Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:15–16

Genesis 4:15–16
15 But the LORD said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down. 16 So Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
 (NET Bible)

Cain Finds Mercy

Those who play with fire suffer burns. Cain failed to deal with the sin that threatened to devour his life (Gen. 4:7), and the eventual result was banishment from God’s presence. Why was Cain unable to turn from his sin? John tells us, “Cain . . . was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Victor Hamilton says, “His murder of Abel was an external manifestation of the grip that Satan had on his life.”[1]

How do we underestimate the power of sin? What keeps us from repenting of our sin? What can be done to end the separation of the sinner from God?

“All right then” — the NET Bible’s translation of the opening word from God (Gen. 4:15) — is a bit trendy for a divine statement. God acknowledges the rightness of Cain’s fear of retaliatory death. The meaning of the original word is important in showing God’s attitude toward Cain’s request for relief from his punishment. This request from Cain is the very first cry for rescue from sin’s consequences in human history. If God is willing to listen to the requests of a murderer, then he will listen to ours as well!

God is willing only to give Cain special protection from the very kind of violence that Cain inflicted on Abel. Anyone who kills Cain will be avenged seven times as much as Abel. Wenham is probably right in saying, “Most probably it is a poetic turn of speech meaning full divine retribution.”[2] But there is no protection for Cain from anything short of killing him.

Cain is the original “marked man,” but we do not know the manner of the sign that set him apart from others. Gordon Wenham cleverly observes, “As the clothing given to Adam and Eve after the fall (3:21) served to remind them of their sin and God’s mercy, so does the mark placed on Cain.”[3] You might say that no one who encounters God comes away unchanged. Further, living around God is not safe if you live a life of disobedience.

Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain suffers exclusion from fellowship with the Lord (Gen. 4:16). Cain demonstrates the theme of degradation in his exclusion from humanity. Recall that Cain has been condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). The land of Nod is a place whose name is a variant of the word for “wanderer.” Hamilton says, “The wanderer ends up in the land of wandering.”[4] Perhaps the naming of Nod after the punishment of Cain gives us a clue as to how widely people knew that God condemned Cain’s sin.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 244.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 109.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 110.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 235.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:13–14

Genesis 4:13–14
13 Then Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to endure!  14 Look! You are driving me off the land today, and I must hide from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth; whoever finds me will kill me.”
 (NET Bible)

The Effects of Sin

Sin creates alienation on every side. It even produces alienation within the one who commits sin as he or she realizes the damage done. In our biblical text today, Cain is not entirely wrong; we cannot endure the punishment for sin. But Cain is unwilling to move toward God to find the solution for sin and its cost.

What have you done to deal with the existence of sin in your life? What approach have you made to God to seek his solution for sin? Apart from God, what solution for sin is possible?

It is ironic that the man who had nothing to say when God warned him about the danger of sin (Gen. 4:7) now has a lot to say when his terrible sin leads to punishment. There is not a trace of repentance in Cain’s words.[1] Instead, he says what many a guilty child has said to their parent: “My punishment is too great to endure!”

Cain’s first complaint is that God is driving him off the land. The verb is the very same one used when God forcibly drove Adam and Eve out of Eden. Secondly, Cain expresses his alienation from God, yet he makes no effort to repent and call upon God’s mercy. Cain next expresses his outcast status as a homeless wanderer. Finally, Cain fears for his life.

In relation to Cain’s fear of being killed, Victor Hamilton says:

This last statement is ironic! He who killed his own brother now frets lest someone kill him. This statement suggests that at this point there are people in the world besides Adam, Eve and Cain. . . . We may suggest that Cain, Abel, and Seth are the only children of Adam and Eve specifically mentioned and named. Cain’s wife [4:17] would be his sister, and those who might kill Cain—assuming a family proliferation that spreads over centuries—would be Cain’s siblings.[2]

Readers should keep in mind that Genesis is a theological history. A careful study of the genealogies in Genesis will demonstrate that the family lines which have no bearing on the main line of descent (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) end abruptly without further mention or extension. The author focuses on his own purposes, guided by the Holy Spirit, and he makes no effort to give a comprehensive answer to all reasonable questions. All history is selective, not exhaustive.

Those who have never experienced expulsion from a community may not appreciate the impact of Cain’s punishment. It is heightened by the fact that he is condemned to remain outside of any permanent community. We should see in this the severity of murder and the corresponding value of human life before God. A great deal of contemporary media desensitizes us to God’s view of these matters. Our sensitivity to the value of every human life before God has been degraded.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 160, agrees.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 233.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:9–12

Genesis 4:9–12
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?”  10 But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!  11 So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
(NET Bible)

Crime and God’s Punishment

In the Bible one often sees that the punishment fits the crime. Paul said: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). Jesus said, “The measure you use will be the measure you receive” (Matt. 7:2b).

If we care for no one except ourselves, then who will care for us? On the other hand, what will be the result of a life characterized by love and generosity? How will God intervene to see that this measure-for-measure approach is maintained?

Just as Adam and his wife were not free from God’s knowledge of their actions (Genesis 3:9–13), so Cain is forced to deal with God’s sudden arrival and penetrating question (Gen. 3:9, ESV): “Where is Abel your brother?”

Gordon Wenham offers insight into Cain’s defiant reply:

When Adam was challenged, he at least told the truth if not the whole truth (3:10), but Cain tells a bare-faced lie, “I do not know,” and follows it with an impertinent witticism, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Since Abel kept sheep and [“keeper”] is a term for shepherds (cf. Exod. 22:6, 9; 1 Sam. 17:20), Cain’s reply could be paraphrased “Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”[1]

What can we say about Cain’s response to God’s question? It is clearly self-justifying. The response has the shameless audacity that characterizes those who have no grasp of the difference between an all-powerful God and a mortal man. Cain’s attitude can be found in many people throughout the pages of the Bible and in contemporary society. For this reason Jesus said, “If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). For Cain the pit comes swiftly.

Genesis 4:10  But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

In saying “What have you done?” Victor Hamilton says, “God is making an accusation, not seeking information.”[2] The blood defiles the God-created ground, and the blood figuratively cries out to God for relief.

Genesis 4:10 contains a world of implicit theology: God monitors all human activity; God judges human actions; human acts have consequences; human life is sacred; bloodguilt cannot be ignored.

Genesis 4:11–12  So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Just as sin had waited to devour Cain, the ground swallowed Abel’s blood. The striking series of questions and statements, each two words long in Hebrew, tells a simple story:

Genesis 4:9          “Where is Abel” (literal translation)

Genesis 4:10        “What have you done” (literal translation)

Genesis 4:11        “Cursed are you” (literal translation)

Hamilton clarifies the idea of being banished or banned from the soil by saying that it “obviously means not that he is barred from contact with the soil but from enjoyment of its productivity.”[3]

Wenham says, “In Gen. 3 man is not cursed, only the ground and the serpent, so cursing Cain is a serious development.”[4]

The text of Genesis 4:12 is hard to translate. While NET says the land “will no longer yield its best,” the ESV says “it shall no longer yield to you its strength,” and the NIV 1984 and 2011 say “it will no longer yield its crops” (emphasis added in all cases). There is a big difference between the land yielding its best and yielding any crops at all! The NIV is more likely correct because Cain is condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12, NET), a condition that prevents cultivation of crops, and he soon complains of being driven off the land (Gen. 4:14).

So, if Cain cannot enjoy the productivity of the soil, how will he live? The irony is that this man who killed his brother and denied any responsibility to care for him will now have to depend on his brothers for sustenance. Will they treat him with the selfishness of Cain or the generosity of dead Abel?

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 106.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 231.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 232.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 107.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:6–8

Genesis 4:6–8
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? 7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”
8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
(NET Bible)

A Dark Heart and a Dark Act

Any military veteran can tell you that it is never good to underestimate your enemy. Making matters worse, enemies do not always identify themselves as such. Sin is such an enemy, preferring to lie in wait for us or to deceive us into disobeying God.

How can emotions cloud our view of danger? How does information from God help us recognize the threats of sin? What resources do we have to defeat sin?

It is striking to see that God talks to Cain (Gen. 3:6), but Cain makes no reply! Not even Jonah in his fury practiced such stony silence (Jonah 4). Indeed, no other biblical example of such silence comes to mind. Alan Ross credits Derek Kidner with the observation “that Cain would not be talked out of his intended sin, even by the Lord himself.”[1]

Genesis 4:7  Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”

Many experts call Genesis 4:7 the most obscure verse in Genesis, though that is not apparent to the reader of the English Bible. Most of the difficulty occurs in Genesis 4:7a, which will be demonstrated below in the diversity of translations:

ESV:               “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (also NIV and RSV)

NASB:             “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” (NASB uses italics for words supplied to complete the meaning.)

Hamilton:       “Look, isn’t there acceptance if you do well . . . ?”

Wenham:        “Is there not forgiveness if you do well?”

The ideas of being accepted or forgiven or having one’s countenance lifted up are all part of the possible meaning of the original verb. NET tries to split the difference by saying “you will be fine,” which sounds contemporary and takes no explicit position. Not only is this verb flexible, but the sentence ends abruptly, a phenomenon similar to God’s remarks in Genesis 3:22 which also end abruptly. In both cases the abrupt ending is immediately followed by dramatic action; in Genesis 3:23, God swiftly and forcefully expelled the man and woman from the garden; in Genesis 4:8, Cain suddenly murders his brother.

Not only does God offer Cain acceptance and forgiveness, he also gives a clear statement of danger and a challenge to overcome it (Gen. 4:7b). Personified sin faces Cain as surely as it had confronted Eve in the garden. Though sin first occurred in Genesis 3, the first explicit mention of the word occurs in Genesis 4:7.

The personification of sin in Genesis 4:7 should be a somber warning to all of us. Remember that the serpent in Genesis 3 was personified evil, not merely a member of God’s creation. When NET says “sin is crouching,” the standard lexicon says the verb means: “literally sin is a lurker, meaning sin lurks.” [2] A dictionary meaning for “lurk” is “lie in wait, lie in ambush.”[3] God warns Cain that sin is waiting to ambush him! Sin is personal evil, and it does not fight openly.

God also tells Cain what he must do about this lurking danger: “It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it” (Gen. 4:7b). Victor Hamilton says:

The word for urge [NET, “desires”] here . . . is the same word used in the previous chapter for Eve’s feelings toward Adam (3:16). Similarly, what Cain can do to sin—you are the one to master . . . it—is described with the same verb used for Adam’s actions with Eve (“he shall be master over you,” 3:16).[4]

You can see that these chapters contain a constant and complex interplay of literary elements.

Genesis 4:8 contains another of those mysteriously abrupt sentences, which Hamilton explains:

It has long been observed that this verse omits what Cain actually said to his brother. The [Hebrew] text simply reads “And Cain said unto Abel his brother. When they were in the field . . .” On the basis of the ancient versions most modern translations insert something like: “And Cain said unto Abel his brother, ‘Let us go out to the field.’”[5]

Two excellent English translations of Genesis 4:8 show the difference, as follows:

NET: Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

ESV: Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

As you see, NET adds the words “Let’s go out to the field” on the basis of several ancient translations of the Old Testament. The ESV sticks with the shorter version given by the Hebrew text. This writer joins Wenham and Hamilton in thinking the ESV translation is preferable. “Cain rose up” (ESV) fits with the ambush theme of God’s warning. The truncated sentence fits the pattern of the previous examples (3:22 and 4:7): sudden action follows immediately.

Cain thinks he has ambushed his brother, but sin has ambushed Cain! From that fateful day to this, the killing has never stopped. Sin lurks to ambush you at this very moment!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 158.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000)  rabats, lurk, q.v.

[3] “lurk.” WordNet® 3.0.Princeton University. 23 Sep. 2008..

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 227.

[5] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 229.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:2b–5

Genesis 4:2b–5
2b Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground. 3 At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the LORD.  4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock– even the fattest of them. And the LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering,  5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast.
(NET Bible)

A Gathering Storm

Each of us has likely both pleased the Lord and displeased him. We may even have done both in the same day! How do we determine whether we have pleased God or not? If we have displeased God, what is our appropriate response? If we have pleased God, what possible concerns might we have?

The narrator strips the story to its essentials, and that focuses our attention on the two brothers. We do not know the occasion or the method of sacrifice. All who read the story see the fact that God is pleased with one person/sacrifice but not with the other; this forces one to look back and see why.

Cain cultivates the ground like his father Adam, and Abel tends flocks. There is no reason to prefer one vocation over another at this time in biblical history.

In translating “at the designated time” (Gen. 4:3, emphasis added), the NET Bible may make matters seem more definite than they deserve. Most translations and commentators take some form of “in the course of time” (ESV, NASB, NIV, and RSV) as the meaning. To this point, there is no reason to believe any systematic sacrificial system had been established. That leads to the impression that the sacrifices were spontaneous, emerging from the heart of the person.

But, if the sacrifices come from the heart, what do they reveal? Victor Hamilton says, “Perhaps we are justified in seeing in Abel’s offering a gift that is of the finest quality, as opposed to that of his brother, which is more common.”[1] Of course, we probably would not be sifting for these differences except for the fact that God responds differently to the two men and their offerings.

Concerning the two men and their offerings, the NET Bible Notes say: “Here are two types of worshipers – one (Cain) merely discharges a duty at the proper time, while the other (Abel) goes out of his way to please God with the first and the best.”[2]

The author of Hebrews says the difference demonstrates the faith of Abel, a faith that caused the Lord to commend Abel as “righteous” (Heb. 11:4). Hamilton says: “Gen. 4 does not supply a reason for or an explanation of this divine choice. The NT will indeed address itself to this issue, but the OT itself is silent.”[3]

While we do not understand how the pleasure of God becomes known to the brothers, they immediately know. We are not told about Abel’s feelings, because the focus of the story again narrows to Cain alone. Cain becomes very angry — the Bible’s first mention of anger — but that is not all. The verb describing how Cain’s face changes is used for the collapse of a tent or a wall. The rejection from God rocks Cain to the core! Yet what comes to mind for Cain is not a thought of repentance or a plan for renewed efforts to please God. His faith-dead heart leads him another way.

Gordon Wenham correctly points out, “Being ‘very angry’ is often prelude to homicidal acts (cf. 34:7; 1 Sam. 18:8; Neh. 4:1; cf. Num. 16:15; 2 Sam. 3:8).”[4] Perhaps for this reason, Paul says: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26–27). “Be angry” is a command, so not all anger is sin, but it can escalate swiftly!

Cain’s rage has opened the door to opportunity; it will not be long in coming.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 223.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 4:3.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 223.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 104.