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Now Read: Genesis 4-5
Here we have the infamous story of two brothers. One brother was good, and upright, and pleased the Lord. The other brother, was self-centered, conceited, and turned his back on God.
The story of Cain and Abel.
We have just emerged from one of the most tragic stories of all time, that fall of man into sin and the curse. Adam and Eve have been banished from the paradise of Eden, and cursed to lives of pain, toil and frustration. Even worse still, they now live a life mired by shame and guilt, separating them from closeness with each other, and with God. Sin has entered their lives, and has a firm grip over their souls.
But the sin will not stay with just them.
Within just one generation the ultimate sin of arrogance and pride, which led Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, turns brother violently against brother.
We are told the story of two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was a “tiller of the ground” and Abel “a keeper of flocks.” (4:2). They are initially differentiated by their professions, but we quickly see there is more separating these two then simply their work. They are primarily separated by the state of their hearts.
When it came time to bring offering to God we are told that “Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground” (4:3). In contrast we are told that, “Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” (4:4). The emphasis on Abel’s offering as being the “firstlings” and the “fat portions” contrasts to Cain’s simple “fruit of the ground.” It is not that Cain brought fruit and Abel brought animals. God is not favoring Abel because he preferred animal sacrifices. It was that Cain’s offering was not distinguished as being anything special. He didn’t bring the “first” of his crop or the “biggest and best” of the yield of his field. His offering by the sounds of it was simply ordinary and unremarkable. And so we are told that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard.” (4:4-5)
And Cain did not like that. Cain’s pride and arrogance lead to jealousy and anger, as we are told, “Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (4:5)
But Cain’s anger is unjustified, and the “falling of his countenance” was his own doing. God speaks to Cain, imploring him, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (4:6-7).
God is warning Cain that he is deciding his own destiny and his own fate. He is warning Cain that if he lets anger dwell in his heart that it will lead to sin. This is the primary lesson for us. Sin is crouching, waiting like a demon, ready to devour its victim, and it is we who have the power either to be master over it, or let it have mastery over us. We may all live under the curse of a sinful nature, but all of us still have the ability to choose right or wrong, and we must guard our hearts carefully, otherwise sin will overpower us.
But Cain did not become master over his anger and jealousy, and the sin that “desired him” became master over him.
Cain’s arrogance and pride, turned into anger and jealousy, and led him to raise his hand against his own brother, and murder him. And thus we see how quickly the wickedness of mankind grew. Within one generation man went from eating forbidden fruit to violently murdering their own flesh and blood.
What we see next is eerily familiar to what we saw in chapter 3 following original sin, only things have gotten much worse.
Just as God came to Adam and Eve in the garden, asking what they had done, God came to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?” (4:9). Just as Adam and Eve each tried to deflect blame (Adam onto Eve, and Eve onto the serpent), Cain blatantly lies to deflect his blame, “I do not know, Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9). It’s almost as if Cain is blaming God for losing Abel, implying it is God’s job, not Cain’s, to keep tabs on Abel. But just as God knew full well of Adam and Eve’s sin, God knows the truth of Cain and his brother, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” (4:10) And just as God cursed Adam and Eve after their sin, God has a special curse for Cain, “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” (4:11-12) Where Adam’s sin cursed the ground, making it so that Adam would have to toil in pain and frustration to make it produce, Cain’s curse goes a step further, making it so the ground will not produce anything for him at all. Where Adam and Eve were banished from the Gard of Eden, Cain’s curse goes a step further and says he will have no home at all, being forced to live as a “vagrant” and a “wanderer”.
Cain is unable to cope with the consequences of his sin, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (4:13-14). Even now, Cain is showing no signs of remorse for what he has done. The sin of vain conceit and self-centeredness has taken such a firm hold of his heart that his weeping is not over the blood of his innocent brother, but over his own fate. His primary concern is for his own life. After having taken his brother’s life, he fears others will seek vengeance upon him. It is still all about him.
God then does something interesting. He has cursed Cain to live a life of fruitlessness and wandering, but He does not leave him unprotected. God declares, “’Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.” (4:15) It may seem that God is taking pity on Cain, and perhaps to some extent he is. We must not forget that even murderers are creations of God, and still bear his image. God, as grieved as He is by their sin, still loves them. But even more so I think that God is making a statement that vengeance is not for other men to have, but for God alone (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:17-19). Sin cannot be remedied with more sin. Murder cannot be fixed with more murder. Only God can exact vengeance or justice. God is making it clear that, while Cain is guilty of murder, that God has enacted His curse upon Cain, and that it is no one else’s place to take on God’s divine right to enact justice.
So with the sign of protection from God, Cain is banished “from the presence of the Lord” into the land of Nod (a word which in the Hebrew means “wandering”).
But the story does not end there.
We are then given an interesting account of how Cain had a son with his wife, and built “the city of Enoch” which he named after his son. We are then given a lineage of descendants of Cain, which culminates in a man by the name of Lamech, whom has taken the violence of his ancestor Cain, and has multiplied to an extreme. He even boasts in his wickedness, “You wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (4:23-24) The brutal irony here is unmistakable. Even though God protected his ancestor from vengeance; Lamech brags how he takes vengeance on others who merely “wound” or “strike” him with death (even to a child no less) and he thinks that this only serves to increase the zeal with which God will defend this “son of Cain”.
The culmination of the line of Cain shows the utter violent and despicable consequence of hearts absorbed with themselves, for generation after generation. And if this was all there was; we would be left with a very bleak and hopeless message: this is where our sin will take us.
But, we have Chapter 5.
If you had to sum up the entire book of Genesis in one statement it would this: Genesis is the story of the origins of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people. These opening chapters of Genesis are very clearly trying to take us from the creation of the world, the creation of man, and lead us up to Abraham, the patriarch of the people of Israel. In that sense Chapter 5 might simply be understood as part of the list of people that get us from Adam to Abraham. But then it seems odd that we would have the tangent in Chapter 4 that follows down the wicked lineage of Cain, only to then step back to Adam and Eve and continuing on with the REAL story to get us to Abraham. What was the point?
But it makes more sense when you realize that Chapter 4 is not just a meaningless tangent before getting on with the REAL story of Chapter 5. These two chapters are actually meant to be read together, back-to-back. Chapter 5 is the counter-balance to Chapter 4.
In Chapter 5 (which really begins at 4:25) we are taken back to Adam, and told how God gave Adam and Eve another son, Seth, “in place of Abel, for Cain killed him” (4:26). To Seth, a son was also given, whom He called Enosh. We are then told that at this point, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” (4:26). Here we can see how the line of Seth almost immediately takes a different path than the line of Cain. While the line of Cain is marked by self-centeredness, anger, and violence, in contrast the line of Seth (who was the new “Abel”) is marked by devotion and reliance upon the Lord.
Chapter 5 then continues to give us the genealogy of the line of Seth which serves as a mirror image of the line of Cain given to us in Chapter 4. Below lists the two genealogies side-by-side:
The two lineages have quite a few similarities. Most of the names are either the same, or very similar (Enoch-Enosh-Enoch, Irad-Jared, Mehuael-Mahalalel, Methushael-Methuselah, Lamech-Lamech). I’m not an expert on Hebrew names, so I couldn’t tell you what all these names mean, but I don’t believe it is by accident that these two lines have such similar names. The two sets of lineages are very clearly intended to sit side-by-side with each other. Especially when you get to the seventh in each of the lines: Lamech vs Enoch.
Reading through the somewhat tedious and monotonous list of names in Chapter 5, there is one expression that repeats over and over again, “… and he died.” The mortality left from the curse of original sin has its final say in every person’s story. So-and-so was born from so-and-so, was father to so-and-so, he lived for this many years … and he died. That’s the culmination of each man’s life. And it repeats, somewhat hopelessly, over and over and over again.
But there is one man in the list, who stands out from all the others. On man who breaks the pattern.
Enoch stands apart from all the others. He is not simply known for who his father was, who he was the father of, or how long he lived. A special mention was saved for him: “Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him.” (5:22-24) While each other person in the lineage simply, “lived for so many years”, Enoch “walked with God three hundred years.” And while each other person’s story ends with “… and he died”, Enoch did not die, he simply, “was not. For God took him.” Meaning he was taken to be with God, without suffering death as every other man or woman.
Comparing Lamech of the line of Cain, and Enoch of the line of Seth, yields some interesting similarities. Both are given special mention within their respective lineages, and both are the seventh generation since the creation of man with Adam, seven being a significant number representing “completeness” (God rested on the seventh day to signify the completion of creation). Not complete in the sense that their line’s ended there, obviously there are sons that continued to follow in both lines. But they reached “completeness” in the sense that the work of good or evil in their hearts reached their fullest.
Thus we see the true comparison of Lamech and Enoch is not in their similarities, but in their differences. Lamech is the culmination (or “completion”) of the path of Cain of being self-centered, angry, jealous, and violent. He is the epitome of true evil in the heart of man. Enoch is the culmination (or “completion”) of the path of Seth (the new Abel) of being virtuous, upright and good. He is the epitome of a heart that loves the Lord, and calls on Him. While Cain (and his lineage) was forced to “wander the earth” and hidden from the face of God (4:14), Enoch on the other hand experienced a closeness with God unlike any other, to the point that he “walked with God” (5:22,24) and broke the pattern of death.
The two genealogies, and the two men at the climax of each of them, when read together serve as examples of the two sides that God was trying to tell Cain when he said, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (4:7).
Cain did not heed God’s warning. He let sin through the door, and it became his master, and the curse of Cain followed his descendants all the way to Lamech, a man completely and utterly consumed with evil.
But God wants us to know that we do not have to resign ourselves to that fate. Sin may be crouching at the door, desiring us, but He is telling us that “if you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?” If we will but “call upon the name of the Lord” and follow after Him then our paths can be different. He is showing us Enoch as a prime example. Enoch was not bound by his sin. Because Enoch, and his father’s before him, called upon the name of the Lord, he was not mastered by his sin. As a result he walked with God so closely that he even broke the pattern of death and was taken gently by the arms of God into His presence, where he will be with God forever.
May we all be so blessed as Enoch.
Next Post: Genesis 6-9 – The Flood: What Sin Really Deserves
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