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.