Beginning in Genesis 4:17, we learn about Cain and his family. It says, “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.” R. A. Torrey says, “In almost every place that I have visited in going around the world, I have given skeptics and others an opportunity of asking questions at one or two meetings. I do not think that I have ever held a question meeting at which someone has not put in the question ‘Where did Cain get his wife?’ This seems to be a favorite question with unbelievers of a certain class. I have also met young Christians who have been greatly puzzled and perplexed over this question. But if one will study his Bible carefully and note exactly what it says, there is really no great difficulty in the question.”[1] Notice that the text does not say he went out from his family and “Got” a wife. It says he “knew” her. That means he had sexual relations, and she conceived. Cain most likely already had a wife. Where did she come from? Courson rightly answers, “Because Adam lived to be 930 years old, he and Eve had many, many children. Therefore, Cain married one of his own relatives because mankind had not yet gone down the road of depravity long enough chronologically to cause the kinds of problems now present in intermarriage.”[2] When he deals with the issue of Cain’s wife, Cassuto (A Jewish Commentator) says, “His wife] One of his sisters, of course, is meant; this explanation is given by all the commentators from Talmudic times to our own day.”[3]

Although banished to wander, verse 17 might present us with a contradiction. It says, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Gill argues that Cain settled in contrast to God’s curse. He says, “Rather, the first city is built by Cain the murderer, the rejector of the word and presence of the Lord (Gen. 4). Instead of wandering under the protection of God, Cain chooses to settle in the land of Nod and build a city (that he names after his son Enoch; see verse 17). The city becomes a sign of fallen man’s quest for security apart from God.”[4] This has some merit. God did expel Cain from His presence along with the presence of his family. Other family members must have intended to take vengeance on Cain’s act against Abel because of Cain’s fear of such retaliation. The city building could have been, as suggested, another act of rebellion by Cain, or possibly God had permitted Cain and his family to build the city.

Considering the reality of Abel’s other relatives who appeared to want to exact justice on Cain, the city might be the first city of refuge that we will see provided for later in the Old Testament. John Sailhamer says, “In the present shape of the text, Cain’s city may have been intended as the ‘sign’ that gave divine protection to Cain. One element of the narrative that seems to be in favor of such a reading is the fact that, within the narrative itself, the purpose of the ‘sign’ was to provide protection for Cain from anyone who might attempt to avenge Abel’s death. Such was the express goal of the ‘cities of refuge’: ‘They will be places of refuge from the avenger so that a person accused of murder may not die before he stands trial before the assembly’ (Num. 35:12). The subsequent narrative testifies to the association of Cain’s sign and the cities of refuge in that even in Lamech’s day, Cain’s city was a place of refuge for the ‘manslayer.’ Thus, within the narrative as a whole, Cain’s city may be viewed as a ‘city of refuge’ given to him by God to protect him and his descendants from blood revenge (see Deut. 19:11–13). The importance the author attaches to the ‘city’ that Cain built can be seen in the fact that the remainder of the chapter is devoted to the ‘culture’ that developed in the context of that city.”[5]

[1] Torrey, R. A. 1998. Difficulties in the Bible: Alleged Errors and Contradictions. Willow Grove: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing.

[2] Courson, Jon. 2005. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis–Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Cassuto, U. 1998. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Part I, From Adam to Noah (Genesis I–VI 8). Translated by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University.

[4] Gill, D. W. 1979–1988. “City, Biblical Theology of.” In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 1:713. Wm. B. Eerdmans.