(Note: This is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here. All Bible quote are NIV and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
In Part 1 of my look at Genesis 4, I left off asking a few questions: Why does God need sacrifices, or to be worshiped for that matter? What is sin? Did God’s rejection of Cain lead to Abel’s death? Did God fail in his creation of humankind? Tough questions…but honest ones. Seriously, let’s look at God’s track record in the first four chapters of the Bible. Mankind falls from Grace and we get the Bible’s first recorded murder. Everything appears to be going wrong and FAST. I wonder what God is thinking at this point.
Let’s pick up where we left off in Genesis 4.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (NIV)
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (NIV)
This is the first instance of God expressly cursing a human. Imagine, the creator of all existence putting a curse on you, a little mortal. That’s a big burden to bear. Cain is cast into exile from what is left of his family. Not only that, he is separated from the only trade he knows – farming. How will he feed himself? “Restless Wanderer” brings to mind nomad. Cain the Barbarian. You’d think Cain must become a gatherer or a hunter, as if God had cast him backwards down the evolutionary ladder.
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (NIV)
Can one truly be hidden from an all-seeing, all knowing divine presence? Is there no hope for Cain’s reconciliation with God? It makes me think.
Cain is obviously concerned about being killed by those he encounters during his exile, to which I ask…who exactly is he afraid of? In the widely accepted, classical interpretations of the Bible, Adam, Eve and Cain are presently the ONLY humans on the face of the earth. Yet, Cain hints to other humans who might do him harm. This brings me back to some thoughts I had way back in Episode 2, where I speculated, as written in the Bible, other humans were created by God on the 6th Day outside the Garden, but Adam was specially formed on Day 3. This theory seems to gain credence in Genesis 4 with the implied possibility of other humans being present in significant numbers.
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (NIV)
It almost feels as if Cain wants God to kill him, to put him mercifully out of his misery. God has other plans and sentences Cain to “life without parole”, to be forever tormented by his own conscious. What type of punishment God intends by “seven times over” I cannot fathom, but it doesn’t sound pleasant. I also wonder what kind of mark God placed on Cain that it would be recognized by those outside of Adam’s clan.
At this point I would expect the tale of Cain to be over, and we would return to Adam’s family story. Not so, as the story of Cain continues for a little longer.
17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. (NIV)
Cain found a wife (and love?) and had kids. Okay, I’m going to wholly accept the theory there were other people, other than Adam and Eve, on earth at this time. I’m going to choose to accept this version for two reasons: 1) That’s the way I read it, even if it flies in the face of thousands of years of interpretation. 2) It sounds feasible from where I stand in 2017, while the historical interpretation does not. I’m going forward with that premise and not going to revisit the topic again unless something comes along to shake this theory.
To repeat, Cain finds a wife, has kids and establishes a city. It doesn’t seem like a life doomed for “restless wandering” to me. If you ask me, cities are a pretty non-wandering type of lifestyle. In fact, Cain’s life style gets downright sedentary as he fathers five generations and his linage is assured. I’m actually trying to figure out how he was cursed.
NOT WHAT I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL: If you take the Bible as written, Cain has a major influence on human civilization. Unexpectedly, he doesn't go backwards on the "evolutionary ladder", he and his clan move forward. To be blunt, he invents civilization. Cain and his descendants are the first Biblical mentions of 1) cities (metropolitan civilization), 2) musical instruments (arts), and 3) metal working (high tech). Cain is not only the Father of Murder, he and his progeny takes us from the Stone-age to the Iron-age in four generations.
Reading on, it becomes clearer the vast majority of humanity can likely call Cain their progenitor.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (NIV)
Lamech continues the family tradition. We see the restless descendants of Cain, city dwellers who do not till the soil but somehow manage to eat. They are never happy, never satisfied with what they have, and always envious and full or rage for what they don’t have. Perhaps Lamech’s amplification curse has filtered down to us. We dwell in our cities, surrounded by our man-made wonders and smugly call ourselves wise, all the while we slaughter our fellow man. Perhaps Cain’s mark is still upon us.
25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. (NIV)
Enoch, son of Cain, forges one line, and Enosh, son of Seth forges another, and the people of the land begin to seek out God. We’ll turn the page to Genesis 5 in the next episode. Before I leave Genesis 4, however, I want to revisit the questions I asked in Part 2.
Why does God want sacrifices and why does he want to be worshipped? Up to this point, one of God’s primary behaviors is that of concerned parent. Ok, then I will put his behaviors in context of that of a parent. Based on everything up to this point, God cares what happens to humanity. We were created in his image, right? Creation is an act of love, and simply put, God loves us. Here is a question for the moms and dads out there - why do we want our children to be appreciative? Simple, because it is a way they show they love us. Worship is an expression of love AND respect at the highest level. Sacrifice is the physical manifestation of that love, where mortals bring forth the best they have and lay it before their creator. Sacrifice is a symbol of a loving relationship. We don’t know what initiated Cain and Abel’s decision to sacrifice to God, only what they chose to offer. They offered their best. Abel offered his sacrifice with a clean, open heart. Cain did not. As I stated in the previous episode, I don’t think it was the type of offering, but how it was offered, that God made is decision whether to accept or not accept the sacrifices. The lesson here is you can offer everything to God, but if you do it with deception and evil in your heart he won’t accept it.
What is sin? As stated in the previous episode, its mentioned for the first time in Genesis 4, but not defined. Well, up to this point these are the things God has expressed disfavor about: disobedience (Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit), anger and jealousy and murder (Cain). In each case, the results have been detrimental to the people who performed these behaviors. Also, after each act God and mankind become more separated from one another. Sin hurts the person who chooses to do it, and those he or she loves. Sin is a self-inflicted wound of the heart that separates us from God. Sin is spiritual suicide.
Next question, did God set up Cain to murder by rejecting his sacrifice? I’ll answer that with another question…what if God accepted Cain’s sacrifice? He would have accepted, and legitimized, Cain’s behavior. That act would have been a lie and against God’s inherent nature as a loving parent and, in the long run, would have hurt Cain. So, because of God’s nature and his love for Cain, he owed Cain the truth. Remember, mankind had partaken from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, so Cain knew his behavior was wrong and he was aware of his choice to do right. With the truth, God gave him an avenue back to redemption. After receiving God’s solid advice, Cain still chose sin and entered into a state of deeper rebellion against God. So, no, God did not set up Cain for failure. Cain set up Cain for failure.
Did God fail in his attempt to create a race in his image? I’ll answer that with a question, too…who am I to judge God’s success or failure? Like a cliché, you haven’t failed until you quit. God hasn’t quit.
As of Genesis 4, God hasn’t wiped out humanity and started over. SPOILER ALERT: That comes later.
See you next episode.
(Programming note…I’m stepping away from the computer for a few days, so it will be about a week before the next installment.)
(Note: This is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here.)
Cain and Abel
One reason I began this journey was to try to understand the nature of God. That’s kind of silly, considering I haven’t even begun to understand the nature of women. At least God comes with an instruction manual called the Bible. Even if women came with instructions, they would just keep changing the rules.
So, even though this might be an overwhelming quest, what has Genesis 1-3 told me about God so far? He is spirit, but alludes to appearing in a physical form. We are made in his image. He is a creator. He establishes rules and enforces them. He is stern, but merciful. Mostly, he is like a concerned parent. In Genesis 4, we see God again take on the role of father to the loved and lost race of humanity, and we see this relationship take a new, and darker twist.
Genesis 4 offers several first, in addition to the Bible’s well know first murder. It is the first mention of sacrifices to God, which invites the question: Why does God demand sacrifices? I mean, he is the creator of ALL the universe, so what does a little animal fat mean to him? For that matter, why does God need to be worshiped at all? I mean, humans are so insignificant in the great, grand scheme of things what value does our adulation mean to an entity that came up with the idea of black holes? I don’t know, but I’m going to attempt a guess by the time my journey into Genesis 4 is over.
Let’s get started.
4 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
Now Adam and Eve get busy and begin obeying God’s first decree, to be fruitful and multiply. Cain was the oldest and followed in his father’s sandals as a farmer. Abel, however, became a shepherd. This is another first.
This is the first mention of animal husbandry in the Bible, but there is no mention of Clan Adam adapting a meat-based diet to this point. When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden there was no mention of them eating meat, so I don’t know if the family had made the leap to animal-based protein yet. I am thinking these are sheep based on the use of the word “flock.”Abel assesses great value in the animal fat, therefore I deduce they might be eating sheep.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Now we come to the point where God accepts Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Cain naturally brings portions of his harvest because he is a farmer like his father. Abel, his younger brother, brings fat from a lamb. There are a few points I want to make about this passage before I get to the tragedy at the heart of the story.
NOT WHAT I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL: I was taught God rejected Cain’s offering because it wasn’t an animal sacrifice like Abel’s. I could never understand why God would not look favorably on plants when Adam’s job in the Garden of Eden was essentially a gardener. Reading it again with fresh eyes, a phrase popped out at me: “on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”
I deduced that it wasn’t the type of offering, but the conduct of the person who offered it that offended God. At no time did God mention the unsuitability of Cain’s sacrifice, he alludes to the unsuitability of Cain’s behavior with this statement: “7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”
It sounds to me like Cain had been doing wrong in God’s eyes. God, however, instructs Cain that if he does right, God will accept him. He gives Cain a way to remedy the situation. Reading this, I imagine Cain as a young man or maybe a teenager, with a heart raging with conflicting emotions. What kind of life had Cain lived up to that point? How much trouble can one boy get into when the world is so empty? Whatever he was up to, God wasn’t pleased.
The most important takeaway I get from this passage is God’s portrayal as a caring father. Is God physically there with Cain? I don’t think so based on what I have read so far, but I think God maintained a close, audible presence with Clan Adam for an important and simple reason – Adam and Eve had no idea how to be good parents. They had no example, as they had no earthly parents.
I imagine God, peering into the hearts of Clan Adam, and offering counsel to all the family members from time-to-time. As we are about to see, not all that advice was taken to heart.
God’s advice to Cain is at the heart of Genesis 4: “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
This is the first use of the word “sin” in the Bible. Webster’s dictionary says sin is “transgression against divine law.” Genesis 4 paints sin as a crouching beast just beyond the door, waiting for you to let it in so it can tear your life apart. From Genesis 1-3, we can deduce disobeying God’s direct edicts is a sin, but what formal edicts has Cain violated to this point?
God directly addresses Cain’s anger and jealousy against his younger brother Abel. This is envy. Envy festered just outside the door to Cain’s heart. This sin tainted all Cain did, included his sacrifice to God. God gave Cain the path to redemption, but it was ignored.
Instead, Cain finally let the beast in, and death followed.
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Cain ignores God’s counsel and murders Abel. Unlike the Garden, there is no serpent whispering in Cain’s ear. Satan isn’t mentioned or implied in this passage. There is only Cain and his dark emotions, God’s counsel, and a tragic human decision.
I must ask some uncomfortable questions: Did God’s rejection of Cain actually lead to Abel’s death? To put it bluntly, did God fail? I will discuss these questions, and the consequences of the First Murder in Part Two of my journey through Genesis 4.
Brian Braden is the author the book THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books.