They were united. The whole earth was united by one language, which is wonderful, and will happen again in the Kingdom of God. But they moved to the plain of Shinar and there decided they would build something that would give them access into heaven. “Come, let us make bricks,” they said. And then, “Come, let us build ourselves a tower.” And finally, “let us make a name for ourselves.” So, we see that they had ambition, which is not bad. And that they were industrious, working to build something magnificent, which is not bad! God is not against industry and innovation, creativity and art. He is the creator of all of that. And we see that there was unity, which God is certainly not opposed to; he gives us grace to attain it. He wants unity for his children. So, what is the problem? It is not in what they proposed to do but in their motivation. It was two-fold, based on pride and fear.
Pride is preeminent when anyone or any group gathers to do something or build something apart from God, especially when the endgame is to build something that will exalt humanity or even save humanity. John Witherspoon was president of Princeton University when James Madison, who would become the 4th president of the United States, was a student there. Witherspoon was often quoted by Madison later as having said, “Accursed be all that learning which sets itself in opposition to the cross of Christ!” That’s the idea here. Whether it is a school or a business or a nation, or an individual, or even a church, any person or group that exalts its own desires to make a name for itself above the plan and purposes of God is headed for a fall. God’s purpose will stand.
Charles Spurgeon said, “It does not matter whether 50,000 espouse its cause, or only five, or only one. Truth does not reign by the ballot box, or by the counting of heads: it abides forever. All the tongues of men and of angels cannot make truth more true; and all the howlings of devils and doubters cannot transform it into a lie. Glory be to God for this!”
I remember a man telling me years ago that he has a plaque on his desk at work that asks him the same question every day: “What’s your motivation?” It’s a great question. The primary motivation of the people of Babel was pride.
They were also motivated by pride’s companion: fear. They wanted to find security by making a name for themselves, verse 4, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Ignoring the commission God had given to their ancestors, which was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” the people here wanted to do life their own way, and their greatest fear was to just become somebody somewhere who follows God but is not known for doing something great. “Let us make a name for ourselves.” The word for name is “Shem.” Jen Wilkin said they wanted to make another Shem, another way to God besides the lineage that would lead to the Savior. No, God’s purpose will stand.
God says in response, “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” and it sounds like he is concerned about the collective power of humanity. Like God Almighty is rubbing his hands together, nervous that they might indeed do something big enough and strong enough to be a threat against him. Is that it? This is what the psalmist says about this: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” God sees their evil intent, he knows their hearts, and he knows that their apostasy and wickedness are unlimited. They are hurtling headlong toward the same worldwide wickedness that brought about the flood. They have decided on their own to stay in one place and unite in their rebellion, rather than scatter and serve God all over the world. But God’s purpose will stand.
It did then. It does today.
Moses gives some extra attention to one of the sons of Cush in Genesis 10, a man named Nimrod. Another “first mention” in the Bible, because Nimrod was the “first on the earth to be a mighty man.” And then Moses adds, “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” That sounds like he was a great hero, and in fact there was a saying that grew up in this time, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter.” Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike,” there were boys in Noah’s day growing up who said, “I want to be like Nimrod.” Here’s the problem. The name Nimrod means “rebel,” or “the rebel.” It can also mean, “we will revolt.” Whether Nimrod was his real name or a nickname, he was known around town as ‘the rebel,’ a man who sought power by tyranny and force. He was a mighty hunter “before the Lord.” Twice Moses tells us that, but the interpretation here is most likely negative. It means he was a rebel right in front of God his creator. We also learn that he was the man who built “Babel…in the land of Shinar.” If you read ahead to the eleventh chapter of Genesis, you will find that things did not go so well for the people there. Nimrod was a great builder, a powerful leader, and a force to be reckoned with in his day. He was much like other great world leaders down through the ages who have used their popularity and power, their cunning and charisma, to entice or force people, whichever worked, into a path that led to great destruction. Listen to what Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, wrote about this ancient ‘hero’:
“Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his own power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he (God) should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! And he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!”
OK, so Nimrod was not so mighty after all. Not in the things that really matter, not in the things that leave lasting fruit. And neither is any leader in a nation, a business, or a church, who sets aside the ways of God and the Word of God in order to get what he wants for himself.
The scary part? There but for the grace of God go I, or anyone else.
Noah’s only recorded words in the Bible, found in Genesis 9, were an oracle that contained both cursing and blessing and came true. In the ancient world, a curse was only as powerful as the one who spoke it. Unless the Lord brought about what was spoken, what was spoken was meaningless. So, whom does Noah curse? Canaan! “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
Ham’s sons were Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. Canaan alone was cursed to become, he and his descendants, a servant of servants, or a slave of slaves. Remember, Moses was writing Genesis to the wilderness wanderers, the nation of Israel that had come out of slavery in Egypt and were headed to the promised land that is populated by…Canaan! You could argue that Moses here tells them why the Canaanites are so vile and wicked, pagans in every sense of that word. If you want to see a description of their sinful behavior, which included every form of sexual immorality, you can find it in Leviticus. The Canaanites even offered their children as sacrifices to Molech, a pagan god.
Why did Noah curse Canaan when Ham was the one who sinned against him? We do not know for sure, but some scholars suggest it was because Noah saw these same traits in Canaan that were in his father. And though the curse is for Canaan, Ham would suffer greatly with his own shame and because of the wickedness of his youngest son and his descendants.
But there is a horrific problem caused by ignorance of this text.
Read this carefully: Good biblical interpretation brings blessings and good fruit; bad biblical interpretation brings great destruction and destroys lives. What is the rotten biblical interpretation of this passage that has brought destruction? Noah did not curse Ham. He cursed Canaan. God makes that clear in the text by telling us twice that Canaan is the son of Ham and that it is Canaan who was cursed. But misinterpretation of this text in the church in America in its infancy led to the justification of slavery. The ESV Study Bible commentary says, “This passage was wrongly appealed to in past centuries to justify the enslavement of African people, resulting in grievous abuse, injustice, and inhumanity to people created in the image of God.” If you look at a map of where Ham’s sons ended up living, you see that his sons named Cush, Egypt, and possibly Put did settle in Africa. Canaan, however, settled in the fertile crescent, the promised land, Israel, and would become a continual thorn in the people God sent there to conquer and to prosper. Canaan was cursed, not the three sons who ended up in Africa.
Again, misuse of Scripture can be deadly. Jen Wilkins says, “We can’t even begin to calculate the horrors that resulted from this misreading of Scripture. It goes back to a simple Bible literacy principle: ‘If you can rely on people not knowing what the text says, you can use the text to accomplish whatever evil you want.’”
It reminded me of a pastors’ conference I led years ago in Kenya, and one of the pastors stood in front of everyone to ask me a question about a bishop over his region who had multiple wives and had (I put this delicately) ‘taken liberties with’ young teenage girls in some of the churches he led. The pastor said to me, “The bishop has told us when we question him that we are wrong to do so, because the Bible says, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!’” I was stunned by this and told him that this man was neither anointed nor a prophet if he was engaging in such blatant abuse of God’s people, and that they had every right to touch him. Repeatedly. Ok, I didn’t suggest they hurt him physically. Just that they remove him from office immediately so that he could no longer hurt others, himself, and do further damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Reading the Bible is very important. Interpreting it correctly is vital.
Moses is writing this to the people of Israel whom God had delivered from bondage in Egypt. They are in the wilderness, glad not to be slaves but not so happy about where they are at the moment. It seems they would have been very encouraged to hear that God remembers his people. Brevard Childs writes, “God’s remembering always implies his movement toward the object (of his remembrance) …The essence of God’s remembering lies in his acting toward someone because of a previous commitment.” When God remembered Noah, he acted on Noah’s behalf to bring an end to the flood. When God remembered Abraham in Genesis 19, God saved Lot from Sodom. When God remembered Rachel in Genesis 30, he opened her womb and she conceived. When we take communion, we are doing as Jesus told us to. “Do this,” he said, “in remembrance of me.” Remembering Jesus means moving towards him in faith and dependence, giving our lives to the One who laid down his life for us.
When God remembered Noah, not that God could ever forget, he made the water stop. He really is the weatherman. And after the waters had receded for 150 days, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Many days later, the dove Noah sent out found a place to rest. And finally, so did the people of God. The grace of God brings rest for his people, in and after the storm. The year-long journey in the ark had finally come to an end. Noah removed the covering of the ark, and again they waited until God said, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.”
There is an important reminder in this story that God calls us to obey, and often obedience looks exactly like waiting. Waiting on him, not running ahead, but waiting for his time and his word. When God told Noah to go out from the ark and bring everybody with him, do you think his wife and family had to be told twice? No, they had been ready for weeks on end to be out of there. But they had trusted God to work through Noah. Their obedience was just as important as Noah’s. Same with the animals! They had been given what must have been supernatural grace to live together and not kill each other for an estimated 370 days, and I love that when the time came, “(the animals) went out by families from the ark.” One by one they patiently lined up, maybe alphabetically: “Aardark family, you’re first!”
They filed out and re-creation began. Noah’s first act on the cleansed earth was to build an altar and make a sacrifice to the Lord. His first thought was not about himself and how he just wanted to enjoy himself for a few days after 101 years of very hard work. His first thought was about God. God remembered Noah, and Noah remembered God and his first act was worship. Allen Ross writes, “The people of God were to be a worshiping people, offering to God the praise of their lips and the best of their possessions.”
Good news! God still remembers his people.
God spoke to Noah, and it is the first recorded time that God spoke to man since Cain. God told him what he was about to do, as God would do with Abraham years later, before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And God commissioned Noah to build an ark, a vessel of rescue. The word for ark literally means “box,” or “chest.” The ark of the covenant was just that: a chest that held very important items of remembrance. But this ark was different because people would enter it, and it would float on water. The ark was not a ship; it had no rudder, no means of navigation or steering. It was simply a place to provide temporary shelter and order for a few people and a bunch of animals. There was one other ark mentioned in the Bible, remember? It was also a box intended for rescue. Moses was supposed to be killed, by Pharaoh’s order, but by God’s grace and his mother’s wisdom, he was placed in the “ark of bulrushes” as the King James Version called it, and this ark was put into the Nile River.
God gave Noah the exact specifications for the ark, and it was huge. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall. It was 238 feet longer than the Cutty Sark, the longest boat ever constructed out of wood, and that was in the late 1800’s in England. Noah’s ark also had three different levels, a roof, and a door on the side. Building the ark was a mammoth project which became Noah and his sons’ life work for the next 100 years. By the way, you can walk through a replica, with the exact dimensions mentioned here, and see how the travelers, people and animals, may have lived on the ark for an estimated 370 days. Look up “Ark Encounter” in Kentucky.
God commissioned Noah to build the ark and told him why: “I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven.” That refers to people, for only men and women have the breath of life. “Everything that is on the earth shall die.” That refers to everything else! Every bird, every animal, every creeping thing not brought into the ark would die. God commanded Noah to bring two of every living thing onto the ark, “male and female.” There it is again, God’s design for creation, for every living thing, is male and female. He was also commanded to store up food, every sort of food, for the days they will be on the ark. Listen, saints, as far as I know, this is the only time when God commanded his people to store up food for the end of the world as we know it. God told Joseph to store food for a famine, but worldwide destruction was not God’s plan then, as it was with Noah. Simply put, there is no biblical precedent for “preppers.” These are the only ones, Noah and his family.
How did Noah respond to this command to build an ark that would bear up the remnant when a flood came on the land, a land that had, as far as we know, never even seen rain? “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” Noah believed God. Period. That’s what we read in Hebrews: “By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.”
I was reminded of Keith Green’s song, “He’ll Take Care of the Rest,” and this verse:
You just think about Noah
Totin’ his umbrella when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky
All his neighbors would laugh at his pet giraffe
And they would oh-ho, snicker as he passed by
But the Lord said, “Hey Noah, be cool
Just keep building that boat
It’s just a matter of time till they see who’s gonna float
You just keep doing your best and pray that it’s blessed
Hey Noah, I’ll take care of the rest, I’m the weather man.”
God spared Noah and his family so that one day he could spare you and me.
A professor at Asbury Seminary told the story of a Muslim who became a Christian. “Some of his friends asked him, ‘Why have you become a Christian? Why have you disrespected Mohammed to follow Jesus?’ He answered, ‘Well, suppose you were going down the road and you came to a fork. You didn’t know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive–which one would you ask which way to go?’”
Mary Magdelene did not come to a fork in the road on that first Easter Sunday morning, but to the tomb where she knew Jesus had been placed on Friday. She came expecting to find the dead body of her Lord still there. But she found much more than she expected. He had already surprised her at least twice. He surprised her with deliverance when Jesus cast out seven demons from Mary. Then he surprised her with his sacrifice.
Mary had stood by the cross and watched him die. I know a little of what it’s like to stand by and watch someone die. My father died on Palm Sunday in 2006 after a 6-month battle with cancer. He fought to live more than anyone I have ever known, but what surprised me in all of the battle was how much my father loved my Mom. I knew they loved each other, but I witnessed a greater love between them as Dad was dying than I had ever seen. The only time I ever saw my father cry was when his three sons were standing at his bed on Sunday, December 25, 2005. He knew he was dying but he wept as he said, “I’ve got to fight this. I can’t leave your mother alone.” Even in the agony of cancer, with the hair loss and the horrifying weight-loss (my 6’3” Dad lost to below 120 lbs. before he died) and the nausea and the humiliation that comes with not being in control anymore, my dad demonstrated a love for my Mom that was amazing. Six weeks before he died, when Dad was still able to walk and even climb the steps and sleep in their bed, Mom tucked him in and gave him a kiss on the cheek. She got in bed and turned over to sleep when she felt the bed move and saw my dad get up and come around the bed. “Honey, what are you doing?” Mom asked. Dad said, “I’m coming to tuck you in.”
Mary stood and watched Jesus die, not really understanding yet that his death was necessary for Mary to be delivered again. This time not from her bondage to demons, but from death. This was Friday. She would come to understand it on Sunday. Jesus surprised Mary with her deliverance and with his sacrifice. Then Jesus surprised her with his resurrection.
Jesus was the LAST person Mary expected to see at the tomb. Oh, she expected to see him, all right, but just his dead body. And then, she couldn’t believe it: his dead body was not there! Broken heart broke more as she grieved and wondered who had taken his body away. In her grief she saw someone she thought was the gardener. He spoke to her, asked her why she was weeping and whom she was seeking, and she still didn’t recognize him. But then he spoke her name, and she could see him clearly now. He called Mary by name, and the fear and the grief and the sorrow and the pain all melted away in an instant. Believers, this is our greatest surprise as well, isn’t it? Jesus calls us by name. He said of the shepherd and his sheep, “he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” The greatest surprise of each of our lives has been when we first recognized who Jesus Christ really is, when he called us by name.
I remember another time Jesus called someone by name. It was a dead man, a friend named Lazarus whom Jesus loved. John tells us this, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” And when the people at Lazarus’ graveside saw Jesus weeping, they said, “See how he loved him!” But John tells us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” as he stood with his friends. Even though Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, he was deeply moved and greatly troubled. Why? David Mathis writes, “He had righteous anger at the realities of death and unbelief.” D.A. Carson wrote that the words “deeply moved” suggest “anger, outrage, or emotional indignation.” Jesus was shaken up, unsettled as he stood face to face with death. Mathis writes, “He knew what it would take to conquer this foe. He was about to take back Lazarus from its jaws. Next time, he would lay down his own life as the ransom.” And he did. He called Lazarus by name and raised him from the dead. Then Jesus took on death himself, so that he could call Mary by name. So that he could call you by name.
There is no greater surprise than that.
We do not know who the “sons of God” or the “daughters of man” are in Genesis 6. There are at least three theories. The early church fathers believed, as many do today, that the “sons of God” were angels. Some point to the language of Job 1:6: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” The problem with this view is that angels do not procreate, and there is no biblical truth that supports angels came down to earth and found wives among the daughters of man. Unless those fallen angels possessed evil men…and that is the second view. Perhaps these were demon possessed men who took whatever they wanted. A third view is that the “sons of God” were just really bad men, Cainites given over completely to evil, and taking what they wanted, including Sethite women. Bottom line on this? No. One. Knows.
We also do not know for sure who the Nephilim are in verse 4. The word literally means “giants,” and we see them again in Number 13:30-33, after Caleb had given his report to the people about the promised land, saying in essence, “Let’s go; we can take this land!” But then the others who had gone into the land said, “No, there are giants there, the Nephilim, and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers.” Who were these guys, these Nephilim? No proof that they were anything but just really big men, but some believe they were the offspring of the demon-possessed men. Bottom line again? No. One. Knows.
It is a mystery. But this much is clear. The pattern of sin described here looks very much like what happened in the garden. These men, whoever they were, “saw that the daughters of man were attractive.” And “they took…any they chose.” Just as, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food…(so) she took of its fruit and ate.” She wanted to be like God, and she stepped over the line that God had clearly set down. These men wanted what they saw, so they stepped over the line and design God had created. Allen Ross writes, “The conflict begins when boundaries are overstepped in the matter of marriage… the stages of seeing and taking are followed by intervention of God.” Men and women cannot usurp the authority of God and overstep his boundaries. God will act.
“I will blot out man whom I have created,” God says. The word there for blot out is maha, and it means to wipe off or wipe away. It indicates a complete removal of one thing from another. Here in Genesis God says he will completely remove the wicked from the earth.
He will do this again, sometime in the future. It will be the final act of God before judgment. Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies (stars and planets and galaxies) will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
Here is the good news for those of us who are in Christ, whose names, as Paul said of his fellow workers, “are in the book of life.” We are his sheep, and Jesus will lose none of his sheep, but each will have eternal life, for this is the will of the Father. (John 6) And Jesus said of us who believe, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10)
What is our only hope? The grace of God. God is good and does good and we run to him for refuge. We run to the ark of protection which can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer who died in our place and was raised from the dead. And who is coming back for us! Jesus said it himself: “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” -Matthew 24
Taste and see that the Lord is good! This holy week, run again to the cross of our forgiveness and marvel again at the empty tomb of our resurrection!
Notice the pattern that is repeated throughout chapter 5 of Genesis, with one exception. “When A had lived X years, he fathered B. He then lived X-years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all of his years were X, and he died.” Several things emerge in this pattern.
First, men and women lived a long time before the flood, an average of 900 years! Some believe there was a change in the earth’s cosmology and man’s physiology after the flood. But remember what we said about Cain’s mark and why we don’t need to waste time trying to figure it out? Same here in trying to explain with any authority why people lived so long then. No. One. Knows.
Second, these men all had children. That was normative in God’s design. That does not mean everyone can have children! But it is the normative pattern for marriage and should not be rejected by followers of Christ who simply don’t want to be bothered and prefer to be DINKS. Double-income, no kids.
Third, everyone dies. The statistic is nearly 100%, and as far as I know, no one since Elijah has been translated into heaven without death. Enoch and Elijah are the only ones. That’s it. Poor Lazarus had to die twice, but I am sure he and his sisters were happy with that. But the rest of us, unless Jesus comes back, will walk through that door of death once. And! Because of Christ, death has no sting and the grave has no victory.
As we have seen, Enoch was the exception to the formula that is repeated over and over. And we really don’t know much about these other men. Enosh was the first one whose generation began to call on the name of the Lord, to proclaim His goodness to all who would listen. And Enosh had Kenan. Kenan, as far as we know, built a football stadium where the boys in the best shade of blue play. No! But Kenan had Mahalalel, whose name means “praise God.” Mahalalel had Jared, who opened a jewelry store. Nope. Jared had Enoch. More on him in a few. Enoch had a son named Methuselah, who is famous for the simile, “old as…” And Methuselah means “man of a dart.” Don’t try to figure that one out, either. No. One. Knows. But he did hit the bullseye in the longevity game, living just 31 years shy of a THOUSAND. A millennium. 969 years, and it is quite possible to conclude from the numbers that Methuselah died in the year of the flood. Methuselah had Lamech, and Lamech had Noah. More on that in a few.
Genesis 6 tells us that Noah also walked with God, and we know how God used him. But we should also know that we are called to obedience, a long walk in the same direction, to borrow from Eugene Peterson. Paul wrote, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7) What a great passage to meditate on and it occurs to me that a healing balm for anxiety and depression is found in this simple command to walk in Christ and abound in thanksgiving. John Stonestreet recently referred to research that suggests exercising gratitude leads to better sleep, improved interpersonal relationships, better stress and hormonal regulation, and even reduced physical pain. What should we do, then?
Walk with Christ day by day, abounding in thanksgiving in every way.
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.