In Part 1 we examined the setting of the crime scene. In the Part 2 we looked at the offering of Cain and Abel at the gate of Eden, digging specifically into the probable reason that Cain’s offering was rejected by God. Now we approach the crime of Cain itself. Most of the details of the crime are well known and uncontroversial, so I won’t dwell on them too much. But there are certain details in the event and in the aftermath that we can tease out.
At the rejection of his offering, Cain’s face is transformed by the heat of his anger. Yahweh’s response to Cain is immediate—the text gives no indication that any time passed at this point. But the response of Yahweh is not itself one of anger, but of a gracious father chiding a child: “Why are you angry, and why is your face distorted? If you do well, will you not be accepted?”
If you do well suggests to us a cheerful spirit. If Cain, rather than stubbornly forcing the issue of his birthright, cheerfully and pleasantly submits to the proper order of things to offer fruit of the land after Abel’s offering of the blood of the lamb, then all will be well, and Yahweh stands ready to accept. This is a clear indication to us that there is nothing innate in Cain that might cause God to reject him—no biological serpent DNA that some have imagined. If Cain does well he will again be received as equal with his brother before the Lord.
If Cain does not do well (i.e. change his demeanor and actions), then sin lies at the gate, ready to strike. There is a possible allusion to the serpent here, which crouches or lies low. The sin that Yahweh speaks of has desire, specifically for Cain, and Cain must master it like a beast.
Murder Most Foul
But the humiliation (probably public, as we saw) proves too great for Cain, and he determines in his heart another solution.
The scene now changes. Cain draws Abel away from the gate of Eden and the presence of Yahweh into the “field.” Here, Cain speaks to Abel. The words are not recorded for us, but the terse, clipped, wording of the narrative here has caused some like the translators of the LXX to add clarifying phrases, but I think the way we have it in Hebrew is pretty vivid:
Cain said to Abel his brother when they were in the field—and Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
The parallel takes us from saying to rising up in order to kill, and it does so in abrupt fashion. As if the killing is a trap sprung on Abel unawares.
Blood Cries Out
This time when Yahweh finds Cain, it is not at Eden’s gate. Perhaps God’s presence outside of the sanctuary is a surprise to Cain. In any case, just as God questioned Adam and the woman after they ate of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, God also questions Cain: “Where is your brother?”
The response of Cain is a classic evasion: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The word for “keeper” is the same used to speak of Adam’s duty to guard the Eden sanctuary before he was expelled and the post was given to the cherubim. Of course, the answer is yes, Cain, as an Adamic priest, is supposed to be a guardian of the earth, and all mankind is made of earth.
Yahweh knows. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” This is the first principle of blood, that it speaks from the ground. It may speak a good word, or it may condemn. The blood of innocent scapegoats spilled on the ground condemns violent societies and all who participate in the murder of the innocent. The blood of innocents cries out for vengeance from beneath the altar of the Temple (Revelation 6:9-10), and Jesus tells his listeners that all the blood of the innocent prophets from Abel to Zechariah will fall on their generation (Luke 11:48-51).
But Hebrews 12:24 says that Jesus’ blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Instead of a word of condemnation, it speaks justification to those who believe in him.
For Cain, the penalty Yahweh declares is fitting. The ground that was cursed toward Adam will now spew out Cain in disgust. In contrast to Adam who is not said to be cursed directly, Cain is “cursed from the ground,” and the dirt will no longer yield its fruit for him. The blood of Abel spilled on it causes it to recoil from his labors, because the earth stands as witness against Cain for his crime of spilling his brother’s blood.
Cain then complains about his penalty, saying that it is too hard for him. But specifically he is concerned that “anyone” who finds him will kill him. He recognizes that now that he has shed human blood, his actions will begin a cycle of violence birthing violence. It is for this reason that God places a mark on Cain, to stem the cycle of violence.
This also gives us a clue about the demographic that we’ve already covered. Cain is afraid of those who might avenge Abel. It is likely he fears retribution of his father Adam, but the word “anyone” suggests that there are others beside his father who are able to pursue him. The Adamic clan has already grown up into a community.
Cain goes east with the Adamic clan. We saw that when Adam was expelled from the garden of Eden, he was driven from the garden sanctuary to the east into the land, and cherubim were stationed at Eden’s east gate to guard the entrance. Now, Cain will be driven yet further eastward, out of the land of Eden into Nod, the place of wandering.
Cain begets a son, Enoch, which may mean “dedicated,” but can also mean “initiation.” The two meanings are likely linked conceptually, as beginnings are ritually dedicated or consecrated. The city of Enoch is the first city, founded on a brother’s blood, and named after the seed of the murderer. It is interesting to note that there is also an Enoch in the line of Seth, seven generations from Adam (corresponding to Lamech, seventh from Adam in Cain’s line). If the name Enoch is connected to the beginning and dedication of a city, we may speculate that the line of Seth did not achieve their first city until four generations after Cain’s.
Another possibility is that Enoch is the founder of the city and names it after his son Irad, corresponding to Eridu, the ancient ante-diluvian city of the Sumerian king list. This would require us to take the last “Enoch” of Genesis 4:17 as a scribal error, as Wenham and some others seem inclined to do. I am undecided on this historical point at the moment, but I don’t think it significantly changes the thrust of the section.
Cain’s line reads as a veritable who’s who of ancient invention. Jabal develops tents and animal husbandry, Jubal invents the stringed and winded instruments, Tubal-cain develops iron and bronze work. It is striking that Cain’s line produces all of this culture. James Jordan calls this the “Enoch Factor.” The wicked get the good stuff first because they do not wait on God’s timing, but grasp for it. The righteous wait for God to build a city (Hebrews 11:8-16).
Calling on the Name
While the seed of the serpent who was at the gate and finally devoured Cain propagates through his line, the seed of the woman finds new hope in the birth of Seth. Eve calls him “appointed,” indicating that the seed line now goes through him. The fact that there are no others present to take up the line after Cain leaves the land suggests to us that any men of the Adamic clan who were in Eden followed Cain into Nod to his city.
Seth’s role as Abel’s replacement is demonstrated through his son Enosh, in whose day “it was begun to call upon the name of Yahweh.” What was begun? Most translations smooth this verse out by rendering it as “people began to call upon the name of Yahweh.” But the text is at once more puzzling and more direct. It was begun—to call on the name of Yahweh.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, to “call on the name” is a phrase that generally indicates worship associated with a place. The next time this phrase is used is of Abram in Genesis 13:3 at the place he had built an altar in Genesis 12:7-8. Hagar calls on the name of Yahweh at the place he spoke to her (Genesis 16:13-14). Again, Abraham calls on the name of Yahweh at the place he planted a tamarisk tree. And finally Yahweh promises to “set his name” in a place (Deuteronomy 14:24), which becomes the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 6:20).
Calling on the name of Yahweh is a liturgical practice, which is begun in the days of Enosh. I don’t think the text indicates that this is the first time that anyone ever called on Yahweh’s name in this way. In fact, the context of our story of Cain and Abel includes them (and the Adamic clan) calling on the name earlier than Enosh. Instead, the picture we’re getting here is that this is a resuming—a beginning again—of corporate cultic worship for the first time since Cain slew his fellow brother-priest and, together with the greater part of the Adamic clan, abandoned the gate of Eden on the mountain of God.
A Tale of Two Cities
Thus, a city also grows up before the gate of Eden, around the worship of Yahweh. This is the city of Seth, of Enosh, of Enoch, and of Noah, and it stands as rival to the false city of Cain, built around the self-glorification of humanity and (maybe?) the worship of angels.
The two rival cities is another thematic thread that begins here and runs throughout the whole Scripture to the rival cities of Babylon and New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. But that’s enough for now. Maybe in another post!