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Cain Murders Abel


Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the L ord.” 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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.”

8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “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 L ord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10And the L ord 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 L ord, “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 L ord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the L ord 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 L ord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Beginnings of Civilization

17 Cain 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.

23 Lamech 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.


If Cain is avenged sevenfold,

truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

25 Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, “God has appointed 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 L ord.

7. If thou does well. In these words God reproves Cain for having been unjustly angry, inasmuch as the blame of the whole evil lay with himself. For foolish indeed was his complaint and indignation at the rejection of sacrifices, the defects of which he had taken no care to amend. Thus all wicked men, after they have been long and vehemently enraged against God, are at length so convicted by the Divine judgment, that they vainly desire to transfer to others the cause of the evil. The Greek interpreters recede, in this place, far from the genuine meaning of Moses. Since, in that age, there were none of those marks or points which the Hebrews use instead of vowels, it was more easy, in consequence of the affinity of words to each other, to strike into an extraneous sense. I however, as any one, moderately versed in the Hebrew language, will easily judge of their error, I will not pause to refute it.235235     The version of the Septuagint is, Οὐκ ἐα<n ojrqw~v prosene>γκὟς ορθῶς δὲ μὴ διελης ἤμαρτες; “If thou shouldst rightly offer, but yet not rightly divide, wouldst thou not sin?” See Archbishop Magee’s Discourses, etc, No. lxv., where he ingeniously accounts for the manner in which the translators of the Septuagint version may have misunderstood the original. — Ed Yet even those who are skilled in the Hebrew tongue differ not a little among themselves, although only respecting a single word; for the Greeks change the whole sentence. Among those who agree concerning the context and the substance of the address, there is a difference respecting the word שאת(seait,) which is truly in the imperative mood, but ought to be resolved into a noun substantive. Yet this is not the real difficulty; but, since the verb נשא (nasa,236236     See Schindler, sub voce, No. in.; and the Discourses before referred to, No. lxv. ) signifies sometimes to exalt, sometimes to take away or remit, sometimes to offer, and sometimes to accept, interpreters very among themselves, as each adopts this or the other meaning. Some of the Hebrew Doctors refer it to the countenance of Cain, as if God promised that he would lift it up though now cast down with sorrow. Other of the Hebrews apply it to the remission of sins; as if it had been said, ‘Do well, and thou shalt obtain pardon’. But because they imagine a satisfaction, which derogates from free pardon, they dissent widely from the meaning of Moses. A third exposition approaches more nearly to the truth, that exaltation is to be taken for honor, in this way, ‘There is no need to envy thy brother’s honor, because, if thou conductest thyself rightly, God will also raise thee to the same degree of honor; though he now, offended by thy sins, has condemned thee to ignominy.’ But even this does not meet my approbation. Others refine more philosophically, and say, that Cain would find God propitious and would be assisted by his grace, if he should by faith bring purity of heart with his outward sacrifices. These I leave to enjoy their own opinion, but I fear they aim at what has little solidity. Jerome translates the word, ‘Thou shalt receive;’ understanding that God promises a reward to that pure and lawful worship which he requires. Having recited the opinions of others, let me now offer what appears to me more suitable. In the first place, the word שאת means the same thing as acceptance, and stands opposed to rejection. Secondly, since the discourse has respect to the matter in hand,237237     De re subjecta habitur sermo.” I explain the saying as referring to sacrifices, namely, that God will accept them when rightly offered. They who are skilled in the Hebrew language know that here is nothing forced, or remote from the genuine signification of the word. Now the very order of things leads us to the same point: namely, that God pronounces those sacrifices repudiated and rejected, as being of no value, which are offered improperly; but that the oblation will be accepted, as pleasant and of good odour, if it be pure and legitimate. We now perceive how unjustly Cain was angry that his sacrifices were not honored seeing that God was ready to receive them with outstretched hands, provided they ceased to be faulty. At the same time, however; what I before said must be recalled to memory, that the chief point of well-doing is, for pious persons, relying on Christ the Mediator, and on the gratuitous reconciliation procured by him, to endeavor to worship God sincerely and without dissimulation. Therefore, these two things are joined together by a mutual connection: that the faithful, as often as they enter into the presence of God, are commended by the grace of Christ alone, their sins being blotted out; and yet that they bring thither true purity of heart.

And if thou does not well. On the other hand, God pronounces a dreadful sentence against Cain, if he harden his mill in wickedness and indulge himself in his crime; for the address is very emphatical, because God not only repels his unjust complaint, but shows that Cain could have no greater adversary than that sin of his which he inwardly cherished. He so binds the impious man, by a few concise words, that he can find no refuge, as if he had said, ‘Thy obstinacy shall not profit thee; for, though thou shouldst have nothing to do with me, thy sin shall give thee no rest, but shall drive thee on, pursue thee, and urge thee, and never suffer thee to escape.’ Hence it follows, that he not only raged in vain and to no profit; but was held guilty by his own inward conviction, even though no one should accuse him; for the expression, ‘Sin lieth at the door’, relates to the interior judgement of the conscience, which presses upon the man convinced of his sin, and besieges him on every side. Although the impious may imagine that God slumbers in heaven, and may strive, as far as possible, to repel the fear of his judgment; yet sin will be perpetually drawing them back, though reluctant and fugitives, to that tribunal from which they endeavor to retire. The declarations even of heathens testify that they were not ignorant of this truth; for it is not to be doubted that, when they say, ‘Conscience is like a thousand witnesses,’ they compare it to a most cruel executioner. There is no torment more grievous or severe than that which is hence perceived; moreover, God himself extorts confessions of this kind. Juvenal says: —

“Heaven’s high revenge on human crimes behold;
Though earthly verdicts may be bought and sold,
His judge the sinner in his bosom bears,
And conscience racks him with tormenting cares.238238     Prima est ultio quod se Judice, nemo nocens absolvitur, improba quamvis Gratia fallacis Praetoris vicerit urnam.”

But the expression of Moses has peculiar energy. Sin is said to lie, but it is at the door; for the sinner is not immediately tormented with the fear of judgment; but, gathering around him whatever delights he is able, in order to deceive himself; he walks as in free space, and even revels as in pleasant meadows; when, however, he comes to the door, there he meets with sin, keeping constant guard; and then conscience, which before thought itself at liberty, is arrested, and receives, double punishment for the delay.239239     The Hebrew word חטאת (chatath,) which primarily means sin, is also frequently used for sin-offering, and is so translated in various passages of our version. The learned Dr. Lightfoot was the first who proposed that it should be so rendered in the present instance. His interpretation has been controverted, especially by the Socinians; but not be them only; the justly celebrated Dr. Davison has also attempted to set it aside, in his Inquiry into the Origin and Intent of Primitive Sacrifice. But the more profound learning of Dr. Magee and of Mr. Faber has placed the interpretation of Lightfoot on a basis not easily to be shaken. The translation of the passage will, on this supposition, be, ‘If thou doest not well, a sin-offering lieth or coucheth at the door’; and the import of the address will be to this effect, ‘Thou hast only to offer up a sacrifice of atonement, and then the defect of thy offering will be supplied, and the pardon of thy sin granted.’ — See Magee’s Second Discourse, and the Dissertations connected with it; also Faber’s Treatise on the Origin of Expiatory Sacrifice. — Ed

And unto thee shall be his desire. Nearly all commentators refer this to sin, and think that, by this admonition, those depraved hosts are restrained which solicit and impel the mind of man. Therefore, according to their view, the meaning will be of this kind, ‘If sin rises against thee to subdue thee, why dost thou indulge it, and not rather labor to restrain and control it? For it is thy part to subdue and bring into obedience those affections in thy flesh which thou perceivest to be opposed to the will of God, and rebellious against him.’ But I suppose that Moses means something entirely different. I omit to notice that to the Hebrew word for sin is affixed the mark of the feminine gender, but that here two masculine relative pronouns are used. Certainly Moses does not treat particularly of the sin itself which was committed, but of the guilt which is contracted from it, and of the consequent condemnation. How, then, do these words suit, ‘Unto thee shall be his desire?’240240     Faber contends the expression, “Unto thee shall be his (or its) desire,” refers to the victim which was to be offered as a sin-offering. — See his Treatise, p.129. He also gives the following poetical arrangement of God’s address to Cain: —
   “Why is there hot anger unto thee;
And why hath fallen thy countenance?
If thou doest well, shall there not be exaltation?
And if thou doest not well, at the door a sin-offering is couching.
And unto thee is its desire,
And thou shalt rule over it.”

   — Ed.
There will, however be no need for long refutation when I shall produce the genuine meaning of the expression. It rather seems to be a reproof, by which God charges the impious man with ingratitude, because he held in contempt the honor of primogeniture. The greater are the divine benefits with which any one of us is adorned, the more does he betray his impiety unless he endeavors earnestly to serve the Author of grace to whom he is under obligation. When Abel was regarded as his brother’s inferior, he was, nevertheless, a diligent worshipper of God. But the firstborn worshipped God negligently and perfunctorily, though he had, by the Divine kindness, arrived at so high a dignity; and, therefore, God enlarges upon his sin, because he had not at least imitated his brother, whom he ought to have surpassed as far in piety as he did in the degree of honor. Moreover, this form of speech is common among the Hebrews, that the desire of the inferior should be towards him to whose will he is subject; thus Moses speaks of the woman, (Genesis 3:16,) that her desire should be to her husband. They, however, childishly trifle, who distort this passage to prove the freedom of the will; for if we grant that Cain was admonished of his duty in order that he might apply himself to the subjugation of sin, yet no inherent power of man is to be hence inferred; because it is certain that only by the grace of the Holy Spirit can the affections of the flesh be so mortified that they shall not prevail. Nor, truly, must we conclude, that as often as God commands anything we shall have strength to perform it, but rather we must hold fast the saying of Augustine, ‘Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.’

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