The First Murder, Cain's Lineage, and Birth of Seth (Genesis 4:8–26)
Lectionary2nd Tuesday of Great Lent
Genesis 4:8–15 (ENGLXXUP), altered
8 And Cain said to Abel his brother, Let us go out into the plain; and it came to pass that when they were in the plain Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and [killeda] him. 9 And the Lord God said to Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? and he said, I know not, am I my brother’s keeper? 10 And the Lord said, What hast thou done? Theb voice of thy brother’s blood cries to me out of the ground. 11 And now thou art cursed from the earth which has opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. 12 When thou tillest the earth, then it shall not continue to give its strength to thee: thou shalt be groaning and trembling on the earth. 13 And Cain said to the Lord God, My crime is too great for me to be forgiven. 14 If thou castest me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy presence, and I shall be groaning and trembling upon the earth, then it will be that anyone that finds me shall [killa] me. 15 And the Lord God said to him, Not so, anyone that [killsa] Cain shall suffer sevenfold vengeance; and the Lord God set a mark upon Cain [so] that no one that found him [would do away withc] him.
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated various forms of ἀποκτείνω (apokteinō) as “slay.”
b Brenton / ENGLXXUP did not capitalize “the” following the question mark.
c Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated μὴ ἀνελεῖν (mē apelein) as “might [not] slay.”
I had to fight the urge to title this “Abel slain by Cain in the plain.” This account is the first of many fratricidal scenes in the Old Testament metanarrative.
8: Abel is the first martyr since he is killed for his faith and sacrifice to God (cf. Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 11:4), and the first human to die is killed by murder.
“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil, but the deeds of his brother were righteous” (1 John 3:12, BTV).
The word “brother” appears exactly 7 times between vv. 2–11 (both in the in the Hebrew and the Greek text).
The Hebrew is awkward and is missing whatever Cain said to Abel. The LXX (along with several other ancient translations) has added “Let us go out into the plain.” Some targums contain a discussion between the brothers about God prior to Abel’s murder.
9: As with His questioning of Adam and Eve, God is patient and merciful, seeking to elicit a confession. Cain lies and is not repentant.
11: Cain is the first human to be cursed by God. Having polluted the ground with blood and death, the farmer is cursed from receiving any food and life from the ground. The exile continues as humans continue to furtheer alienate themselves from God: Humanity is first exiled from paradise, and now Cain has further exiled himself from the ground itself (indeed, in vv. 16–17, Cain moves even further from Eden and abandons agricultural life, creating the first city).
You see, since Cain perpetrated practically the same evil as the serpent, which like an instrument served the devil’s purposes, and as the serpent introduced mortality by means of deceit, in like manner Cain deceived his brother, led him out into open country, raised his hand in armed assault against him and committed murder. Hence, as he said to the serpent, “ ‘Cursed are you beyond all the wild animals of the earth,’ ” so to Cain, too, when he committed the same evil as the serpent. In other words, just as the devil was moved by hatred and envy, being unable to bear the ineffable kindnesses done the human being right from the outset, and under the impulse of hatred rushed headlong into the deception that introduced death, so too Cain saw the Lord kindly disposed to his brother, and under the impulse of hatred rushed headlong into murder.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 18–45, ed. Thomas P. Halton, trans. Robert C. Hill, vol. 82, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), 27–28 (19.11).
12: St. John Chrysostom taught that Cain had a form of palsy that caused him to tremble, perhaps based on στένων καὶ τρέμων (stenōn kai tremōn, “groaning and trembling”). He also saw this suffering as a benefit to him from God (a medicine for his soul)—and as a warning to others (Discourses against Judaizing Christians 8.2.9–10). God could have killed him (capital punishment would have been appropriate under later Israelite law), but shows mercy.
13: St. John Chrysostom indicated that Cain’s confession was too late, teaching that “it is before punishment is imposed that penance is appropriate and is so marvellously efficacious” (Homilies on Genesis 19.13). He gives a similar warning to us to repent in this life before the final judgment—when it will be too late.
14: The verb ἐκβάλλω (ekballō) here for “throwing / casting out” (in the sense of eviction) is the same verb in 3:24 when God cast Cain’s parents out of Eden.
Lectionary2nd Wednesday of Great Lent
Genesis 4:16–26 (ENGLXXUP), altered
16 So Cain went forth from the presence of God and dwelt in the land of Nod over against Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and having conceived she bore Enoch; and he built a city; and he named the city after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 And to Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael; and Mehujael begot Methushael; and Methushael begot Lamech. 19 And Lamech took to himself two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the second Zillah. 20 And Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those that dwell in tents, feeding cattle. 21 And the name of his brother was Jubal; he it was who invented the [harp and lyrea]. 22 And Zillah also bore Tubal; he was a smith, a manufacturer both of brass and iron; and the sister of Tubal was Naamah. 23 And Lamech said to his wives,
Adah and Zillah, hear my voice,
Ye wives of Lamech, consider my words,
Because I have slain a man [for wounding meb],
And a youth [for bruising mec].
24 Because vengeance has been exacted seven times on Cain’s behalf,
On Lamech’s it shall be seventy times seven.
25 And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore a son, and called his name Seth, saying, For God has raised up to me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain [killedd]. 26 And Seth had a son, and he called his name Enosh: he hoped to call on the name of the Lord God.
a Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated ψαλτήριον καὶ κιθάραν as “psaltery and harp.”
b Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated εἰς τραῦμα ἐμοί as “to my sorrow.”
c Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated εἰς μώλωπα ἐμοί as “to my grief.”
d Brenton / ENGLXXUP translated ἀπέκτεινεν as “slew.”
There are similarities / common names between Cain’s geneaology and Adam’s (ch. 5). Source-critical scholars attribute the genealogy in ch. 4 to J and ch. 5 to P.
- This genealogy resembles other ANE lists of seven generations of antediluvian sages / apkallu that introduced various technological (and magical) skills that formed the basis for urban civilization. These ancient sages were correlated to ANE kings. In contrast, Genesis portrays geneaologies of “ordinary” people who were not kings, but makes the argument that all humans are created in the image of God and therefore were given authority to rule.
16: Cain left “the face of God,” representing humanity’s choice to further alienate itself from God. “Nod” is related to a word in Hebrew meaning “wandering,” and the text further clarifies that Cain is moving further away from Eden. Similarly, in our spiritual life, moving away from God involves wandering.
17: God placed man in a garden—not in a city. It is notable that the first city is built by a murderer (or his son) who was alienated from God. This is perhap a critique of the ANE understanding of how various heroes of old brought technology from the gods to humanity to instantiate urban civilation (depicted through the discoveries / skills of Cain’s ancestors), which will culminate in ch. 11 with the construction in Babel. St. Augustine uses Cain as the basis for his earthly city (as opposed to the city of God in exile on earth; cf., e.g., City of God 15.15).
19–24: Lamech, the seventh generation, begins to practice polygamy and is proud of his violence. This demonstrates humanity’s continual fall away from God.
23–24: Lamech’s poem is often called the “Song of the Sword” and displays frequent parallelism. The name seems to assume that Tubal’s developments in metallurgy were used (at least in part) to make weapons, leading to Lamech’s confidence in his (newfound, technology-enabled) combat abilities.
25: The Hebrew name Seth is etymologically related to the words “set / put / granted,” which in context refer to “substitution” or “replacement,” which is implied by Eve’s statement about his name (which in the Hebrew is a wordplay).
26: The Hebrew name Enosh (אֱנוֹשׁ) means “man” / “human.” Unlike the discoveries of various technologies ascribed to Cain’s descendants, Seth’s son (re–)introduces the practice of calling upon God’s name, offering a glimmer of hope that humanity might move closer to God rather than further away from Him.
The Hebrew MT states more generally that people began calling upon the name of the Lord, whereas the LXX (and Vulgate) attributes a desire to do so to Enosh.
Some contemporary commentators, rather than seeing Enosh’s invocation of the name of God as a positive sign, see a parallel in the Sumerian flood account and believe this simply points to the establishment of the practice of worship amongst humanity (not necessarily to the God of Eden).
Some believe that this verse ends the toledot section begun in 2:4.