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Genesis 4:7-11

Context
4:7 Is it not true 1  that if you do what is right, you will be fine? 2  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching 3  at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” 4 

4:8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” 5  While they were in the field, Cain attacked 6  his brother 7  Abel and killed him.

4:9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” 8  And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?” 9  4:10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? 10  The voice 11  of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 4:11 So now, you are banished 12  from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

1 tn The introduction of the conditional clause with an interrogative particle prods the answer from Cain, as if he should have known this. It is not a condemnation, but an encouragement to do what is right.

2 tn The Hebrew text is difficult, because only one word occurs, שְׂאֵת (sÿet), which appears to be the infinitive construct from the verb “to lift up” (נָאָשׂ, naas). The sentence reads: “If you do well, uplifting.” On the surface it seems to be the opposite of the fallen face. Everything will be changed if he does well. God will show him favor, he will not be angry, and his face will reflect that. But more may be intended since the second half of the verse forms the contrast: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching….” Not doing well leads to sinful attack; doing well leads to victory and God’s blessing.

3 tn The Hebrew term translated “crouching” (רֹבֵץ, rovets) is an active participle. Sin is portrayed with animal imagery here as a beast crouching and ready to pounce (a figure of speech known as zoomorphism). An Akkadian cognate refers to a type of demon; in this case perhaps one could translate, “Sin is the demon at the door” (see E. A. Speiser, Genesis [AB], 29, 32-33).

4 tn Heb “and toward you [is] its desire, but you must rule over it.” As in Gen 3:16, the Hebrew noun “desire” refers to an urge to control or dominate. Here the desire is that which sin has for Cain, a desire to control for the sake of evil, but Cain must have mastery over it. The imperfect is understood as having an obligatory sense. Another option is to understand it as expressing potential (“you can have [or “are capable of having”] mastery over it.”). It will be a struggle, but sin can be defeated by righteousness. In addition to this connection to Gen 3, other linguistic and thematic links between chaps. 3 and 4 are discussed by A. J. Hauser, “Linguistic and Thematic Links Between Genesis 4:1-6 and Genesis 2–3,” JETS 23 (1980): 297-306.

5 tc The MT has simply “and Cain said to Abel his brother,” omitting Cain’s words to Abel. It is possible that the elliptical text is original. Perhaps the author uses the technique of aposiopesis, “a sudden silence” to create tension. In the midst of the story the narrator suddenly rushes ahead to what happened in the field. It is more likely that the ancient versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac), which include Cain’s words, “Let’s go out to the field,” preserve the original reading here. After writing אָחִיו (’akhiyv, “his brother”), a scribe’s eye may have jumped to the end of the form בַּשָּׂדֶה (basadeh, “to the field”) and accidentally omitted the quotation. This would be an error of virtual homoioteleuton. In older phases of the Hebrew script the sequence יו (yod-vav) on אָחִיו is graphically similar to the final ה (he) on בַּשָּׂדֶה.

6 tn Heb “arose against” (in a hostile sense).

7 sn The word “brother” appears six times in vv. 8-11, stressing the shocking nature of Cain’s fratricide (see 1 John 3:12).

8 sn Where is Abel your brother? Again the Lord confronts a guilty sinner with a rhetorical question (see Gen 3:9-13), asking for an explanation of what has happened.

9 tn Heb “The one guarding my brother [am] I?”

sn Am I my brother’s guardian? Cain lies and then responds with a defiant rhetorical question of his own in which he repudiates any responsibility for his brother. But his question is ironic, for he is responsible for his brother’s fate, especially if he wanted to kill him. See P. A. Riemann, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Int 24 (1970): 482-91.

10 sn What have you done? Again the Lord’s question is rhetorical (see Gen 3:13), condemning Cain for his sin.

11 tn The word “voice” is a personification; the evidence of Abel’s shed blood condemns Cain, just as a human eyewitness would testify in court. For helpful insights, see G. von Rad, Biblical Interpretations in Preaching; and L. Morris, “The Biblical Use of the Term ‘Blood,’” JTS 6 (1955/56): 77-82.

12 tn Heb “cursed are you from the ground.” As in Gen 3:14, the word “cursed,” a passive participle from אָרָר (’arar), either means “punished” or “banished,” depending on how one interprets the following preposition. If the preposition is taken as indicating source, then the idea is “cursed (i.e., punished) are you from [i.e., “through the agency of”] the ground” (see v. 12a). If the preposition is taken as separative, then the idea is “cursed and banished from the ground.” In this case the ground rejects Cain’s efforts in such a way that he is banished from the ground and forced to become a fugitive out in the earth (see vv. 12b, 14).



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