Genesis 4: The Two Lines

While Genesis 1:1-2:3 (or 4a) comes from the Priestly source and continues with Genesis 5, our first dose of the Yahwist begins with Genesis 2:4 and goes through the end of chapter 4. We have plenty of opportunity to see the difference between the two sources. The Yahwistic story will pick up with the description of a world totally overcome by evil in Genesis 6:5 (6:1-4 are added from another source).

Thus while we often call Genesis 3 the story of the fall, it would perhaps be more proper to call Genesis 3, 4, and then 6:5-8 the full story of the fall, the descent of the earth from “good” to “totally evil.”

Genesis 4 thus provides the link between the initial separation from God and the resulting fear that is told in chapter three, and the near total corruption of chapter 6. In chapter four we see that there are two types of people, which are presented as two successions. One group is God-pleasing, and the other is in rebellion.

1Adam had sex with his wife Eve, and she got pregnant and gave birth to Cain, because she said, “I have produced a man with YHWH’s help.” 2Again she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Able was a shepherd, but Cain was a farmer.

This is the simple introduction. Hebrew narrative is sparse, and you have to pay attention. We have two boys and they follow different professions.

3After a time Cain brought some of the fruit that the ground produced as a gift to YHWH, 4and Abel brought something as well, from the firstborn of his flock and from their fatty portions. And YHWH favored Abel and his gift, 5but he did not look with favor on Cain or on his gift. So Cain became very angry and his face fell.

There are a couple of hints here, but no definitive statement of why God favored Abel’s offering, but did not favor Cains. Some would claim that Cain needed to bring a blood sacrifice, and his fault was bringing agricultural products. But there has been no command up to this time about what to sacrifice. Another suggestion is that Abel is said to have brought the firstborn, whereas that is not specified about Cain. But considering the normally sparse nature of Hebrew narrative, I’m not sure that is significant. I think the intent of the story is that each brought an offering from the results of their profession.

God’s displeasure is not specified, but Cain’s response, I think, suggests the reason. Cain’s heart was not in the right place.

6And YHWH said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7If you do well, you will be lifted up, but if not, there is sin waiting at the door. It desires you, but you must take it under your rule.”

I see this as an indication that God was not implacably opposed to Cain, but rather that Cain was opposed to God. The rejection of the sacrifice was a symptom, but the disease was the sin waiting at the door. As we see from the continued story, Cain does indeed let that sin rule over him.

8Cain spoke to Abel his brother, and when they were in the field, Cain rose up and kill his brother Abel.

There is only a small distance between the sin lying at the door and death, in this case murder. I like the economy of the Hebrew text. Some translations try to supply what Cain said, but the Hebrew is simpler. I could have translated “Cain had words with Abel” but I’m not sure that even that not an addition to the thought. This may simply be an indication that Cain’s action in murdering Abel was premeditated. He set it up.

9And YHWH said to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?”

But he said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

People are famous for different things. Cain is famous for this response to God’s question. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In this way Cain seeks to deflect God from the real issue–premeditated murder on Cain’s part.

10Then YHWH said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to me from the ground!” 11Now you are cursed from the ground because it has opened its mouth to receive the blood of your brother from your hand. 12When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer give you its strength. You will be a fugitive and without purpose in the land.”

13And Cain told YHWH, “My punishment is more than I can stand! 14Look! You’re making me leave the very surface of the ground, and I will be hidden from your face, and I will be a fugitive and without purpose in the land, and anyone who finds me will kill me.”

15But YHWH said to him, “So let anyone who kills Cain suffer sevenfold revenge!” And YHWH put a mark on Cain, so that he would not be killed by anyone who found him, 16and Cain left the presence of YHWH, and he lived in the land of Nod to the east of Eden.

God is not deflected from the issue. Since Cain is a farmer, he is sentenced to harder work for less results. Note the relationship between this curse and the curse put on Adam in chapter 3:17-19. But contrary to later practice, Cain does not pay for killing his brother with his own life.

What happens is a separation. Questions such as where Cain got a wife, and how there was a land of Nod where he could build a city, and who would live there all miss the point of the story. What we are seeing is the early explanation of why there are two lines of people–those who are obedient to God and those who are in rebellion. The myth is powerful even if the story leaves historical holes.

The mark of Cain, which is sometimes used in popular speech as a curse is actually a protection. It says that Cain, though a murderer, must not be killed because of the vengeance that God has decreed will follow. For Cain, the mark is a blessing, an amelioration of his punishment.

17Then Cain had sex with his wife, and she got pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain built a city, and named it after his son.

18Enoch had a son named Irad, and Irad had a sone many Mehujael, and Mehujael had a son named Methusael, and Methusael had a son named Lamek.

19Lamech married two wives named Adah and Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the progenitor of those who live in tents and keep cattle. 21His brother’s name was Jubal, who is the progenitor of those who play the zither and flute. 22And Zillah also gave birth to a son named Tubal-Cain, who was a smith, working bronze and iron. And Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

As we have genealogies of the patriarchal line (Genesis 5 & 11), so here we have a genealogy tracing the line of evil back to Cain. The victory of Cain’s line is emphasized in Genesis 6:5ff. For those who believe in a universal flood, it’s interesting how Genesis 4 can specific people of the non-patriarchal lines as the ancestors of those with certain professions, surely something that could not be if their line died out in the flood. I believe this supports my contention elsewhere (The Two Genesis Flood Stories) that the Yahwist source does not tell of a universal flood, and thus there is no perceived contradiction between Genesis 4 and Genesis 6-8.

23Lamech said to his wives:

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice,
Lamech’s wives, pay attention to what I say.
I have killed a man because he wounded me,
And a child because he brused me.

24If Cain will be avenged seven times,
Lamech will be avenged seventh-seven times!

The interesting thing here is the way evil multiplies. Lamech, with Cain’s example, continues the pattern of murder, but he expects to get by with it.

25Adam had sex with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son, and she named him Seth, because she said, “God has given me seed instead of Abel whom Cain killed.”

26Seth also had a son, and he named him Enos. At that time people began to call on the name YHWH.

This is the Yahwist’s way of telling us that there is also a patriarchal line, a line dedicated to obedience to God. The priestly source will provide us with more details in chapter 5.

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