Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:11–13

Genesis 6:11–13
11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence.  12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.  13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.”
(NET Bible)

Deeper Study: The phrase “God saw . . . and indeed” (NET) or “God saw . . . and behold” (NASB, KJV) occurs in Genesis for things that are surprising or shocking. The same phrase is also used for Noah, Abraham and others. Examples (best ones are bolded) include: 8:13; 18:2; 19:28; 22:13; 24:63; 26:8; 29:2; 31:2; 31:10; 33:1; 37:25; 40:6; 42:27. Note that NET frequently drops the word “behold” while NASB always includes it. Based on this usage what was God’s reaction in Genesis 6:12 to what he saw?

To become ruined . . . to ruin

Anyone who follows world events must see that violence and oppression are a constant feature in world events. One area sells human beings, another features child slavery and child soldiers. Some nations are dominated by narco-violence and one is ruled by a rich junta which will not permit relief for poor hurricane victims. Piracy threatens the shipping lanes, and bombs explode daily.

In our own country the poor are frequently stigmatized as lazy or malicious so as to justify not helping them. And violence is hardly unknown in our midst. What does God think about all this violence, evil and neglect? What might he do about it? What has he done in the past?

A single Hebrew verb dominates all three verses in today’s section: Sh?T (roughly shakat) means “become ruined” in one form and “destroy” (to intentionally ruin) in another form.[1] The verb is used four times in Genesis 6:11–13 as illustrated by Victor Hamilton:

To capture this consistency of word choice we may render the above as ‘gone to ruin was the earth . . . indeed, it had gone to ruin . . . all flesh had ruined its way . . . I will ruin them.’ The choice of the same word to describe both the earth’s condition and the intended action of God must be deliberate.[2]

Genesis 6:11 tells us what constituted the ruin of the earth. Instead of being filled by the multiplication of humankind and animal life, it was filled with violence instead! This violence may not only include brute force (Jer. 51:35) but also oppression of the weak by the strong (Amos 6:1–3) or the abuse of a neighbor (Prov. 16:29). Some who commit sin are going to be surprised that God is offended by oppression of the weak in addition to what we call violent crime.

By comparing three different translations of Genesis 6:12, we learn something interesting:

NET Bible: God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.

ESV: And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

NIV 2011: God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

NET says “all living creatures,” while the more literal ESV has “all flesh.” NET informs us that all the living creatures “were sinful” — demonstrating the frequent tendency of the NET Bible to use abstractions — while the ESV says all flesh “had corrupted their way.” NIV 2011 is close to ESV for Genesis 6:12, but it’s translation using the word “people”  leaves out the animals (see below)!

Have you previously considered the participation in sin or the corruption of the animals as well as humankind? The NET Bible Notes say:

The phrase “all flesh” is used consistently of humankind and the animals in Gen. 6–9 (6:17, 19; 7:15–16, 21; 8:17; 9:11, 15–17), suggesting that the author intends to picture all living creatures, humankind and animals, as guilty of moral failure. This would explain why the animals, not just humankind, are victims of the ensuing divine judgment. The OT sometimes views animals as morally culpable (Gen. 9:5; Exod. 21:28–29; Jonah 3:7–8).[3]

To grasp this unusual idea, it may help to recall that the serpent was used as part of the deception of the woman (Gen. 3:1), and we may have in Genesis 6:12 a hint that the invasion of earthly life by angelic beings involved more than intercourse with the daughters of men.

Genesis 6:13  So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth.” (NET)

When the NET translates God’s words as saying “I have decided,” it removes to the marginal notes certain details that may include a glimpse of God reaching a decision before the heavenly council:

Hebrew “the end of all flesh is coming [or ‘has come’] before me” . . . . The phrase “end of all flesh” occurs only here. . . . The phrase “come before” occurs in Exod. 28:30, 35; 34:34; Lev. 15:14; Num. 27:17; 1 Sam. 18:13, 16; 2 Sam. 19:8; 20:8; 1 Kings 1:23, 28, 32; Ezek. 46:9; Ps. 79:11 (groans come before God); 88:3 (a prayer comes before God); 100:2; 119:170 (prayer comes before God); Lam. 1:22 (evil-doing comes before God); Esth. 1:19; 8:1; 9:25; 1 Chron. 16:29. The expression often means “have an audience with” or “appear before.” But when used metaphorically, it can mean “get the attention of” or “prompt a response.” This is probably the sense in Gen. 6:13. The necessity of ending the life of all flesh on earth is an issue that has gotten the attention of God.[4]

Beyond doubt the Bible teaches God’s awareness of all that happens (Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 139), but when a matter “comes before” God, it takes on the sense of a formal hearing. This one ended with God’s decision to destroy all life on earth due to rampant violence.

While God’s mercy is the leading component of his character (Exod. 34:6), there is a limit to his patience and tolerance (Exod. 34:7). And what happens all over the world can affect us too!

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



[1] 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) sha?at, become ruined (niphal) [Niphal forms are usually passive voice], destroy (hiphil) [Hiphil forms are usually causative], q.v.

[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) 278.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:12.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:13.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 6:7–8

Genesis 6:7–8
7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth– everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”  8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.
(NET Bible)

Extermination and grace

Many people in our contemporary world just cruise along thinking that God will continue to tolerate the deterioration of moral behavior among humanity. Indeed, the Bible warns that in the last days scoffers will say, “Ever since our ancestors died all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4).

How do we reassess our behavior before God? Does God ever reassess his actions and make a change? How and when might such a thing happen? What can we do to prepare for such a change?

In saying “I will wipe humankind . . . from the face of the earth,” God uses a verb that means “wipe clean” or “wipe out,” depending on the context.[1] It is used for wiping names from records (Exod. 17:14) and for wiping a plate clean (2 Kings 21:13). The ancient method for erasing a name from a scroll is illuminating: “Note that erasures in ancient leather scrolls were made by washing or sponging off the ink rather than blotting. ‘Wipe out’ is therefore more accurate for the idea of expunge.”[2]

Victor Hamilton puts matters bluntly by saying, “God not only erases sins [Isa. 43:25], but he erases sinners—he judges them by drowning them.”[3] Genesis 6:7 makes it clear that all animal life will be included in the judgment on humanity.

We have already learned in a previous post that God saw evil and violence throughout the earth. In response, God felt the pain of “regret,” the same verb N?M (roughly nakam) which we discussed in Genesis 6:6. Recall that this verb can mean both “be pained” and “be relieved of pain.” God feels the pain of regret, but he intends to relieve that pain by destroying those who have caused it through sin.

The duality of the Hebrew verb is not just a technical curiosity; it provides insight into the process of repentance. When our actions bring a sufficient degree of pain, we experience regret. A critical strategy to relieve that pain is to change our minds and take different actions that result in relief of that pain. Humanity acted in sin and brought about a world covered with evil and violence. The right solution would have been to turn away from that sin and turn to God, but that did not happen.

On God’s side of the relationship, he had created the world, humankind and all other life. But the penetration of evil and violence into human behavior, spoiling creation, caused God to feel the pain of regret. Instead of continuing to maintain such a world, God relieves his pain by destroying those who have refused his ways.

Hamilton says, “The fact that the OT affirms that God does repent . . . forces us to make room in our theology for the concepts of both the unchangeability of God and his changeability.”[4] Waltke adds, “People can count on God always to reconsider his original intention to do good or evil according to the human response.”[5]

In this gloomy situation there is just one ray of light: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). The word translated “favor” is one which everyone should embrace; it is often translated “grace.” In this case it is the action of the stronger (God) on behalf of the weaker (Noah). The NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:8 make clear the common basis for such favor:

The favor/kindness is often earned, coming in response to an action or condition (see Gen. 32:5; 39:4; Deut. 24:1; 1 Sam. 25:8; Prov. 3:4; Ruth 2:10). This is the case in Gen. 6:8, where verse 9 gives the basis (Noah’s righteous character) for the divine favor.

The consonants in the Hebrew word for “Noah” are the reverse of the consonants in the Hebrew word for “favor.” In English we might quip that “Noah” is “favor” spelled backwards. In fact, there are many variations on Noah’s name that infuse this entire narrative—apparently a big hint from the author that he would survive.

Apart from God’s favor toward us in Jesus Christ, we would have suffered the same fate as Noah’s contemporaries. In the next post we will see more of Noah’s character before God.

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



[1] 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) ma?ah, wipe out, q.v.

[2] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (TWOT) 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980), ma?ah, wipe out, q.v.

[3] 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) 275.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1–17, 275.

[5] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 119.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 5:29 and 6:1–2

Genesis 5:29
He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands because of the ground that the LORD has cursed.”
(NET Bible)

Descent into greater depravity

Even though we live in an affluent nation, most of us have wished for better days to come. In our best moments we see pockets of hardship and wish they could have a remedy; we observe death and despair and wish things were otherwise.

Wishing for a better world falls far short of working for the kingdom of God. This world is on track to be destroyed, but we still must act as our world’s stewards and show the love of Christ to its needy masses. How might we work for God’s kingdom as our way of making a better world? What can we do to help some survive this world to live with God forever?

Lamech named his son Noah (Gen. 5:29), which may be related to the Hebrew word . . . (NUA?, ‘to rest’); that unfamiliar symbol “?” is pronounced like the final two letters in the Scottish word “loch.” Such word associations are lost on us because they are based on similar sound. When Lamech says, “This one will bring us comfort” (Gen. 5:29a, emphasis added), he uses a verb that shares some of the same letters and sounds of Noah’s name. This verb (? N?M) plays a powerful role in the events that will unfold in Genesis 6.

The summary of what has been said is that Lamech names Noah based on an expectation that Noah will bring comfort. That expectation will turn out to be correct but not in the way that Lamech expects.

Gordon Wenham says:

Chap. 4 [of Genesis] described the growing power of sin from Adam via Cain, culminating in the viciousness of Lamech. It also traced early developments in culture and technology but suggested that all were tainted by the effects of human sin. Chap. 5 on the other hand records God’s blessing of mankind; man multiplies, “fathering sons and daughters.”[1]

If Genesis 4 demonstrates the penetration of sin within humanity by human actions, Genesis 6 opens with a disturbing account of angelic interaction with human women during the pre-flood years.

When you look into ancient literature outside the Bible, you find distorted parallels to what is found in Genesis. Wenham says, “Marriages between men and the gods are a well-known feature of Greek, Egyptian, Ugaritic [a Syrian port, powerful in ancient times], Hurrian [an ancient people in the region of Turkey], and Mesopotamian theology.”[2] In other words, this idea seems strange to us but was well-known in ancient times. The Bible reveals some of the truth about the history.

Genesis 6:2
the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose.
(NET Bible) 

In summarizing Genesis 6:1–4, Victor Hamilton says, “Here the divine or angelic world illegitimately impinges on the human world.”[3] The phrase “sons of God” has received a lot of discussion for centuries. The most likely explanation is that the phrase refers to “nonhuman godlike beings such as angels, demons, or spirits.”[4] It certainly refers to such entities in Job 1:6 and Ps. 29:1. Bruce Waltke offers the clarification that: “Angels are called ‘sons of God’ because they belong to the world of [God], although not in a mythological, physical, or genealogical sense.”[5]

In describing the sin of the angelic beings, Waltke says: “The Hebrew reads literally: ‘saw . . . good . . . took.’ Their sin repeats the pattern (‘saw . . . good . . . took’) of the original sin in 3:6.”[6] Whatever women they liked, they took for wives. The women and their parents were culpable for not refusing the pairings. God had declared that all reproduction was “according to its kind” (Gen. 1:24). But in a world where sin was running rampant, God’s limits were ignored.

As we will see in the next post, this is a prescription for disaster!

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

[1] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 125.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 138.

[3] 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) 263.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 139.

[5] Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 116, fn 19.

[6] Waltke, Genesis, 117.

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 4:2b–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.