Beginnings: The Overlooked Chapters (2)

The Line of Cain 

Last time we discussed the difference in the occupations of Cain and Abel, suggesting that Abel probably chose a wandering life since he was not willing to have his roots in the cursed land and fallen world, while Cain chose a settled life, enjoying the world as it was. We saw the confirmation of this idea in the punishment that God later gave to Cain. God says: “When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.”  In other words, God says to Cain: “You have no permission to dwell in one place, you will be a nomad” – something that from the very beginning, Cain tried hard to avoid by choosing the settled life of a farmer! Yet, the banished Cain did settle, but he settled in the land of Nod –נוד  – which means: the land of “wandering”, “restlessness”, “unrest”. He built a city in this land – and by the way, I think the Torah’s attitude towards cities is clearly expressed in this detail: the first builder of the first city was a murderer and outlaw. It’s not irrelevant, that the first thing God does with Abraham is to call him out of the city of Haran: “Go forth from … your father’s house.” 

Cain went to the land of Nod, for nowhere could he be at rest. But when we see Cain building a city there – we understand that he is trying to return to the settled life and enjoy the world as it is. As we follow the line of Cain’s descendant, we see this tendency only growing and developing – till in Lamech, the fifth from Cain, the character of the whole line of Cainites appears fully developed and expressed. Have you ever thought of the bitter fact, that within just a few generations – in fact in the lifetime of the first man, almost every commandment of God was broken? The first direct breach of God’s commandment was the introduction of polygamy. “Lamech took unto him two wives.” Then, Scripture preserves for us the address of Lamech to his two wives—the earliest piece of poetry in the Torah, “it has been designated “Lamech’s Sword-Song”, and breathes a spirit of boastful defiance, of trust in his own strength, of violence, and of murder”. As we read it, we understand that the whole civilization built by the family of Cain is essentially godless; apparently, in Lamech and his song, this ungodliness had already reached such large proportions that the Torah even stopped tracing its growth: the separate record of the Cainites ceases with Lamech and his children, and there is no further specific mention of them in Scripture. And as we read this gloomy chapter and trace the line of Cain, we understand that just a few generations after the Garden of Eden, violence, lust, and ungodliness prevail upon the earth. Is there any ray of hope in this gloom? 

Seth and his Descendants: hope in the gloom 

Finally, in the two last verses of this chapter we do find hope. First, we read: And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth”.  If God’s plan was to continue, the place of Abel could not remain unfilled. Therefore, God gave to Adam and Eve another son, whom his mother significantly called “Seth”, that is, “appointed”: For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” 

The important difference between the names of the brothers, Cain and Seth, is completely lost in the translation, and yet is extremely significant in Hebrew. The name Cain in Hebrewקַיִן  (kayin) carries the meaning of something being “acquired”. This name expressed Eve’s action: she was the one who “acquired”. Probably, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3 (and maybe also feeling guilty and trying to make up for her mistake), she felt and thought that she had to do something; like Sarah in Genesis 16, she thought, it was her task and her responsibility to remedy the situation. That’s why Eve called Cain by this name: she thought that she “acquired” him from the LORD (Gen.4:1).

On the other hand, the name Seth expresses an altogether different worldview. In Hebrewשֵׁת  (shet) means something like “provided”; the Hebrew verbלָשִית   means “to appoint” or “to provide”. Pay close attention: in this case, it designates God’s action, not hers. I believe this difference is extremely significant: again, like Sarah later, Eve knows by this point that it’s not her efforts, but God’s grace alone, that can help them. That’s why she called him Seth: “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” 

As we turn from this record of Cainites in Chapter 4 to that of Seth and his descendants (at the end of chapter 4 – chapter 5), the difference becomes striking. Even the name that Seth gives to his son – Enosh, or human (frail) – stands out as a testimony against the boastful defiance of the Cainites: “And to Seth, in turn, a son was born, and he named him Enosh.” But this vital difference between the two races appears explicitly in the last words of the last verse of this chapter: “Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.  

Next time, we will go through chapter 5, in order to see God’s plan unfolding through the descendants of Seth. But before we close chapter 4, I would like to point out another interesting detail: while in Chapter 5, where the line of Sethites is presented, the years of the life of every patriarch is provided, and we are consistently told how many years each lived before and after the birth of his son, this detail is completely absent in the history of the Cainites, where simply the names are mentioned, but no numbers. The reason is very simple: the ungodly line of Cainites really had no future, and therefore the years of their lives are of no interest to Scripture. From now on, God’s attention – and ours as well – will be on the descendants of Seth. 

The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses[1] ( .

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them   on my page

[1] At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course is offered also  in Spanish and Portuguese.


About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Luis

    How do the Jewish sages view Genesis 4:14-15? It’s obvious Cain is concerned about being found and killed, “I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” This verse implies that there were other beings besides Adam, Eve, and Cain. The fact that in verse 15 God puts a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him, confirms that there were others? Who were these others?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Luis,there are different approaches and explanations. Here for instance, is what Rashi writes: “This refers to the cattle and the beasts, but there were yet no humans in existence whom he should fear, only his father and mother, and he did not fear that they would kill him. But he said, “Until now, my fear was upon all the beasts… but now, because of this iniquity, the beasts will not fear me, and they will kill me.”

  2. Nick

    Maybe Eve began to learn to receive from God, as one who has a more open heart, when she named Seth. Her previous relationship with God had been rather distant and even competitive.
    Thanks, Julia!

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes Nick, I think this difference in the names of Eve’s sons reflects the changes in her worldview and in her faith – in her relationship with God. It’s a very important change – and unfortunately, I haven’t seen yet an English translation that reflects or at least, explains this difference.