Monday 10 September 2012

Read with me: Genesis 4

A few years ago, Rock Fellowship went through the whole book of Genesis, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. It took over a year to finish. Most of my thoughts recorded in these blog posts are recollections of the lessons we learned together as a fellowship group. The study we did on Genesis Chapter 4 was particularly memorable.

Cain and Abel - Genesis 4:1-16

[4:1] “I have gotten a man...” is Eve’s shout of joy - and perhaps pride - as she gives birth to Cain (which sounds like the Hebrew word for “gotten” or acquired). Could this firstborn son - this seed - be the serpent crusher?

[4:2] Abel is born - his name sounds like the word breath or nothingness or emptiness (similar to the refrain of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes - “Vanity of vanities!”) Throughout the whole account, Abel says nothing (till after his death, that is - 4:10). He is introduced as the very first shepherd in the bible - a “keeper of sheep,” while Cain, his big brother is a “worker of the ground,” just like his old dad, Adam.

[4:3-4] Both brothers offer up sacrifices to God - Cain’s from “the fruit of the ground,” while Abel’s “the firstborn of the flock and their fat portions,” but God only accepts Abel’s. Why? We are not told. Some suggest the element of sacrifice in Abel’s offering. Others point to the pride of Abel’s strength. Either way, the result is verse 5, “Cain was very angry.”

[4:6] God warns Cain. Notice, Cain hasn’t yet sin, but “sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Sin is pictured as a ferocious animal lurking behind the garage waiting to pounce upon an unsuspecting passer-by. It is interesting to note how God uses the exact same words to describe the woman’s broken relationship with her husband, back in Genesis 3:16, “Your desire shall be for our husband, he shall rule over you.” God is warning Cain to look out for sin, but also, to overpower the temptation to sin.

[4:7] “If you do well...” John applies this verse to Christians today in 1 John 3:12 (“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.”). The context of 1 John is that of loving our brothers. That is the offering God was looking for. Not vegetables.

[4:8] “When they were in the field, Cain rose us... and killed him.” This isn’t a crime of passion. There is premeditation and deceit. Cain leads his brother into the fields and kills him in cold blood.

[4:9] “Where is your brother, Abel?” Cain tries to cover-up his actions. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This might be a dig at his brother's profession as a keeper of sheep.

[4:10] “What have you done?” There is anguish in God’s voice. “He was your brother. How could you do this?” The only time Abel speaks, is now in his death. Hebrews references this verse when tells us that Jesus’ blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel,” crying out not for vengeance, but forgiveness and atonement.

[4:12] Cain’s punishment is strikingly similar to his father, Adam’s. “... the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength. You shall be a fugitive...”

[4:13-14] There is no remorse; no repentance whatsoever in Cain’s response. Just self-pity. “My punishment is more than I can bear... whoever finds me will kill me.” God responds graciously with protection - a mark.

[4:16] Cain leaves, travelling east (cf. the people of Babel described as those who “travelled from the east”, Genesis 11:2). Progressively, each generation moves further away from God’s presence. “Cain... settled in the land of Nod,” which is an ironic statement. Nod is Hebrew for “wandering”. Cain is mocking and rejecting God’s judgement upon him (2:12 - “You shall be a wanderer,”) by settling down.

The descendants of Cain - Genesis 4:17-26

The following verses are a record of the family line of Cain, tracing seven generations beginning from Adam, down to Lamech.

     Enoch: Cain builds a city and names it after his son. A city is a gathering of people and its resources. Cain’s actions again reveal his contempt for God’s judgement which has scattered him from his family and community. He starts his own, stamping his authority and image on this new community by naming it after his firstborn.
     Methushael - these last three generations are quickly skipped over by Genesis, because the author really wants to get to the seventh son of Adam...

Lamech is a really interesting fellow. Here we see, seven generation on, how the family of Cain has advanced and evolved.

     Lamech marries two supermodels (Adah means adorned, Zillah means dark, as in a shade from the heat, refreshing). This is the first instance of polygamy, breaking the one-flesh pattern of marriage instituted by God in Genesis 2.
     He has three extremely accomplished sons.
     Jabal bear a striking resemblance to Abel (even their names sound the same). He is an even more successful sheep herder than his namesake. The tents imply that his flocks are so large, he has to live outdoors with them to manage his livestock. A real entrepreneur and businessman.
     Jubal is the musician - “the father of all who play the lyre and pipe.” There is an advancement in culture and the appreciation of the arts.
     Tubal-cain is the father of modern technology, “the forger of all instruments and iron.” The engineer of the family.

Lamech’s sons are accomplished, sophisticated, wealthy. The descendants of Cain are no longer wanderers, the live in cities. They are self-sufficient and evolved as individuals, as a society. But some things do not change.

[4:23] Lamech calls his wives over and essential recites poetry to them. Scholars tell us these are some of the most elegant and sophisticated words to be found in the book of Genesis. Lamech himself displays an advancement in eloquence and thought. And yet what does he sing about? Murder and revenge. “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for wounding me.”

[4:24] “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Lamech displays the same anger, pride and resentment as his ancestor Cain, if not more. Time has only served to deepen his aggression towards his brothers and his rebellion against God’s rule.

[4:25] Seth is born. This time Eve recognises God’s hand in choosing the son of promise, “God has appointed for me another offspring.” Another seed. And the line continues down the line of Seth with the birth of Enosh, his son.

[4:26] “At that times people began to call on the name of the LORD.”

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