Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
gen 4:1Adam and Eve had many sons and daughters, Gen 5:4. But Cain and Abel seem to have been the two eldest. Cain signifies possession; for Eve when she bare him said with joy and thankfulness, and great expectation, I have gotten a man from the Lord.
gen 4:2Abel signifies vanity. The name given to this son is put upon the whole race, Psa 39:5. Every man is at his best estate vanity; Abel, vanity. He chose that employment which did most befriend contemplation and devotion, for that hath been looked upon as the advantage of a pastoral life. Moses and David kept sheep, and in their solitudes conversed with God.
gen 4:3In process of time - At the end of days, either at the end of the year when they kept their feast of in - gathering, or at the end of the days of the week, the seventh day; at some set time Cain and Abel brought to Adam, as the priest of the family, each of them an offering to the Lord; for which we have reason to think there was a divine appointment given to Adam, as a token of God's favour notwithstanding their apostacy.
gen 4:4And the Lord God had respect to Abel and to his offering, and shewed his acceptance of it, probably by fire from heaven but to Cain and to his offering he had not respect. We are sure there was a good reason for this difference: that Governor of the world, though an absolute sovereign, doth not act arbitrarily in dispensing his smiles and frowns. There was a difference in the characters of the persons offering: Cain was a wicked man, but Abel was a righteous man, Mat 23:35. There was a difference in the offerings they brought. Abel's was a more excellent sacrifice than Cain's; Cain's was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat - offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more: but Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God's wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator. But the great difference was, Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not. Abel offered with an eye to God's will as his rule, and in dependence upon the promise of a Redeemer. But Cain did not offer in faith, and so it turned into sin to him.
gen 4:5And Cain was wroth, and his countenance fell - Not so much out of grief as malice and rage. His sullen churlish countenance, and down - look, betrayed his passionate resentment.
gen 4:7If thou dost well, shalt thou not be accepted? - Either, 1. If thou hadst done well, as thy brother did, thou shouldest have been accepted as he was. God is no respecter of persons; so that if we come short of acceptance with him, the fault is wholly our own. This will justify God in the destruction of sinners, and will aggravate their ruin. There is not a damned sinner in hell, but if he had done well, as he might have done, had been a glorified saint in heaven. Every mouth will shortly be stopt with this. Or, 2. If now thou do well: if thou repent of thy sin, reform thy heart and life, and bring thy sacrifice in a better manner; thou shalt yet be accepted. See how early the gospel was preached, and the benefit of it here offered even to one of the chief of sinners.
He sets before him death and a curse; but, if not well - Seeing thou didst not do well, not offer in faith, and in a right manner, sin lieth at the door - That is, sin only hinders thy acceptance. All this considered, Cain had no reason to he angry with his brother, but at himself only. Unto thee shall be his desire - He shall continue in respect to thee as an elder brother, and thou, as the first - born, shall rule over him as much as ever. God's acceptance of Abel's offering did not transfer the birth - right to him, (which Cain was jealous of) nor put upon him that dignity, and power, which is said to belong to it, Gen 49:3.
gen 4:8And Cain talked with Abel his brother - 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 shewed 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 first born to the dead, that first opened the womb into another world.
gen 4:9And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? - God knew him to be guilty; yet he asks him, that he might draw from him a confession of his crime; for those who would be justified before God, must accuse themselves. And he said, I know not - Thus in Cain the devil was both a murderer, and a liar from the beginning. Am I my Brother's keeper? - Sure he is old enough to take care of himself, nor did I ever take charge of him. Art not thou his keeper? If he be missing, on thee be the blame, and not on me, who never undertook to keep him.
gen 4:10And he said, What hast thou done? - Thou thinkest to conceal it, but the evidence against thee is clear and uncontestable, the voice of thy brother's blood crieth - He speaks as if the blood itself were both witness and prosecutor, because God's own knowledge testified against him, and God's own justice demanded satisfaction. The blood is said to cry from the ground, the earth, which is said, Gen 4:11, to open her mouth to receive his brother's blood from his hand. The earth did as it were blush to see her own face stained with such blood; and therefore opened her mouth to hide that which she could not hinder.
gen 4:11And now art thou cursed from the earth - 1. He is cursed, separated to all evil, laid under the wrath of God, as it is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. 2. He is cursed from the earth. Thence the cry came up to God, thence the curse came up to Cain. God could have taken vengeance by an immediate stroke from heaven: but he chose to make the earth the avenger of blood; to continue him upon the earth, and not presently to cut him off; and yet to make even that his curse. That part of it which fell to his share, and which he had the occupation of, was made unfruitful, by the blood of Abel.
Besides, A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. By this he was here condemned, to perpetual disgrace and reproach, and to perpetual disquietment and horror in his own mind. His own guilty conscience should haunt him where ever he went.
Now to justify his complaint, Observe his descants upon the sentence. He sees himself excluded by it from the favour of his God; and concludes, that being cursed, he was hid from God's face, and that is indeed the true nature of God's curse; damned sinners find it so, to whom it is said, Depart from me ye cursed. Those are cursed indeed that are for ever shut out from God's love and care, and from all hopes of his grace. He sees himself expelled from all the comforts of this life; and concludes, Gen 4:14. Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth - As good have no place on earth as not have a settled place. Better rest in the grave than not rest at all. And from thy face shall I be hid - Shut out of the church, not admitted to come with the sons of God to present himself before the Lord. And it shall come to pass that every one that finds me shall slay me - Wherever he wanders he goes in peril of his life. There were none alive but his near relations, yet even of them he is justly afraid, who had himself been so barbarous to his own brother.
gen 4:15Whosoever slayeth Cain vengeance shall be taken on him seven - fold - God having said in Cain's case Vengeance is mine, I will repay; it had been a daring usurpation for any man to take the sword out of God's hand. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain - To distinguish him from the rest of mankind. What the mark was, God has not told us: therefore the conjectures of men are vain.
gen 4:16And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt on the east of Eden - Somewhere distant from the place were Adam and his religious family resided: distinguishing himself and his accursed generation from the holy seed; in the land of Nod - That is, of shaking or trembling, because of the continual restlessness of his spirit. Those that depart from God cannot find rest any where else. When Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, he never rested after.
gen 4:17And he builded a city - In token of a settled separation from the church of God. And here is an account of his posterity, at least the heirs of his family, for seven generations. His son was Enoch, of the same name, but not of the same character with that holy man that walked with God. The names of more of his posterity are mentioned, and but just mentioned, as those of the holy seed, Gen. 5:1-32. They are numbered in haste, as not valued or delighted in, in comparison with God's children.
gen 4:19And Lamech took two wives - It was one of the degenerate race of Cain who first transgressed that original law of marriage, that two only should be one flesh. Jabal was a famous shepherd; he delighted much in keeping cattle, and was so happy in devising methods of doing it to the best advantage, and instructing others in them, that the shepherds of those times, nay, the shepherds of after - times, called him Father; or perhaps his children after him, being brought up to the same employment: the family was a family of shepherds. Jubal was a famous musician, and particularly an organist, and the first that gave rules for that noble art or science of music. When Jabal had set them in a way to be rich, Jubal put them in a way to be merry. From Jubal probably the Jubilee trumpet was so called; for the best music was that which proclaimed liberty and redemption.
gen 4:22From Tubal - Cain, probably the Heathen Vulcan came. Why Naamah is particularly named, we know not: probably they did, who lived when Moses wrote.
gen 4:23This passage is extremely obscure. We know not whom he slew, or on what occasion: neither what ground he had to be so confident of the Divine protection.
gen 4:25This is the first mention of Adam in the story of this chapter. No question the murder of Abel, and the impenitency and apostacy of Cain, were a very great grief to him and Eve, and the more because their own wickedness did now correct them, and their backsliding did reprove them. Their folly had given sin and death entrance into the world, and now they smarted by it, being by means thereof deprived of both their sons in one day, Gen 27:45. When parents are grieved by their children's wickedness, they should take occasion from thence to lament that corruption of nature which was derived from them, and which is the root of bitterness. But here we have that which was a relief to our first parents in their affliction, namely, God gave them to see the rebuilding of their family which was sorely shaken and weakened by that sad event. For, they saw their seed, another instead of Abel. And Adam called his name Seth - That is, Set, settled or placed, because in his seed mankind should continue to the end of time.
gen 4:26And to Seth was born a son called Enos, which is the general name for all men, and speaks the weakness, frailty, and misery of man's state. Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord - Doubtless God's name was called upon before, but now, 1. The worshippers of God began to stir up themselves to do more in religion than they had done; perhaps not more than had been done at first, but more than had been done since the defection of Cain. Now men began to worship God, not only in their closets and families, but in public and solemn assemblies. 2. The worshippers of God began to distinguish themselves: so the margin reads it. Then began men to be called by the name of the Lord, or, to call themselves by it. Now Cain and those that had deserted religion had built a city, and begun to declare for irreligion, and called themselves the sons of men. Those that adhered to God began to declare for him and his worship, and called themselves the sons of God.