The Consequences of Cain’s Killing

Genesis 4:17-26
William Bennett published an alarming book called The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators. He writes this: “In the past thirty years violent crime has increased 560 percent; illegitimate births 400 percent. There has been a tripling of the percentage of children living in a single-parent home. Teenage suicide increased more than 200 percent. Also there has been a drop in SAT scores of almost 80 percent.” Does culture alarm us as to where it is going? Does the quality of TV programs alarm us? Many people are under the impression that higher culture will prevent violence and other problems of society. Our passage in Genesis tells us that that is not the case.
There are two questions that this passage answers: does the mark put on Cain work? And, which line will be the line of the promised seed? The first question takes us through verse 24. The second question is answered in the last two verses.

The first question is “Does the mark which God put on Cain work? God had put a mark on Cain that was put there to make sure that no one would take vengeance on Cain for Cain’s murder of Abel. This was for his protection. The text tells us that after Cain had his first son, he built a city and named it after his son. So, instead of trusting in the protection that God had provided, Cain decided to put his trust in man. We saw after 9/11 how well that idea works. In whom does Cain put his trust? In man! Cities were built in those times for purposes of protection. But, given the fact of that mark on Cain, there would have been no need for that kind of protection. Cain displays his lack of faith here.

Then we see the following generations. We see that Cain does have progeny, even though he killed Abel. An unbelieving family is still a family. Lamech is the seventh generation from Adam. Seven has a symbolic value all over the Bible. We see it most prominently in the idea of Sabbath, the seventh day. The expectation would then be that the seventh generation from Adam would be perfect. Well, in verse 19, we start to see that Lamech is not the perfect generation of Adam, unless we think of him as being perfect in sin and depravity. First, Lamech distorts God’s picture for marriage. The Bible condemns polygamy, the practice of having more than one wife. Even in Genesis, all the polygamous relationships mentioned have lots of trouble attached to them. Think of Abraham with Sarah and Hagar, think of Jacob with Rachel and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah, and think of Esau and his several wives. On the other hand, think of Isaac and Rebekah, who do not have the same kind of marital difficulties that arise from polygamy. They have their own problems. But their problems are not due to polygamy. The Chinese have a great way of saying this. The symbol of peace and contentment in their language is a house with a wife inside. Their symbol for strife and discontentment is a house with two wives in it. So Lamech has departed from the example of creation. Notice also the meaning of the names of these people. “Adah” means “pretty,” and Zillah” means “sweet-voiced.” Lamech was concerned with the outward appearance, just like his ancestor Cain with his offering.

Lamech has four children. The names are all related to the name Cain in some way: Jabal the herdsman takes care of livestock. The word for livestock here sounds like the name “Cain.” The profession of Jubal was music, and the name for the lament is the “qinah,” which also sounds like the name Cain. And, of course, Tubal-Cain is named after Cain. Notice what Lamech thinks of his children, however. All three of these names “Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal” are all coming from one root, meaning “joy.” Moses is telling us there that Lamech thought to reverse the curse by means of these cultural advancements. He thought that he could re-enter the garden by these means.

The first means was live-stock. We might wonder why it is that Jabal is called the father of those who take care of livestock. What about Abel? Didn’t Abel take care of livestock? Well, of course, Abel had no children, first of all. Second of all, the word “livestock” here means every kind of animal that you take care of in that way, whereas Abel only took care of one or two kinds of livestock. As a cultural thing, then, Jabal was the first cowboy. He also invented a great way of taking care of himself while he was taking care of livestock. Why not have a moveable house? You can move with the livestock, instead of being tied down to any one location. So, he invented the tent. He was real man’s man! Not only was he a cowboy, but he also enjoyed “roughing it!” His brother Jubal was a bit more refined in his tastes. Jubal invented the lyre and the “pipe,” or “flute.” The lyre is like a harp, only much smaller. The “pipe” is a flute. Often, the flute had two connected pipes, such that the performer could play two notes at the same time. The third son was Tubal-Cain. He was a blacksmith. Most likely, he also made weapons of iron and bronze. Finally, the sister was named “Naamah,” which means “beautiful.”

What follows is often called the “Song of the Sword.” Quite possible Lamech is singing this to his two wives while brandishing a sword that his son has just made. Lamech thinks that he is the chosen seed. He says that violence is the way to get what you want, and that no one can stop him. The language of “wounding” and “striking” ought to remind us of the promise made to Eve in 3:15: Lamech think of himself as the promised seed. The problem is that he thinks of himself as the deliverer, not of God as the deliverer.

Furthermore, he boasts in his violence. At least Cain was ashamed enough of what he did to try to hide it. Lamech boasts openly of having taken God’s place as the executor of justice: instead of God taking vengeance, Lamech takes vengeance. And he takes too much vengeance. This is what happens often in human affairs: someone slights us, or steals a paltry something from us, and we lash out. We think that justice will be served only if we make them hurt worse than they have hurt us. The saying “an eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth” in the OT is meant to limit the justice taken. It is saying that that is the maximum penalty that we can take out on someone else, and even then, it must be through the proper channels. The classic story in this regard is the novel by Alexander Dumas, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” The Count is a man who was imprisoned for fourteen years for a crime that he did not commit. While he was in prison, he learns from a more educated man than himself that the men who conspired against him was not acting out of honorable motives. The count then burns with anger and revenge. When he finally escapes the dungeon, he comes into a fortune of gold and gems. With this money he sets out to take revenge on the people who have hurt him. But near the end of the story, when he exacts his revenge, he finds out that he has gone too far. He has to beg for God’s forgiveness. There is redemption in the end. But I’ll let you read the story to see how it happens. The point is that we like to take God’s place as the administrator of justice. When we do that, we feel like we are gods. We then take too much revenge. That is exactly what Lamech does. He boasts that the revenge of Cain is nothing to his own revenge, which he himself will exact of his enemies.

The question is, “Was Lamech what he said he was?” To answer that question, I will only quote two stories. The first is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called Ozymandias: I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert…near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away. The second story is a cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin is standing at night under the stars looking at them. Then he says, “I am significant!” Two panels later after watching the stars, he says, “Screamed the dust speck.” Lamech simply disappears from the story. Moses cleverly gives us his verdict on Lamech with the genealogy of Adam in chapter 5. The line of Seth is the promised seed, not the line of Cain. Verse 26 says it all: while Lamech was busy killing people, and while his sons were busy with “high culture,” the sons of Seth began to call on the name of the Lord. This means worship. Cain’s sons were pioneers in making tents, in being cattle-men, in being musicians, and in the smithy, but Seth’s sons were pioneers in the worship of God. Note that Seth’s son is named “Enosh.” Enosh is another name for “mankind.” Enosh is another Adam. It is through Seth’s line that mankind will find its promise, not through Cain’s line. Eve is quite clear about this, when she names her son “Seth,” which means “appointed.” Eve uses the word “seed,” just like in 3:15. She says that God has appointed her another seed in place of the son Cain killed.

How do we see Christ here? Christ is the promised seed, who was “appointed” by God to be the bearer of the world’s sin. The way of Christ is not the way of Cain, which results in seventy-seven-fold revenge. The way of Christ is seventy-seven-fold forgiveness. Peter asks Christ in Matthew 18, “How many times should I forgive my brother?” Christ says, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Plainly, it does not matter how many times our brother has offended us, we should be willing to forgive yet again. Why? Because Christ has forgiven us all our sins if we believe in Jesus Christ as the promised seed. Truly, instead of killing those who wounded him, Christ was killed by those who wounded Him. That is the opposite of the way of Cain as it culminates in Lamech. The way of Cain backfires on itself, though. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” The way of Christ is forgiveness.

Paragraph for Hope Church: Maybe some of us did not like the previous pastor, and maybe some of us did like the previous pastor. Maybe some of us did not like the way his dismissal was handled. Maybe those who did not like Stewart need to forgive him for some things. Maybe those who did not like the way Stewart was dismissed need to forgive the other part of the church. Our church needs to become whole again. To withhold forgiveness is to go the way of Cain and Lamech. To forgive is to go the way of Christ. But what does forgiveness in this context mean? Maybe it means inviting people over to your house with whom you had the strongest disagreements. It means re-instituting table fellowship. It means sitting alongside those with whom we disagreed. Maybe we didn’t listen to the other side very well. Just recently, at a dinner, I noticed that people who liked Stewart sat on one side of the table, and those who did not like Stewart sat on the other side of the table. I sat in-between. Is this forgiveness? I don’t think so. Forgiveness means going to the person you disagreed with the most and reconciling. It does not mean that you forgive the marginal people who went along with the flow. Forgiveness means forgiving the one who hurt you the most. It means letting go of the grudge that you hold against that person. It means not becoming bitter against people “of the other side.” It means loving one another, instead of killing that person in your heart. Will we wound seventy-seven times, or will we forgive seventy-seven times?

Next, we need to see that culture is ambiguous. Culture is not automatically evil. We should know this without being told. Obviously, it is not wrong to live in tents, have livestock, play the lyre (at least here I fervently hope not!) or the flute, or to weld metal. None of these things are wrong. They are part of the cultural mandate to subdue the earth, and to rule over the animals, and to work he ground. However, we should not be blinded by culture, either. Just because we have culture does not mean that we are civilized. Just because we have Bach and Beethoven does not mean that we love other each other. Culture is not salvation. Culture is not the reverse of the curse. Culture is something that God gives to all. Non-believers have it as well as believers. As such, it is subject to the Fall. Culture is something that needs to be redeemed by Christ, and by Christians. All of these things that Cain’s sons invented need to be done by Christians for God’s glory. It is quite evident that Cain’s sons did not do these things for God’s glory, but rather for their own glory. Always, our ultimate goal in life in all that we do and say and think is to glorify God. That is why we were created. We were created to call on the name of the Lord.

This brings us to another important point. The most important thing that we do in life is to worship God. Nothing compares with it. Indeed, not only is our worship the most important thing we do in life, but also everything we do is to be done in a worshipful manner. This has serious implications for our worship. Is worship something we just do because it is what we do on a Sunday morning? Do we think of worship as being our highest calling? As the best thing we can do in life? If we thought of worship in that way, then would we stay home Sunday night and watch TV, or would we want to go to where God’s people are worshipping? Maybe we think that worship on Sunday night is not convenient. Maybe we think we are too tired. You know, naps are really good on a Sunday afternoon. But is worship supposed to be convenient? Is that the highest goal of worship, to be convenient for us? By that argument, we should definitely not come on Sunday morning, because that is not convenient either. No, the point of worship is that there we meet God. I dare say it was not convenient or comfortable for the priests to offer all those sacrifices on the altar. It was not convenient or comfortable for God’s people to meet while being persecuted for their faith. They put their lives on the line in order to worship God, and we will not turn off our TV to go to worship. I wonder if we have not made an idol out of comfort and convenience. Let us rather worship God. Let us call on the name of the Lord. Let us not follow the way of Cain, or the way of Lamech. Let us follow the line of Seth, as it goes down through the ages, and culminates in Jesus Christ. Then culture will go up-hill. Murder and violence will go down, teen pregnancy will go down, single-parent homes will diminish in number, teen suicide will diminish, and SAT scores will go up, to God alone be the glory.


  1. January 17, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Google is the best search engine

  2. markhorne said,

    January 17, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Google needs to spam blogs? I don’t get it.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    January 18, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Sick, isn’t it? And my Akismet won’t pick these spam up because there are no links in it. Oh well.

  4. October 28, 2020 at 11:46 am

    […] compass. Some would even say that we’re all Cainites now. Is there any way of escape? Yes! Face the brutal facts. Don’t be like Cain. Be like Abel, Seth, and their descendants, who called on the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26). Just as […]

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