What we see in the lineage of Cain is a continued pursuit of moral autonomy. Doing what you think is right in your own eyes without any reference to God. The first evidence of this is that Cain built a city, even though God told him, “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Don’t think Jerusalem or Athens, it was not a great city, but it was a place where Cain stopped and settled and built something. The ESV Study Bible says, “Some people engage in city building without reference to God.” Why is that not a good idea? “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” And “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” We can build a city, or a business, or a family or even a church in our own strength and by our own cunning and guile, without faith, and the results will be foolishness at best, and disastrous at worst. You see that kind of foolishness perfected, if you will, in Genesis 11 when men try to build their own kingdom and a tower that would climb into heaven, not so they can see God but so they can make a name for themselves. Moral autonomy never ends well. Take Lamech, for example, in Genesis 4.
Lamech is born five generations after Cain. Before we consider his depravity, we have to acknowledge the industry that came from his lineage. His son Jabal was named the first to dwell in tents and have livestock. The father of animal husbandry. His son Jubal was first to play the lyre and pipe. The father of the arts. His son Tubal-cain was the first to forge instruments of bronze and iron. The first metalsmith, and his work is believed to include tools and weapons. In other words, the generations of Cain were famous for their abilities, but not for their knowledge of God. They chose the path that is so familiar today, the path “more traveled,” not less, the path of works-righteousness, the path of “making something out of my life” without God. Their prosperity is great, but empty without God. Derek Kidner writes, “Cain’s family is a microcosm: its pattern of technical prowess and moral failure is that of humanity.”
Lamech seems to be almost a caricature, a cartoon figure, that braggart in the movie who is so full of himself that you just have to roll your eyes as you wait for his inevitable collapse. But let’s not be too hasty to dismiss the wickedness of this man. We see that his life is a “Who’s Who” when it comes to rejection of God and God’s design for family and civilization.
He is the first bigamist; Lamech has two wives. He has dismissed God’s design for marriage and replaced it with something that satisfies his own desires. Sound familiar?
He has disdain for the value of life. Cain killed, but Lamech celebrates killing. Derek Kidner writes, “Where Cain had sought protection, Lamech looks round for provocation.” He looks for a fight and an excuse to take another man’s life, a young man who had only wounded him. Moral autonomy? Disdain for the sanctity of life.
He usurps God’s authority and mocks Him in pronouncing his own revenge. “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Some believe Jesus had this in mind when he spoke of us forgiving those who sin against us even seventy-seven times.
What is the common denominator in Cain’s family? No God. They don’t talk to him, and he doesn’t talk to them. Oh, God is there! But they live as though he is not. I read an article in The Guardian this week entitled, Yes, life without God can be bleak. Atheism is about facing up to that. Here’s an excerpt:
“Atheists have to live with the knowledge that there is no salvation, no redemption, no second chances. Lives can go terribly wrong in ways that can never be put right. Can you really tell the parents who lost their child to a suicide after years of depression that they should stop worrying and enjoy life? Stressing the jolly side of atheism not only glosses over its harsher truth, but it also disguises its unique selling point…The reason to be an atheist is not that it makes us feel better or gives us a more rewarding life. The reason to be an atheist is simply that there is no God, and we would prefer to live in full recognition of that, accepting the consequences, even if it makes us less happy.” Their “reason” to be an atheist is circular reasoning at best: atheists do not believe in God because there is no God. Another way of saying we do not believe in God because we do not believe in God.
Two paths in Genesis 4. Cain took the road most traveled, the road less traveled. And it made all the difference.
Before Cain committed the first murder, the first fratricide, God gives him three warnings. Sin is always a process and as Paul reminds us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Cain had no reference point for murder, as he would commit the very first one. But you know he had a reference point for anger and envy and resentment. He had a younger brother. Abel had dealt with those same sinful tendencies because he had an older brother. That’s not to say that if you’re an only child you are spared from getting angry or resentful! Plenty of targets. But Cain was angrier than he had ever been, and God sees that, and God speaks to him. Grace!
Remember the heart condition question God led with in the garden? “Where are you?” he called out to Adam. He does the same to Adam’s firstborn: “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen?” I love that God, our Father, addresses both the heart attitude and the face. Parents can read faces. Maybe not minds, like God can! But faces are pretty easy. God says, what’s going on with your face, Cain, because it reflects your heart. God then goes to instruction that includes admonishment. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Or in Hebrew, “Will there not be a lifting up of your face?” Your face is sad because your heart is mad, Cain, and both can be fixed if you will do the right thing.
I imagine God pausing for a moment to give Cain a chance to look up and smile, or to break into tears over the thoughts that have been going through his head. He does neither and God gives a second warning. “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” What an image! Sin is personified as a beast that is waiting for an opportunity to attack. And it reminds me of the warning in Ephesians, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” The devil is waiting for just a crack in that door, and anger and resentment is all he needs unless you deal with it quickly. Again, did God pause a moment to let Cain think through what He was telling him? This process can be stopped right now, Cain, if you will do well. Confess what is in your heart to God and confess that you cared more about what you believed to be yours than about what belongs to God. Do well, and your heart and your face will be lifted. We don’t know if God paused, but we do know there was a third and final warning. Speaking of sin that is poised to attack and devour, God says to Cain…
“Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” James Moffatt wrote that it could be translated, “It’s eager to be at you.” It’s like an angry dog on a chain, lunging at you as you run past, hoping the chain breaks. Been there, prayed hard for that chain! A friend of mine told me about a time as an 18-year-old when he would run by a certain house every morning and see a huge Doberman at the screen door growling and scratching, trying to get out. He thanked God every day for that screen door. And then one day the owner opened the door as he ran by and said, “Get him!” My friend was horrified as he saw this beast that had been wanting for so long to tear him apart get invited to do just that. The dog ran across the front yard, eating up the distance between him and my friend, who knew it was useless to try to outrun it. So, he stood and faced the Doberman and waited for it to launch itself. All I will say is, it didn’t end well for the dog. My friend did manage to rule over it, to use God’s phrase, with a well-placed kick.
We cannot say the same for Cain. Unlike his mother, who had to be talked into her sin by the enemy, Cain could not be talked out of his sin by a loving God. He ignored God’s three warnings and invited Abel to come to out into the field, and killed him. Though it might have occurred to Cain that there were no witnesses, he was mistaken. It is true for any of us when it comes to any sin. If not another soul in the earth sees us do it, there is One who does. Every time. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” -Proverbs 15:3
God is good. He calls out to us who walk with him. Come to me. Don’t go the way of Cain. Deal with unrighteous anger quickly. Give freely to the Lord. Run from bitterness. Fight for joy in the Lord.
Back in the garden and in Genesis 3, we see that there are two consequences of sin for the woman. First, God said to the woman and all women, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth your children.” Joy and pain ride along parallel tracks when it comes to children. You will have children, God promises the woman. Great joy! You will do so with multiplied pain. Great sorrow! The word used there and translated pain means “hard and toilsome labor, pain, trouble.” It can mean emotional toil as well.
The man is promised pain and trouble in producing food from the soil, and the woman is promised pain and trouble in giving birth, and pain that goes beyond the physical. We know that the woman most often more deeply feels the emotional pain that comes not just from having children, but from raising them as well. “Joy and woe are woven fine” as William Blake the poet said.
The second consequence of the woman’s sin is more complicated and easily misunderstood. It has to do with the relationship of marriage, which will be a struggle of joy and woe, woven fine. It’s always enlightening to hear what kids think about marriage. Carolyn, who’s 8, said, “My mother says to look for a man who is kind….That’s what I’ll do….I’ll find somebody who’s kinda’ tall and kinda’ handsome.” Anita, 9, was asked if it is better to marry or stay single. She said, “It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them!” When Will, age 7, was asked what love ballad he might sing to his girl he said, “‘Hey, Baby, I Don’t like Girls but I’m Willing to Forget You Are One!'”
God says this to the woman: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” What does this mean? It does not mean that as a result of sin, man became the head of his wife. Paul makes it clear that was God’s design from creation. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:13) And in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul wrote, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The result of sin was that the complementary roles of a husband and wife, given by God at creation, were deeply damaged, leading to inordinate desire and domineering rule. Or as Derek Kidner puts it, “To love and to cherish becomes to desire and to dominate.” The word for desire here, “your desire shall be for your husband” is only seen twice in Genesis. The other time is in chapter 4, when God says to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7) In her sin, the woman’s desire was for her husband to eat the fruit and she invited him to do so, and as Allen Ross said, she did so “taking the lead rather than maintaining a partnership.” This idea is supported by verse 17 when God judges Adam, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree.” The word there can mean listen and follow, or it can simply mean, “to obey.” Because you obeyed your wife in violation of my commandment, Adam, this is what will happen…
The consequences of sin include a tendency for the woman to want to control and a tendency for the man to want to dominate. Derek Kidner writes, “The woman at her worst would be a nemesis to the man, and the man at his worst would dominate the woman.” The manipulator and the bully make for an ongoing struggle in the relationship God designed to be the most like Christ and the church. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Think of a man and woman dancing the waltz together. In ballroom dancing, the man leads, and the woman responds to his initiative, and it is a beautiful thing. Believe me, when my wife and I waltz together, she sometimes has to take the lead because I don’t know what I’m doing. But her desire is for me to learn so that I can lead.
The good news in Christ is that there is hope for every marriage where both the man and the woman recognize their sinful tendencies and submit themselves to God and to each other. The good news is that in the church there can be great harmony and joy when men and women do the same, submitting themselves to the Lord of the church, and to one another.