In this chapter: Adam has sons, one son is a murderer, God’s punishment, incest, capital punishment created, and our first begat list.
It’s a boy! The chapter starts with Eve giving birth to a son, Cain, and giving God credit for him. (Gen 4:1) Then Eve gives birth to Cain’s brother, Abel, and we learn that Abel took care of the sheep, and Cain was a farmer. (Gen 4:2)
Time goes by and Cain brings an offering to God from his fields, while his little brother brings lambs and fat. God, an obvious carnivore and lover of fat, likes Abel‘s offering (Gen 4:3-4) but, doesn’t like the veggies which upsets Cain. (Gen 4:5)
My father always told me that God rejected Cain’s offering because it was somehow flawed, as if Cain kept all the good brussel sprouts and took the old nasty ones to God. However, there is absolutely nothing to back this up except for God’s attitude, so unless my father, or any other literalist, had or has some kind of psychic connection with the author then there is no proof of this idea.
So God gets a little snooty with Cain and says: “what’s your problem?“ Then tells him that if he does a good job he’ll be rewarded, but if he doesn’t do a good job, that sin will get him. (Gen 4:6-7) Obviously, God doesn’t like farmers even though he created them when he cursed Cain’s father to be a farmer. The whole, farmers-vs-ranchers thing is a common sub-plot in American western novels and movies. I had always assumed that the farmers were the good guys or victims in these stories; this story shows just how wrong I was.
God notices that Abel is missing and asks Cain where he is. Cain, returning the snooty attitude that God had thrown at him says “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) Why Adam and Eve didn’t do a better job raising their kids is unclear.
In a Poe-like moment God hears Abel’s blood crying out from the grave and knows what Cain has done. (Gen 4:10) So he curses Cain to be a bum and fugitive who can’t grow anything. (Gen 4:11-12)
Cain, without showing remorse for what he’s done, says that the punishment is too harsh, because someone will kill him. (Gen 4:13-14) Obviously either bum killing was a big thing then, or Cain’s sisters (the only possible people on the planet besides his parents) were really upset about Abel.
So God proclaims that anyone caught killing Cain will be killed seven times, and marks Cain so no one will kill him. (Gen 4:15) Thus we have the start of capital punishment, but only for killing someone who has been convicted of murder.
Some of the more enlightened Christians have used Cain’s unspecified mark as an excuse for slavery, bigotry, and other seemingly Christian attributes. Why God had to mark Cain in the first place is a little unclear since the only people on the planet were his parents, and some sisters, and God being all-powerful and such had already told everyone to leave Cain alone.
I have heard it said, many times, that Cain’s mark was meant to be a visual cue to his being evil, and that all of Cain’s descendants also had the mark so that people would know that these people were descended from evil and therefore evil themselves. If this is true, then why, when the mark was so obviously important, didn’t the author fill us in as to what exactly this mark looks like? It seems that such information would be rather useful. Could it be that the Iron Age author of the story was using this story and a visual cue of some kind as a way to justify his own bigotry and hatred against a people whose name was a lot like ‘Cain’ (i.e. Caananites) and assumed that his contemporaries would know what he meant? The answer to this is unknown, but we do have a modern-day precedent for such a thing with the way some Christians and politicians have used hyperbole, inaccurate and made up statements about teachings; as well as head scarves and other pieces of clothing as excuses to discriminate against and kill people of a certain religion that they don’t like.
Anyway, back to the story.
Feeling a little safer, Cain heads east to the land of Nod (Gen 4:16) Nod is not on any maps but if it’s east of Eden then it would have been in modern-day Turkey or Maybe Iran.
One of Cain’s sisters (the only women on the planet other than his mom) joins him in Nod, they get married and start having babies. Their first son/nephew was Enoch. Cain was so happy with having a son that he built the world’s first city and called it ‘Enoch’. (Gen 4:17) Probably not a very big city since there were only three people there, but a city none the less.
Most of the rest of the chapter is a ‘begat’ list of Cain’s family line. (Gen 4:18-24) The only notable people are Cain’s great-great-great-great grandson Jabel who was the first nomad and rancher (Gen 4:20); Jabel’s brother Jubal who was the first musician (Gen 4:21); and Jabel and Jubal’s father Lamech who, like his ancestor Cain, was also a killer. (Gen 4:23-24) Note that Lamech will have to be killed 77 times.
Following along with the oft’ proposed theory that all of Cain’s descendants are evil, this means that all nomads, cattle ranchers, and musicians are evil. So, now we have another reason to hate Justin Bieber.
The chapter ends with Eve giving birth to another son, Seth, and again giving God the credit. (Gen 4:25) Poor Adam just gets no respect from his wife.
Seth eventually has a son/nephew (remember, the only women around were Eve, and Adam and Eve’s daughters) whom he names Enos. (Gen 4:26) Legend has it that Enos became a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia and spent his days trying to catch the Duke boys, and lusting after a woman in skimpy shorts named ‘Daisy’, but this is only a legend.
Next up in our exploration of Genesis is the start of date keeping, the family line to Noah, horny angels, and a dire forecast. I’ll give you a hint: It involves a lot of rain and tens of millions of animals. See you next time.