Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
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Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
Genesis 4:17-26

Genesis 4:17-24

  - XIX. The Line of Cain

17. חניך  chenôk, Chanok, "initiation, instruction."

18. עירד  ‛îyrād, 'Irad, "fleet as the wild ass, citizen." מחוּיאל  mechûya'el, Mechujael, "smitten of 'El, or life of 'El." מתוּשׁאל  metûshā'ēl, Methushael, "man of 'El, or man asked." למך  lāmek, Lemek, "man of prayer, youth."

19. עדה  'ādâh, 'Adah, "beauty." צלה  tsîlâh, Tsillah, "shade or tinkling."

20. יבל  yābāl, Jabal, "stream, leader of cattle, produce, the walker or wanderer." אהל   'ohel plural: אהלים  'ohālîym for אהלים  'ăhālîym "tent, awning, covering" of goats' hair over the poles or timbers which constituted the original booth," סכה  sŭkâh.

21. יוּבל  yûbāl, Jubal, "player on an instrument?"

22. תוּבל־קין  tûbal-qayîn, Tubal-qain, "brass-smith?" The scion or son of the lance.<נעמה  na‛ămâh, Na'amah, "pleasant, lovely."

Mankind is now formally divided into two branches - those who still abide in the presence of God, and those who have fled to a distance from him. Distinguishing names will soon be given to these according to their outward profession and practice (Genesis 6:1). The awful distinction according to the inward state of the feelings has been already given in the terms, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.


Genesis 4:17 "And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch."

Cain is not unaccompanied in his banishment. A wife, at least, is the partner of his exile. And soon a son is born to him. He was building a city at the time of this birth. The city is a keep or fort, enclosed with a wall for the defense of all who dwell within. The building of the city is the erection of this wall or barricade. Here we find the motive of fear and self-defense still ruling Cain. His hand has been imbrued in a brother's blood, and he expects every man's hand will be against him.

He calls his son Henok (Enoch), and his city after the name of his son. The same word is employed as a name in the lines of Seth (Genesis 5:18), of Midian (Genesis 25:4), and of Reuben (Genesis 46:9). It signifies dedication or initiation, and, in the present case, seems to indicate a new beginning of social existence, or a consciousness of initiative or inventive power, which necessity and self-reliance called forth particularly in himself and his family. It appears, from the flocks kept by Habel, the fear of persons meeting and slaying the murderer, the marriage and family of Cain, and the beginning of a city, that a considerble time had elapsed since the fall. The wife of Cain was of necessity his sister, though this was forbidden in after times, for wise and holy reasons, when the necessity no longer existed.


Genesis 4:18 "And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech."

The names in this verse seem to denote, respectively, fleet as a wild ass, stricken by God, man of prayer, and youth. They indicate a mingling of thoughts and motives in men's minds, in which the word אל  'el "mighty" as a name of God occurs. This name is a common noun, signifying hero or potentate, and also power or might, and is transferred to God as "the Potentate," or "Almighty One." It is distinguished from אלהים  'ĕlohîym "God," since they are put in apposition (Joshua 22:22); and seems to be properly an epithet applied to God by way of pre-eminence. The denomination, "stricken of the Mighty," is a recognition of the divine power. "The man of prayer," or "asking," may also have reference to an act of worship. Among these higher thoughts we also find a value put upon youth and physical superiority, as the fleetness of the wild ass. This is all we can learn from these imperfectly understood names.


Genesis 4:19 "And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah."

This is the first record and probably the first instance of polygamy. The names of the two wives, Adah, "beauty," and Zillah, "shade or tinkling," seem to refer to the charms which attracted Lamek. Superabundance of wealth and power perhaps led Lamek to multiply wives.


Genesis 4:20 "And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle."

Genesis 4:20 is the first notice of the tent and of cattle. The tent was the thin shining and shading canvas of goats' hair, which was placed over the poles or timbers that constituted the original booth. In process of time it would supplant the branches and foliage of the booth as a covering from the sun or the wind. The cattle are designated by a word denoting property, as being chattels personal, and consisting chiefly of sheep and oxen. The idea of property had now been practically realized. The Cainites were now prosperous and numerous, and therefore released from that suspicious fear which originated the fortified keep of their progenitor. The sons of Jabal rove over the common with their tents and cattle, undismayed by imaginary terrors.


Genesis 4:21 "And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ."

Here is the invention of musical instruments in their two leading varieties, the harp and the pipe. This implies the previous taste for music and song. It seems not unlikely that Zillah, the mother of Jubal, was a daughter of song. The fine arts follow in the train of the useful. All this indicates the easy circumstances in which the Cainites now found themselves.


Genesis 4:22 "And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah."

The three names Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal are formed from root signifying to "flow, run, go forth," perhaps "blow," from which comes יובל  yôbēl the "blast" or trumpet-note of joy and release. Accordingly, all sorts of going forth, that were suitable to the life of a nomad, seem to have distinguished this family. The addition of Cain to the name of Tubal may have been a memorial of his ancestor, or an indication of his pursuit. Tubal of the spear or lance may have been his familiar designation. The making of tents implies some skill in carpentry, and also in spinning and weaving. The working in brass and iron furnishes implements for war, hunting, or husbandry. The construction of musical instruments shows considerable refinement in carving and moulding wood. Naamah, the lovely, seems to be mentioned on account of her personal charms.


Genesis 4:23-24 "And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold."

In this fragment of ancient song, we have Lamek, under the strong excitement of having slain a man in self-defense, reciting to his wives the deed, and at the same time comforting them and himself with the assurance that if Cain the murderer would be avenegd sevenfold, he the manslayer in self-defense would be avenged seventy and seven-fold. This short ode has all the characteristics of the most perfect Hebrew poetry. Every pair of lines is a specimen of the Hebrew parallelism or rhythm of sentiment and style. They all belong to the synthetic, synonymous, or cognate parallel, the second member reiterating with emphasis the first. Here we observe that Lamek was a poet; one of his wives was probably a songstress, and the other had a taste for ornament. One daughter was the lovely, and three sons were the inventors of most of the arts which sustain and embellish life. This completes the picture of this remarkable family.

It has been noticed that the inventive powers were more largely developed in the line of Cain than in that of Sheth. And it has been suggested that the worldly character of the Cainites accounts for this. The Shethites contemplated the higher things of God, and therefore paid less attention to the practical arts of life. The Cainites, on the other hand, had not God in their thoughts, and therefore gave the more heed to the requisites and comforts of the present life.

But besides this the Cainites, penetrating into the unknown tracts of this vast common, were compelled by circumstances to turn their thoughts to the invention of the arts by which the hardships of their condition might be abated. And as soon as they had conquered the chief difficulties of their new situation, the habits of industry and mental activity which they had acquired were turned to the embellishments of life.

We have no grounds, however, for concluding that the descendants of Cain were as yet entirely and exclusively ungodly on the one hand, or on the other that the descendants of Sheth were altogether destitute of inventive genius or inattentive to its cultivation. With the exception of the assault that seemed to have provoked the homicidal act of Lamek, and the bigamy of Lamek himself, we find not much to condemn in the recorded conduct of the race of Cain; and in the names of some of them we discover the remembrance and recognition of God. Habel had a keeper of cattle before Jabal. The Cainites were also an older race than the Shethites. And when Noah was commissioned to build the ark, we have no reason to doubt that he was qualified in some measure by natural ability and previous training for such a task.

The line of Cain is traced no further than the seventh generation from Adam. We cannot tell whether there were any more in that line before the flood. The design of tracing it thus far, is to point out the origin of the arts of life, and the first instances of bigamy and homicide in self-defense.


Genesis 4:25-26

  - XX. Sheth

25. שׁת  shēt, Sheth, "placed, put."

26. אנישׁ  'enôsh, Enosh, "man, sickly." בשׁם קרא  qero'beshēm means, first, to call an object by its name (Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 45:3-4); second, to call an object by the name of another, who is the parent, leader, husband, owner (Numbers 32:42; Judges 18:29; Psalm 49:12; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 44:5; Isaiah 48:1; Isaiah 65:1); third, to proclaim the name of (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 35:5-6); fourth, to call upon the name of God, to address him by his proper name with an audible voice in the form of prayer. This is the most common meaning of the phrase. In this sense it is followed by Yahweh as the proper name of the true God among the Hebrews. It is not to be forgotten that names were still significant, at this early period.

This passage completes the account of Adam's family. Henceforth, we generally meet with two parallel lines of narrative, as the human family is divided into two great branches, with opposing interests and tendencies. The main line refers to the remnant of the race that are on terms of open reconciliation with God; while a collateral line notes as far as necessary the state of those who have departed from the knowledge and love of the true God.


Genesis 4:25 "And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew."

The narrative here reverts to a point subsequent to the death of Habel, when another son is born to Adam, whom his mother Eve regards as a substitute for Habel, and names Sheth in allusion to that circumstance. She is in a sadder, humbler frame than when she named her first-born, and therefore does not employ the personal name of the Lord. Yet her heart is not so much downcast as when she called her second son a breath. Her faith in God is sedate and pensive, and hence she uses the more distant and general term אלהים  'ĕlohîym, God.

Yet there is a special significance in the form of expression she employs. "For God" hath given me another seed instead of Habel. He is to be instead of Habel, and God-fearing like Habel. Far above this consideration, God hath given him. This son is from God. She regards him as God's son. She receives this gift from God, and in faith expects him to be the seed of God, the parent of a godly race. Her faith was not disappointed. His descendants earn the name of the sons of God. As the ungodly are called the seed of the serpent, because they are of his spirit, so the godly are designated the seed of God, because they are of God's Spirit. The Spirit of God strives and rules in them, and so they are, in the graphic language of Scripture, the sons of God (Genesis 6:1).


Genesis 4:26 "And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD."

A son is born to Sheth also, whom he calls Enosh. In this name there is probably an allusion to the meaning of sickliness and dependence which belongs to the root. These qualities were now found to be characteristic of man in his present state.

The closing sentence signalizes a remarkable event, which took place at the birth of Enosh, about two hundred and forty years after the creation of Adam. "Then was it begun to call upon the name of the Lord." The solemn invocation of God by his proper name in audible and social prayer and praise is the most usual meaning of the phrase now before us, and is to be adopted unless there be something in the context or the circumstances demanding another meaning. This involves also the first of the meanings given above, as we call God by his name in oral worship. It includes the third in one of its forms, as in praise we proclaim the name of our God. And it leads to the second, as those who call on the name of the Lord are themselves called the children of God.

Some change is here intimated in the mode of approaching God in worship. The gist of the sentence, however, does not lie in the name "Yahweh". For this term was not then new in itself, as it was used by Eve at the birth of Cain; nor was it new in this connection, as the phrase now appears for the first time, and Yahweh is the ordinary term employed in it ever afterward to denote the true God. As a proper name, Yahweh is the fit and customary word to enter into a solemn invocation. It is, as we have seen, highly significant. It speaks of the Self-existent One, the Author of all existing things, and in particular of man; the Self-manifest, who has shown himself merciful and gracious to the returning penitent, and with him keeps promise and covenant. Hence, it is the custom itself of calling on the name of Yahweh, of addressing God by his proper name, which is here said to have been commenced.

At first sight, with our habits and associations, it seems a very strange thing that calling upon the name of the Lord should only begin two hundred and forty years after the creation of man. But let us endeavor to divest ourselves of these limitations, and rise to the primeval simplicity of man's thoughts in regard to God. We read of God speaking to man in paradise, but not of man speaking to God. In the examination that preceded the sentence passed upon the transgressors, we hear Adam and Eve replying to the questions of God, but not venturing to open a conversation with the Most High. If the feeling of reverence and solemn awe did not permit such a liberty before the fall, much more would the super-added sense of guilt after that event restrain man from making any advances toward the infinitely holy Being whom he had so wantonly offended. The rebuking examination, the judicial sentence, and the necessary execution of this sentence in its preliminary form, were so prominent and impressive as to throw into the background any intimations of the divine mercy with which they were accompanied. The latter, however, were not unnoticed, or without a salutary effect on the primeval pair. Adam believed the indications of mercy, whether in word or deed, which God gave him. Faith was prompt and natural in that early stage of comparative nearness to God, to his manifest presence and his conspicuous wonders of creative power. It was also a native tendency of the human breast, and would be so still, had we not become so sophisticated by education that doubt has come to be the prominent attitude of our minds. This faith of the first pair led to confession; not directly, however, to God, but indirectly in the names Adam gave his wife, and Eve her first-born son. Here humble, distant, self-condemning faith solilloquizes, or, at most, the penitent pair converse in humble hope about the mercy of the Most High.

The bringing of an offering to God was a step in advance of this penitent, humble, submissive, self-accusing faith. It was the exact counterpart and representation by a well-devised symbol of the nature of the offerer's faith. It was therefore a confession of faith and certain accompanying feelings toward God by a symbolic act. It was quite natural that this mute sign should precede the actual address. The consequences, however, of the approach of Cain and Habel were calculated to deepen again the feeling of dread, and to strike the onlooker mute in the presence of the High and Holy One. Still would this be so in that infantile state of man when one thought would take full possession of the soul, until another was plainly and directly brought before the attention. In this simple, unsophisticated state of the penitent, we can conceive him to resign himself passively to the merciful will of that Maker whom he has grievously offended, without venturing to breathe a wish or even to lift up a note of thanksgiving. Such mute acquiescence in the divine will for two hundred and forty years was well-befitting the humble penitents of that infantile age, standing in solemn awe under a sense of their own demerit and of the infinite holiness of the Majesty on high. There were even an eloquent pathos and power in that tacit reverence suited to move the heart of the All-searching Spirit more than ten thousand voices less deeply penetrated with a sense of the guilt of sin and the beauty of holiness.

At length, however, Sheth was given to Eve, and accepted by her as a substitute for Habel. Enosh, the child of sorrow, was born to him. Collateral with this line of descent, and all the anxieties and desires which it involved, was the growth of a class of men who were of the spirit of Cain, and receded further and further from God. In these circumstances of growing iniquity on the one hand, and growing faith on the other, believing reason comes to conceive the full import of the mercy of God, freely and fully accepts of pardon, and realizes the peace and privilege which it bestows. Growing man now comprehends all that is implied in the proper name of God, יהוה yehovâh, "Jehovah," the Author of being, of promise, and of performance. He finds a tongue, and ventures to express the desires and feelings that have been long pent up in his breast, and are now bursting for utterance. These petitions and confessions are now made in an audible voice, and with a holy urgency and courage rising above the depressing sense of self-abasement to the confidence of peace and gratitude. These adorations are also presented in a social capacity, and thereby acquire a public notoriety. The father, the older of the house, is the master of words, and he becomes the spokesman of the brotherhood in this new relationship into which they have spontaneously entered with their Father in heaven. The spirit of adoption has prompted the confiding and endearing terms, "Abba, Father," and now the winged words ascend to heaven, conveying the adorations and aspirations of the assembled saints. The new form of worship attracts the attention of the early world, and the record is made, "Then began they to call upon the name of the Lord," that keepeth covenant and mercy.

Here we perceive that the holy race has passed beyond its infancy. It has learned to speak with God in the language of faith, of conscious acceptance, of freedom, of hope, of love. This is a far nobler attainment than the invention of all the arts of life. It is the return from that revulsive dread with which the conscious sinner shrank back from the felt holiness of God. It is the drawing of the divine mercy and love let into the penitent soul, by which it has come to itself, and taken courage to return to the merciful Yahweh, and speak to him the language of penitence, of confession, of gratitude. These believing penitents, chiefly it is to be supposed in the line of Sheth, of which this paragraph speaks, began to be distinguished as the followers of the Lord; whereas others at the same time had forgotten the Lord, and renounced even the form of reverence for him. The seed of the woman was now distinguished from the seed of the serpent. The latter are in a spiritual sense called "the seed of the serpent," because they cling to the principles of the tempter; and the former may in the same sense be designated "the seed or sons of God," because they follow after him as the God of mercy and truth. Thus, the lamentable fact obtrudes itself upon our view that a portion of the human family have persisted in the primeval apostasy, and are no longer associated with their fellows in acknowledging their common Maker.

The progress of moral evil in the antediluvian world was manifested in fratricide, in going out from the presence of the Lord, in personal violence, and in polygamy. The first is the normal character of all murder; the second gave scope for the third, the daring and presumptuous violence of the strong; and the fourth ultimately led to an almost total corruption of manners. It is curious to observe that ungodliness, in the form of disobedience and departure from God and therefore of the practical breach of the first commandment, and unrighteousness in the form of murder, the crime of masterful passion and violence, which is the transgression of the first commandment concerning our neighbor, are the starting-points of sin in the world. They do not seem to have yet reached idolatry and adultery. This appears to point out that the prohibitions into which the law is developed in the Ten Commandments are arranged in the order of time as well as of nature.

The preceding chapters, if written in substance by Adam, formed the primeval Bible of mankind. But, whether written at that time or not, they contain the leading facts which occurred in the early history of man in relation to his Maker. These facts were well known to the antediluvian world, and formed the rule by which it was to be guided in approaching to God, presenting to him an acceptable offering, calling upon his name, and so walking with him in peace and love. Here we have all the needful germs of a gospel for the infantile race. If we ask why they were not effectual, the answer is at hand. They were effectual with a few, and are thereby proved sufficient to recover man from sin, and vindicate the mercy of God. But the All-wise Being, who made man a moral agent, must thoroughly guard his freedom, even in the dealings of mercy. And in the folly and madness of their self-will, some will revolt more and more. The history was written for our learning. Let its lessons be pondered. Let the accumulated experience of bygone wanderings recorded in the Book of God be our warning, to return at length with our whole heart to our merciful Father.

Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
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