The first chapter of Genesis is a general account of God’s creative activity. The second chapter introduces us to the Garden of Eden, humanity’s initial home. And the third chapter documents our fall and expulsion from that home. The story of humanity’s early history continues in the next two-plus chapters. And it is a story that does not get any better. On the contrary, humanity spirals ever further downward from God’s ideal.
Cain and Abel
The fourth chapter starts with the story of two brothers, sons of Adam and Eve. It might be tempting to think of them as the first two children born on Earth. But nothing in the story would indicate that they did not have siblings born earlier, or between them. What the account does tell us is that Cain was the older of the two and that he was a farmer. And Abel was a shepherd.
In the course of time, both brothers brought some of what they produced as an offering to the Lord. Cain brought a vegetable or grain offering. And Abel brought the fat portions from the firstborn of his flock. And, we are told, God looked with favor on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favor on Cain and his offering.
Why did God favor one but not the other? It might be tempting to see that God preferred the animal sacrifice over the vegetable/grain offering. But the story does not tell us that. Later in the Torah, we find that both were acceptable as offerings to God, depending on the occasion. I suspect the reason has more to do with the attitudes of the brothers as they made their offering. But, since the Scripture is silent on this, I think it best not to try and read too much into it.
There is also no indication in this account as to why the brothers were making an offering. Was it in response to God’s instruction? Was it something their parents had told them they should do? Or was it simply done spontaneously? I would think if the latter was true, then the attitude of the giver would be good and the gift acceptable. So I would guess that in some fashion, it had been made known to them that making an offering to God was appropriate.
Sin Is Crouching at the Door
Cain responded with anger to God’s non-favorable response to his offering. God responded to Cain’s anger by challenging him to do right rather than wrong. He is told that if he does right, he will be accepted. This could refer to the offering that he made. That, in some way, it was not what God had wanted. But it could also refer to Cain’s response to his anger and what it would lead him to do.
God warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door, wanting to have him. And God told Cain that he needed to keep that sin in check, to rule over it. This bears a striking resemblance to the story of the fall in the previous chapter. Here the adversary is sin, while in the previous chapter, it was the Serpent. But both are seeking the downfall of humanity. The Serpent’s temptation of Eve in the Garden was not a unique event. In one way or another, it plays out in each of our lives. Cain’s story could just as easily be ours as well.
I wonder if Paul, in Romans 7:7-24, had this account in mind when he personified sin. In this passage, Paul says that sin “seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” Paul goes on in this passage to describe sin as living in him and at work within him. What God tells Cain is his instruction to each of us. That sin living in us will seek to destroy us. But we must rule over it.
Cain failed to rule over sin in his life. Instead, he took out his anger with God on his brother. He took him out into a field and killed him. Afterward, when God asked him about his brother, he denied knowing where he was. And he expressed what is probably the most well-known line of this account, “Am I my brother’s keeper?“
Cain tried to hide his sin from God. But, as the account goes on to demonstrate, that is not possible. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were banished from the Garden. When Cain sinned, he also was banished. He had been a farmer. But that life was lost to him. Instead, he became a restless wanderer on the earth, unable to productively farm the land any longer.
Our sin may not have quite the dramatic consequences as did Adam & Eve’s or Cain’s. But it does separate us from the life God desires us to have. I believe we make a mistake in simply seeing this account of Cain as history. It is my story as well. And how it plays out in my life is dependent on whether or not I choose to rule over the sin that is ever crouching at the door.
Most of the rest of chapter 4 and all of chapter 5 describe two lines of descent from Adam. The first is through Cain, while the second is through Seth, a third son of Adam and Eve.
The Line of Cain
As modern Western readers, we get hung up over where Cain found a wife and enough people to populate a city. But those were not concerns to the ancient reader. And I believe that trying to answer those questions is fruitless for us today. It is not important to the story and what God has to teach us from this. If it was, he would have given us more information.
The account of Cain’s line goes through the eighth generation from Adam. Little is said about any of them until we get to Lamech, the seventh generation. Lamech’s sons are described as the fathers of shepherds, musicians, and tool makers. I am not sure what to make of that since shepherding was Abel’s occupation long before this. And these lines died out in the flood. But at the very least, they are notable men in the world of that day.
Lamech, the seventh from Adam, continued the downward spiral of his ancestor Cain. He also killed a man. But rather than hide the fact like Cain attempted to do, he seemed to take pride in it. This account of Lamech in Genesis 4:19-24 would seem to prepare us for what is to come in Chapter 6.
The Line of Seth
Seth’s line is listed out to the eleventh generation from Adam, ending with Noah and his sons. Not much is said about the men in the line between Seth and Noah apart from Enoch. Enoch, the seventh from Adam through Seth, is contrasted with Lamech, the seventh from Adam through Cain. While Lamech took pride in his sin, Enoch walked with God. The contrast between these two lines could not be greater.
Associated with each of the men listed in the line of Seth are two ages. The first is their age when their son who follows them is born. And the second is their age when they died. The ages listed here are extraordinarily long. Were people really living over 900 years in the days before the flood? Or is there some other explanation for these exceptional ages? And why did God see fit to have their ages included in this account? All good questions that I do not currently have an answer for.
Calling on the Name of the Lord
A significant note is given to us in Genesis 4:26. In the days of Seth and his son Enosh, it is said that people began to call on the name of the Lord. What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? At least a part of it involves worship. In Genesis 12:8; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25, we find Abraham and later Isaac calling on the name of the Lord as a part of their worship. Calling on the name of the Lord is also an element of our salvation. In Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13, we are told that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Another similar phrase used in chapters 5 and 6 is ‘walked with God’. Enoch is one of two men who were said to have walked faithfully with God, and God took him (Gen. 5:21-24). Our assumption here is that God took him directly to heaven without experiencing death. The second was Noah, who was described as righteous and who walked faithfully with God (Gen. 6:9).
It seems that even from the beginning, when the world is progressing along a downward spiral, God had a remnant who were faithful to him, walking faithfully with him, and calling on his name. This was true before the flood. And after the flood, God called Abraham and his family to be that faithful remnant of humanity. Israel had a faithful remnant who walked with God. And today, there are many who call on the name of the Lord in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Matt. 17:17).
At the Bottom
I am including Genesis 6:1-5 in this post because it seems to me to fit into the theme of the downward spiral of humanity. A spiral that ends with the destruction of life on Earth.
The Sons of God
I know of two differing views of what is meant by this term, and no doubt there are others. One view holds that these are descendants of the godly line of Seth. And the other view holds that these are fallen angels. Over the years, I have held to both views, but currently, understand them to be fallen angels.
In Job 1:6 and Job 2:1, the sons of God present themselves before God. The NIV translates this as angels, but it is the same term. The non-canonical book of 1 Enoch identifies these sons of God as the Watchers, angels who rebelled against God. Jude 1:6 and 2 Peter 2:4 seem to draw from 1 Enoch and the angels who fell. While these references are not enough to conclusively prove the identity of the sons of God, it does seem more likely to me than the alternative.
It appears that the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men are what are called Nephilim. 1 Enoch identifies these as giants of tremendous height. And Scripture does seem to identify them as giants as well. Number 13:33 says that the Anakites, a race of giants, are descended from the Nephilim. Left unexplained is how the Nephilim survived a global flood that destroyed all land life not found on the ark.
The Wickedness of the Human Race
Adam and Eve disobeyed God and faced exile from the garden. Cain killed his brother and faced further banishment. By the seventh generation from Adam, men were boasting of their sinful actions. And, by the time of Noah, humanity had reached its lowest point. And, if the ‘sons of God’ are indeed fallen angels, it is likely that these fallen angels, and their offspring, contributed to the evil depths that humanity had sunken to.
Lessons to Learn
This segment between exile from the Garden and the flood is easy to pass over. Yet it, like all of the Scripture, is inspired by God. And it has something to teach us if we are willing to invest the time in it.
Genesis 4:1-6:5 paints two dramatically different trajectories that humanity took. And continues to take. For all of us, sin is crouching at the door. Will we rule over it? Or allow it to consume us. There were those in the antediluvian world who choose to not let sin master them. Who called on the name of the Lord and walked faithfully before him. But they seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.
The bulk of humanity prior to the flood moved further and further away from God. Until “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). These people gave no thought to God. Doing instead whatever they choose to do. Until finally, judgment came.
The account leaves us with many unanswered questions. In particular, why were there that few who walked with God when all the rest of the world was running away? It is tempting to read into this account details that are not actually there. That is not always a bad thing. But we should recognize when we are doing it. And not get too attached to our own ideas about what took place then.
- The Theology of Genesis: An Introduction
- The Theology of Genesis: In the Beginning – Genesis 1:1-2:4
- The Theology of Genesis: The Garden of Eden – Genesis 2
- The Theology of Genesis: Fall and Exile – Genesis 3
- The Theology of Genesis: A Downward Spiral – Genesis 4 & 5
- The Theology of Genesis: The Great Flood – Genesis 6-9
- The Theology of Genesis: Scattering of the Nations – Gen. 9-11