GE 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
So now we have moved into the next stage of human history. We have seen the creation of the world, how God created it perfectly and took delight in it. How God blessed the seventh day as a day of rest, so that God, humanity and the rest of creation could relax and enjoy the beauty of God’s work. But then we saw the entry of sin, mankind wanting to be able to judge between good and evil, and in doing so, to become like God.
God then pronounced a curse on the snake, a curse on relationships between man and woman, and between man and the earth. No longer would there be rest for Adam and Eve, but they were sent out of the garden to wander. Now that the relationship between them and God had been shattered, if they were to eat from the tree of life, then they would remain in that relationship of hostility towards God forever.
But God had other intentions. God intended to repair that relationship, which is why He announced that an offspring of the woman would one day crush the head of the snake, and so reverse the effects of sin. But until that day, they could not live near the tree of life, so God expelled them from the Garden and guarded the way back with fearsome angels, cherubim holding flaming swords. But God was still providing for them.
Instead of the leaves they sewed together to cover themselves, God gave them garments made of animal skins to keep them warm and protect them from the thorns and thistles that now grew out of the ground. And so what we see is the first hint of how God was going to restore His relationship with them. To get the skin of an animal, you have to kill it, and so something had to die in order for Adam and Eve to be protected from the consequences of their sin. God’s grace was extended to them only through the death of an innocent life. Now this touches on the main story behind the stories in the Bible.
The first two chapters of the Bible describe what life was like the way God created it. Then we have what we call “the Fall”, the fall into sin and the brokenness of life apart from God and at war with one another and the creation around us. As we saw last time, sin has affected every single relationship in the universe, threatening to destroy the beauty and majesty of what God created. And so God has set about reversing the effects of sin and removing the cause of sin from the universe. And that’s what holds the whole Bible together.
Even though there are hundreds of different stories in the Bible, there is only one story behind all of those stories – the story of how God is putting the universe back together again and making things right once more. And part of that story involves the promise which God made that the seed (or offspring) of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, that this person who was to be born one day would destroy sin, evil and everything associated with sin and evil.
And we remember that in response to this promise, Adam named his wife “Eve”, because, he said, she would become the mother of all the living. So it’s no surprise that we read of Eve’s family in chapter 4.
GE 4:1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”
Now there are a few ways to translate this statement by Eve, and the emphasis in the sentence can be made in two different ways. Firstly, we could emphasise the “with the help of the Lord” – I have brought forth a man, with Eve acknowledging God’s assistance. But most scholars would say that the emphasis lies on the second part of the sentence “I have brought forth a man” – in fact, some would even translate the sentence “just like the Lord, I have brought forth a man”. As well, the phrase “I have brought forth a man” is sometimes translated “I have acquired a man”. The name “Cain” also means “acquired”, so this reinforces the idea that Eve sees herself as having done something that will fix things up, that will undo the problems she has caused.
She has “acquired” a seed, who will crush the serpent’s head – or so she hopes. She is the mother of all the living, and through her all humanity will be saved. And so she feels a sense of accomplishment and relief that she has been able to do this. Now things will be right again. Her child will crush the serpent’s head, and the curse on her, Adam and the world will be reversed. She has acquired a man. But unfortunately that is not how things worked out.
Let’s read on.
2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel means “breath” or “vapour”. It’s the same word used in Ecclesiastes which is translated “meaningless”. So it seems the odds were stacked against Abel at birth.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Now there are many questions we can ask about this incident. Why wasn’t Cain’s offering acceptable? Did he know what God wanted? Was there something he had done or not done that caused God not to look with favour on him? We may never know, and the writer of the story seems unconcerned about the reason for God rejecting Cain’s offering.
What the writer is interested in, though, is Cain’s reaction to God.
God is interested in restoring relationships, and so our relationship with God is always the most important point of any story. When Cain does not get a favourable response from God, he becomes angry. It is as if Cain thinks God doesn’t know what He’s doing. In Cain’s eyes, his offering is just as acceptable as Abel’s. There is nothing wrong with his offering. Cain knows what is good and evil, and so he knows his offering is good.
So Cain puts himself in the place of God, as the one who knows good and evil, just as his parents had done, and we see the cycle of sin continuing. But now instead of fearing God and running away to hide, as his parents did, Cain becomes angry with God.
Fear has turned to anger. God’s grace to his parents has had no effect on Cain. He is right and God is wrong and God has no right to treat him this way.
The cycle of sin has cranked up a notch. But now how does God respond?
GE 4:6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
God comes to Cain and he pleads with him to change his mind, to repent. If Cain does what is right, God says he will be accepted. Cain needs to repent from whatever it was that he did wrong and turn back to God. But if he doesn’t repent, God warns him, things will only get worse. And that is what happens.
GE 4:8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
The cycle of sin cranks up another notch.
Failure has turned to anger and now anger has turned to murder. The sentence of death which Adam brought into the world has been carried out on his innocent son, the one whose offering was acceptable to God. And of course we see the parallels there with God’s innocent son, Jesus. So how will God respond now?
GE 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Like he did with Cain’s parents, God comes looking for Cain and asks him what he has done. God wants honesty and confession – an open heart that He can set about changing.
But Cain’s heart remains closed. Failure has turned to anger, anger to murder, now murder to lying and denial of the truth.
GE 4:10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Just as sin has increased, so has the curse placed upon the one who committed the sin.
In the garden, the trees gave their fruit willingly and in abundance. Adam’s curse was that the ground would fight against him, and that he would only get food by the sweat of his brow.
But for Cain, no amount of working the ground will produce any harvest. He will have to wander from place to place, foraging for food from wherever he can find it. He will no longer be able to settle anywhere, he will need to keep roaming the earth, looking for food.
In the garden, Adam and Eve had lived securely under God’s blessing. After they were expelled from the garden, Adam and Eve had to find somewhere else to live and work the ground around them. They were able to settle anywhere where they could cultivate crops to eat.
Cain would have no place to settle. He would have no secure home. He would not be able to build a permanent home and establish fences and gates for protection. He would be a restless wanderer.
GE 4:13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” GE 4:15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Even in this curse upon Cain, God still shows a sign of grace. He places a mark on Cain’s forehead to warn people who might want to harm Cain.
Cain will be a restless wanderer, living in the land of Nod. Now “Nod’ simply means “wandering”, so Cain lived in the land of wandering, a place loosely defined as “east of Eden”, which means it is away from the presence of God.
So now all the hopes of Eve have been dashed. The son which she has “acquired” is not the one who will reverse the effects of sin, but rather one who would increase the scope and intensity of sin. Instead of saving the world from sin, Eve’s child plunges the world into even more terrible sin than before.
And this is one of the main themes in this story behind the story of the Bible. All the attempts of humanity to fix up the problem of sin always and only have resulted in sin increasing and claiming more casualties. The failure of humanity is echoed and amplified time after time. It doesn’t matter how many hopes and dreams that people carry with them that one day some person will fix things up again, they all seem to be dashed to pieces time and again. That’s the story of politics even today.
But the other thing that remains constant is God’s intent to fix things up in His own way and in His own time.
Now Cain’s act of murder is just the first part of the spread of sin. After that sin became a part of the very fabric of society as well as the dark blotches that stained society.
We read on.
GE 4:17 Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. Now in spite of Cain’s curse and his fear that he would be a restless wanderer, he seems to have found a way to reduce the effects of the curse to the extent that he was able to build a city. And it seems that Cain has begun using technology, albeit very primitive technology, to lessen the effects of the curse. GE 4:19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
So Jabal lived in a tent and raised livestock. Assuming that he also suffered under his grandfather’s curse and was unable to farm crops, he became a grazier who kept livestock and probably traded milk and meat for grain and vegetables. So we see that by modifying his living arrangements and creating a division of labour in the agricultural economy, Cain’s descendants could still live reasonably comfortable and fulfilling lives. His brother Jubal also helped to ease the pain of an alienated existence with the invention of musical instruments, so that they could celebrate and find enjoyment in life, despite being outcasts. Tubal-Cain took things even further and began forging tools from metal, so that the pain of working the ground and caring for animals could be eased even further.
So in themselves, these developments look good, and certainly are a gracious gift of God to people in need.
But what happened is that these things became a substitute for the goodness of God. Eden was their first home, a place where Adam and Eve lived in the security and comfort of God’s presence. Their lives were enriched by the beauty God had created and the fulfilment of working with God to make the garden even more beautiful. But now, driven out to the east of Eden, away from God’s presence, they have no home and no security – they fear for their lives, they lack food and shelter and suffer the division and alienation caused by hatred and murder.
And so they create their own security. They build a city for themselves where they can be protected. They trade animals for grain and vegetables, so that God’s curse can be by-passed. They create music to bring happiness and make tools to give them mastery over the ground which has become their enemy. All of these advances in technology have been made by a family which has been alienated from God; people who have turned their back on God and judge between good and evil for themselves.
Now they no longer need God. Now they have created their own world, in their own image and are self-sufficient.
But Lamech takes it one step further again.
GE 4:23 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. GE 4:24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Now in this short speech, Lamech sets up his own laws in the place of God’s rule. No longer is God the judge of right and wrong, but Lamech decides he knows what is good and evil. He has become like God, declaring what is good and what is evil.
But his judgement is not like God’s. When Cain sinned by murdering his brother, God’s judgement contained a full measure of grace for Cain, so that he would not be completely destroyed. But Lamech’s judgement has no such grace. Lamech has been wounded by a young man, and has retaliated by killing his attacker. Lamech believes that he has done right by repaying an injury with death. Previously, God protected Cain with a warning to those might harm him. They would be repaid seven times over for any harm done to Cain. But Lamech escalates this warning also, so that anyone who harms him would be repaid seventy-seven times.
So sin has increased both in intensity and complexity. Instead of alienation and suffering driving people back to God for help and relief, the hearts of people have been hardened towards God, and society is now working to become totally independent of God. Now this has been the theme of history ever since. It is one of the background stories that runs throughout the entire Bible. Humanity constantly rebels against God and tries to set up its own kingdom with its own rules and rulers in opposition to God.
We see it later in the tower of Babel. We see it in Egypt with Pharaoh enslaving the Israelites. We see it with the people of Israel before they had a king, creating and worshipping their own gods and replacing God’s laws with their own. We see it with the kings of Israel, ignoring God and trying to build their kingdoms their own way. We see it in the new testament with the religious leaders re-interpreting the scriptures to suit themselves.
We see it today as well, both in the church and especially in wider society, people setting up their own empires instead of submitting to God’s kingdom. Our obsession with technology has multiplied a million times over the simple technologies used by Cain’s grandchildren.
But the intent of that technology is still the same. It takes the gracious gift of God and turns it against God. It becomes a replacement for God, for His care and provision. We end up worshipping our creations rather than our Creator, looking to these things to bring meaning and happiness into our lives. It encourages people to believe in their own ability to make right judgements and solve our own problems. With the aid of technology, we believe we can do anything. We’ve been to the moon, and now we’re heading to Mars. We cured polio and the plague, and one day soon we’ll cure cancer and Alzheimers. With DNA testing we can always determine who is guilty or innocent, and internet cameras allow us to protect ourselves from all the nasty people in society.
Except it doesn’t really work like that. All of our labour-saving devices have meant more work for everyone. All of the devices that were supposed to allow us freedom, now mean that we have no freedom. People can ring me on my mobile at any time of day or night. Being able to work from home over the internet means that I can now spend 20 hours a day working. My nice new car that can safely do 200km/hr on the freeway actually only goes at 20km/hr on the congested roads to work each day.
With so many ways of communicating with each other, we talk to fewer people less often. We sit in our shell and stare at a TV or computer screen.
Our idea of justice is that people in the Western world get to use all the resources they like while the rest of the world struggles to survive on what’s left over. World peace means that everyone accepts our notion of what is a fair distribution of wealth.
And God is left right out of the discussion. Having been kicked out of the Garden, we have turned our back on Him and decided to do things ourselves.
But the good news is that God hasn’t given up on us. He has come after us, and still calls us back into his presence so that our relationship can be restored. God wants to repair our relationships and fix the world up again. And so this story of ever-increasing brokenness and rebellion ends in God’s response of grace.
GE 4:25 Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD.
Seth is the dim foreshadowing of the new creation, the resurrection to life.
Abel, the righteous one has died because of the sin of Cain, but God has brought him back to life in the person of Seth. “Cain” meant “I have achieved”, but “Seth” means “God has granted”.
Cain was humanity’s attempt to fix things up. But Seth is God’s promise that He intends to fix things up.
No matter what the extent or depth of sin and brokenness, God’s grace reaches beyond all of those things. And so with the birth of Seth, God brings new hope into the world. Abel’s death does not signify the end of righteousness, but the world becomes transformed by the resurrection promise given in Seth.
After Seth was born, people began to call upon the name of the Lord. With God’s promise being renewed, people now began returning to God, looking to have their relationships restored.
Many centuries later, a descendent of Seth was born who would make all those hopes a reality. His name was Jesus, the righteous one, who found favour with God but was killed by the sin of humanity and raised to life again by God. And in Jesus we finally see the promised offspring of the woman, his death on the cross crushing the head of the serpent, and raised to life so that the promise of resurrection for all of us was made into a reality.
There are two cycles being described here – the cycle of life and the cycle of death. If we refuse to repent and embrace that promise, then like Cain, we continue to submerge ourselves in deeper and deeper levels of brokenness and rebellion. And this cycle of death will continue to eternity.
But there’s also the cycle of life. If we listen to God’s call to us, turn our lives around and return to God; if we repent and embrace the promise of life given in Jesus, then we will begin to live in the restored and fixed-up universe that God is bringing into view already, and will one day establish it as an eternal reality.
God is calling us to embrace the cycle of life.