THE FOUNDING OF THE FAMILY, AND COMMENCEMENT OF THE NON-PARADISIACAL LIFE.
(1) She . . . bare Cain, and said . . . —In this chapter we have the history of the founding of the family of Cain, a race godless and wanton, but who, nevertheless, far outstripped the descendants of Seth in the arts of civilisation. To tillage and a pastoral life they added metallurgy and music; and the knowledge not only of copper and its uses, but even of iron (Genesis 4:22), must have given them a command over the resources of nature so great as to have vastly diminished the curse of labour, and made their lives easy and luxurious.
I have gotten a man from the Lord.—Rather, who is Jehovah. It is inconceivable that eth should have here a different meaning from that which it has in Genesis 1:1. It there gives emphasis to the object of the verb: “God created eth the heaven and eth the earth,” that is, even the heaven and even the earth. So also here, “I have gotten a man eth Jehovah.” even Jehovah. The objection that this implies too advanced a knowledge of Messianic ideas is unfounded. It is we who read backward, and put our ideas into the words of the narrative. These words were intended to lead on to those ideas, but they were at present only as the germ, or as the filament in the acorn which contains the oak-tree. If there is one thing certain, it is that religious knowledge was given gradually, and that the significance of the name Jehovah was revealed by slow degrees. (See on Genesis 4:26.) Eve attached no notion of divinity to the name; still less did she foresee that by the superstition of the Jews the title Lord would be substituted for it. We distinctly know that Jehovah was not even the patriarchal name of the Deity (Exodus 6:3), and still less could it have been God’s title in Paradise. But Eve had received the promise that her seed should crush the head of her enemy, and to this promise her words referred, and the title in her mouth meant probably no more than “the coming One.” Apparently, too, it was out of Eve’s words that this most significant title of the covenant God arose. (See Excursus on names Elohim and Jehovah-Elohim, at end of this book.)
Further, Eve calls Cain “a man,” Heb., ish, a being. (See on Genesis 2:23.) As Cain was the first infant, no word as yet existed for child. But in calling him “a being, even the future one,” a lower sense, often attached to these words, is not to be altogether excluded. It has been said that Eve, in the birth of this child, saw the remedy for death. Death might slay the individual, but the existence of the race was secured. Her words therefore might be paraphrased: “I have gained a man, who is the pledge of future existence.” Mankind is thus that which shall exist. Now, it is one of the properties of Holy Scripture that words spoken in a lower and ordinary sense are often prophetic: so that even supposing that Eve meant no more than this, it would not exclude the higher interpretation. It is evident, however, from the fact of these words having been so treasured up, that they were regarded by Adam and his posterity as having no commonplace meaning; and this interpretation has a suspiciously modern look about it. Finally, in Christ alone man does exist and endure. He is the perfect man—man’s highest level; so that even thus there would be a presage of immortality for man in the saying, “I have gained a man, even he that shall become.” Grant that it was then but an indefinite yearning: it was one, nevertheless, which all future inspiration was to make distinct and clear; and now, under the guidance of the Spirit, it has become the especial title of the Second Person in the Holy Trinity.
Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.—As Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born (Genesis 5:3), there was a long period for the increase of Adam’s family (comp. Genesis 4:14-17), and also for the development of the characters of these his two eldest sons. In the one we seem to see a rough, strong nature, who took the hard work as he found it, and subdued the ground with muscular energy; in the other a nature more refined and thoughtful, and making progress upwards. Adam had already tamed animals in Paradise: to these Abel devotes himself, tends them carefully, and gains from them ample and easy means of sustenance, higher in kind even than the fruits of Paradise. Round these two the other sons and daughters of Adam group themselves, and Cain seems already to have had a wife when he murdered his brother (Genesis 4:17).
An offering.—Heb., a thank-offering, a present. We must be careful not to introduce here any of the later Levitical ideas about sacrifice. All that we know about this offering is that it was an act of worship, and apparently something usual. Now, each brought of his own produce, and one was accepted and one rejected. Why? Much ingenuity has been wasted on this question, as though Cain erred on technical grounds; whereas we are expressly told in Hebrews 11:4 that Abel’s was the more excellent sacrifice, because offered “in faith.” It was the state of their hearts that made the difference; though, as the result of unbelief, Cain’s may have been a scanty present of common produce, and not of first-fruits, while Abel brought “firstlings, and of the fat thereof,” the choicest portion. Abel may also have shown a deeper faith in the promised Deliverer by offering an animal sacrifice: and certainly the acceptance of his sacrifice quickened among men the belief that the proper way of approaching God was by the death of a victim. But Cain’s unbloody sacrifice had also a great future before it. It became the minchah of the Levitical law, and under the Christian dispensation is the offering of prayer and praise, and especially the Eucharistic thanksgiving. We have already noticed that Abel’s sacrifice shows that flesh was probably eaten on solemn occasions. Had animals been killed only for their skins for clothing, repulsive ideas would have been connected with the carcases cast aside to decay; nor would Abel have attached any value to firstlings. But as soon as the rich abundance of Paradise was over, man would quickly learn to eke out the scanty produce of the soil by killing wild animals and the young of his own flocks.
The Lord had respect.—Heb., looked upon, showed that He had seen it. It has been supposed that some visible sign of God’s favour was given, and the current idea among the fathers was that fire fell from heaven, and consumed the sacrifice. (Comp. Leviticus 9:24.) But there is real irreverence in thus filling up the narrative; and it is enough to know that the brothers were aware that God was pleased with the one and displeased with the other. More important is it to notice, first, that God’s familiar presence was not withdrawn from man after the fall. He talked with Cain as kindly as with Adam of old. And secondly, in these, the earliest, records of mankind religion is built upon love, and the Deity appears as man’s personal friend. This negatives the scientific theory that religion grew out of dim fears and terror at natural phenomena, ending gradually in the evolution of the idea of a destructive and dangerous power outside of man, which man must propitiate as best he could.
We have in this verse proof of a struggle in Cain’s conscience. Abel was evidently outstripping him in wealth; his flocks were multiplying, and possibly his younger brothers were attaching themselves to him in greater numbers than to Cain. Moreover, there was a more marked moral growth in him, and his virtue and piety were more attractive than Cain’s harsher disposition. This had led to envy and malice on the part of Cain, increased, doubtless, by the favour of God shown to Abel’s sacrifice; but he seems to have resisted these evil feelings. Jehovah would not have remonstrated thus kindly with him had he been altogether reprobate. Possibly, too, for a time he prevailed over his evil tempers. It is a gratuitous assumption that the murder followed immediately upon the sacrifice. The words of the Almighty rather show that repentance was still possible, and that Cain might still recover the Divine favour, and thereby regain that pre-eminence which was his by right of primogeniture, but which he felt that he was rapidly losing by Abel’s prosperity and more loving ways.
It came to pass, when they were in the field.—The open, uncultivated land, where Abel’s flocks would find pasture. We cannot suppose that this murder was premeditated. Cain did not even know what a human death was. But, as Philippson remarks, there was a perpetual struggle between the husbandmen who cultivated fixed plots of ground and the wandering shepherds whose flocks were too prone to stray upon the tilled fields. Possibly Abel’s flocks had trespassed on Cain’s land, and when he went to remonstrate, his envy was stirred at the sight of his brother’s affluence. A quarrel ensued, and Cain, in that fierce anger, to fits of which he was liable (Genesis 4:5), tried to enforce his mastery by blows, and before he well knew what he was doing, he had shed his brother’s blood, and stood in terror before the first human corpse.
Sevenfold.—Cain’s punishment was severe, because his crime was the result of bad and violent passions, but his life was not taken because the act was not premeditated. Murder was more than he had meant. But as any one killing him would mean murder, therefore the vengeance would be sevenfold: that is, complete, seven being the number of perfection. Others, however, consider that Cain’s life was under a religious safeguard, seven being the sacred number of creation. In this we have the germ of the merciful law which set cities of refuge apart for the involuntary manslayer.
The Lord set a mark upon Cain.—This rendering suggests an utterly false idea. Cain was not branded nor marked in any way. What the Hebrew says is, “And Jehovah set,” that is, appointed, “unto Cain a sign, that no one finding him should slay him.” In a similar manner God appointed the rainbow as a sign unto Noah that mankind should never again be destroyed by a flood. Probably the sign here was also some natural phenomenon, the regular recurrence of which would assure Cain of his security, and so pacify his excited feelings.
The land of Nod.—i.e., of wandering. Knobel supposes it was China, but this is too remote. Read without vowels, the word becomes India. All that is certain is that Cain emigrated into Eastern Asia, and as none of Noah’s descendants, in the table of nations in Genesis 10, are described as having travelled eastward, many with Philippson and Knobel regard the Mongol race as the offspring of Cain.
Genesis 4:17And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.CAIN AND HIS DESCENDANTS.
(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.
The son of Zillah attained to higher distinction. He is the first “sharpener (or hammerer) of every instrument of copper and iron.” Copper is constantly found cropping up in a comparatively pure state upon the surface of the ground, and was the first metal made use of by man. It is comparatively soft, and is easily beaten to an edge; but it was long before men learned the art of mixing with it an alloy of tin, and so producing the far harder substance, bronze. The alloy to which we give the name of brass was absolutely unknown to the ancients. The discovery of iron marks a far greater advance in metallurgy, as the ore has to be smelted, and the implement produced is more precious. The Greeks in the time of Homer seem to have known it only as a rarity imported from the north; and Rawlinson (Anc. Monarchies, i. 167) mentions that in Mesopotamia, while silver was the metal current in traffic, iron was so rare as to be regarded as something very precious. The name of this hero is “Tubal-cain.” In Ezekiel 27:13, Tubal brings copper to the mart of Tyre, and in Persian the word means copper. Cain is a distinct name from that of Adam’s firstborn, and means, in most Semitic languages, smith; thus Tubal-cain probably signifies coppersmith.
The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.—The same as Naomi (Ruth 1:2), and meaning beauty, loveliness. As women are not mentioned in the genealogies, and as no history follows of this personage, her name must be given as an indication that a great advance had been made, not only in the arts, but also in the elegancies of life. Women could not have been mere drudges and household slaves, nor men coarse and boorish, when Naamah’s beauty was so highly appreciated. The Rabbins have turned her into a demon, and given free play to their imagination in the stories they have invented concerning her.
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice,
Ye wives of Lemech. give ear unto my rede.
For I have slain a man for wounding me:
Even a young man for bruising me.
Truly Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
And Lemech seventy and sevenfold.”
It is remarkable that both of the words used for the attack upon Lamech refer to such wounds as might be given by a blow with the fist, while his word means to pierce, or run through with a sharp weapon. “Young man” is literally child, but see on Genesis 21:14.
With this boastful poem in praise of armed violence and bloodshed, joined with indications of luxury and a life of pleasure, the narrator closes the history of the race of Cain.
Genesis 4:24If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.
Genesis 4:25And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.SUBSTITUTION OF SETH FOR ABEL.
(25) Another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.—Cain, the firstborn, and Abel, who had outstripped him in prosperity, were both lost to Adam. But instead of the third son succeeding to the place of the firstborn, it is given to one specially marked out, probably by prophecy, just as Solomon took the rights of primogeniture over the head of Adonijah.
Seth.—Heb., Sheth, that is, appointed, substituted: he was thus specially designated as the son who was to be the chief over Àdam’s family.
Then began men (Heb., then it was begun) to call upon the name of the Lord (Jehovah).—That is, the notion of Divinity began now to be attached to this name, and even in their worship men called upon God as Jehovah. Eve, as we have seen, attached no such idea to it; and when, in Genesis 4:3, we read that Cain and Abel brought an offering to Jehovah, these are the words of the narrator, who in the story of the fall had expressly styled the Deity Jehovah-Elohim, that is, Jehovah-God, or more exactly, “the coming God,” in order to show that Elohim and Jehovah are one. Two hundred and thirty-five years had elapsed between the birth of Cain and that of Enos, and men had learned a truer appreciation of the promise given to their primal mother, in Genesis 3:15, than she herself had when she supposed that her first child was to win back for her the Paradise. Probably they had no exact doctrinal views about His person and nature; it was the office of prophecy “by divers portions” to give these (Hebrews 1:1). But they had been taught that “He who should be” was Divine, and to be worshipped. It is the hopeless error of commentators to suppose that Eve, and Enos, and others, knew all that is now known, and all that the inspired narrator knew. They thus do violence to the plainest language of Holy Scripture, and involve its interpretation in utter confusion. Read without these preconceived notions, the sense is plain: that the name Jehovah had now become a title of the Deity, whereas previously no such sacredness had been attached to it. It was long afterwards, in the days of Moses, that it became the personal name of the covenant God of the Jews.