Tag Archives: Cain

Beneath the Text

Beneath the Text (CaD Gen 5) Wayfarer

Enoch walked faithfully with God.
Genesis 5:24

I’ve always been interested in family history. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal, but there’s a point at which the scant evidence of names and dates leave a lot to be desired from a story perspective. My “van der Wel” surname seems to spring from one particular neighborhood in Rotterdam, while the Bloem genes trace back to Gronigen. I have McCoy genes that likely lead back to the McKay clan in Scotland. My Hamblen genes trace back to Virginia during the American Revolution, and then back to England where there’s a knight entombed in effigy in eastern England. Informational clues that leave a lot to the mystery of history.

In the same way, the first 11 chapters of the Great Story are considered “primeval” history. They provide a broad brush sketch of creation and God’s relationship with all of humanity with scant information and a lot of mystery, but there’s plenty of good stuff to mine in the mystery.

For example, numbers and patterns play a role in the telling. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet do double-duty as numbers, and the authors of ancient Hebrew often hide numerical patterns in the writing. The number 10 is associated with harmony and completeness, especially related to humanity. The book of Genesis is divided into ten sections. Ten times in Genesis the phrase “God said…” is used. The genealogies in today’s chapter and again in chapter 11 both list ten generations. God will later deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through ten plagues, and subsequently provide humanity with ten commandments.

Yesterday’s chapter told of the sin and curse of Cain and then traced his family line to the 7th generation after Adam. Seven is also a number associated with “completeness” but it is more associated with the divine, as in the seven days of Creation. The seven generations of Cain’s line hint at the completeness of God’s divine judgement on the family which remained rebellious toward God in the 7th generation. The 10 generations listed in today’s chapter hint at the complete human family line of Adam that will perpetuate humanity to, and after, the flood.

Then there are the patterns that emerge in the telling. The seventh generation in the line of Cain was Lamech who continued his ancestor’s murderous and rebellious ways. The seventh generation on Seth’s line is Enoch who “walked faithfully with God.” There’s also the fact that Cain, the first born son, was cursed and it was through a younger son, Seth, that humanity was blessed and perpetuated. In human terms, the blessing, power, and position always go to the first-born son, but God’s blessing through the younger son is a pattern repeated through Genesis as well as the Great Story:

Seth over Cain.
Shem over Japheth
Isaac over Ishmael
Jacob over Esau
Judah and Joseph over their brothers
Ephraim over Manasseh
David over his brothers
Solomon over his brothers

The pattern of going against human tradition is a continuous reminder of what God would later say plainly through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor. Today’s chapter is more than a genealogy. It is layered with numbers and patterns that metaphorically speak to the moral contrast between Cain’s family line and Seth’s family, the contrast of divine judgement and blessing, and the contrast of death and life.

On Sunday, I’m giving a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers from Ecclesiastes 3, the passage made familiar to millions by the Byrds: “To everything there is a time and season.” One of the things I plan to discuss is that my own life contains patterns that lead to deeper understanding of self, of family, of life, if I’m willing to search under the surface of simple dates and memories.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

In the Land of Nod

In the Land of Nod (CaD Gen 4) Wayfarer

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Genesis 4:16 (NIV)

From the beginning, I called this blog/podcast “Wayfarer.” Over the 16 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve discovered that the word is unfamiliar to many people. It means “one who is on a journey.” Not only do I perpetually use the metaphor in referencing my life journey and spiritual journey in this life, but the blog has become a chronicle of that journey and of my chapter-a-day thoughts which all come out of a unique time and place on that journey.

I walk with purpose. I have a fixed destination like the Wayfaring Stranger in the famous old folk tune. And yet, along the way I have observed many who appear to be walking their respective earthly journey without purpose, or with a purpose that stands in stark contrast to mine.

Today’s chapter is the ancient story of the very first restless wanderer and the story of his family to the seventh generation from Adam (seven is not a coincidence, btw. It’s the number of “completion” and is paralleled by the listing of the seven generations of Seth in the next chapter). Cain was the first son born to Adam. The “first born son” was a position of power and prominence in human systems throughout history. From the start, however, there is a self-centered and rebellious nature in Cain that carries down through his descendants.

Cain and his younger brother Abel bring offerings to God. Cain brought “some” of his produce while Abel brought “the first-fruits.” The difference is that Cain chose to give God what he wanted (it might not have been the first or best of his crops) while Abel’s offering was the first and best, which was a way of Abel saying to God “It’s not mine. It’s all yours, and only by your blessing am I blessed with it.” Cain’s offering did not find favor, so the seed of his self-centric pride sprouts into envy and anger toward his little brother, which leads to murder, then to Cain’s famous denial “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Interestingly enough, God’s judgement for this fratricide was not “eye-for-an-eye” capital punishment. Instead, God condemns Cain to a life of restless wandering in the “land of Nod.” Nod means “wandering” in Hebrew. Cain and his descendants keep pushing against God’s design and judgement:

  • Cain spends his human effort to contradict the sentence of “wandering” by building a permanent home (vs. 17).
  • Lamech was the first polygamist (vs. 19), rejecting God’s design of monogamy in the Garden (2:20-24), and perhaps overcome God’s curse by having more children at a faster rate.
  • Lamech then follows Cain’s example by killing a man for “wounding” him and glories in his vengeance (vss. 23-24).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of the restless wanderers I’ve observed along my own life journey. Those who appear aimless in life. Those who appear mired in destructive generational patterns. Those who appear motivated to think, speak, and act in perpetual, oppositional defiance. The spiritual descendants of Cain.

As I mull these things over, I don’t feel condemnation or judgement. I feel empathy, even sadness. The story of Cain and his descendants is a sad one, and they represent those whom Jesus came to redeem. Were it not for my decision to become a Jesus follower, I can only imagine where my restless wandering would have led. I’m quite sure it would not have been to good places. I’ve struggled enough following in Jesus’ footsteps and still finding myself prone to wander off course.

I’m reminded of a lyric from one of my favorites from Bob Dylan: “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.” (from the song Every Grain of Sand on the Shot of Love album).

And so I wander into another day on the journey grateful to have purpose, a fixed destination, and a savior who is the Great Shepherd of lost sheep. A Shepherd who will leave the flock to find one lost lamb, even in the land of Nod.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Love and Life; Hatred and Murder

 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother…

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
1 John 3:11-12a, 15 (NIV)

Once again yesterday we citizens of the U.S. were shaking our heads in disbelief at the unfathomable event that took place in Las Vegas late on Sunday evening. While this event was unprecedented in its scope, there is a repetition that I feel when these tragic events unfold.

The endless press coverage. The same video clips played in a ceaseless loop. The scramble to learn everything possible about the perpetrator and the victim. The press conferences with law enforcement. The statements from world leaders. The eyewitness interviews on the street. The outcry from every side of the political spectrum. The talking heads giving psychological profiles and “expert” opinion.

We’ve been down this road before. Here we are again going through the same motions.

This morning’s chapter provided some synchronicity for me. John makes a direct connection between love/hate and life/death. It caught me off guard when John reminds me of Jesus’ command to love others, then immediately switches to the word picture of Cain (If you don’t know the story, see Genesis 4) who murdered his brother.

Whoa. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. How do we get from “love” to “Cain?”

John answers this at the end of the paragraph:

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

So, here’s what I’ve been meditating on in the quiet of my walk around the hotel parking lot this morning:

Jesus said He came to give Life. Life is the goal. Increasing Life, abundant Life, eternal Life, fullness of Life.

The conduit, the flow, to Life is love.  Love God. Love others.

When we refuse to love, we shut off the conduit. We shut love down like a valve. The flow stops. Things back up. Stop the flow of water in the eco system and everything dies. Stop the flow of blood and the body dies. Without the flow of love there is a very real spiritual and universal death that  naturally occurs.

When we choose into hate, we are consciously, willfully choosing to stop the flow of love that allows for Life.

Hatred is cosmic murder.

One can say that it’s not the same thing as the physical carnage on the Las Vegas strip, but that’s the very point that John was making in his connection between hatred and Cain. In an eternal perspective it is very much the same. There is direct correlation between hatred and murder.

And, that leaves me with some very serious personal questions to mull over today.

 

Cain, Crazy Makers and Loopholes in the Fine Print

source: stephanebetin via Flickr
source: stephanebetin via Flickr

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain;
Jude 1:11a (NIV)

Along my life’s journey I have encountered many people who seem to always be looking for the loophole in the fine print. When I was a kid, I watched other kids who could twist and obfuscate their parents’ words until they had self-justified their blatant disobedience. In school, there were always a few who found some hairline crack in the system that allowed them to cheat and get away with it. As an adult, I’ve observed “good” people who seem to look for any means by which to cheat others, and the system, while justifying their actions.

In the early years, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the small groups of those who chose to follow Jesus met in homes. They would gather together, pray, worship, and share a meal which they called a “love feast,” which culminated in the word picture of communion. Everyone was invited and sat at the table together: men, women, rich, poor, slave, slave owner, Jew, Gentile, Roman, or zealot. In the social construct of the day it was an incredibly radical experience.

Those early believers quickly discovered that when you open up the table to anyone, you’re eventually going to attract crazy makers and those who look for the loophole in the fine print. These crazy makers would get drunk on the communion wine or perhaps stop by on their way to the love feast and sleep with a pagan temple prostitute. “If Jesus grace covers all of our sin,” the loophole finders argued, “then the more we sin, the more grace we receive and who doesn’t want more of Jesus’ grace?” They bragged of what they perceived to be their license to sin in the fine print of Jesus’ teaching. It became a problem.

How fascinating that Jude described these crazy makers as following “the way of Cain.” Cain was the son of Adam and Eve who “left the presence of the Lord” and killed his brother Abel. Jude’s point is that these crazy makers have always existed in this fallen world, and they still exist today. I have observed them in every strata of society and in every culture I’ve encountered. Jesus’ repeated call was to self-denial, humility, generosity, purity, and service above self. By contrast, I find crazy makers following the path of selfishness, arrogance, greed, cheating, and self above all.

Along the way I’ve had very little interpersonal success dealing with crazy makers and loophole finders. They are difficult people to be in relationship with as they suck everyone and everything into their self-centric black-hole. I honestly try to simply avoid dealing with them. If I find myself in a position of organizational authority, I try to protect the organization from them and their chaos. That was the whole intent of Jude’s letter.

The Establishing Shot of the Human Story

The First Mourning
The First Mourning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 4

One day Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; 
listen to me, you wives of Lamech.
I have killed a man who attacked me, 
a young man who wounded me.

If someone who kills Cain is punished seven times, then the one who kills me will be punished seventy-seven times!”
Genesis 4:23-24 (NLT)

Wendy and I love movies, books, plays and good television shows. We don’t just numb out when we watch a movie. We’re generally stimulated by it. Silly at it seems, Green Lantern prompted two days worth of conversation about the nature of love and human will (I know, we’re dweebs). We think about what we’re watching and why the writer chose to present things a certain way, why the Director made the choice to picture it like that, and what the actor brought to the performance. We talk about it. Some people roll their eyes and say to us, “Seriously, can’t you just sit back and enjoy it?” But, we are enjoying it when we explore all of the layers of it. Others have said to us, “I love watching movies with you because you see so much more than I do.

Let me add God’s Message to the list of things that we enjoy digging into. I will admit that my modus operandi for these chapter-a-day posts is usually just to read the chapter in my half-awake state and see what pops in a top of mind kind of way. Many times, however, you have to peel back the layers of what’s been written to appreciate the fullness of the message.

One of the things you learn about movie making is that the very first shot the Director shows you (an “establishing shot”) is often of critical importance. It clues you in to the whole story you’re about to see. So, consider that we’re reading Genesis. This is the beginning of the whole cosmic story. Think of today’s chapter as an “establishing shot.” It’s just the beginning of the movie, but the picture presented in today’s chapter is a foreshadowing of the entire theme of human history.

In today’s chapter, we’re presented with the beginnings of human history after Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden for their disobedience. The chapter presents seven generations (from Adam to Lamech) and is “bookended” with two stories across six generations: Cain (2nd generation) and Lamech (7th generation):

  • Cain murders his brother and is made a “restless wanderer.” God pronounces judgement and Cain is marked by God that any who seek to avenge Abel by punishing Cain him will face God’s judgement seven-fold.
  • Lamech takes personal vengeance out on someone who attacked him, points to God’s divine judgement on any who touch Cain,  and justifies his own act of murder by claiming that he personally deserves Cain’s divine protection [on steroids].

So, let’s dig in:

Throughout God’s Message, the number seven represents “completion” (e.g. the seven days of creation). So in presenting seven generations we are being given a “complete” picture of something. The number “six” is the number of man (e.g. the number of the anti-Christ in Revelation is 666, the three sixes representing the replacement of the divine trinity with the human – man asserting himself as God) so the six post-Eden generations from Cain to Lamech represent a progression (or actually a regression) of humanity. Cain committed murder and God pronounced judgement of the wrongness of it and exacted punishment. By the sixth generation Lamech was committing murder, justifying his actions, declaring that he was 77 times more important than Cain and replacing God’s justice with his own.

What we see in today’s chapter is the on-going conflict of the Great Story in one snapshot. God creates human beings that they would glorify Him and be in relationship with Him. Instead, they disobey which sets into motion a cyclical, generational and spiritual regression. We dishonor the Creator, reject the divine, and proudly set ourselves up as god of our own lives and existence.

Today, I’m thinking about this spiritual regression pictured across the generations from Cain to Lamech. I’m questioning the prevailing world-view that human beings are inherently good and continually progressing towards some pinnacle of goodness. I’m thinking about my own life and the journey this wayfaring stranger is on. What about my story? Does the story of my life reflect spiritual regression or progression? Does my story resemble The Godfather? The Mission? Pilgrim’s Progress?

So much to ponder. I hope you have a great day.