Cain Dedicated a City: Genesis 4:17

Cain Built a City

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1) Gen 4:17: In parallel with Gen 4:1, Moses wrote, “Then Cain knew his wife. And she conceived and she bore Enoch.”[1]

Although Moses did not cite the name of Cain’s wife, his original readers may have assumed that she was one of Adam’s “other daughters” (Gen 5:4).

Clearly, the mark placed upon Cain worked (Gen 4:15). Not only did he survive, he produced a family line.[2]

This genealogy names one son in each of seven generations—the number of perfect completion—ending with Lamech’s four children (Gen 4:17–22).[3]

Cain’s descendants introduced the first metal-working, poetry, and cities.[4] These comprise the hallmarks of great civilizations.[5]

As in Genesis 1, Moses wrote a subtle polemic against the pagan mythologies of Israel’s neighbors. In other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) nations, people attributed these cultural advances to either the gods or semi-divine beings.[6]



Moses continued, “And it happened that he was building a city. And he called the name of the city by the name of his son Enoch.”

In an ominous sign, the man who killed the first martyr built the first city (Gen 4:8).[7]

The name Enoch appears to be related to the verb meaning “to dedicate,”[8] apropos for someone with a city designated in his honor.[9]

Unlike Jacob, who changed the name of Luz to Bethel—which means “the house of God” (Gen 28:16–19)—Cain chose to glorify humanity rather than the Lord.[10]

Indeed, those who built cities in early biblical history typically demonstrated an obsession with making a name for themselves. They promoted human self-sufficiency (Gen 11:4; Num 32:41–42).[11]



Cain’s enterprise seems to contradict the Lord’s decree that he would live as a fugitive (Gen 4:11–14). While this may represent an act of defiance, Moses did not report God’s displeasure.[12]

Living in a city ended Cain’s wandering alienation and also provided security.[13] Even after his rebellion, Cain and his descendants enjoyed the blessing of ruling and subduing the earth (Gen 1:26–28).[14]



Archaeological discoveries point to the unfolding of successive human civilizations dating back approximately 14,000 years.[15]

People built ANE cities close to a river or springs, as they needed a reliable water supply.[16] They fortified their construction with a wall and strong gate.[17]

The organization necessary to build a municipality and keep its mud-brick and stone walls in repair led to the development of assemblies of elders and monarchies to rule them.[18]

Each city typically had its own ruler (Gen 14:1–2). Small villages—which depended upon the cities for protection, religious activities, and commerce—often developed around them.[19]



A city’s inhabitants considered the history of its founding an important aspect of their heritage.

Such documents usually included information about advantageous natural resources, unusual characteristics of the builder, and assistance from the patron deity.[20]

Since people believed that cities represented the dwelling places of the gods, they viewed divine guidance for their construction as essential (Ps 46; Joel 3:16, 20–21; Heb 12:22).

In most ANE mythologies, the gods themselves built the cities which people inhabited.[21]

For example, the Sumerians believed that the gods fashioned the city of Uruk, and that its temple had descended from heaven to house them.[22]



Likewise, people thought that the gods constructed Babylon.[23]

According to Enuma Elish, the gods gave Marduk control of the entire universe after he defeated the cosmic sea monster. In gratitude to him, the lesser gods built the sacred city of Babylon so that Marduk could rest:[24]

The [gods] opened their mouths and said to Marduk, their lord, “Now, O lord, you who have caused our deliverance, what shall be our homage to you? Let us build a shrine whose name shall be called ‘Lo, a chamber for our nightly rest;’ let us repose in it! Let us build a throne, a recess for his abode! On the day that we arrive we shall repose in it.”

When Marduk heard this, brightly glowed his features, like the day, “Construct Babylon, whose building you have requested, let its brickwork be fashioned. You shall name it ‘The Sanctuary.’”

The [gods] applied the implement; for one whole year they molded bricks. When the second year arrived, they…set up in it an abode for Marduk, Enlil, (and) Ea. In their presence he was seated in grandeur.[25]



In ancient Egypt, people revered pharaohs as both kings and the incarnation of the sun god.

One Pyramid Text states, “For the King is a great power who has power over the other powers; the king is a sacred image, the most sacred of the sacred images of the Great One. And whomsoever he finds in his way, him he devours piecemeal…Thousands serve him, hundreds make offerings for him.”[26]

Another Egyptian wrote, “To the king, my lord, and my sun god say, ‘Thus Biridiya, the true servant of the king. At the feet of the king, my lord, and my sun god, seven times and seven times I fall.’”[27]

Therefore, Seti I, the father of Rameses the Great, testified:

Another good thought has come into my heart, at the command of the god, even the equipment of a town, in whose august midst shall be a resting place, a settlement, with a temple. I will build a resting place in this spot, in the great name of my fathers, the gods. May they grant that what I have wrought abide, that my name will prosper.”[28]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 4:17. How did the Lord continue to bless Cain? What was Cain implying by building a city and naming it after his son?




Go to Minds on Earthly Things (Phil 3:17–19)

[Related posts include Introduction to Genesis 1; Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); Stewards of the Earth (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); God Completes the Heavens and the Earth (Gen 2:1–2); Eve Acquires a Man (Gen 4:1); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); Banished from God’s Presence (Gen 4:15‒16);  Two Wives (Gen 4:18–19); Advancements in Civilization (Gen 4:20–22); Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); In Adam’s Likeness and Image (Gen 5:3–5); Minds on Earthly Things (Phil 3:17–19); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 2: The Descent of Humanity (Genesis 4:17–24)]


[1]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 111.

[2]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 237.

[3]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 99.

[4]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 99.

[5]Walton, Genesis, 276.

[6]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 99.

[7]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 182.

[8]Brown,  Driver, and Briggs, “חֲנוֹךְ” (khanak), BDB, 335,

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 111.

[10]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 100.

[11]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 183.

[12]Hamilton,  The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 237–8.

[13]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 99–100.

[14]Walton, Genesis, 277.

[15]Michael Balter, “The Seeds of Civilization,”

[16]Matthews,  Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:17.

[17]James D. Price, “irNIDOTTE 3:396–9, 396–7.

[18]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:17.

[19]James D. Price, “irNIDOTTE 3:396–9, 396–7.

[20]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:17.

[21]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 83.

[22]S. N. Kramer, trans., “Gilgamesh and Agga,” in ANET, lines 30–4, 46–7, 46,

[23]E. A. Speiser, trans., “Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” in ANET, lines 55–64, 68,

[24] Walton, Genesis, 150.

[25] “The Creation Epic” (Enuma Elish), ANET, tablet 6:47–65, 68–9,

[26]Raymond O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), lines 407–8, 82,

[27]W. F. Albright and George E. Mendenhall, trans., “The Amarna Letters, RA XIX,” in ANET, lines 1–10, 485,

[28]James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt (5 Vols.) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906), section 172, 3:82,