Eve’s Messianic Hope For Cain In Genesis 4:1—Ordinary Hebrew Terms For Child

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man (אִישׁ) with (the help of) the LORD.” (Gen. 4:1)

Translators and commentators have often noted two difficulties in translating the first verse of Genesis 4. First, the preposition translated “with” is the particle ʾeṯ, which ordinarily is used to mark the direct object of the verb, as it does here twice, before “Eve” and before “Cain.” If it were translated in the same manner here, the text would read: “I have gotten a man—namely Yahweh.” The particle can sometimes (though somewhat rarely) be used to mean “with” or “by,” as in 1 Chronicles 2:18, “Caleb the son of Hezron fathered children by his wife Azubah…” This translation still makes the verse suggest an almost improper intimacy between Eve and the Lord, which is probably why the translations add “with the help of the Lord,” even though the noun “help/helper” (ēzer), so prominent in describing Eve in Genesis 2:18, is not employed here.

Second, and even more inexplicably, Eve called her newborn infant a “man,” employing the ordinary Hebrew word for a full-grown, mature male (ʾı̂š, pronounced “eesh”). It is profoundly unlikely that any mother would refer to her newborn infant as a “man.” The usage here is, to my knowledge, unique in the Hebrew Bible, which uses eight other terms to refer to newborn (or even pre-born) infants. Therefore, Eve’s usage here is likely Messianic; she piously hoped the first “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) would un-do the wrong she had done, that he would become a full-grown man, an adult and valiant warrior who would crush the head of the seed of the serpent, and so, when newborn, she referred to him in language ordinarily reserved for a full adult male. There are many terms translated “child” in some English translations of the Hebrew Bible.

Here are the common ones, listed by frequency:


1. The most frequent term, ben, can mean either “son” or “descendant,” as when Jesus was called the “son of David” in Matthew’s genealogy. It can also be employed for newborns, as it was later in the chapter when Eve bore her third son: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son (ben) and called his name Seth” (Gen 4:25).

2. The third most-common term is zera, ordinarily translated “seed,” and it is sometimes used agriculturally, to refer to plants “yielding seed,” for instance, in Genesis 1:11. But it is also employed for human progeny, as it had been just earlier (Gen 3:15) in the pledge of warfare between the “seed”/zera of the serpent and the “seed”/zera of the woman, and as it would soon be used again when God first appeared to Abram, “Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring (zera) I will give this land” (Gen 12:7). Indeed, this is the term we might have expected at Genesis 4:1.

3. Naar is the ordinary term for “youth,” and could probably be used for those as old as adolescents, as at Gen. 19:4: “the men of Sodom, both young (naar) and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.” It can refer to a child who is old enough to have been weaned (interchangeably with yeled and ben):

Gen 21:8: And the child (yeled) grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son (ben) of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son (ben), for the son (ben) of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son (ben) Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son (ben). 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy (naar) and because of your slave woman. 13 And I will make a nation of the son (ben) of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring (zera).

Naar can refer to boys/youths capable of some household tasks, as at Gen. 22, where it is used both for Isaac and for the boys who care for the animals:

Gen 22:5: Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Naar is often used to refer to “young men” who have considerable responsibility:

Exod 33:11: Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

Num 11:27: And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Num 22:22: But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.

Josh 6:23: So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her.

Judg 9:54: Then he called quickly to the young man his armor-bearer and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’” And his young man thrust him through, and he died.

Naar can be used for an infant, and is used so in the story of Moses in the basket, where it is used interchangeably with yeled:

Exod 2:5: Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child (yeled), and behold, the baby (naar) was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Similar language is used of the pre-born Samuel:

Judg 13:5: for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son (ben). No razor shall come upon his head, for the child (naar) shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Also verse 7, where again the “child” shall be a Nazirite “from the womb,” perhaps indicating a pre-infant, and verse 8, which refers to “the child (naar) who will be born,” plainly referring to him in utero).

In one of the Old Testament’s more confounding/amusing (?) stories, the “little children” (KJV) or “small boys” (ESV) who jeered “bald-head” Elisha were old enough to be outside the city, and old enough to copy their town’s resistance to Elisha by taunting him, and old enough justly to warrant his cursing them in the name of the Lord, resulting in 42 of them being mauled by two she-bears. These boys were called naarim once in the narrative, and yeledim once (2 Kgs. 2:23–24).

4. While ben and naar can refer either to infants or to young men capable of bearing responsibilities, and while zera can be used to refer to agricultural “seed,” at least three of the terms (zakhar, yeled, olal, accounting for 178 uses between them) are ordinarily used to refer exclusively to infants, and therefore would have been natural terms for an infant.

5. Eight Hebrew words were available to be used in Genesis 4, as ordinary ways of referring to an infant, newborn child; these are common terms, together totaling over five thousand occurrences in the OT, and even the narrower ones, ordinarily employed exclusively to refer to newborns or infants, are common enough to have been employed 178 times. I conclude, therefore, that the use of “man” (ish) in Genesis 4:1 is intentionally messianic. Eve did not merely refer to her son as the first child or infant, thus fulfilling the mandate to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth;” she envisioned him as a “man,” hoping he would be a strong, full-grown warrior to defeat the seed of the serpent, and so she referred to him in the ordinary way one would refer to a full-grown “man” in Hebrew. Not only is this the ordinary term for an adult male, ish is sometimes employed expressly to imply the kind of “manliness” needed in military warfare:

1 Sam 4:9: “Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

1 Sam 26:15: And David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy the king your lord.”

1 Kgs 2:1: When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man…”

Eve used none of the eight ordinary Hebrew terms for a child or infant; she employed the ordinary term for what we would call a fully grown, mature man, as when our Jewish friends say to their sons or nephews, “Be a mensch.”

Now, of course, Eve’s pious hope was dashed, as her would-be warrior-Messiah became, in fact, a murderer, in league with the serpent, who was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). After the pledge of Genesis 3:15, Eve was the first, but not the last, pious Hebrew mother who hoped her “seed” would undo the devil’s work. Other mothers, in the long narrative of the accomplishment of redemption, had sons who would fulfill unusual roles in that narrative: Sarah, Rachel, Jochebed, Hannah, Rebekah, Elizabeth, and others longed to be “blessed among women” as only Mary eventually was. But Eve was the first to aspire to that role, which she piously articulated by calling her infant “a man.” Her aspiration, though unfulfilled, contributed to the growing, though episodic and unpredictable, expectation of the Law and the prophets for a Son yet to come to undo the work of the first Adam. After he came, therefore, and resisted the serpent from the beginning to the end, it is not surprising that his apostle referred to him as “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).   


  1. A “pre-observation” might also be made: RSV, ESV, NRSV, and NIV gratuitously add “the help of” in this verse, as though the word “help”/ezer—which Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:18)—were present in the text, though it is not. They may also have judged that, otherwise, the passage expresses a near-intimacy between Eve and Yahweh: “I have gotten a man with the Lord,” which, of course, she did say. KJV is acceptable: “I have gotten a man from Yahweh” (without “help”). But the near-intimacy is, in some senses, the point of the passage; Eve hoped the “seed” promised by God she had “gotten” with or from God. If her language sounds eerily prescient of a virgin birth, so be it.


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  1. Mr. Gordon,

    Thank you so much for this. Is this to be found in other writings/publications/periodicals – so I can site it.
    Samuel Frost

    • Samuel,

      Sorry; this little study is only available here (to my knowledge; perhaps Mrs. Gordon is secretly sending my material elsewhere without my knowledge…).


  2. Eve’s expectation for the Messiah and also helps us to understand the imminent nature of the second coming with a contemporaneous hope and language. Eve believed the Messiah could come at anytime, and she hoped and acted as if the Messiah’s coming would be soon. The Messiah’s coming was delayed by 4,000 year, but each generation knew that his coming was both imminent and potentially contemporaneous.

    We are in the same position as Eve in that Christ’s second coming is imminent and potentially contemporaneous. We hope and act as if Christ will return within our lifetimes, but perhaps he will tarry another 2,000 years. I certainly hope he doesn’t, but so did Eve.

  3. Yes, there are federal connections between Adam and the federal work of the Genesis 2 man where אִישׁ is first introduced. In Gen. 1, אֱלֹהִ֑ים creates זָכָר. In Gen 2:4, יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים having entered Sabbath rest, gives אָדָם the federal work of obedience. Interesting that אָדָם becomes אִישׁ only at the end of Gen. 2 as he is given a helper who mirrors and completes him. He is אָדָם throughout Gen. 2 until he receives his mirror and fullness. He is אִישׁ only as he is given her, אִשָּׁה. In Gen. 4, unlike Gen. 3:6, Eve exercises faith in both God’s promise (the Seed, 3:15) and her new name, חַוָּ֑ה mother of the all-living. She believes herself the chosen means by which consummate life will be restored through the promised Seed. Thanks so much for your hard work to give us this article.

  4. TDG: Some limited support for your thesis surfaces in the commentaries by Kline and Waltke. In his 1970 Genesis commentary in New Bible Commentary: Revised, Kline observed that “Eve’s explanation was a believing response to God’s earlier revelation concerning both redemptive and common grace (cf. 3:15f).” Looking at Waltke’s Genesis commentary and biblical theology, he remarks on Gen 4:1 that the noun “man” is “an unexpected term [that] may have been chosen as an echo of 2:23.” Interestingly, he takes Eve’s statement in 4:1 as an affirmation of human-divine cooperation and synergy, contrasting her statement in 4:1 with her statement (of praise) in 4:25 (and with Hannah’s song in 1 Sam 2:3, 6 and with Mary’s song in Luke 1:49). As Anna Bendell Anderson suggests, it is arguably more likely that Eve’s statement in 4:1 is meant as an allusion (albeit overrealized in the birth of Cain) to God’s appointment and employment of woman as secondary human agent in the fulfillment of Gen 3:15.

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