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Genesis: Chapter 4

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1Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced b The verb in Heb resembles the word for Cain a man with the help of the LORD.” 2Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

8Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” c Sam Gk Syr Compare Vg: MT lacks Let us go out to the field And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” 15Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! a Gk Syr Vg: Heb Therefore Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. 16Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, b That is Wandering east of Eden.

17Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. 18To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. 19Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. 21His brother's name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22Zillah bore Tubal‐cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal‐cain was Naamah.

23Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy‐sevenfold.”

25Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, “God has appointed c The verb in Heb resembles the word for Seth for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.” 26To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of the LORD.


b The verb in Heb resembles the word for Cain

c Sam Gk Syr Compare Vg: MT lacks Let us go out to the field

a Gk Syr Vg: Heb Therefore

b That is Wandering

c The verb in Heb resembles the word for Seth

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

5.1–32 : Second overview of generations from creation to flood.

This Priestly genealogy parallels 4.1–26 , building from the P creation story ( 1.1–2.3 ) to the Priestly strand of the flood narrative.

1a :

The list of descendants of Adam (lit. “the scroll of descendants”) was evidently a separate source which the Priestly writer drew upon for this chapter and used as a model for later notices ( 6.9; 10.1 ; etc.).

1b–2 :

The Priestly writer uses this reprise of 1.26–28 to bind his genealogical source (where “'adam” designates a particular person) to 1.1–2.3 (where “'adam” designates humanity as a whole).

3 :

The divine likeness (v. 1; see 1.26n. ) was continued in Adam's son Seth and thus transmitted to succeeding generations ( 9.6 ).

4–32 :

Ancient Babylonian lists similarly survey a series of heroes before the flood, each of which lived fantastically long times. Like those lists, the list in 5.4–32 postulates extraordinary ages to pre‐flood figures, with ages declining over time to the 100–200 years of Israel's ancestors. The names of the figures in this list resemble those of 4.17–26 (see 4.17–26n.).

24 :

Babylonian traditions also report that certain figures—e.g., Emmeduranki (a pre‐flood figure), Etana, and Adapa—were taken up into heaven by God. Later Jewish tradition speculated at length on Enoch's travels.

29 :

This (non‐Priestly) verse links the curse of the ground in 3.17–19 and viniculture, which was inaugurated by Noah ( 9.20 ).

4.1–16 : Cain and Abel.

While 2.4–3.24 featured relations between men and women, 4.1–16 turns to relations between brothers, paralleling 3.1–24 in many respects.

1 :

This first verse emphasizes the wonder of creative power in the first birth of a child. The child's name, “Cain,” resembles a Hebrew word for create, “qanah.” Ancient Israelites may have associated this Cain with the Kenite tribe (Num 24.21–22 ).

2 :

The name “Abel” is the same word translated as “vanity” (or “emptiness”) in Ecclesiastes. His name anticipates his destiny. The distinction between Cain and Abel's occupations implies a further step toward culture.

3–5 :

The story pointedly does not explain why the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Instead, it focuses on Cain's reaction to this unexplained divine preference for the sacrifice of his brother.

6–7 :

This is the first mention of “sin” in the Bible. It is depicted as a predatory animal, lurking at the door.

10–11 :

Blood is sacred, for it is the seat of life ( 9.4; Deut 12.23 ), and blood of unpunished murders pollutes the ground (Num 35.30–34 ).

13–14 :

The importance of arable ground in these chapters can be seen in Cain's conclusion that expulsion from the soil means being hidden from the LORD's face.

16 :

See 11.1–9n.

4.17–26 : First overview of generations from creation to flood.

Though the order is different, the names here are variants of those in 5.1–32 .

17 :

Cain's marriage, along with his fear of others ( 4.14 ) presume the presence of a broader population, indicating that the stories about him were once not connected with creation.

19–22 :

The emphasis on civilization seen in 3.1–24 emerges again here in the depiction of the occupations of Lamech's sons. This tradition does not anticipate a flood narrative.

23–24 :

The first half of this song may once have been used to brag about the ability of Lamech and his family to avenge their honor. Placed where it is and including v. 24 , it now functions to demonstrate a major consequence of the expansion of civilization: a corresponding expansion of the violence with which the family tree began (see 4.1–16 ).

25 :

A parallel to 4.1 , introducing a new line of Seth.

26 :

This tradition locates the beginning of use of the divine name “Yahweh” (Lord) in the primeval period, in contrast to the Priestly tradition, which does not see the divine name as used until the time of Moses (Ex 6.2–6 ).

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