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Genesis 4.1-16: The Deathblow

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Genesis 3 sets into motion a series of events that have their roots in the activities in Eden. In chapter 3 the man and the woman sin and disrupt the vertical relationship: fellowship with God. Now, people violate the horizontal relationship of people with others. Hamilton points out that the sins of Genesis 3-11 have one theme in common: the human desire to be like God. In chapter 3 we saw a mixture of sin and grace, of judgment and promise. In this section we will see the more of the same double theme.
After once overstepping the limits imposed by God, humankind continues to surrender its standards. The results are:
1. Fratricide (killing one’s brother) brought on by jealousy (4:8, Cain & Abel)
2. Polygamy and retaliation (4:23-24, Lamech)
3. Further surrender to lust (6:1-4, “Sons of God” and “daughters of men”)
4. Corruption and violence in the earth (6:5, 11-12)
5. Incest (?) (9:20-27, Canaan)
6. City with a tower to the heavens (11:1-9, Babel)

Genesis 4-11:9 chronicles the spread of sin, leading up to Abraham, the man who becomes the hinge that this book turns around. After a 7½-chapter downhill spiral, Abraham will bring renewed hope to the reader. But that’s another lesson. For now, let’s start with the Cain & Abel episode.

First, I’ll repeat Hamilton’s note that there is no break between chapters 3 and 4. The two episodes are linked together by the repetition of key words: “Adam and Eve knew [i.e. realized] they were naked” (3:7) connects with “Adam knew [intimately] his wife” in 4:1, “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16) connects to “…sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it (4:7),” and finally “he drove out the man” (3:24) finds its echo in 4:14’s “today you have driven me away from the soil.” On a side note, it’s interesting to note that the first crime of inhumanity relates to an act of worship.

So, as the text starts: Adam knew his wife, and she became pregnant and bore a son, Cain. “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth/acquired a man,” she says, explaining why she named him so. Cain sounds like the word for “brought forth/acquired,” and so is a good wordplay. Cain, as the firstborn, is proof that amid all the talk of death in chapter 3, Adam was right to name Eve the mother of the living, because here we see indeed that there is another person born. A note of grace and hope is here in verse 1. There was expulsion from the Garden, but immediately following is a note of hope. Later, she gave birth to Abel, whose name means “temporary,” and hints at his short lifespan.

Firstborn and Firstfruits 4:1-7
Cain follows his father by working the ground, while Abel tends flocks of animals. At some point, they decide to give offerings to the Lord, and Cain brings some of his harvest. Abel brings the best he has – choice firstborn of his flocks. God smiles on Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why? One (incorrect) explanation is that the sacrifice required blood. Nonblood sacrifices are allowable, especially if it is a sacrifice for something other than atonement. Even in the context of sin offerings, a very poor person could purchase flour (Lev 5:11-13) for the sacrifice.

One explanation, which seems fairly natural and straightforward, is that Abel gave the best he had, whereas Cain just gave something. The wording hints at this, but it also hints that Cain did not have his sacrifice matched by an inner attitude of righteousness; God asks Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Could it be that religious ritual became a substitute to Cain for obedience and holy living? It seems to me that both explanations are hinted, but note that no prophet later on draws upon Cain as a parallel for Israel when they give sacrifices instead of holy living. The later parts of the Bible do not seems to interpret it that way, so that does throw some doubt on that interpretation.

Another idea Hamilton mentions: Is Cain’s offering considered unacceptable because he offers something that comes from the ground that God just cursed one chapter ago? Perhaps it is wrong to offer God that which bears the consequences of his curse.
So, summing up, God may have rejected Cain based off of a) not giving his firstfruits (which makes sense), b) not giving with a right heart (which makes sense, but doesn’t seem to be supported by scripture later on), or c) because he gave what bears God’s curse (interesting, but not likely).

For whatever reason, God refuses Cain’s offering. Cain becomes very angry and his face becomes downcast. He’s considering killing his brother at this point (v 5). Then God appears and warns Cain before Cain can even take action. He says “sin is crouching at your door,” which my NIV text note says refers to how in ancient mythology they believed demons crouched outside the door of a house to snatch up someone when they left their home. Thus, sin is pictured as a vicious demon waiting to pounce on Cain.

First Blood
Ignoring God’s warning, Cain invites his brother out to the field, intentionally killing him. Not much details are given this matter, because Cain isn’t the main character. The Main Character shows up immediately and says “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain sarcastically replies, “What am I? His keeper?” Cain is most certainly not. “To keep” means “to control, to regulate and rule.” God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to keep it (Gen 2:15). Many times in scripture God is called “Israel’s keeper.” But, no; no man is his brother’s keeper.

God rebukes Cain: “what have you done?! Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” Even the inanimate parts of creation protest Cain’s sin. Finally, God lays a curse on a human being: Cain, who followed in his father’s steps as a farmer, can no more work the ground. His green thumb, his greatest pride, is now taken from him. He must now gather wild food and must then be a restless wanderer.
Cain responds: “My punishment is more than I can bear! Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence. I will be a restless wanderer all right – I’ll never be able to sleep soundly, always afraid that any other person I meet will kill me to avenge Abel.”

God listens to this sinful one’s plea for mercy and gives a measure of grace with the punishment: Cain falls under God’s divine protection and thus he goes eastward from the Lord’s presence (?) to the land of Nod. Now, what was this mark Cain had? The first thing he does in the land of Nod is build a city. While it’s being built, his wife conceives and he names his son, as well as the city, Enoch. Quite possibly, the city itself is the mark by which God warned off avengers.

Although I don’t want to do this very often, let’s ask ourselves where Cain’s wife could have come from. Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters (5:4), and it would just be natural to assume that he married one of his sisters. His finding a wife does not prove there were other people in Nod. “If Nod had no other people in it, why would he be afraid of being caught and killed?” I’ve heard this objection as proof that there were people other than Adam and Eve in the Bible. Actually, this makes no sense. Only someone who knew that Cain was a murderer (another person in the line of Adam) would know that Cain was guilty of anything. Secondly, only Adam or one of his sons would even be angry enough to seek vengeance, anyway. His fear of other people does not prove there were other people in Nod.

Now, as to how he was going to build the first city… that’s a little bit of a mystery. With (I assume) such a long lifespan, we could say he planned to fill it solely with his own progeny. In any case, a scholar named Sailhamer points out that you could call the city of Enoch the very first city of refuge. Cities of refuge were places that, according to the law of Moses, a person who committed homicide could flee to and be safe from kinsmen-avengers until a fair trial to determine if the death was accidental or intentional (Num 35:9-15, Deut. 4:41-43, 19:1-10, Josh. 20:1-9).

And so this section ends with sin's second hit. If in chapter three sin drew first blood, it is here that we find the death blow that removed the last bits of human innocence. The earth itself was violated, because Cain used the ground to hide Abel's blood. The ground was not meant for hiding what is dead, but for nourishing what is living. While in the last chapter humanity in general gains hostility with snakes in general, now a specific person has hostility with the ground. God "drives him away" from the ground itself.

What is to become of the human race now? One son is dead, and the other is a murderer driven into exile. How will Adam and Eve cope? And what is to become of Cain?