Genesis 4:17 MEANING

Genesis 4:17

(17) Cain knew his wife.--As Jehovah had told Eve that He would "greatly multiply her conception" (Genesis 3:16), we cannot doubt but that a numerous offspring had grown up in the 130 years that intervened between the birth of Cain and that of Seth, the substitute for Abel. As a rule, only the eldest son is mentioned in the genealogies, and Abel's birth is chronicled chiefly because of his tragical end, leading to the enactment of the merciful law which followed and to the sundering of the human race. One of Adam's daughters apparently clave unto her brother, in spite of the solemn decree of banishment passed upon him, probably, by his father, and followed him in his wanderings as his wife, and bare him a son, whom they called "Enoch." Now this name, in Hebrew Chanoch, is of the utmost importance in estimating Cain's character. It means train in Proverbs 22:6 ("Train up a child"), but is used in Deuteronomy 20:5 of the dedication of a house; and thus Cain also calls his city "Enoch," dedicated. But in old times the ideas of training and dedication were closely allied, because teaching generally took the form of initiation into sacred rites, and one so initiated was regarded as a consecrated person. Though, then, the wife may have had most to do with giving the name, yet we see in it a purpose that the child should be a trained and consecrated man; and Cain must have now put off those fierce and violent habits which had led him into so terrible a crime. We may add that this prepares our minds for the rapid advance of the Cainites in the arts of civilisation, and for the very remarkable step next taken by Cain.

He builded a city.--Heb., was building, that is, began to build a city. There was not as yet population enough for a city, but Cain, as his offspring increased, determined that they should dwell together, under training, in some dedicated common abode. He probably selected some fit spot for the acropolis, or citadel, to be the centre of his village; and as training is probably the earlier, and dedication the later meaning, Cain appears as a wise ruler, like Nimrod subsequently, rather than as a religious man. His purpose was much the same as that of the builders of the Tower of Babel, who wanted to keep mankind together that they might form a powerful community. It is worth notice that in the line of Seth, the name of the seventh and noblest of that race, is also Enoch, whose training was a close walk with God.

Verse 17. - Domiciled in Nod, whither, impelled by woman's love, his wife had accompanied him, the unhappy fugitive began to seek, if not to find, relief from the gnawing agonies of remorse in the endearments of conjugal felicity and the occupations of secular industry. And Cain knew his wife. Who must have been his sister, and married before the death of Abel, as "after that event it can scarcely be supposed, that any woman would be willing to connect herself with such a miserable fratricide" (Bush). Though afterwards forbidden, the tendency of Divine legislation on the subject of marriage being always in the direction of enlarging rather than restricting the circle of prohibited relationships, the union of brothers and sisters at the first was clearly indispensable, if the race was to multiply outwards from a common stock. "Even in much later times, and among very civilized nations, such alliances were not considered incestuous. The Athenian law made it compulsory to marry the sister if she had not found a husband at a certain age. Abraham married his half-sister, Sarah; and the legislator Moses himself was the offspring of-a matrimony which he later interdicted as unholy" (Kalisch). And she conceived. For even from the unbelieving and unthankful, the disobedient and the repro. bate, God's providential mercies are not entirely withheld (Psalm 145:9; Matthew 5:45). And bare Enoch. Chanoch, "dedicated," "initiated," from chanach, to instruct (Proverbs 22:6) and to consecrate (Deuteronomy 20:5; 1 Kings 8:63). Candlish detects in the name the impious pride of the first murderer; with more charity, Keil and Kalisch see a promise of the renovation of his life. The latter thinks that Cain called his son "Initiated" or "Instructed" to intimate that he intended to instruct him from his early years in the duties of virtue, and his city "Dedicated" to signify that he now recognized that "the firstling of his social prosperity belongs to God." If Luther's conjecture be correct, that the child received its name from its mother, it will touchingly express that young mother's hope that the child whom God had sent might be an augury of blessing for their saddened home, and her resolution both to consecrate him from his youth to God and to instruct him in God's fear and worship. And he builded. Literally, was building, i.e. began to build, "but never finished, leading still a runagate life, and so often constrained to leave the work, as the giants did who built the tower of Babel" (Willet). A city. Vater, Hartmann, and Bohlen discover in the city-building of Cain "a main proof of the mythical contents of the narrative," an advanced state of civilization "utterly unsuitable to so early a period;" but ancient tradition (Phoenician, Egyptian, and Hellenic) is unanimous in ascribing to the first men the invention of agriculture and the arts, with the discovery of metals, the origin of music, etc. (vide Havernick's 'Intro.,' § 16). Of course the עִיר which Cain erected was not a city according to modern ideas, but a keep or fort, enclosed with a wall for the defense of those who dwelt within (Murphy). It was the first step in the direction of civilization, and Kalisch notes it as a deep trait in the Biblical account that the origin of cities is ascribed not to the nomad, but to the agriculturist. Impelled by the necessities of his occupation to have a fixed residence, he would likewise in course of time be constrained by the multiplication of his household to insure their protection and comfort. It is possible also that his attempt to found a city may have been dictated by a desire to bid defiance to the curse which doomed him to a wandering life; to create for his family and himself a new point of interest outside the holy circle of Eden, and to find an outlet for those energies and powers of which, as an early progenitor of the race, he must have been conscious, and in the restless activity of which oblivion for his misery could alone be found. If so, it explains the action which is next recorded of him, that he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. I.e. he consecrated it to the realization of these his sinful hopes and schemes.

4:16-18 Cain cast off all fear of God, and attended no more on God's ordinances. Hypocritical professors, who dissemble and trifle with God, are justly left to themselves to do something grossly scandalous. So they throw off that form of godliness to which they have been a reproach, and of which they deny the power. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and we never find that he came into it again, to his comfort. The land Cain dwelt in was called the land of Nod, which means, 'shaking,' or 'trembling,' and so shows the restlessness and uneasiness of his own spirit, or 'the land of a vagabond:' they that depart from God cannot find rest any where else. Those on earth who looked for the heavenly city, chose to dwell in tabernacles or tents; but Cain, as not minding that city, built one on earth. Thus all who are cursed of God seek their settlement and satisfaction here below.And Cain knew his wife,.... Who this woman was is not certain, nor whether it was his first wife or not; whether his sister, or one that descended from Adam by another of his sons, since this was about the one hundred and thirtieth year of the creation. At first indeed Cain could marry no other than his sister; but whether he married Abel's twin sister, or his own twin sister, is disputed; the Jews say (g), that Cain's twin sister was not a beautiful woman, and therefore he said, I will kill my brother and take his wife: on the other hand, the Arabic writers say (h), that Adam would have had Cain married Abel's twin sister, whom they call Awin; and Abel have married Cain's twin sister, whom they call Azron; but Cain would not, because his own sister was the handsomest; and this they take to be the occasion of the quarrel, which issued in the murder of Abel.

And she conceived and bare Enoch; which signifies "trained up", not in the true religion, and in the ways of God and godliness, as one of this name descending from Seth was, who is said to walk with God; but in the practices of his father Cain, and in a wicked course of life:

and he builded a city: for a settlement on earth, thinking of nothing but this world, and the things of it; or to secure himself from being slain by men; or it may be for his amusement, to divert his thoughts from the melancholy scene always presented to his mind, by being thus employed; and his posterity growing numerous, he took this method to keep them together, and that they might be able to defend themselves from the assaults of others. Some render the words, "he was building a city" (i); as if he did not live to finish it; but it looks as if it was finished by him, by what follows:

and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch: not after his own name, which was odious and infamous, but after his son's name, to show his affection to him, and that his name might be continued in ages to come; see Psalm 49:11. This was the first city that was built, that we read of. Sir Walter Raleigh conjectures (k) that the Henochii or Heniochi of Pliny, Ptolemy, and other writers, took their name from this city of Henoch, or from the country where it stood, when it was repeopled after the flood, since these people were due east from the garden of Eden. (For Cain to marry his sister or any other close relation was not harmful as it is today. There would be few if any genetic disorders at this time. However, as time past, the human race accumulated more and more genetic defects, so by the time of Moses, the laws against incest, as given in Leviticus 18:1, were necessary. These laws helped prevent deformed children. Ed.)

(g) Pirke Eliezer, c. 21. (h) Abulpharag. Hist. Dynast. p. 4. Patricides apud Selden, de Jure Nat. & Gent. l. 3. c. 2. & l. 5. c. 9. (i) "et fuit aedificans", Montanus, Drusius; "era aedificans". Fagius; so Ainsworth; "studebat aedificare", Junius & Tremellius. (k) History of the World, par. 1. B. 1. c. 5. sect. 2. p. 43.

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