Genesis 4:1-17 The First Murder & Where Did Cain’s Wife Come From

Posted on September 28, 2008. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |


Introduction: According to the FBI crime statistics for the first 6 months of 2007, the number of murders had dropped by 1.1% compare with 2006. In Fort Worth for 2006 there were 49 murders which was a rate of 7.6 per 100,000 and the national avg. was 7.0 per 100,000. One anecdotal fact that is not a scientific statistic, is that in the last summer the City of Detroit has had more murders than we have lost soldiers in the war in Iraq. Has anyone here beside me personally known someone who has been murdered? I have known at least 4 people who have been murdered. Have any of you personally known a murderer? I have known at least 5 murderers. I have done funerals for 1 murder victim, and 1 murder/suicide double funeral. Then throw in suicide, self murder. How many of you know someone who killed themselves? Besides the murder/suicide double funeral I have done 2 suicide funerals for teenagers.


In today’s passage we want to examine the First Murder and see what this text is actually telling us, then we will look at murder in the context of the whole Bible and then try to look at the answers the Bible gives for the various problems of murder. This passage will touch on a lot of theology and a lot of practical issues for today.


I. The First Murder

Vs.5b “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” Here we get to the causus belli, the root of the problem. Cain was envious of his brother’s acceptance and resentful of his own rejection. We do not know in what way God showed his acceptance of Abel and rejection of Cain. Some have proposed that fire came down from heaven and consumed Abel’s offering, but the text does not say. It may have been some kind of direct communication by God since we see God speaking directly to Cain in v.6. Or it could have been just a very subtle, gradual thing that was subjective and tied to other issues of sibling rivalry and the offering was the last straw. But Cain hated his brother. The text says “Cain was very angry…” it literally means “it burned to Cain exceedingly” and is similar to what we find in Gen. 34:7 in the story of Dinah’s brothers’ reaction to her rape “the men were indignant and very angry”. So this was not just a little envy, jealousy or depression; this was a burning hot anger that is rooted in those other sins.


and his face fell.” In other places in Scripture there is the concept of the Lord’s face shining upon you (the Barocha of Numbers 6:24-26). The idea here is the perfectly normal aspect of how a person’s face looks when they are angry or plotting evil.


4:6-7 Just like in 3:9, 11 when God questioned Adam and Eve about their sin, God confronts Cain with his attitude. The goal of this questioning is to help Cain avoid worse sin. “Why are you angry?” Getting to Cain to look inside and examine the source of his sin was the first step. Why was Cain angry? He was angry because his brother’s sacrifice was accepted. But wasn’t Cain also then angry with God for accepting Abel instead of himself? We cannot sin just against another person, or sin just inside of ourselves; all sin is against God.


Notice the remedy in vs. 7 “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Obedience to God is always the standard and the answer to most of our problems. The text literally says, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up, which reverses what was said in v.6. In 1Sam.15:22 “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. See Mark 12:33; Matt.9:13; Hosea 6:6.


“And if you do not do well, will you not be, sin is crouching at the door.” Sin is aptly described here as an animal resting at the door, ready to pounce if disturbed. In the Akkadian language, this word is used to describe a demonic dragon that sleeps at the entrance to buildings ready to attack you when you cross the threshold. This understanding would then parallel the seed of the serpent in 3:15. The idea is that sin can be stirred up by your wrong choices and it can then master you.


“Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” is almost identical to what God said to Cain’s mother in 3:16, again linking the two passages.


Application: 1) One sin very often leads to another, and then another. 2) A small, hidden sin very often leads to bolder sins, visible sin, more serious sin. 3) Sin really is like an untamed wild dragon that awaits the person who may cross the threshold. Picture the Dragon Smaug in The Hobbit as Bilbo Baggins tries to burgle his treasure trove.


Vss.8-16 Three words are repeated throughout this section: “brother” “kill” and “ground”


Vs.8- The idea here is that Cain lured his brother out to the field so that he could kill him. In other words this was premeditated murder, not manslaughter. In the Law it is punishable by death. See Deut.19:11-12; 22:25-27. The word “brother” is repeated so often in order to underscore how evil this deed was- he killed his own brother! The firstborn child in the world kills the second born. Here again is a theme that is repeated in the rest of Genesis: Ishmael was hostile to all his brothers (16:12; 25:18); Esau in Ge.27:41.And in 37:18 Joseph’s brothers conspire to kill him.


Vs 9- “Where is Abel your brother” echoes 3:9 when God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” Tying these to acts together with the language, Moses shows us that they are linked.  Notice that God gives him a chance to confess his sin! Doctrinal point- God is merciful and seeks to lead us to repentance Rom.2:4. Notice that in response to the kindness of God, Cain responds with a lie, “I do not know.” Sin so leads us down the wrong path that we become so foolish that we think we can hide from an all seeing God or lie to an all knowing God. But we do it every time we sin. We act as if God could not see us. In Cain’s case it is more blatant in that he is confronted directly and lies to God’s face. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that we find in Lk. 10:25ff and the story of the Good Samaritan. Lev.19:17-18.


Vs. 10 “What have you done?” echos 3:13. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Notice that in 3:8 Adam heard the sound of the Lord. The ground is now polluted; the ground that had been cursed because of Adam’s sin is now polluted with Abel’s blood.


Vs. 11-12 Cain is cursed, whereas in 3 it was the ground that was cursed. Deut.21:1-9. The guilt of innocent blood! There are obvious parallels with Christ. Heb.11:4; 12:24 Abel’s blood convicts the sinner and Christ’s brings forgiveness. The language of “you are cursed” is linking back to 3:14 and shows like father like seed both the serpent and Cain are murderers. Cain is driven from his family as his parents were driven from Eden. The curse takes away Cain’s livelihood as he cannot farm any more whereas Adam just was going to have more difficulty. Notice that the punishments for sin are getting steeper too. Notice also that Cain’s being exiled points to Israel’s being exiled to wander in the desert for their sin at Kadesh (Nu.14; Deut.2:14f). Doctrinal point- Sin brings exile from God and from the family of God.


Vs13-14 There is some disagreement over the translation of this verse. Some say it can mean he is expressing repentance, most do not say so. The context of v.14 is that Cain is complaining about the price he has to pay for sin. He is sorry for getting caught, not repentant for the sin. He is still self-focused. This is how most people respond to being caught. How do you respond when you are caught in sin? There are 4 aspects to his punishment: 1) He is driven away from the ground that will not be as fruitful; that which he offered to God was not only inadequate but now is cursed; 2) He is driven from the presence or face of God; 3) He is forced to be a nomad and wanderer now instead of a farmer; 4) Others will want to kill him. How ironic- the murderer is afraid of being murdered.


Arthur W. Pink writes, (Gleanings in Genesis, Moody Press, 1922, p.62) “My punishment is greater than I can bear will be the language of the lost in the Lake of Fire. The awful lot of the unsaved will be unbearable, and yet it will have to be endured and endured forever. ‘From they face shall I be hid’ cried Cain. Though the sinner knows it not, this will be the most terrible feature of his punishment- eternally banished from God. ‘Depart from me ye cursed’ will be the fearful sentence passed upon the wicked in the Day of Judgment.”


This statement also brings up an interesting question when combined with vs. 17 and the issue of Cain’s wife. Who are these other people who might want to kill Cain and where did he obtain a wife? Some critical scholars see this as a sign that the Cain story was from a much later time period and was inserted here, and is thus, inconsistent. I think the story absolutely happened the way the Scriptures tell it. It shows that as soon as sin enters the human heart every possible evil can and will happen. As far as the other people and where did they come from, there are really only two possibilities. Either God created other couples along with Adam or Eve (see John H. Walton, NIV Application Commentary, p.265 where he mentions this as only a possibility; he believes all came from Adam and Eve) or all these other people were the increasing offspring of Adam and Eve.


I believe that there had to be a first couple of Homo sapiens. As improbable as evolution is, even there you would have to have the right couple with the right adaptations at the right time to produce the first Homo sapiens couple. The Genesis story makes complete sense here. The genetic purity of the race as first created by God would allow for the children of Adam and Eve to intermarry without risk of birth defects. It is ironic then, that the man who killed his own brother was in fear of his other brothers and sisters taking vengeance on him. An argument for the contrary view that God did create other people could come from the text in that the story does not specifically say these others were Cain’s siblings. The text simply does not address the question unless you look at 3:20 and 5:4 as the answer, which makes the most sense. C. John Collins writes in Genesis 1-4 A Linguistic, Literary and Theological Commentary, P&R Publishing, 2006, p. 254, “All humans have this pair, Adam and Eve, as their ultimate ancestors.”


Vs15-16 We don’t know what the mark on Cain was.   Matthews writes, (NAC vol.1A, Genesis 1-11:26 p.278) “This ‘mark of Cain’, as it is popularly known, has proven to be a seedbed for confusion….’Mark’ is the common word for ‘sign’ (‘ot); the exact nature of the sign or its place on the body…is unknown. One Jewish tradition pointed to Cain himself as the ‘sign’ who served to admonish others to repentance….In effect this has become true for later generations, if not his own, for Cain the man has become a token of sin’s fruit and divine retribution (1John 3:12; Jude 11).”


Although Ham, the son of Noah, received a curse and there is no textual reason to tie this to the mark of Cain, in popular theology some have tried to say the curse of Ham was black skin. When someone does some egregious social faux pas, or even a real crime, there is the phrase, “He’s a marked man”. In the Bible however, there are a couple of other instances of someone receiving some kind of a ‘mark’. In Ezekiel 9:4ff certain men are given a ‘mark’ on their forehead for protection. Then in Rev. 13-14 there is the ‘mark of the beast’ on people’s foreheads or hands that set them apart as belonging to the beast. Apart from that mark no one can buy or sell, but spiritually it is a sign of God’s judgment.


Many have asked, “Why did God spare the life of the murderer when, later in the Law, murder is commanded by God to receive the death penalty?”  First of all, it is always God’s prerogative to give grace or judgment. Secondly, do you really want God to punish all sin immediately with the penalty it deserves? 


Another aspect of the sparing of Cain’s life by God is that it points to the cities of refuge later in the Pentateuch. Cain’s city that he builds in vs. 17 prefigures the cities of refuge in Deut. 19:11-13 and Numbers 35:9-34.


In vs. 16 “Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod.” Cain, though spared death, is to live outside the presence of the LORD, thus representing spiritual death, sin, living outside the camp. It is tied by language to 3:22-23 where Adam was also sent out of the Garden.  A very similar construction is used of Jonah in Jonah 1:3, 10. More directly, Moses links this idea later in Exodus and Leviticus with death or quarantine in Ex. 31:14; Lev. 13:46; 15:31; 18:29. Nod is also a play on the word used in 4:12 “wanderer”, (nad). The concept is also seen in Israel going into exile as a judgment of God.


In the NT there is the idea of church discipline seen in such places as Matt. 18:15-17; 1Cor.5. And even in the teaching of hell and judgment we see this idea in Matt. 22:11-14; 25:41; Lk. 13:22-30. What does it mean to be cast out of the Lord’s presence? In what sense are lost sinners “restless wanderers like Cain?”


Walton writes, (NIV Application Commentary p.267) “If chapter 3 represents the fall of humankind, chapter 4 represents the fall of the family. If chapter 3 shows the infiltration of sin into the human race, chapter 4 documents the impact of sin on the family. Sin brings internal strife to the family and eventual alienation among members of the family.”

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis: Finding Answers to Life’s Crucial Questions

Semester 2: Genesis 4-11 “Sin and its Effects”

Sunday, September 21&28, 2008 Genesis 4:1-17 “The First Murder”

Bryan E. Walker, teacher


Read Genesis 4:1-17

Note: this Lesson was taught over the course of two Sunday’s. The class discussions were good so it is taking a bit longer than I thought to get through the material which is quite alright!


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