The title of our series in Genesis is called New Beginnings: The Gospel of Grace in Genesis. We have made it to Genesis 4. Last time we talked about how we live now in the matrix of sin, since Adam and Eve fell. This matrix is pervasive and controls all that we do. The battle for our lives is whether to stay in the matrix and be blind to the realities God has for us or to realize that we need someone outside of ourselves to free us from the matrix.
This is what is going on in Genesis 4. God promised in Genesis 3 that there will be a battle. Two sides: the seed of the woman versus the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Adam and Eve perhaps have thought that their firstborn, a.k.a the seed of the woman, would be the promised Messiah. However, we saw that Cain joined the seed of the serpent with his choice to murder his brother. Though Gen. 4 starts off hopeful with new life and two worshipping brothers, things quickly go sour, when the matrix of sin called Cain to enter it. If you give in to the illusion of sin, it ends up destroying you! We learned two key lessons from last week:
I. Worship is more about the heart than the hands (Gen. 4:1-5a)
We learned that both Cain and Abel are religious and worshippers of Yahweh. However, God cares more about what you bring to him in your heart than what you bring to Him in your hands. God looks on the offerer before He looked at the offering (Abel and his offering; Cain and his offering). Secondly:
II. Sin is more powerful than we imagined (Gen. 4:5b-14, 16-24)
God reveals to Cain some things in Cain’s heart that was already there. Cain cannot handle the fact that God does not operate on his standards. In Genesis 3, God came to Adam and Eve after they fell. Here God comes to Cain before he falls. We saw that our sin is so blinding that even if God Himself tries to persuade us out of it, we would rather sin than obey Him. Sin is so powerful and like an animal lying in wait, it always hides itself. Why is sin so powerful?
a) Sin always looks smaller than it really is. The things that destroy us are the things we don’t think are so bad. Sin always appears off the radar and as something under our control, until it destroys us.
b) All sin is unbelief. What did Cain do when God counseled him? He walked away. He didn’t believe God. And Moses’ audience would have understood this. It is our unbelief that gets us into trouble. We don’t believe God about something. In fact, the children of Israel wandered around for 40 years because of unbelief. And notice later that because of unbelief, Cain will be wandering and restless (Gen. 4:12,14,16) in the land of Nod, which means “wandering.”
c) When we sin, we are taking the place that God deserves. In Gen. 4:8, instead of speaking to God about it, he goes to Abel and takes them in a field, where there would be no witnesses (well, except God saw), and kills him. One commentator observes that while in Gen. 3 “God strode through the garden looking for Adam; here Cain walks through the field looking for Abel.” Cain does not master the wild beast. It began to devour him. In doing so, Cain takes the place of God just like Adam and Eve wanting to be like God. When we look at the Old Testament, we see over and over again that “blood and life belong to God alone; wherever a man commits murder he attacks God’s very own right of possession. To destroy life goes far beyond man’s proper sphere.” And that is what we do when we sin: we take the place that God deserves. We are telling God we know what is best for our lives.
d) Sin destroys our closest relationships. Notice the mention of “brother” two times in this section. This is not just a homicide; this is fratricide. He does not kill an enemy or a stranger. It is his own brother. Cain’s parents resorted to excuses, but never to violence. Cain’s anger toward God spills out into a jealous rage against his brother and now tramples on the image of God. Murder just in one generation. Sin is more powerful than we imagined. This must have been devastating for Adam and Eve!
Then it gets worse. God, like in Gen. 3, again investigates in Gen. 4:9. And like his father Adam, still does not own up to his sin (cf. Gen. 3:9). God is standing at the altar, offering Cain a way out, a way of forgiveness and repentance. Cain is much worse than his parents. He boldly lies. Adam said he was afraid as to why he was hiding (partial truth), but his son boldly lies to God, as if God would not know! Sin is more powerful than it imagined. Not only does he lie, he asks the famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Commentator Bruce Waltke adds, “His play at innocence reprises his father’s attempt at concealment.” Do you know what Cain is really saying? He is saying, “Can’t you take care of your own creation?” Am I responsible for the people God has placed in my life? Because Cain failed at the altar of worship, he failed on the field with his brother. Our horizontal problems are often mere reflections of our vertical problem. Envy is not just a horizontal problem. It is a vertical problem first. Paul Tripp says, “Envy is always idolatrous. It attaches spiritual contentment to physical things and experiences rather than to relationship with God. Envy is a false gospel. Envy says you are worthy and deserving. The cross says you’re unworthy but graced with what you don’t deserve. Envy always breaks the two Great Commands. I envy because I love something more than I love God. In envy I fail to love you as I should. As a believer, envy is always vertical; you cannot be envious without questioning the goodness, wisdom and faithfulness of God. Envy’s the product of self-righteousness. You think you’re better, so you can’t deal with a person having what you deserve but don’t enjoy.”
If I don’t love people more, it’s because I have loved God too little. Just like sin caused alienation between husband and wife in Genesis 3, it causes alienation between other close relationships as well. Is Cain Abel’s keeper? The answer is yes! God asks Cain this out in the field, in everyday life, where we are called to be responsible for others. Really we see that being responsible to God and being responsible to our brothers are intricately combined. But sin is so powerful that left unchecked, it can destroy all of our relationships. And Cain became his brother’s killer instead of his keeper.
e) Sin is betrayal. Jesus calls the devil, the “father of lies” (John 8:44). When Cain sinned, pastor Stanley Griedanus says, “…he moved into the camp of the devil. When he was born, Eve thought he was the seed of the woman would conquer the serpent. But Cain, nursing his anger against God and his jealousy of his brothers, gives an opening to the devil…It is clear that Cain is not the seed of the woman. He is the seed of the serpent out to destroy the seed of the woman.” In attempting to be like God, Adam and Eve became more like the devil.
f) Sin brings judgment. Look at Gen. 4:10-12. The text from Gen. 4:9-16 is like a lawsuit. Yahweh tries Cain for his life. There is investigation (vv.9-10), sentence (vv.11-12) and finally banishment (v.16). And there is overwhelming testimony here. Commentator Mathews says, “As in a criminal trial, God presents condemning testimony against Cain: ‘your brother’s blood’ refutes Cain’s protestations.” Nothing is hidden from the eyes of God. Pastor and Author Chuck Swindoll says, “A secret sin on earth is open scandal in heaven. Never forget that! Whatever we may hide on this earth is fully known to God.” Notice the word “crying.” Hamilton adds that this word, “frequently describes the cry of the oppressed, be they the afflicted in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:13), the overworked and exhausted Israelites in Egypt (Exod. 3:7), or the afflicted stranger, widow, or orphan (Exod. 22:21–24)…it is associated with the groans of an innocent victim who is brutalized and harassed.” The cry of injustice stops all the music of Heaven. It is that close to His heart.
In addition, “though Abel never talks in Genesis, his testimony of faith continues to speak, and his voice cries out for revenge against the unrighteous who oppose God’s work among the saints.” Later the law was that if you were found a murder victim in the open field, the family would come together and find the culprit. But if the crime could not be solved, the community still made atonement by ritual involving a heifer “so you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood” (Deut. 21:1–9). God is saying that the dirt is holier than Cain is. The dirt is sickened by what Cain’s done and he still will not repent. Sin is more powerful than we imagined.
God curses Cain in Gen. 4:11. This confirms that Cain is indeed the seed of the serpent that was also cursed (Gen. 3:14). Cain’s choice will now “split the human race into two camps: some will be on the side of Satan, and some will be on the side of God.” Atkinson notes that, “…the way God’s judgment works in our lives, is very often to leave us in the judgment we have made of ourselves. If you live without God, you will live without God.” Sin is more powerful than we imagined. It brings the judgment of God.
g) Sin is a loss of your identity. The curse is not just that he became a wanderer, but that all relationship with his family will now be broken. One author says, “The ultimate penalty for a Hebrew is not death, but exile, a loss of roots.” What does the curse entail? Look at Gen. 4:12. Here Cain is not barred from contact with the soil but from enjoyment of its productivity. Far from being sedentary and having the time to harvest crops, Cain will be a wandering fugitive. Author and Pastor Kent Hughes adds, “The earth itself would be his enemy. Cain, who had once worked the soil, had watered it with his brother’s blood. That blood had cried against him from the soil, so that he was banned from it forever—to wander over it as an enemy of the earth.”
In the Scriptures, the presence of God is where you found our identity. To leave the presence of God is to forever wander from everything God has called you to be. Now Cain has lost all sense of belonging and community. Hamilton adds that Cain will be “rootless and detached…Cain, once a farmer, is now ousted from civilization and is to become a vagabond. Rootlessness is the punishment and the wilderness is the refuge of the sinner.”Sin is more powerful than we imagined. Because of sin, we are forever wandering, looking for belonging, community, a place where we feel at home!
Atkinson observes that “God’s will is his goodness; God’s goodness is expressed in his will.” And leaving His will and His presence is leaving His goodness. Now this would have been a good time to repent. Adam and Eve silently accepted their consequences, but look at Cain. He continues to protest! I would smoke Cain out a long time ago, but God allows him to whine about his punishment. There is no “my sin is too great!” but “the consequences are too great!” Isn’t that just like us? We say we want to hate our sin, but the truth is we love our sin and we hate the consequences. There is not even remorse here, let alone repentance. He has self-pity that “isolation from God’s protective presence effectively results in a death sentence.” And notice the irony. The same guy who kills his own brother now fears someone will kill him. As Hughes says, “He, the wolf, feared that he would be devoured.” When we sin, we lose our identity in God and we also begin to fear man. Alienation from God leads to fear of other men. Sin is more powerful than we imagined. Are we running from God?
h) Sin destroys a godly legacy. In Gen. 4:16-24, we see what happened to Cain. You can see God’s mercy here, but at the same time, it is sad what he left behind. In the beginning of Gen. 4, Cain was a brother, a son and a worshipper of Yahweh. Now he is none of these. William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” (“Unconquered”), which was used as movie title a couple of years ago, is drenched with the spirit of Cain:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Cain could have written this poem! Cain will not allow his soul to be conquered. He will go east of Eden in Gen. 4:16, with his “head bloody, but unbowed.” He finds a wife which, by the way, was probably one of his relatives, cf. Gen. 5:4—incest was not prohibited then and since they lived hundreds of years, you may have lots of descendants over time. I mean, how many descendants can you have over 930 years? So they have a son and name him Enoch.
Enoch means “dedication,” or “consecration” or “initiation.” Does this speak of a new beginning that Cain desires, that he will make on his own terms? It could be that Cain desires to start over again and build a new life for himself. Cain also builds a city. He is the master of his fate. He is the captain of his soul. Was he being defiant of God and boldly going against what God had said? This is probably anticipating the monument of self-sufficiency in the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11). If God can create a garden, then I can build a city for myself. Cain seeks security in a human fortress.” Waltke says, “Instead of honoring God, the unbeliever honors humanity.” Cain is God here, making a name for himself. He is Captain Cain.
Notice Cain prospers and the rest of his descendants prosper as well. Allen Ross says, “His line took the lead in producing cities, music, weapons, agricultural implements—in short, civilization. Such activity may have been their way to cope with life under the curse; it was their only recourse in a bitter life.” Obviously, cities, music, etc. such are not bad in themselves, but notice that there is not a mention of God anymore. And this is our world today. People prosper. Advancements are made. People are accomplishing great things. Unbelievers enrich life. But in the end, it is godless. If you have everything but God, you have nothing. A godly legacy is destroyed.
And then seven generations down from Cain, we have Lamech. Moses stops here to talk about him to highlight how bad man has come living apart from God. God’s desire for marriage breaks down as Lamech takes not one, but two wives. By the way, we see many believers in the OT with many wives, but this does not condone it. In each family with multiple wives, the family breaks down in one way or another. We have total paganization. Lamech’s kid is Tubal-Cain. By the way, I couldn’t help but notice the family names here that makes me think they were Indian: JABAL, JUBAL and TUBAL! He is a metal-worker, but the language here also suggests, “the manufacture of farm implements, building tools, and personal weapons.” Did you hear that? PERSONAL WEAPONS. Cain’s legacy passed on as one of violence.
Then Lamech starts singing. Last time there was a song, it came from Adam, celebrating God’s goodness in giving him Eve. Here Lamech is now singing about how great he is because he’s so bad. Maybe his son Jubal is playing some instruments too? And what is he singing about? Notice “hear my voice” and “Listen to what I say.” This is a buffoon pounding his chest. Listen to what I SAY? Those used to be what God would say. Now man is saying it. He’s boasting of his many wives and how he has killed people! Derek Kidner observes, “Lamech’s taunt-song reveals the swift progress of sin. Where Cain had succumbed to it (7) Lamech exults in it.” This is the first “gangsta rap” in the Bible. He saying some young kid wounded Lamech and so he killed him. Today we would say something like, “Some guy cut me off in traffic and I got out and shot him.” This is not really even revenge or even pre-meditated murder like Cain. This is bold, direct, boastful disregard of God, humanity, morality or anything. Lamech, if provoked, would not have a problem even to kill a child, let alone an adult. Hamilton agrees when he says, “The flowering of culture and invention does not restrain the escalation of sin.”
At least Cain had some sense of fearing God’s authority. Not Lamech. He fearlessly takes authority for personal gain. The language is poetry here, so he might be saying not that he has already killed anyone, but that under duress he would not hesitate to do. Notice Cain’s legacy is passed down to seven generations as Lamech knows the story. Remember Cain who needed protection? He takes God’s words to Cain of complete vengeance and goes seventy times better.
He vows unending vengeance. No one will touch the violent Lamech. He does not need God’s protection. He can fend for himself. Lamech is his own security and can adequately take care of himself. Interestingly, when Jesus is asked how much should we forgive someone in Matt. 18:22, He says, “seventy times seven,” contrasting Lamech’s unending vow of vengeance to God’s unending forgiveness. But note here that Cain’s mindset and spirit have snowballed into an avalanche as it surfaces in his great-great-great grandson. By the way, whatever happened to Cain? Krell says, “The New Testament Scriptures uniformly speak of Cain in the negative with phrases like ‘the way of Cain’ (Jude 11) and one ‘who was of the evil one and slew his brother’ (1 John 3:12). His life is contrasted with ‘righteous Abel’ (Matt 23:35). Nevertheless, we do not know what ultimately happened to him.
It only takes seven generations from Adam for sin to come to full fruition. Mankind boasts about their power to defend themselves. Mankind doesn’t need God. They don’t need His law. Mankind now decides what is good and bad. Mankind is god. Only seven generations and the world is changed from one where God is worshipped and adored to a world where humans think they can live without God. Sin is more powerful than we imagined as it destroys a godly legacy. Man, a lot of bad news this morning, but let me close with this:
III. God’s grace is greater than all our sin (Gen. 4:15, 25-26)
In the midst of all this sin, God’s grace still shines. We saw it in how God comes to Cain without being called in Gen 4:6. God just shows up. I’m glad we have a God who is willing to come to Cain-like hearts! He comes to Cain way before Cain down spiraled. He came not as a cosmic policeman, but as a wonderful counselor. God initiated. God came. God loved Cain. God doesn’t say, “How dare you be angry at me?” God is full of grace.
Even after the murder, God doesn’t kill Cain. He again asks questions to get Cain to own responsibility for what he has done (Gen. 4:9-10). Even when Cain complains about the consequences more than his sin, God answers Him graciously in Gen. 4:15. In fact, God even protects Cain! What is this mark? Swindoll posits some possibilities he heard and read:
•The Lord placed a bright light around Cain so he would appear frightening to others and they’d stay away from him.
• God put leprosy on Cain’s forehead so that no one would touch him for fear of disease.
• God gave Cain a dog.
• The Lord changed Cain’s personality so others would be intimidated in his presence.
• The Lord gave Cain a brightly colored coat.
• Cain grew horns on his head, which made him look like a kind of animal, so people would stay away from him.
We have no idea. Perhaps it was some sort of preventative tattoo. Moses does not really care about those details. The point is God extends His grace to Cain and Cains like us! It did make me wonder if some days Cain looked in the mirror or saw his reflection in a lake perhaps and saw that mark, if he thought about the days with God, his parents and his brother? Perhaps God put that mark there as an invitation to come home? Do you see what is happening here? God is more dedicated to Cain than Cain is to God. And guess what? That is our testimony too right? We are here today not because we are like Abel, but that despite our Cain-like hearts, God is committed to us more than we are to Him, because of His gospel.
Look how this story ends in Gen. 4:25-26. Until Gen. 4:25, we are saddened by sin. The seed of the serpent is taking over the world and seems to be winning. This is not chronological here. Moses is not just writing history, he’s making a theological point. Adam and Eve have another son. Seth means, “granted.” Eve seems a little bit more humble here perhaps? She seems to be mourning, but with hope. One author says, “She can as little forget the murdered as the murderer, for both were her children and in one sentence she mentions the name of all three sons.” Cain means, “gotten.” Eve now “…attributes the birth of the child to the mercy of God, who has provided her a third son. It would seem that the first round is won by the serpent in the murder of righteous Abel, but the gift of Seth insures that the promise will stay alive through Eve.” Notice Eve again making a statement about this birth. Interestingly, she does not say Seth is a replacement for Cain, but of Abel! The word “offspring” here is the same word as “seed,” an illusion to Gen. 3:15. She realized that Abel was the seed, not Cain. But God is faithful. He has the last say. And notice what happens with Seth’s son: “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” See the phrase “call upon”? Ross notes that this is not simply private prayer. Instead, “The idea of this line is that people began to make proclamation about the nature of the Lord (“began to make proclamation of the Lord by name”).” The point? In the battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, God is faithful in continuing the line of the seed of the woman!
All was not lost. As Ken Matthews puts it, while “Cain’s firstborn and successors pioneer cities and the civilized arts, but Seth’s firstborn and successors pioneer worship.” What do you want to pioneer with your life? The seed of the serpent will not give up yet. Later in Gen. 6, Satan will try again, marrying believers with unbelievers, then Pharaoh will try to kill Moses, Jezebel killed prophets in Elijah’s time, Haman tried to kill the Jews in Esther’s day and Herod tried to kill Jesus when he was born. But even when the serpent thought he wins as Jesus is on the cross, Christ defeats him and crushes his head as He rises from the dead! This is not to mention all the martyrs for Christ since!
That’s the message of Genesis 4. Our sin has become too powerful for us. It has mastered us. It has stolen our identity, destroyed our relationships and we have put ourselves in God’s place. We have not believed God. We have decided for ourselves what is good for us and chosen to rebel against God. We have the heart of Lamech who boasts that he does not need God. We have betrayed him, like Judas with our token kisses. We have chosen to go to the side of the serpent. We like Cain have taken the hammer and nailed our one and true Abel. But our hope is that despite what we have done, grace has conquered us! Jesus Christ mastered sin, which mastered us! Our sin crouched and pounced on Him, but in the end, HE DEVOURED IT!
There is grace available that is greater than all our sin! This grace restores our identity. This grace transforms us betrayers into friends and children. This grace turns unbelief into faith like Abels (Heb. 11:4). This grace repairs our broken relationships. This grace brings the wanderers home. This grace calls prodigals come from the land of wandering. This grace comes to Cainite hearts and offers forgiveness and a new beginning. This grace casts out fear. This grace enables us to love our brothers and not trample on God’s image in them with jealousy. This love helps us celebrate and affirm gifts that others have without resentment. This grace covers our sin more than Cain’s mark. This grace loves us forever. And while we, like Adam, Eve and Cain took the place that God deserves, God through His Son Jesus Christ, took the place that we deserved! As John Stott once said, ““The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” And saved us from the one thing that can’t save ourselves from: OURSELVES! And His blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24). Abel cried out for justice, but Christ’s blood cries out forgiveness.
The battle rages on in our hearts and sometimes we may feel like we are never winning. But be encouraged believers. The one true and ultimate seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, will destroy the devil, the world and the flesh finally. And isn’t it amazing? The idea of a city, attributed to Cain, and seen in Gen. 4 as a picture of an anti-God kind of life, will be finally redeemed by the Lord! In Rev. 21 guess where we are going! To a city whose builder and maker is God! (Heb. 11:10)!
Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis. Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (230). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Von Rad, Gerhard, as quoted in Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and blessing. Preaching the Word (106). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Waltke, B. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (98). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Tripp, P.D. Taken from “Paul Tripp Grace Statements,” http://johnbryson.org/post/1581605238/paul-tripp-grace-statements accessed 1 October 2011.
Atkinson, D (1990). The Message of Genesis (109). The Bible Speaks Today series. IVP: Downers Grove, IL.
Greidanus, S. (2007). Preaching Christ from Genesis (95). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Brueggemann, W. (1982). Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching (60). Atlanta, GA: John Knox.
Mathews, K. A. (2001). Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11:26 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (275). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Swindoll, C. R. (2005). Fascinating stories of forgotten lives. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Hamilton, V. P. (231).
Mathews, K. A. (275).
Greidanus, S. (96).
Atkinson, D. (110).
Krell, K. “Raising Cain,” http://bible.org/seriespage/raising-cain-genesis-41-26#P45_19305 accessed 30 September 2011.
Hamilton, V. P. (232).
Hughes, R. K. (106).
Hamilton, V. P. (232).
Atkinson, D. (111).
Mathews, K. A. (276).
Hamilton, V. P. (233).
Hughes, K. (106).
As quoted in Hughes, R. K. (109).
Krell, K. Ibid.
Waltke, B. (100).
Ross, A. P. (1998). Creation and Blessing: A guide to the study and exposition of Genesis (164). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1998). Be Basic. An Old Testament study. (80). Colorado Springs, Colo.: Chariot Victor Pub.
Kidner, D. (1967). Vol. 1: Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (83). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Hamilton, V. P. (241).
Hamilton, V. P. (240).
Waltke, B. (100).
Hamilton, V. P. (241).
Greidanus, S. (98).
Krell, K. Ibid.
Swindoll, C. R. (2005).
As quoted in Wenham, G. J. (2002). Vol. 1: Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary (115). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Mathews, K. A. (290).
Ross, A. P. (169).
Greidanus, S. (99).
Mathews, K. A. (292).
Stott, J. (160). The Cross of Christ (1986). Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.