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Genesis 4:1-6

Context
The Story of Cain and Abel

4:1 Now 1  the man had marital relations with 2  his wife Eve, and she became pregnant 3  and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created 4  a man just as the Lord did!” 5  4:2 Then she gave birth 6  to his brother Abel. 7  Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground. 8 

4:3 At the designated time 9  Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering 10  to the Lord. 4:4 But Abel brought 11  some of the firstborn of his flock – even the fattest 12  of them. And the Lord was pleased with 13  Abel and his offering, 4:5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. 14  So Cain became very angry, 15  and his expression was downcast. 16 

4:6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast?

1 tn The disjunctive clause (conjunction + subject + verb) introduces a new episode in the ongoing narrative.

2 tn Heb “the man knew,” a frequent euphemism for sexual relations.

3 tn Or “she conceived.”

4 tn Here is another sound play (paronomasia) on a name. The sound of the verb קָנִיתִי (qaniti, “I have created”) reflects the sound of the name Cain in Hebrew (קַיִן, qayin) and gives meaning to it. The saying uses the Qal perfect of קָנָה (qanah). There are two homonymic verbs with this spelling, one meaning “obtain, acquire” and the other meaning “create” (see Gen 14:19, 22; Deut 32:6; Ps 139:13; Prov 8:22). The latter fits this context very well. Eve has created a man.

5 tn Heb “with the Lord.” The particle אֶת־ (’et) is not the accusative/object sign, but the preposition “with” as the ancient versions attest. Some take the preposition in the sense of “with the help of” (see BDB 85 s.v. אֵת; cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV), while others prefer “along with” in the sense of “like, equally with, in common with” (see Lev 26:39; Isa 45:9; Jer 23:28). Either works well in this context; the latter is reflected in the present translation. Some understand אֶת־ as the accusative/object sign and translate, “I have acquired a man – the Lord.” They suggest that the woman thought (mistakenly) that she had given birth to the incarnate Lord, the Messiah who would bruise the Serpent’s head. This fanciful suggestion is based on a questionable allegorical interpretation of Gen 3:15 (see the note there on the word “heel”).

sn Since Exod 6:3 seems to indicate that the name Yahweh (יְהוָה, yÿhvah, translated Lord) was first revealed to Moses (see also Exod 3:14), it is odd to see it used in quotations in Genesis by people who lived long before Moses. This problem has been resolved in various ways: (1) Source critics propose that Exod 6:3 is part of the “P” (or priestly) tradition, which is at odds with the “J” (or Yahwistic) tradition. (2) Many propose that “name” in Exod 6:3 does not refer to the divine name per se, but to the character suggested by the name. God appeared to the patriarchs primarily in the role of El Shaddai, the giver of fertility, not as Yahweh, the one who fulfills his promises. In this case the patriarchs knew the name Yahweh, but had not experienced the full significance of the name. In this regard it is possible that Exod 6:3b should not be translated as a statement of denial, but as an affirmation followed by a rhetorical question implying that the patriarchs did indeed know God by the name of Yahweh, just as they knew him as El Shaddai. D. A. Garrett, following the lead of F. Andersen, sees Exod 6:2-3 as displaying a paneled A/B parallelism and translates them as follows: (A) “I am Yahweh.” (B) “And I made myself known to Abraham…as El Shaddai.” (A') “And my name is Yahweh”; (B') “Did I not make myself known to them?” (D. A. Garrett, Rethinking Genesis, 21). However, even if one translates the text this way, the Lord’s words do not necessarily mean that he made the name Yahweh known to the fathers. God is simply affirming that he now wants to be called Yahweh (see Exod 3:14-16) and that he revealed himself in prior times as El Shaddai. If we stress the parallelism with B, the implied answer to the concluding question might be: “Yes, you did make yourself known to them – as El Shaddai!” The main point of the verse would be that El Shaddai, the God of the fathers, and the God who has just revealed himself to Moses as Yahweh are one and the same. (3) G. J. Wenham suggests that pre-Mosaic references to Yahweh are the product of the author/editor of Genesis, who wanted to be sure that Yahweh was identified with the God of the fathers. In this regard, note how Yahweh is joined with another divine name or title in Gen 9:26-27; 14:22; 15:2, 8; 24:3, 7, 12, 27, 42, 48; 27:20; 32:9. The angel uses the name Yahweh when instructing Hagar concerning her child’s name, but the actual name (Ishma-el, “El hears”) suggests that El, not Yahweh, originally appeared in the angel’s statement (16:11). In her response to the angel Hagar calls God El, not Yahweh (16:13). In 22:14 Abraham names the place of sacrifice “Yahweh Will Provide” (cf. v. 16), but in v. 8 he declares, “God will provide.” God uses the name Yahweh when speaking to Jacob at Bethel (28:13) and Jacob also uses the name when he awakens from the dream (28:16). Nevertheless he names the place Beth-el (“house of El”). In 31:49 Laban prays, “May Yahweh keep watch,” but in v. 50 he declares, “God is a witness between you and me.” Yahweh’s use of the name in 15:7 and 18:14 may reflect theological idiom, while the use in 18:19 is within a soliloquy. (Other uses of Yahweh in quotations occur in 16:2, 5; 24:31, 35, 40, 42, 44, 48, 50, 51, 56; 26:22, 28-29; 27:7, 27; 29:32-35; 30:24, 30; 49:18. In these cases there is no contextual indication that a different name was originally used.) For a fuller discussion of this proposal, see G. J. Wenham, “The Religion of the Patriarchs,” Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, 189-93.

6 tn Heb “And she again gave birth.”

7 sn The name Abel is not defined here in the text, but the tone is ominous. Abel’s name, the Hebrew word הֶבֶל (hevel), means “breath, vapor, vanity,” foreshadowing Abel’s untimely and premature death.

8 tn Heb “and Abel was a shepherd of the flock, and Cain was a worker of the ground.” The designations of the two occupations are expressed with active participles, רֹעֵה (roeh, “shepherd”) and עֹבֵד (’oved, “worker”). Abel is occupied with sheep, whereas Cain is living under the curse, cultivating the ground.

9 tn Heb “And it happened at the end of days.” The clause indicates the passing of a set period of time leading up to offering sacrifices.

10 tn The Hebrew term מִנְחָה (minkhah, “offering”) is a general word for tribute, a gift, or an offering. It is the main word used in Lev 2 for the dedication offering. This type of offering could be comprised of vegetables. The content of the offering (vegetables, as opposed to animals) was not the critical issue, but rather the attitude of the offerer.

11 tn Heb “But Abel brought, also he….” The disjunctive clause (conjunction + subject + verb) stresses the contrast between Cain’s offering and Abel’s.

12 tn Two prepositional phrases are used to qualify the kind of sacrifice that Abel brought: “from the firstborn” and “from the fattest of them.” These also could be interpreted as a hendiadys: “from the fattest of the firstborn of the flock.” Another option is to understand the second prepositional phrase as referring to the fat portions of the sacrificial sheep. In this case one may translate, “some of the firstborn of his flock, even some of their fat portions” (cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV).

sn 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.

13 tn The Hebrew verb שָׁעָה (shaah) simply means “to gaze at, to have regard for, to look on with favor [or “with devotion”].” The text does not indicate how this was communicated, but it indicates that Cain and Abel knew immediately. Either there was some manifestation of divine pleasure given to Abel and withheld from Cain (fire consuming the sacrifice?), or there was an inner awareness of divine response.

14 sn The Letter to the Hebrews explains the difference between the brothers as one of faith – Abel by faith offered a better sacrifice. Cain’s offering as well as his reaction to God’s displeasure did not reflect faith. See further B. K. Waltke, “Cain and His Offering,” WTJ 48 (1986): 363-72.

15 tn Heb “and it was hot to Cain.” This Hebrew idiom means that Cain “burned” with anger.

16 tn Heb “And his face fell.” The idiom means that the inner anger is reflected in Cain’s facial expression. The fallen or downcast face expresses anger, dejection, or depression. Conversely, in Num 6 the high priestly blessing speaks of the Lord lifting up his face and giving peace.



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