Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 4

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1-2
Genesis 4:1-2. Adam and Eve had many sons and daughters, Genesis 5:4 : but Cain and Abel seem to have been the two eldest. Cain signifies possession; for Eve, when she bare him, said, with joy, and thankfulness, and expectation, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” Abel signifies vanity. The name given to this son is put upon the whole race, Psalms 39:5, “Every man is, at his best estate, Abel, vanity.” Abel was a keeper of sheep — He chose that employment which did most befriend contemplation and devotion, for that hath been looked upon as the advantage of a pastoral life. Moses and David kept sheep, and in their solitudes conversed with God.

Verse 3
Genesis 4:3. In process of time — After many years, when they were both grown up to man’s estate; at some set time, Cain and Abel brought to Adam, as the priest of the family, each of them an offering to the Lord; for which we have reason to think there was a divine appointment given to Adam, as a token of God’s favour, notwithstanding their apostacy.

Verse 4
Genesis 4:4. And the Lord God had respect to Abel and to his offering — And showed his acceptance of it, probably by fire from heaven; but to Cain and his offering he had not respect. We are sure there was a good reason for this difference: that the Governor of the world, though an absolute sovereign, doth not act arbitrarily in dispensing his smiles and frowns. 1st, There was a difference in the characters of the persons offering: Cain was a wicked man, but Abel was a righteous man, Matthew 23:35. 2d, There was a difference in the offerings they brought: Abel’s was a more excellent sacrifice than Cain’s; Cain’s was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat-offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more: but Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God’s wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator: but the great difference was, Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not. Abel offered with an eye to God’s will as his rule, and in dependance upon the promise of a Redeemer: but Cain did not offer in faith, and so it turned into sin to him.

Verses 5-7
Genesis 4:5-7. Cain was very wroth — Full of rage against God and his brother. His countenance fell — His looks became sour, dejected, and angry. The Lord said unto Cain — to convince him of his sin, and bring him to repentance, Why art thou wroth? What cause has been given thee, either by me or thy brother? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? — Either, 1st, If thou hadst done well, as thy brother did, thou shouldest have been accepted as he was. God is no respecter of persons; so that, if we come short of acceptance with him, the fault is wholly our own. This will justify God in the destruction of sinners, and will aggravate their ruin. There is not a damned sinner in hell, but, if he had done well, as he might have done, had been a glorified saint in heaven. Every mouth will shortly be stopped with this. Or, 2d, If now thou do well — If thou repent of thy sin, reform thy heart and life, and bring thy sacrifice in a better manner; thou shalt yet be accepted. See how early the gospel was preached, and the benefit of it offered even to one of the chief of sinners! He sets before him also death and a curse; but, if not well — Seeing thou didst not do well: not offer in faith, and in a right manner; sin lieth at the door — That is, sin only hinders thy acceptance. All this considered, Cain had no reason to be angry with his brother, but at himself only. Unto thee shall be his desire — He shall continue to respect thee as an elder brother, and thou, as the firstborn, shalt rule over him as much as ever. God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering did not transfer the birthright to him, (which Cain was jealous of,) nor put upon him that dignity and power which are said to belong to it, Genesis 49:3.

Verse 8
Genesis 4:8. Cain talked with Abel his brother — Either familiarly or friendly, as he used to do, with a view to make him secure and careless, or by way of expostulation and contention. The Chaldee paraphrast adds, that Cain, when they were in discourse, maintained there was no judgment to come, and that when Abel spoke in defence of the truth, Cain took that occasion to fall upon him. The Scripture tells us the reason wherefore he slew him, “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous;” so that herein he showed himself to be a “child of the devil,” as being “an enemy to all righteousness.” Observe, the first that dies, is a saint; the first that went to the grave, went to heaven. God would secure to himself the first-fruits, the firstborn to the dead, that first opened the womb into another world.

Verse 9
Genesis 4:9. Where is Abel thy brother? — Not that God was ignorant where he was, but he asks him that he might convince him of his crime, and bring him to a confession of it; for those that would be justified before God, must accuse themselves. And he said, I know not — Thus in Cain, the devil was both a murderer and a liar from the beginning. Am I my brother’s keeper? — Is he so young that he needs a guardian? Or didst thou assign any such office to me? Surely he is old enough to take care of himself, nor did I ever take charge of him.

Verse 10
Genesis 4:10. What hast thou done? — Thou thinkest to conceal it; but the evidence against thee is clear and incontestable: the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth from the ground — He speaks as if the blood itself were both witness and prosecutor, because God’s own knowledge testified against him, and God’s own justice demanded satisfaction.

Verse 11
Genesis 4:11. And now art thou cursed — 1st, Separated to all evil, laid under the wrath of God, as it is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. 2d, He is cursed from the earth. Thence the cry came up to God, thence the curse came up to Cain. God could have taken vengeance by an immediate stroke from heaven: but he chose to make the earth the avenger of blood; to continue him upon the earth, and not presently to cut him off; and yet to make even that his curse. That part of it which fell to his share, and which he had the occupation of, was made unfruitful, by the blood of Abel. Besides, 3d, A fugitive and a vagabond (says God) shalt thou be in the earth — By this he was condemned to perpetual disgrace and reproach, and to perpetual disquiet and horror in his own mind. His own guilty conscience would haunt him wherever he went.

Verse 13-14
Genesis 4:13-14. Cain said, My punishment (Hebrews my sin) is greater than I can bear — Sin, however, seems to be put for punishment, as it is Genesis 4:7, and in many other places. For Cain was not so sensible of his sin, as of the miserable effects of it, as appears from the next verse, where, to justify his complaint, he descants upon the sentence, observing, 1st, That he was excluded by it from the favour of God: that, being cursed, he was hid from God’s face, which is indeed the true nature of God’s curse, as they will find to whom God shall say, Depart from me, ye cursed. 2d, That he was expelled from all the comforts of this life; driven out from the face of the earth, and hid from God’s face — Shut out from the church, and not admitted to come with the sons of God to present himself before the Lord. And, adds he, every one that finds me shall slay me — Wherever he goes, he goes in peril of his life. There were none alive but his near relations, yet even of them he is justly afraid, who had himself been so barbarous to his own brother.

Verse 15
Genesis 4:15. Whosoever slayeth Cain, &c. — God having said, in Cain’s case, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, it had been a daring usurpation for any man to take the sword out of God’s hand. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain — To distinguish him from the rest of mankind. What the mark was, God has not told us: therefore the conjectures of men are vain.

Verse 16
Genesis 4:16. And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt on the east of Eden — Somewhere distant from the place where Adam and his religions family resided: distinguishing himself and his accursed generation from the holy seed; in the land of Nod — That is, of shaking or trembling, because of the continual restlessness of his spirit. Those that depart from God cannot find rest anywhere else. When Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, he never rested after.

Verse 19
Genesis 4:19. Lamech took two wives — It was one of the degenerate race of Cain who first transgressed the original law of marriage, that two only should be one flesh, and introduced a custom which still subsists in many parts of the world. Christ fully laid open the iniquity of this practice, and restored marriage to its first form, Matthew 19:8.

Verse 20
Genesis 4:20. He (Jabal) was the father of such as dwell in tents — That is, he taught shepherds to dwell in them, and to remove them from place to place for conveniency of pasture. The first authors of any thing are commonly called its fathers.

Verse 21
Genesis 4:21. The harp and organ — The word rendered organ here means a lovely instrument; but what kind of an instrument this was, the Jews themselves do not know. This Jubal was the inventor of such musical instruments, and of music itself.

Genesis 4:23-24. This passage is extremely obscure. We have no information whom he slew, or on what occasion, neither what ground he had to be so confident of the divine protection. The original words indeed may be rendered, Have I slain a man to my wounding? &c. — And perhaps the best key to their meaning may be to suppose that his wives were convinced he had sinned in marrying them both, and introducing polygamy, and were afraid that the judgments of God would fall upon him for that crime, and upon themselves, for his sake. And he might say these words with a view to comfort them. As if he had said, Why should I fear, or you fear for me? Have I slain a man to my wounding? &c. That is, that I should deserve a wound or death to be inflicted on me? You have no cause to fear for me, or for yourselves on my account. For if Cain shall be avenged seven-fold — If God engaged to protect him, although he murdered his innocent brother, he will much more defend me, who have committed no such wickedness.

Verse 25
Genesis 4:25. In this verse we find the first mention of Adam in the story of this chapter. No question, the murder of Abel, and the impenitency and apostacy of Cain, were a very great grief to him and Eve and the more because their own wickedness did now correct them, and their backsliding did reprove them. Their folly had given sin and death entrance into the world; and now they smarted by it, being, by means thereof, deprived of both their sons in one day, Genesis 27:45. When parents are grieved by their children’s wickedness, they should take occasion from thence to lament that corruption of nature which was derived from themselves, and which is the root of bitterness. But here we have that which was a relief to our first parents in their affliction; namely, God gave them to see the rebuilding of their family, which was sorely shaken and weakened by that sad event. For they saw their seed, another instead of Abel. And Adam called his name Seth — That is, set, settled, or placed, because in his seed mankind should continue to the end of time.

Verse 26
Genesis 4:26. And to Seth was born a son called Enos, which is the general name for all men, and speaks the weakness, frailty, and misery of man’s state. Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord — Doubtless God’s name was called upon before: but now, 1st, The worshippers of God began to do more in religion than they had done; perhaps not more than had been done at first, but more than had been done since the defection of Cain. Now men began to worship God, not only in their closets and families, but in public and solemn assemblies. 2nd, The worshippers of God began to distinguish themselves: so the margin reads it. Then began men to be called by the name of the Lord — or, to call themselves by it. Now Cain and those that had deserted religion had built a city, and begun to declare for irreligion, and called themselves the sons of men. Those that adhered to God began to declare for him and his worship, and called themselves the sons of God.