The following reading of Genesis 1.1-2.3 is formatted ala The Books of the Bible: Covenant History without any chapter or verse marketings. The description below is taken from Preface. It explains the use of line space and format instead of chapters and verses.
Because the biblical books were handwritten, read aloud, and then hand-copied long before standardized printing, their authors and compilers needed a way to indicate divisions within the text itself. They often did this by repeating a phrase or expression each time they made a transition from one section to another. We can confirm that particular phrases are significant in this way by observing how their placement reinforces a structure that can already be recognized implicitly from other characteristics of a book, such as changes in topic, movement in place or time, or shifts from one kind of writing to another. Through line spacing, we’ve marked off sections of varying sizes. The smallest are indicated by one blank line, the next largest by two lines, and so on, up to four-line breaks in the largest books. We’ve also indicated key divisions with a large initial capital letter of new sections. Our goal is to encourage meaningful units to be read in their entirety and so with greater appreciation and understanding.
Zondervan. NIV, The Books of the Bible: Covenant History: Discover the Origins of God’s People (Kindle Locations 265-272). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.
The story of Genesis now turns to reality outside of Eden. It is the story of the spread of society. There are several themes in Chapter 4, which are also present in Chapter 3:
- free will to make choices,
- the responsibility of those choices
- punishment for wrongdoing.
In comparison, the preceding chapter shows humanity’s offense directly against God. In this chapter, we are shown how a brother ultimately offends his brother, which is also an offense against God. The form of the chapter is easily seen in four parts:
- Cain and Abel (Genesis 4.1-7)
- Judge and Executioner (Genesis 4.8-16)
- Cain’s family (Genesis 4.17-24)
- Seth’s family (Genesis 4.25-26).
It may be pointed out that each section opens with similar wording. A husband (translated Adam (Gen. 4.1)/Cain (Gen. 4.17)/Adam (Gen. 4.25) lay with his wife…. The wife of each conceived, gave birth, and named the child.
Cain and Abel: Genesis 4.1-7
Genesis 4.1-2. This passage opens the genealogy section of Adam through Cain. The genealogy continues in 4.17-26. We encounter the word yada for the first time in the story. It is translated in various ways. The NIV reads, “Adam lay with his wife….” The older translations used the word know to translate yada. One should take note that this word describes marriage partners who are fully intimate with each other. It is a word that is built on a deep relationship. In Scripture, expressing oneself sexually is not just a function of one’s glands. Knowing a marriage partner biblically includes involvement, interaction, loyalty, and obligation. In short, in our society it means marriage. The intimate act of marriage between Adam and Eve produced Cain and Abel, who are contrasted throughout the chapter.
Genesis 4.2-5a. We are told that Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer. We may point out that Cain’s farming was outside the garden where working with the soil was painful. The mentioning of shepherd suggests the idea of domesticated animals. Some other notable First Testament people who followed in the steps of Abel were Jacob (Gen. 30.36), Joseph (Gen. 37.2), Moses (Ex. 3.1), and David (1 Sam. 16.11; 17.34).
After a period of time, each brought offerings to the Lord that was suitable to their vocations and is a picture of the two brothers worshiping God. Eden may have been off-limits, but God was still interested in them even outside of the garden. The text offers no indication that one offering was inferior to the other as is often inferred. When the offerings are given, God makes a choice. The text does not explain the reason for the choice that God made. It is true that commentators have not ceased to fill the silence in this passage of Scripture with interpretations that attempt to provide a rational defense for God’s conduct. Most of these interpretations try to demonstrate some inferior quality in the offering of Cain. A good rule of thumb when reading Scripture is that when the text is silent, it is a good idea to remain silent, also. The storyteller’s concern is to help his readers understand how they are to respond when God says no!
Genesis 4.5b-7. There is some indication that Cain’s response was one of depression rather than anger: Genesis 4.7 is a crucial verse to understand. The sense of the text is that there is a dangerous, possible outcome, which is inherent in his depressed mood. The underlying idea is that Cain had a freedom of choice by which he could overcome his depression by an act of his will, otherwise, the outcome would be that the depression would control him. Sin was crouching demonlike at his door is a picture of something threatening lurking just outside the door. Cain was not to give into its lurking presence. On the contrary, it was Cain’s responsibility to master sin. The sense of the term master can be read in one of three ways:
- as a promise (you shall master it);
- as a command (you must master it);
- or as an invitation (you may master it).
In each, Cain has a choice to make. Just because of the fall and his likelihood toward sin does not mean that sin is predetermined or inevitable. Cain is not a constituted sinner, i.e., he did not have to sin. Rather, he was a person with freedom of choice and capable of making the right choice.
Judge and Executioner: Genesis 4.8-16
The scene now changes from the questioning and instruction by God, to Cain seeking out his brother and inviting him out into a field. In the garden, Adam failed in his relationship with God. Now in a field, Cain fails in his relationship with his brother. There, in isolation from his family, Cain kills his brother. The word translated killed (NIV) is the common word for murdering intentionally. There is a comparison between Adam and Eve’s reaction to their sin and Cain’s reaction to his. Dad and mom resorted to making excuses without violence while Cain resorted to violence because of his resentment over God’s choice. Rather than accept the decision of God, he rejected the person on whom God’s decision rested. While he eliminated Abel, what was he to do with God who he may have viewed as his real enemy?
After the crime was committed, there is a divine investigation. God asked Cain where Abel was. The first part of his response was a lie, a statement: “I don’t know.” The second response and more famous response was a question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Are we supposed to be our brother’s keeper? The word keeper can mean one who sustains or preserves. God is Israel’s keeper (Psalm 121.4-8). In this sense, Cain as the older brother should have been working to sustain his brother because of his love, instead of seeking to kill because of his depression. Now God shifts roles from questioner to accuser. The question of Genesis 4.10 is an accusation, not a question which seeks information. Abel’s blood cried out from the ground and was heard by God. Crying is the usual word for the crying of the oppressed when afflicted and are asking for justice. It should be noted that the letting of the blood of Abel destroyed all potential offspring, which were doomed to never be born. An ancient saying among the Hebrews was “Whoever takes a single life destroys thereby an entire world.” The rabbis tell us that the Hebrew word for “blood,” written here in the plural, indicates that it is not just Abel who is lost, but all of his future generations.[ref]Claire Katz “The Responsibility of Irresponsibility: Taking (Yet) Another Look at the Akedah.” in ADDRESSING LEVINAS. Edited by Eric Sean Nelson, Antje Kapust, and Kent Still. Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois. 2005. 18.[/ref] This old Hebraic thought could be applied to the rampant murder of babies in our present society that is often talked about with the euphemism of “a woman’s right.”
God did not kill Cain for killing Abel. Instead, Cain was prohibited from the production of the soil. Genesis 4.12 explains how this ban works. Cain will not be able to plant and work the fields waiting for the time for the harvest. He is cursed to be a restless fugitive, a fate in some ways worse than death. He would lose all his sense of belonging and identification with the community (family). He would become detached having no roots. Once a farmer, now a vagabond.
In the opinion of Cain, his judgment is too harsh (Genesis 4.13). He sees his judgment as having four consequences:
- First, he will not be allowed to work the soil.
- Second, he will not have fellowship with God.
- Third, he will be a restless wanderer.
- Finally, he would be a target to be killed himself.
Such irony: he who killed, worries about being killed.
The statement by Cain suggests that there are others who inhabit the earth besides Adam, Eve, and Cain. This existence of others is also indicated by the mention of Cain’s wife (Genesis 4.17). Who are these people and where did they come from? Scripture is silent! We may suggest that with the data present that Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Seth (to be mentioned later) are the only children specifically mentioned by the storyteller at this point. Others are mentioned in Genesis 5.4. Remember that all the stories are selected to tell what the storyteller wants to present. Other children of Adam and Eve are certainly a possibility. In this case, Cain’s wife would be his sister and the ones who might want to kill him would be other brothers. If that was the case, irony again raises its head. The one who turned on his own brother must watch out for other family members who might seek revenge.
With judgment comes grace (Genesis 4.15-16). Cain must pay the penalty for his own actions. The grace of God can be seen as God gave Cain a mark. We do not know what the mark was or where it was placed. While judged by God, he is also protected by God so that he does not become a victim of violence. Banned but blessed, punished but protected. While he must leave the presence of God, he does not leave the protection of God. That Cain left God’s presence is a way of saying that Cain now entered his life of alienation from God. Condemned to a life of an outsider, the wanderer settles in the land of wandering.
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- How intimate are you to be with your spouse? What steps can you take to improve intimacy in your marriage?
- How intimate are you with the spouse of Jesus, i.e., the ecclesia?
- How is depression today handled differently than how God handled it in the story of Cain and Abel?
- How does the murder of Abel speak about abortion today? Or does it?
- When judged by God, what protection has he given you?