Study Guide

Book of Genesis Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

Cain Whacks His Bro

  • Next up, the man "knew" his wife. That's a nice way of saying they did it, which is a nice way of saying they had sex. The English translation, "knew," reflects the fact that the Hebrew uses this euphemism, too.
    First born: Cain. His name in Hebrew (qayin) sounds like qanah, which the NRSV translates as "produced" (4:1). 
  • Second born: Abel, a herdsman of sheep. Cain, on the other hand, is a farmer like his father.
  • Cain offers part of his harvest to God, and Abel offers the first born livestock. Both offerings are very choice, but the Lord likes the livestock better. The deity's not a vegetarian, after all, and would rather have a burger than some lettuce. 
  • Cain gets wicked jealous, and the Lord chides him for it in the very cryptic words of ancient poetry. 
  • Solution? Cain lures Abel out to a field and kills him.
  • The Lord asks Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" (4:9 NRSV). Sounds similar to the question to Adam in 3:9, right?
  • Cain claims not to know—he's not his brother's guardian, after all. The words are ironic, since we all know exactly what just went down.
  • It turns out God knows, too, because Abel's blood is crying out to him. Yep, his blood seeped right into the soil, and that soil will no longer produce for Cain. That's bad news for a farmer, that's for sure.
  • For more punishment, Cain will wander restlessly all over the earth. Looks like he's being driven away just like his father was. 
  • In general, there are many similarities between 4:1-15 and 3:8-24. We dare you to find 'em all.
  • Cain complains that he just can't take this punishment. He'll have to hide from God's presence, and whoever finds him will kill him. Hmmm… why?
  • God heeds Cain's worries and declares that whoever kills him will be sorry.
  • The deity places a mark on Cain, which is supposed to protect him. Kind of like a holy tattoo.
  • Cain wanders his way to Nod, which is "east of Eden" (4:16). Sound familiar? That's because Steinbeck had his way with these words, too. 
  • All of the sudden, Cain marries (does this contradict 4:12?) and has a son named Enoch.
  • Then he builds a city, which he names Enoch, after his son. Sigh—we pine for the days of Shmoopville.
  • Cain's great-great-great grandson's name is Lamech, and with two wives, he's the world's first polygamist.
  • Among Cain's descendants are several overachievers: Jabal's the first to dwell in tents with livestock; Jubal's the first musician. Civilization is advancing big-time.
  • Lamech (Remember him from 4:18-19?) recites to his wives a cryptic warrior-poem in which he brags that he killed a guy and a boy for wounding him. Sure, Cain will be avenged badly (see 4:15), but Lamech will avenge himself with even more destruction. 
  • Adam and Eve are still going at it, and God "appoints" (Hebrew: shat) for Eve a third son named Seth (Hebrew: shet), who's a replacement for Abel. Pssst, Eve: don't tell Seth that. It might mess him up.
  • Seth has a son named Enosh.
  • Oh, and one last thing: this is about the time when people start calling the deity by his nickname, the Lord (in Hebrew YHWH).

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