I'm reading through the Hebrew for Genesis 4. I am now really confused about what is happening when God does not gaze at Cain's offering and I was wondering if any of the Hebrew experts here can help.

I have the following for verse 5a: And neither to Cain nor his offering did the Lord gaze. 5b: And [WHO?!, masculine singular] was burning with anger, very much, TO CAIN (לְקַ֙יִן֙).

  • Here, Cain doesn't appear to be the subject of the verb. The preposition with the lamed before his name seems to indicate that the anger was directed at him? But this is not a direct object marker as in the previous line where God's gaze was not given to cain or to his offering. He is the object of the verb? Is the subject of the anger "God?"

5c: And they (3rd person plural), his faces (I'm ok with a sense of plurality in the concept of the face, this seems to be an something about the Hebrew concept of the face and is pretty universal)

Then it gets even more confusing. Verse 6 starts like this:

6a: So says the Lord, to Cain, "Why is he angry to you?"

  • Here, the question "why is he angry to you" is directed at cain. Again, the verb for being kindle with anger is conjugated in 3rd person singular while the question is directed TO CAIN. If he were asking Cain, he would say "why are you burning with angry?" This would be conjugated 2nd person singular.

What is the concept here? Who or what is angry to Cain? What is the nature of the Hebrew understanding of smoldering with anger that manifests this way in the text? The anger seems to be somehow separate from Cain, much like the Sin that sits outside his door in the following verse.

This comes up again later in Genesis 31:6 too where "He was burning with anger to jacob"... The translation reads "jacob was burning with anger."

But this is also contrasted against Genesis 30:2 where we have "And the anger of jacob was kindled." Here, we are clearly referring to the anger of Jacob.

What is up with God's question to Cain?

  • Are you sure it's with anger and not just anger ? Because I can think of similar constructs in Romanian. (The to most likely expresses the dative, not the accusative, as you seem to think).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 18:45
  • 1
    I'm not an expert, but it it seems to me that יִּ֤חַר is impersonal - a literal translation would be anger kindled in (to) Cain. Compare Irish English "he had a thirst on him", which I think is a calque from Irish. And in fact this reference (linked from the text you linked) says "b. impersonal, אף omitted; חרה לְ it was kindled for (him) he burned with anger". So the subject is אף, but that is sometimes omitted
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 23:48

1 Answer 1


5b: וַיִּחַר לְקַיִן מְאֹד means "And it burned much to Cain"/"And it was very hot to Cain." This is a Hebrew idiom for "And Cain was very angry".

5c: וַיִּפְּלוּ פָּנָיו means "And his face fell". The Hebrew word for "face" is always in the plural form whether in reference to one face or more than one. This is why the verb is plural, for grammatical agreement. Contextually we are to understand that the meaning is "face" rather than "faces" (cf. Ezek 1:10).

6b: לָמָּה חָרָה לָךְ means "Why did it burn to you?"/"Why is it hot to you?" Again, this is an idiom for "Why are you angry"?

Gen 31:36a: וַיִּחַר לְיַעֲקֹב means "And it burned/was-hot to Jacob." That is, "And Jacob was angry"

Gen 30:2 וַיִּחַר־אַף יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל means "And Jacob's nose burned/was-hot against Rachel." Similarly, this is an idiom for "Jacob was angry with Rachel."

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