Old Testament: Genesis 4:1-15 (Pentecost 20: Series C)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Throughout Scripture it is clear that the “keeper” is the LORD... It is the LORD who “keeps” His people and His creation. He is the creator and sustainer (keeper).

The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the first book of the Torah, Genesis. The text is Genesis 4:1-15 and outlines the beginning of the “less-than-stellar” early life of Cain. Sadly, Adam and Eve had much higher aspirations for their firstborn son. While verse one has created quite a lot of dissension among theologians, the Hebrew is quite clear and should be translated, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.” Adam and Eve believed the earlier promise of Genesis 3:15 and had faith God had sent the Promised One, the LORD, to clean up the mess they made in the Garden. How disappointing when this son turns out to be the first murderer instead.

The next discussion point which causes much debate is the issue of shepherd verses farmer. Once again, this is the wrong way to look at the text. An “animal” offering is not better or worse than a “fruit/grain” offering. Both kinds of offerings are mandated by God at a later date. The key to this is found in the description of Abel’s offering: “Abel also brought of the FIRST born of his flock…” The issue is not what offering, the issue is with what attitude! The LORD desires first-fruit giving, not leftovers. Abel offered the best and first, Cain gave his leftovers.

Moving on to the murder scene, Cain speaks to the LORD these famous words: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain is following the same pattern as his parents in speaking to the LORD following his terrible act. Adam blamed the woman the LORD gave him. Eve blamed the serpent the LORD created. They blamed God for their disobedience. Now, Cain blames the LORD by using the word “keeper.” Throughout Scripture it is clear that the “keeper” is the LORD. In the Aaronic blessing, “The LORD bless you and keep you…,” and in the Psalms, “The LORD is your Keeper…” (an example is Psalm 121). It is the LORD who “keeps” His people and His creation. He is the creator and sustainer (keeper). Thus, we see Cain blaming God for not protecting Abel from him. Like father, like son…

The punishment for his act of murder is Cain’s separation from the LORD God and his family. Nothing could be worse than to have the LORD turn His face away from you and to be sent to wander the earth. Separation from God is equated with death. Cain lays this out quite clearly in verses 13-14. However, the LORD puts a mark on Cain to assure he is not killed by anyone who comes across him. There is a great deal of conjecture as to what the “mark of Cain” might be, but unfortunately it completely misses the point of the text. Regardless as to what the mark is or looks like, the mark of Cain is a mark of grace. With this mark the LORD preserves Cain’s life, thereby giving him time and opportunity to repent and return before the face of God. Here we can see the first use of “mark” (sign) in the Old Testament which lays out the beginning of this motif and points us to our Baptism—our Mark of Grace which preserves our lives and ushers us into the presence of the LORD on the last day. Sadly, there is no Scriptural evidence to suggest Cain returned to the LORD in repentance.

4:1 יָדַע (ya-Da) Qal, perfect: “to know” This verb is often used in an intimate and relational way, as it is here.

וַתַּהַר: (vat-Ta-har) root: הרה (haw-raw) Qal: “to conceive; to become pregnant”

וַתֵּלֶד (vat-Te-led) root: ילד (yaw-lad) Qal: “to bear; to give birth; to bring forth”

*Note the use of these two distinct verbs which indicate the Hebrews understood life began at conception.

קָנִיתִי (ka-Ni-ti) root: קנה (kaw-naw) Qal: “to get; to acquire; to obtain”

4:2 רֹעֵה צֹאן (Ro-eh Tzon) “a keeper of sheep”

עֹבֵד אֲדָמָה (o-Ved a-da-Mah) “a worker of ground”

4:3 מִקֵּץ (mik-Ketz) from: קץ (kates) “end” Literally: “and it was from the end of days” “In the course of time”

4:4 מִבְּכֹרוֹת (mib-be-cho-Rot) “firstborn” “from the firstborn of”

וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן (u-me-chel-ve-Hen) from: חֶלְבֵ (kheh-leb) “fat portion”

וַיִּשַׁע (vai-Yi-sha) root: שׁעה (shaw-aw) Qal: “to regard; to look upon; to gaze (with favor)”

4:5 וַיִּחַר (vai-Yi-char) root: חרה (khaw-raw) Qal: “to be/become hot; to burn with anger”

וַיִּפְּלוּ (vai-yip-pe-Lu) root: נפל (naw-fal) Qal: “to fall”

4:7 תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ. (te-Shu-ka-To) “desire; longing”

תִּמְשָׁל (tim-shol) root: משׁל (maw-shal) Qal: “to rule; to have dominion over”

4:8 וַיָּקָם: (vai-Ya-kom) root: קם (koom) Qal: “to rise up; to arise”

וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ: (vai-ya-har-Ge-hu) root: הַרְגֵ (haw-rag) Qal: “to murder; to kill”

4:9 אֵי (ei) “where?”

הֲשֹׁמֵר] (ha-sho-Mer) root: שֹׁמֵר (shaw-mar) Qal, participle with an interrogative h: “to keep” Literally: “the keeper of my brother, am I?”

4:10 צֹעֲקִים (tzo-a-Kim) root: צעק (tsaw-ak) Qal, participle: “to cry; to cry out”

4:11 אָרוּר (a-Rur) root: ארר (aw-rar) Qal: “to curse; to bind with a curse; to be cursed”

פָּצְתָה (pa-tze-Tah) root: פצה (paw-tsaw) Qal: “to open; to open the mouth; to swallow”

4:12 נָע (na) root: נוע (noo-ah) Qal: “to roam; to wander; to totter; fugitive; tremble; vagrant”

וָנָד (va-Nad) root: נוד (nood) Qal: “to be aimless; to move to and fro; to be homeless”

4:14 גֵּרַשְׁתָּ (ge-Rash-ta) root: גרשׁ (gaw-rash) Piel: “to drive out”

אֶסָּתֵר, (es-sa-Ter) root: סתר (saw-thar) Niphal: “to be concealed; to hide oneself; to be hid”

4:15 יֻקָּם (yuk-Kam) root: נקם (naw-kam) Hophal: “to be avenged; to incur revenge; to take vengeance”

אוֹת (ot) “sign; mark; pledge; token”


Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Genesis 4:15.

Reformation Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Revelation 14:6-7.