was not the wish for forgiveness of sin which led Adam's sons to offer sacrifice; for there is no mention of expiation, and the notion that Abel, by slaughtering the animal, confessed that he deserved death on account of sin, is transferred to this passage from the expiatory sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The offerings were expressive of gratitude to God, to whom they owed all that they had; and were associated also with the desire to secure the divine favour and blessing, so that they are to be regarded not merely as thank-offerings, but as supplicatory sacrifices, and as propitiatory also, in the wider sense of the word. In this the two offerings are alike. The reason why they were not equally acceptable to God is not to be sought, as Hoffmann thinks, in the fact that Cain merely offered thanks "for the preservation of this present life," whereas Abel offered thanks "for the forgiveness of sins," or "for the sin-forgiving clothing received by man from the hand of God." To take the nourishment of the body literally and the clothing symbolically in this manner, is an arbitrary procedure, by which the Scriptures might be made to mean anything we chose. The reason is to be found rather in the fact, that Abel's thanks came from the depth of his heart, whilst Cain merely offered his to keep on good terms with God-a difference that was manifested in the choice of the gifts, which each one brought from the produce of his occupation. This choice shows clearly "that it was the pious feeling, through which the worshiper put his heart as it were into the gift, which made the offering acceptable to God" (Oehler); that the essence of the sacrifice was not the presentation of a gift to God, but that the offering was intended to shadow forth the dedication of the heart to God. At the same time, the desire of the worshipper, by the dedication of the best of his possessions to secure afresh the favour of God, contained the germ of that substitutionary meaning of sacrifice, which was afterwards expanded in connection with the deepening and heightening of the feeling of sin into a desire for forgiveness, and led to the development of the idea of expiatory sacrifice. - On account of the preference shown to Abel, "it burned Cain sore (the subject, 'wrath,' is wanting, as it frequently is in the case of חרה, cf. Gen 18:30, Gen 18:32; Gen 31:36, etc.), and his countenance fell" (an indication of his discontent and anger: cf. Jer 3:12; Job 29:24). God warned him of giving way to this, and directed his attention to the cause and consequences of his wrath.
"Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen?" The answer to this is given in the further question, "Is there not, if thou art good, a lifting up" (sc., of the countenance)? It is evident from the context, and the antithesis of falling and lifting up (נפל and נשׂא), that פּנים must be supplied after שׂאת. By this God gave him to understand that his look was indicative of evil thoughts and intentions; for the lifting up of the countenance, i.e., a free, open look, is the mark of a good conscience (Job 11:15). "But if thou art not good, sin lieth before the door, and its desire is to thee (directed towards thee); but thou shouldst rule over it." The fem. חטּאת is construed as a masculine, because, with evident allusion to the serpent, sin is personified as a wild beast, lurking at the door of the human heart, and eagerly desiring to devour his soul (Pe1 5:8). היטיב, to make good, signifies here not good action, the performance of good in work and deed, but making the disposition good, i.e., directing the heart to what is good. Cain is to rule over the sin which is greedily desiring him, by giving up his wrath, not indeed that sin may cease to lurk for him, but that the lurking evil foe may obtain no entrance into his heart. There is no need to regard the sentence as interrogative, "Wilt thou, indeed, be able to rule over it?" (Ewald), nor to deny the allusion in בּו to the lurking sin, as Delitzsch does. The words do not command the suppression of an inward temptation, but resistance to the power of evil as pressing from without, by hearkening to the word which God addressed to Cain in person, and addresses to us through the Scriptures. There is nothing said here about God appearing visibly; but this does not warrant us in interpreting either this or the following conversation as a simple process that took place in the heart and conscience of Cain. It is evident from Gen 4:14 and Gen 4:16 that God did not withdraw His personal presence and visible intercourse from men, as soon as He had expelled them from the garden of Eden. "God talks to Cain as to a wilful child, and draws out of him what is sleeping in his heart, and lurking like a wild beast before his door. And what He did to Cain He does to every one who will but observe his own heart, and listen to the voice of God" (Herder). But Cain paid no need to the divine warning.
He "said to his brother Abel." What he said is not stated. We may either supply "it," viz., what God had just said to him, which would be grammatically admissible, since אמר is sometimes followed by a simple accusative (Gen 22:3; Gen 44:16), and this accusative has to be supplied from the context (as in Exo 19:25); or we may supply from what follows some such expressions as "let us go into the field," as the lxx, Sam., Jonathan, and others have done. This is also allowable, so that we need not imagine a gap in the text, but may explain the construction as in Gen 3:22-23, by supposing that the writer hastened on to describe the carrying out of what was said, without stopping to set down the words themselves. This supposition is preferable to the former, since it is psychologically most improbable that Cain should have related a warning to his brother which produced so little impression upon his own mind. In the field "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." Thus the sin of Adam had grown into fratricide in his son. The writer intentionally repeats again and again the words "his brother," to bring clearly out the horror of the sin. Cain was the first man who let sin reign in him; he was "of the wicked one" (Jo1 3:12). In him the seed of the woman had already become the seed of the serpent; and in his deed the real nature of the wicked one, as "a murderer from the beginning," had come openly to light: so that already there had sprung up that contrast of two distinct seeds within the human race, which runs through the entire history of humanity.
Defiance grows with sin, and punishment keeps pace with guilt. Adam and Eve fear before God, and acknowledge their sin; Cain boldly denies it, and in reply to the question, "Where is Abel thy brother?" declares, "I know not, am I my brother's keeper?" God therefore charges him with his crime: "What hast thou done! voice of thy brother's blood crying to Me from the earth." The verb "crying" refers to the "blood," since this is the principal word, and the voice merely expresses the adverbial idea of "aloud," or "listen" (Ewald, 317d). דּמים (drops of blood) is sometimes used to denote natural hemorrhage (Lev 12:4-5; Lev 20:18); but is chiefly applied to blood shed unnaturally, i.e., to murder. "Innocent blood has no voice, it may be, that is discernible by human ears, but it has one that reaches God, as the cry of a wicked deed demanding vengeance" (Delitzsch). Murder is one of the sins that cry to heaven. "Primum ostendit Deus se de factis hominum cognoscere utcunque nullus queratur vel accuset; deinde sibi magis charam esse homonum vitam quam ut sanguinem innoxium impune effundi sinat; tertio curam sibi piorum esse non solum quamdiu vivunt sed etiam post mortem" (Calvin). Abel was the first of the saints, whose blood is precious in the sight of God (Psa 116:15); and by virtue of his faith, he being dead yet speaketh through his blood which cried unto God (Heb 11:4).
"And now (sc., because thou hast done this) be cursed from the earth." From: i.e., either away from the earth, driven forth so that it shall no longer afford a quiet resting-place (Gerlach, Delitzsch, etc.), or out of the earth, through its withdrawing its strength, and thus securing the fulfilment of perpetual wandering (Baumgarten, etc.). It is difficult to choose between the two; but the clause, "which hath opened her mouth," etc. seems rather to favour the latter. Because the earth has been compelled to drink innocent blood, it rebels against the murderer, and when he tills it, withdraws its strength, so that the soil yields no produce; just as the land of Canaan is said to have spued out the Canaanites, on account of their abominations (Lev 18:28). In any case, the idea that "the soil, through drinking innocent blood, became an accomplice in the sin of murder," has no biblical support, and is not confirmed by Isa 26:21 or Num 35:33. The suffering of irrational creatures through the sin of man is very different from their participating in his sin. "A fugitive and vagabond (ונד נע, i.e., banished and homeless) shalt thou be in the earth." Cain is so affected by this curse, that his obduracy is turned into despair, "My sin," he says in Gen 4:13, "is greater than can be borne." עון נשׁא signifies to take away and bear sin or guilt, and is used with reference both to God and man. God takes guilt away by forgiving it (Exo 34:7); man carries it away and bears it, by enduring its punishment (cf. Num 5:31). Luther, following the ancient versions, has adopted the first meaning; but the context sustains the second: for Cain afterwards complains, not of the greatness of the sin, but only of the severity of the punishment. "Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth, and from Thy face shall I be hid;...and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me." The adamah, from the face of which the curse of Jehovah had driven Cain, was Eden (cf. Gen 4:16), where he had carried on his agricultural pursuits, and where God had revealed His face, i.e., His presence, to the men after their expulsion from the garden; so that henceforth Cain had to wander about upon the wide world, homeless and far from the presence of God, and was afraid lest any one who found him might slay him. By "every one that findeth me" we are not to understand omnis creatura, as though Cain had excited the hostility of all creatures, but every man; not in the sense, however, of such as existed apart from the family of Adam, but such as were aware of his crime, and knew him to be a murderer. For Cain is evidently afraid of revenge on the part of relatives of the slain, that is to say, of descendants of Adam, who were either already in existence, or yet to be born. Though Adam might not at this time have had "many grandsons and great-grandson," yet according to Gen 4:17 and Gen 5:4, he had undoubtedly other children, who might increase in number, and sooner or later might avenge Abel's death. For, that blood shed demands blood in return, "is a principle of equity written in the heart of every man; and that Cain should see that earth full of avengers is just like a murderer, who sees avenging spirits (Ἐρινύες) ready to torture him on every hand."
Although Cain expressed not penitence, but fear of punishment, God displayed His long-suffering and gave him the promise, "Therefore (לכן not in the sense of כן לא, but because it was the case, and there was reason for his complaint) whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." קין כּל־הרג, is cas. absolut. as in Gen 9:6; and הקּם avenged, i.e., resented, punished, as Exo 21:20-21. The mark which God put upon Cain is not to be regarded as a mark upon his body, as the Rabbins and others supposed, but as a certain sign which protected him from vengeance, though of what kind it is impossible to determine. God granted him continuance of life, not because banishment from the place of God's presence was the greatest possible punishment, or because the preservation of the human race required at that time that the lives of individuals should be spared, - for God afterwards destroyed the whole human race, with the exception of one family, - but partly because the tares were to grow with the wheat, and sin develop itself to its utmost extent, partly also because from the very first God determined to take punishment into His own hands, and protect human life from the passion and wilfulness of human vengeance.
The family of the Cainites. - Gen 4:16. The geographical situation of the land of Nod, in the front of Eden (קדמת, see Gen 2:14), where Cain settled after his departure from the place or the land of the revealed presence of God (cf. Jon 1:3), cannot be determined. The name Nod denotes a land of flight and banishment, in contrast with Eden, the land of delight, where Jehovah walked with men. There Cain knew his wife. The text assumes it as self-evident that she accompanied him in his exile; also, that she was a daughter of Adam, and consequently a sister of Cain. The marriage of brothers and sisters was inevitable in the case of the children of the first men, if the human race was actually to descend from a single pair, and may therefore be justified in the face of the Mosaic prohibition of such marriages, on the ground that the sons and daughters of Adam represented not merely the family but the genus, and that it was not till after the rise of several families that the bands of fraternal and conjugal love became distinct from one another, and assumed fixed and mutually exclusive forms, the violation of which is sin. (Comp. Lev 18.) His son he named Hanoch (consecration), because he regarded his birth as a pledge of the renovation of his life. For this reason he also gave the same name to the city which he built, inasmuch as its erection was another phase in the development of his family. The construction of a city by Cain will cease to surprise us, if we consider that at the commencement of its erection, centuries had already passed since the creation of man, and Cain's descendants may by this time have increased considerably in numbers; also, that עיר does not necessarily presuppose a large town, but simply an enclosed space with fortified dwellings, in contradistinction to the isolated tents of shepherds; and lastly, that the words בנה ויהי, "he was building," merely indicate the commencement and progress of the building, but not its termination. It appears more surprising that Cain, who was to be a fugitive and a vagabond upon the earth, should have established himself in the land of Nod. This cannot be fully explained, either on the ground that he carried on the pursuits of agriculture, which lead to settled abodes, or that he strove against the curse. In addition to both the facts referred to, there is also the circumstance, that the curse, "the ground shall not yield to thee her strength," was so mollified by the grace of God, that Cain and his descendants were enabled to obtain sufficient food in the land of his settlement, though it was by dint of hard work and strenuous effort; unless, indeed, we follow Luther and understand the curse, that he should be a fugitive upon the earth, as relating to his expulsion from Eden, and his removal ad incertum locum et opus, non addita ulla vel promissione vel mandato, sicut avis quae in libero caelo incerta vagatur. The fact that Cain undertook the erection of a city, is also significant. Even if we do not regard this city as "the first foundation-stone of the kingdom of the world, in which the spirit of the beast bears sway," we cannot fail to detect the desire to neutralize the curse of banishment, and create for his family a point of unity, as a compensation for the loss of unity in fellowship with God, as well as the inclination of the family of Cain for that which was earthly.
The powerful development of the worldly mind and of ungodliness among the Cainites was openly displayed in Lamech, in the sixth generation. Of the intermediate links, the names only are given. (On the use of the passive with the accusative of the object in the clause "to Hanoch was born (they bore) Irad," see Ges. 143, 1.) Some of these names resemble those of the Sethite genealogy, viz., Irad and Jared, Mehujael and Mahalaleel, Methusael and Methuselah, also Cain and Cainan; and the names Enoch and Lamech occur in both families. But neither the recurrence of similar names, nor even of the same names, warrants the conclusion that the two genealogical tables are simply different forms of one primary legend. For the names, though similar in sound, are very different in meaning. Irad probably signifies the townsman, Jared, descent, or that which has descended; Mehujael, smitten of God, and Mahalaleel, praise of God; Methusael, man of prayer, and Methuselah, man of the sword or of increase. The repetition of the two names Enoch and Lamech even loses all significance, when we consider the different places which they occupy in the respective lines, and observe also that in the case of these very names, the more precise descriptions which are given so thoroughly establish the difference of character in the two individuals, as to preclude the possibility of their being the same, not to mention the fact, that in the later history the same names frequently occur in totally different families; e.g., Korah in the families of Levi (Exo 6:21) and Esau (Gen 36:5); Hanoch in those of Reuben (Gen 46:9) and Midian (Gen 25:4); Kenaz in those of Judah (Num 32:12) and Esau (Gen 36:11). The identity and similarity of names can prove nothing more than that the two branches of the human race did not keep entirely apart from each other; a fact established by their subsequently intermarrying. - Lamech took two wives, and thus was the first to prepare the way for polygamy, by which the ethical aspect of marriage, as ordained by God, was turned into the lust of the eye and lust of the flesh. The names of the women are indicative of sensual attractions: Adah, the adorned; and Zillah, either the shady or the tinkling. His three sons are the authors of inventions which show how the mind and efforts of the Cainites were directed towards the beautifying and perfecting of the earthly life. Jabal (probably = jebul, produce) became the father of such as dwelt in tents, i.e., of nomads who lived in tents and with their flocks, getting their living by a pastoral occupation, and possibly also introducing the use of animal food, in disregard of the divine command (Gen 1:29). Jubal (sound), the father of all such as handle the harp and pipe, i.e., the inventors of stringed and wind instruments. כּנּור a guitar or harp; עוּגב the shepherd's reed or bagpipe. Tubal-Cain, "hammering all kinds of cutting things (the verb is to be construed as neuter) in brass and iron;" the inventor therefore of all kinds of edge-tools for working in metals: so that Cain, from קין to forge, is probably to be regarded as the surname which Tubal received on account of his inventions. The meaning of Tubal is obscure; for the Persian Tupal, iron-scoria, can throw no light upon it, as it must be a much later word. The allusion to the sister of Tubal-Cain is evidently to be attributed to her name, Naamah, the lovely, or graceful, since it reflects the worldly mind of the Cainites. In the arts, which owed their origin to Lamech's sons, this disposition reached its culminating point; and it appears in the form of pride and defiant arrogance in the song in which Lamech celebrates the inventions of Tubal-Cain (Gen 4:23, Gen 4:24): "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: Men I slay for my wound, and young men for my stripes. For sevenfold is Cain avenged, and Lamech seven and seventy-fold." The perfect הרגתּי is expressive not of a deed accomplished, but of confident assurance (Ges. 126, 4; Ewald, 135c); and the suffixes in חבּרתי and פּצעי are to be taken in a passive sense. The idea is this: whoever inflicts a wound or stripe on me, whether man or youth, I will put to death; and for every injury done to my person, I will take ten times more vengeance than that with which God promised to avenge the murder of my ancestor Cain. In this song, which contains in its rhythm, its strophic arrangement of the thoughts, and its poetic diction, the germ of the later poetry, we may detect "that Titanic arrogance, of which the Bible says that its power is its god (Hab 1:11), and that it carries its god, viz., its sword, in its hand (Job 12:6)" (Delitzsch). - According to these accounts, the principal arts and manufactures were invented by the Cainites, and carried out in an ungodly spirit; but they are not therefore to be attributed to the curse which rested upon the family. They have their roots rather in the mental powers with which man was endowed for the sovereignty and subjugation of the earth, but which, like all the other powers and tendencies of his nature, were pervaded by sin, and desecrated in its service. Hence these inventions have become the common property of humanity, because they not only may promote its intended development, but are to be applied and consecrated to this purpose for the glory of God.
The character of the ungodly family of Cainites was now fully developed in Lamech and his children. The history, therefore, turns from them, to indicate briefly the origin of the godly race. After Abel's death a third son was born to Adam, to whom his mother gave the name of Seth (שׁת, from שׁית, a present participle, the appointed one, the compensation); "for," she said, "God hath appointed me another seed (descendant) for Abel, because Cain slew him." The words "because Cain slew him" are not to be regarded as an explanatory supplement, but as the words of Eve; and כּי by virtue of the previous תּחת is to be understood in the sense of כּי תּחת. What Cain (human wickedness) took from her, that has Elohim (divine omnipotence) restored. Because of this antithesis she calls the giver Elohim instead of Jehovah, and not because her hopes had been sadly depressed by her painful experience in connection with the first-born.
"To Seth, to him also (הוּא גּם, intensive, vid., Ges. 121, 3) there was born a son, and he called his name Enosh." אנושׁ, from אנשׁ to be weak, faint, frail, designates man from his frail and mortal condition (Psa 8:4; Psa 90:3; Psa 103:15, etc.). In this name, therefore, the feeling and knowledge of human weakness and frailty were expressed (the opposite of the pride and arrogance displayed by the Canaanitish family); and this feeling led to God, to that invocation of the name of Jehovah which commenced under Enos. יהוה בּשׁם קרא, literally to call in (or by) the name of Jehovah, is used for a solemn calling of the name of God. When applied to men, it denotes invocation (here and Gen 12:8; Gen 13:4, etc.); to God, calling out or proclaiming His name (Exo 33:19; Exo 34:5). The name of God signifies in general "the whole nature of God, by which He attests His personal presence in the relation into which He has entered with man, the divine self-manifestation, or the whole of that revealed side of the divine nature, which is turned towards man" (Oehler). We have here an account of the commencement of that worship of God which consists in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, or in the acknowledgment and celebration of the mercy and help of Jehovah. While the family of Cainites, by the erection of a city, and the invention and development of worldly arts and business, were laying the foundation for the kingdom of this world; the family of the Sethites began, by united invocation of the name of God of grace, to found and to erect the kingdom of God.