Genesis 4:8
And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) And Cain talked with Abel his brother.—Heb., And Cain said unto Abel his brother. To this the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX., the Syriac, and the Vulg. add, Let us go out into the field;” but neither the Targum of Onkelos nor any Hebrew MS. or authority, except the Jerusalem Targum, give this addition any support. The authority of the versions is, however, very great: first, because Hebrew MSS. are all comparatively modern; and secondly, because all at present known represent only the Recension of the Masorites. Sooner or later some manuscript may be found which will enable scholars to form a critical judgment upon those places where the versions represent a different text. If we could, with the Authorised Version, translate “Cain talked with Abel,” this would imply that Cain triumphed for a time over his angry feelings, and resumed friendly intercourse with his brother. But such a rendering is impossible, as also is one that has been suggested, “Cain told it unto Abel his brother” that is, told all that had passed between him and Jehovah. Either, therefore, we must accept the addition of the versions, or regard the passage as at present beyond our powers.

It came to pass, when they were in the field.—The open, uncultivated land, where Abel’s flocks would find pasture. We cannot suppose that this murder was premeditated. Cain did not even know what a human death was. But, as Philippson remarks, there was a perpetual struggle between the husbandmen who cultivated fixed plots of ground and the wandering shepherds whose flocks were too prone to stray upon the tilled fields. Possibly Abel’s flocks had trespassed on Cain’s land, and when he went to remonstrate, his envy was stirred at the sight of his brother’s affluence. A quarrel ensued, and Cain, in that fierce anger, to fits of which he was liable (Genesis 4:5), tried to enforce his mastery by blows, and before he well knew what he was doing, he had shed his brother’s blood, and stood in terror before the first human corpse.

Genesis

THE GROWTH AND POWER OF SIN

Genesis 4:3 - Genesis 4:16
.

Many lessons crowd on us from this section. Its general purport is to show the growth of sin, and its power to part man from man even as it has parted man from God. We may call the whole ‘The beginning of the fatal operations of sin on human society.’

1. The first recorded act of worship occasions the first murder. Is not that only too correct a forecast of the oceans of blood which have been shed in the name of religion, and a striking proof of the subtle power of sin to corrupt even the best, and out of it to make the worst? What a lesson against the bitter hatred which has too often sprung up on so-called religious grounds! No malice is so venomous, no hate so fierce, no cruelty so fiendish, as those which are fed and fanned by religion. Here is the first triumph of sin, that it poisons the very springs of worship, and makes what should be the great uniter of men in sweet and holy bonds their great separator.

2. Sin here appears as having power to bar men’s way to God. Much ingenuity has been spent on the question why Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s rejected. But the narrative itself shows in the words of Jehovah, ‘If thou doest well, is there not acceptance?’ that the reason lay in Cain’s evil deeds. So, in 1 John 3:12, the fratricide is put down to the fact that ‘his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous’; and Hebrews 11:4 differs from this view only in making the ground of righteousness prominent, when it ascribes the acceptableness of Abel’s offering to faith. Both these passages are founded on the narrative, and we need not seek farther for the reason of the different reception of the two offerings. Character, then, or, more truly, faith, which is the foundation of a righteous character, determines the acceptableness of worship. Cain’s offering had no sense of dependence, no outgoing of love and trust, no adoration,-though it may have had fear,-and no moral element. So it had no sweet odour for God. Abel’s was sprinkled with some drops of the incense of lowly trust, and came from a heart which fain would be pure; therefore it was a joy to God. So we are taught at the very beginning, that, as is the man, so is his sacrifice; that the prayer of the wicked is an abomination. Plenty of worship nowadays is Cain worship. Many reputable professing Christians bring just such sacrifices. The prayers of such never reach higher than the church ceiling. Of course, the lesson of the story is not that a man must be pure before his sacrifice is accepted. Of course, the faintest cry of trust is heard, and a contrite heart, however sinful, is always welcome. But we are taught that our acts of worship must have our hearts in them, and that it is vain to pray and to love evil. Sin has the awful power of blocking our way to God.

3. Note in one word that we have here at the beginning of human history the solemn distinction which runs through it all. These two, so near in blood, so separate in spirit, head the two classes into which Scripture decisively parts men, especially men who have heard the gospel. It is unfashionable now to draw that broad line between the righteous and the wicked, believers and unbelievers. Sheep and goats are all one. Modern liberal sentiment-so-called-will not consent to such narrowness as the old-fashioned classification. There are none of us black, and none white; we are all different shades of grey. But facts do not quite bear out such amiable views. Perhaps it is not less charitable, and a great deal truer, to draw the line broad and plain, on one side of which is peace and safety, and on the other trouble and death, if only we make it plain that no man need stop one minute on the dark side.

4. The solemn divine voice reads the lesson of the power of sin, when once done, over the sinner. Like a wild beast, it crouches in ambush at his door, ready to spring and devour. The evil deed once committed takes shape, as it were, and waits to seize the doer. Remorse, inward disturbance, and above all, the fatal inclination to repeat sin till it becomes a habit, are set forth with terrible force in these grim figures. What a menagerie of ravenous beasts some of us have at the doors of our hearts! With what murderous longing they glare at us, seeking to fascinate us, and make us their prey! When we sin, we cannot escape the issues; and every wrong thing we do has a kind of horrible life given it, and sits henceforth there, beside us, ready to rend us. The tempting, seducing power of our own evils was never put in more startling and solemnly true words, on which the bitter experience of many a poor victim of his own past is a commentary. The eternal duty of resistance is farther taught by the words. Hope of victory, encouragement to struggle, the assurance that even these savage beasts may be subdued, and the lion and adder {the hidden and the glaring evils-those which wound unseen, and which spring with a roar} may be overcome, led in a silken leash or charmed into harmlessness, are given in the command, which is also a promise, ‘Rule thou over it.’

5. The deadly fruit of hate is taught us in the brief account of the actual murder. Notice the impressive plainness and fewness of the words. ‘Cain rose up against his brother, and slew him.’ A kind of horror-struck awe of the crime is audible. Observe the emphasis with which ‘his brother’ is repeated in the verse and throughout. Observe, also, the vivid light thrown by the story on the rise and progress of the sin. It begins with envy and jealousy. Cain was not wroth because his offering was rejected. What did he care for that? But what angered him was that his brother had what he had not. So selfishness was at the bottom, and that led on to envy, and that to hatred. Then comes a pause, in which God speaks remonstrances,-as God’s voice-conscience-does now to us all,-between the imagination and the act of evil. A real or a feigned reconciliation is effected. The brothers go in apparent harmony to the field. No new provocation appears, but the old feelings, kept down for a time, come in again with a rush, and Cain is swept away by them. Hatred left to work means murder. The heart is the source of all evil. Selfishness is the mother tincture out of which all sorts of sin can be made. Guard the thoughts, and keep down self, and the deeds will take care of themselves.

6. Mark how close on the heels of sin God’s question treads! How God spoke, we know not. Doubtless in some fashion suited to the needs of Cain. But He speaks to us as really as to him, and no sooner is the rush of passion over, and the bad deed done, than a revulsion comes. What we call conscience asks the question in stern tones, which make a man’s flesh creep. Our sin is like touching the electric bells which people sometimes put on their windows to give notice of thieves. As soon as we step beyond the line of duty we set the alarm going, and it wakens the sleeping conscience. Some of us go so far as to have silenced the voice within; but, for the most part, it speaks immediately after we have gratified our inclinations wrongly.

7. Cain’s defiant answer teaches us how a man hardens himself against God’s voice. It also shows us how intensely selfish all sin is, and how weakly foolish its excuses are. It is sin which has rent men apart from men, and made them deny the very idea that they have duties to all men. The first sin was only against God; the second was against God and man. The first sin did not break, though it saddened, human love; the second kindled the flames of infernal hatred, and caused the first drops to flow of the torrents of blood which have soaked the earth. When men break away from God, they will soon murder one another.

Cain was his brother’s keeper. His question answered itself. If Abel was his brother, then he was bound to look after him. His self-condemning excuse is but a specimen of the shallow pleas by which the forgetfulness of duties we owe to all mankind, and all sins, are defended.

8. The stern sentence is next pronounced. First we have the grand figure of the innocent blood having a voice which pierces the heavens. That teaches in the most forcible way the truth that God knows the crimes done by ‘man’s inhumanity to man,’ even when the meek sufferers are silent. According to the fine old legend of the cranes of Ibycus, a bird of the air will carry the matter. It speaks, too, of God’s tender regard for His saints, whose blood is precious in His sight; and it teaches that He will surely requite. We cannot but think of the innocent blood shed on Calvary, of the Brother of us all, whose sacrifice was accepted of God. His blood, too, crieth from the ground, has a voice which speaks in the ear of God, but not to plead for vengeance, but pardon.

‘Jesus’ blood through earth and skies,

Mercy, free, boundless mercy, cries.’

Then follows the sentence which falls into two parts-the curse of bitter, unrequited toil, and the doom of homeless wandering. The blood which has been poured out on the battlefield fertilises the soil; but Abel’s blasted the earth. It was a supernatural infliction, to teach that bloodshed polluted the earth, and so to shed a nameless horror over the deed. We see an analogous feeling in the common belief that places where some foul sin has been committed are cursed. We see a weak natural correspondence in the devastating effect of war, as expressed in the old saying that no grass would grow where the hoof of the Turk’s horse had stamped.

The doom of wandering, which would be compulsory by reason of the earth’s barrenness, is a parable. The murderer is hunted from place to place, as the Greek fable has it, by the furies, who suffer him not to rest. Conscience drives a man ‘through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none.’ All sin makes us homeless wanderers. There is but one home for the heart, one place of repose for a man, namely, in the heart of God, the secret place of the Most High; and he who, for his sin, durst not enter there, is driven forth into ‘a salt land and not inhabited,’ and has to wander wearily there. The legend of the wandering Jew, and that other of the sailor, condemned for ever to fly before the gale through stormy seas, have in them a deep truth. The earthly punishment of departing from God is that we have not where to lay our heads. Every sinner is a fugitive and a vagabond. But if we love God we are still wanderers indeed, but we are ‘pilgrims and sojourners with Thee.’

9. Cain’s remonstrance completes the tragic picture. We see in it despair without penitence. He has no word of confession. If he had accepted his chastisement, and learned by it his sin, all the bitterness would have passed away. But he only writhes in agony, and adds, to the sentence pronounced, terrors of his own devising. God had not forbidden him to come into His presence. But he feels that he dare not venture thither. And he was right; for, whether we suppose that some sensible manifestation of the divine presence is meant by ‘Thy face’ or no, a man who had unrepented sin on his conscience, and murmurings in his heart, could not hold intercourse with God; nor would he wish to do so. Thus we learn again the lesson that sin separates from our Father, and that chastisements, not accepted as signs of His love, build up a black wall between God and us.

Nor had Cain been told that his life was in danger. But his conscience made a coward of him, as of us all, and told him what he deserved. There were, no doubt, many other children of Adam, who would be ready to avenge Abel’s death. The wild justice of revenge is deep in the heart of men; and the natural impulse would be to hunt down the murderer like a wolf. It is a dreadful picture of the defiant and despairing sinner, tortured by well-founded fears, shut out from the presence of God, but not able to shut out thoughts of Him, and seeing an avenger in every man.

We need not ask how God set a mark on Cain. Enough that His doing so was a merciful alleviation of his lot, and teaches us how God’s long-suffering spares life, and tempers judgment, that there may still be space for repentance. If even Cain has gracious protection and mercy blended with his chastisement, who can be beyond the pale of God’s compassion, and with whom will not His loving providence and patient pity labour? No man is so scorched by the fire of retribution, but many a dewy drop from God’s tenderness falls on him. No doubt, the story of the preservation of Cain was meant to restrain the blood-feuds so common and ruinous in early times; and we need the lesson yet, to keep us from vengeance under the mask of justice. But the deepest lesson and truest pathos of it lies in the picture of the watchful kindness of God lingering round the wretched man, like gracious sunshine playing on some scarred and black rock, to win him back by goodness to penitence, and through penitence to peace.Genesis 4:8. Cain talked with Abel his brother — Either familiarly or friendly, as he used to do, with a view to make him secure and careless, or by way of expostulation and contention. The Chaldee paraphrast adds, that Cain, when they were in discourse, maintained there was no judgment to come, and that when Abel spoke in defence of the truth, Cain took that occasion to fall upon him. The Scripture tells us the reason wherefore he slew him, “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous;” so that herein he showed himself to be a “child of the devil,” as being “an enemy to all righteousness.” Observe, the first that dies, is a saint; the first that went to the grave, went to heaven. God would secure to himself the first-fruits, the firstborn to the dead, that first opened the womb into another world.4:8-15 Malice in the heart ends in murder by the hands. Cain slew Abel, his own brother, his own mother's son, whom he ought to have loved; his younger brother, whom he ought to have protected; a good brother, who had never done him any wrong. What fatal effects were these of our first parents' sin, and how must their hearts have been filled with anguish! Observe the pride, unbelief, and impenitence of Cain. He denies the crime, as if he could conceal it from God. He tries to cover a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie. Murder is a crying sin. Blood calls for blood, the blood of the murdered for the blood of the murderer. Who knows the extent and weight of a Divine curse, how far it reaches, how deep it pierces? Only in Christ are believers saved from it, and inherit the blessing. Cain was cursed from the earth. He found his punishment there where he chose his portion, and set his heart. Every creature is to us what God makes it, a comfort or a cross, a blessing or a curse. The wickedness of the wicked brings a curse upon all they do, and all they have. Cain complains not of his sin, but of his punishment. It shows great hardness of heart to be more concerned about our sufferings than our sins. God has wise and holy ends in prolonging the lives even of very wicked men. It is in vain to inquire what was the mark set upon Cain. It was doubtless known, both as a brand of infamy on Cain, and a token from God that they should not kill him. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh. He tells the heinous guilt of murder, and warns us to stifle the first risings of wrath, and teaches us that persecution must be expected by the righteous. Also, that there is a future state, and an eternal recompence to be enjoyed, through faith in Christ and his atoning sacrifice. And he tells us the excellency of faith in the atoning sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God. Cain slew his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous, 1Jo 3:12. In consequence of the enmity put between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the war broke out, which has been waged ever since. In this war we are all concerned, none are neuter; our Captain has declared, He that is not with me is against me. Let us decidedly, yet in meekness, support the cause of truth and righteousness against Satan.And Cain talked with Abel his brother. - Cain did not act on the divine counsel. He did not amend his offering to God, either in point of internal feeling or external form. Though one speak to him from heaven he will not hear. He conversed with Habel his brother. The topic is not stated. The Septuagint supplies the words, "Let us go into the field." If in walking side by side with his brother he touched upon the divine communication, the conference did not lead to any better results. If the divine expostulation failed, much more the human. Perhaps it only increased his irritation. When they were in the field, and therefore out of view, he rose up against his brother and killed him. The deed is done that cannot be recalled. The motives to it were various. Selfishness, wounded pride, jealousy, and a guilty conscience were all at work 1 John 3:12. Here, then, is sin following upon sin, proving the truth of the warning given in the merciful forbearance of God.8. And Cain talked with Abel his brother—Under the guise of brotherly familiarity, he concealed his premeditated purpose till a convenient time and place occurred for the murder (1Jo 3:12; Jude 11). cir. 3865 Cain talked with Abel, either,

1. Familiarly and friendly, as he used to do, thereby to make him secure and careless; or by way of expostulation and contention;

in the field, into which Abel was led, either by his own employment, or,

2. By Cain’s persuasion; this being a fit place for the execution of his wicked purpose.

Slew him, possibly with stone or club, or with some iron tool belonging to husbandry. And Cain talked with Abel,.... Or "said", or "spoke unto" him (l); either what the Lord God said to him in the foregoing verses, as Aben Ezra; or he spoke to him in a kind and friendly manner, and thereby got him to take a walk in the field with him. The Vulgate Latin version adds, "let us go abroad"; and the Septuagint and Samaritan versions, "let us go into the field"; not to fight a duel, which Abel doubtless would have declined, had that been declared, but to have some friendly conversation; and there being a large pause here in the Hebrew text, the Jerusalem Targum gives us an account of what passed between them when in the field;"Cain said to Abel his brother, there is no judgment, nor Judge, nor will a good reward be given to the righteous; nor will vengeance be taken of the wicked; neither is the world created in mercy nor governed in mercy; otherwise, why is thine offering received with good will, and mine not?''Abel answered and said to Cain,"there is a judgment,'' &c.and so goes on to assert everything Cain denied, and to give a reason why the offering of the one was accepted, and the other rejected: and to the same purpose the Targum of Jonathan:

and it came to pass, when they were in the field; alone and at a distance from their parents, or from any town or city, if any were now built, as some think there were, and out of the sight of any person that might come and interpose and rescue: about a mile from Damascus, in a valley, yet on the side of a hill, are now shown the place, or the house on it, where Cain slew Abel (m); and so Mr. Maundrel (n) speaks of a high hill near Damascus, reported to be the same they offered their sacrifice on, and Cain slew his brother, and also of another hill at some distance from Damascus, and an ancient structure on it, supposed to be the tomb of Abel:

that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him; in a furious manner assaulted him, without any just provocation, and took away his life, by some instrument or other, perhaps that was used in husbandry, which might be in the field where they were. The Targum of Jonathan is,"he fixed a stone in his forehead, and slew him;''and so the Jews say (o) elsewhere: our poet (p) says, he smote him in the breast with a stone, into the midriff or diaphragm: it must be by some means or other, by which his blood was shed; but it is not material to inquire what the instrument was, as Aben Ezra observes; since though there might be swords, yet there were stones and clubs enough, as he takes notice; and there must be even instruments for agriculture, one of which might be taken up, as being at hand, with which the execution might be made. The Jewish writers (q) say Abel was an hundred years old when he was slain; and some of them (r) make Abel to be the first aggressor: they say, that Abel rose up against him, and threw him to the ground, and afterwards Cain rose up and slew him; however this was not likely the case.

(l) "et dixit", Pagninus, Montanus, Munster, Fagius, Vatablus, Drusis. (m) Lud. Vartoman, Navigat. l. 1. c. 6. (n) Journey from Aleppo, &c. l. 1. p. 131, 133, 134. (o) Pirke Eliezer, c. 21. (p) -----And, as they talk'd, Smote him into the midriff with a stone, That beat out life.----- Milton's Paradise Lost, B. 11. l. 444, &c. (q) Josippon apud Abendana in Miclol. Yophi in loc. (r) Tikkune Zohar, correct. 69. fol. 112. l. 2.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. told] Heb. said unto, which is the only possible meaning of the original. The rendering “told” implies that Cain repeated to Abel, his brother, the words spoken to him by Jehovah. But this is not the meaning of the original, which is, “Cain said unto Abel his brother”; some words, which are wanting in the Hebrew text, either having been intentionally omitted by the compiler, or accidentally dropped by carelessness in transcription. As the R.V. margin states, “many ancient authorities [Sam., LXX, Syr. Pesh., and Ps. Jon.] read said unto Abel his brother, Let us go into the field”; LXX, διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πεδίον; Lat. egrediamur foras. This addition has all the appearance of an insertion, supplied to fill up an obvious gap, and borrowed from the next verse. Gunkel proposes to read, instead of “and said” (vayyômer), “and was bitter” (vayyêmer), i.e. “and made a quarrel.” Here, as in the preceding verse, we have probably an instance of a very early disturbance of the text.

Possibly, the words spoken by Cain to his brother Abel contained some allusion which seemed wanting in the right spirit towards the faith and worship of the God of Israel, and were omitted without other words being substituted.

the field] i.e. having left the sacred place, shrine or altar, where they had offered their sacrifices. An allusion to such a spot might well have been omitted as unsuitable.

rose up] preliminary to assault: see Jdg 8:21; 2 Samuel 2:14; 2 Kings 3:24.Verse 8. - And Cain talked with (literally, said to) his brother. Διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πεδίον (LXX.); egrediamur foras (Vulgate). The Samaritan and Syriac versions interpolate to the same effect. The Jerusalem Targum explains - "Cainum cure Abele contendisse de vita aetcrna, de extremo judicio, et providentia divina," inserting a long conversation commencing, "Veni, egrediamur ad superficiem agri;" but the obvious supplement is to be found in the subject matter of the previous verse (Hieronynms, Aben Ezra, Gesenius). It is not against this that it argues too much moral goodness in Cain to suppose that he would tell his younger brother of Jehovah's admonition (Knobel); and it certainly relieves us from the necessity of adding to the moral turpitude of the unhappy fratricide by depicting him as deliberately planning his favored brother's murder, carrying the fell purpose within his guilty bosom, watching his opportunity (Bottcher and Knobel, who substitute שָׁמַר he watched, for אָמַר, he said), and at last accomplishing his unhallowed purpose by means of treachery. Beyond all question the historian designs to describe not an act of culpable homicide, but a deed of red-handed murder; yet the impression which his language conveys is that of a crime rather suddenly conceived and hurriedly performed than deliberately planned and treacherously executed. And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. He "said to his brother Abel." What he said is not stated. We may either supply "it," viz., what God had just said to him, which would be grammatically admissible, since אמר is sometimes followed by a simple accusative (Genesis 22:3; Genesis 44:16), and this accusative has to be supplied from the context (as in Exodus 19:25); or we may supply from what follows some such expressions as "let us go into the field," as the lxx, Sam., Jonathan, and others have done. This is also allowable, so that we need not imagine a gap in the text, but may explain the construction as in Genesis 3:22-23, by supposing that the writer hastened on to describe the carrying out of what was said, without stopping to set down the words themselves. This supposition is preferable to the former, since it is psychologically most improbable that Cain should have related a warning to his brother which produced so little impression upon his own mind. In the field "Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him." Thus the sin of Adam had grown into fratricide in his son. The writer intentionally repeats again and again the words "his brother," to bring clearly out the horror of the sin. Cain was the first man who let sin reign in him; he was "of the wicked one" (1 John 3:12). In him the seed of the woman had already become the seed of the serpent; and in his deed the real nature of the wicked one, as "a murderer from the beginning," had come openly to light: so that already there had sprung up that contrast of two distinct seeds within the human race, which runs through the entire history of humanity.
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