The Great Consummation – Genesis 4:1-2

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel.
Genesis 4:1-2

Cain and AbelIt is a mistake to view Genesis 4 as somehow different to the first three chapters of the Bible, especially with regard to the procreative motif. The birth of Cain and Abel is the first fulfilment of the command given back in Genesis 1, not just in the provision of offspring but in their life tasks.

And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
Genesis 1:28-29

Compare this to what Cain and Abel do.

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.
Genesis 4:2

Cain works the ground, indicating subjugation of the earth, owning the plants yielding seed, Abel tends sheep, indicating dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. The union of man and woman produced the fruit that fulfils the command of God.

Eve’s words are curious – literally she says “I have gotten a man – from YHWH”. Does this mean that YHWH has given her a son, or does it mean that the son himself is somehow from YHWH? What would it mean for a child to be specifically “from YHWH”? Does Eve believe that Cain is the fulfilment of the promise in Gen 3:15? If she does she is going to be bitterly disappointed.

When Cain delivers an offering that God has no regard for, he becomes angry and his face falls, indicating that Cain is no longer indicating a loving relationship with him, that Cain does not have his gaze upon God. The comparison is with Adam and Eve in verse 1, who in knowing each other are clinched in that embrace where their faces are not fallen or looking away, but rather focussed in each other. This relational union of husband and wife as they create new life is in stark contrast to the man Cain, consumed by sin and stepping out of relationship with God.

7 Comments on “The Great Consummation – Genesis 4:1-2

  1. One thing you don’t mention, Peter, is the usage of the word ‘know’ as some sort of euphemism for sex. Do you think it’s significant that the sexual union is described as ‘knowing’? This is the first time in the Bible it is described in those terms.

  2. No doubt, the first murder is a powerful contrast with the perfection of Eden.

    Out of interest, d’you have info on the Jewish exegesis of the expulsion from paradise? From what I know of it, it’s less about us falling from God’s grace than it is an analogy for entering adulthood, which is an interesting take.

  3. Eve’s words are curious – literally she says “I have gotten a man – from YHWH”. Does this mean that YHWH has given her a son, or does it mean that the son himself is somehow from YHWH?

    I get from this a sense of her awe in being able to bring forth something which is of her, but yet utterly different. I think every parent can sympathise, especially with opposite-sex children.

    • I think some of that is right, but at the same time there are a huge number of Messianic references and nudges in these early sections, all linked to aspects of procreation.

      • Yes indeed, ‘your offspring shall crush the head of the serpent’ – that’s an all-encompassing Messianic promise.
        And all human life has the potential for ‘zoe’ as well as ‘bios’ – making human procreation a holy and mysterious partnership with God in the creation of human souls.
        Our former pastor used to introduce new babies to the congregation as ‘one of God’s newest ideas’ – :)

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