Throughout this essay, I will make numerous references to the book of Genesis. I am not attempting to translate or annotate Genesis and I am certainly not trying to flush out Genesis 1-9 in its entirety. I am only trying to emphasize certain connections that I drew between the stories of Adam, Cain, Lamech and Noah. I don't know Hebrew and I am not a Biblical scholar but I have invested a great deal of time mulling over the Scriptures behind the subject of this study. Just don't take my word for it. After you have read this essay, I would encourage you to re-read all of Genesis 1-9 and decide for yourself if the conclusions herein are valid.
You will also find that I avoid calling the first man, Adam, by his proper name. Please understand I am not attempting to suggest Adam was not a real person. I wish to bring attention to the fact that the Hebrew word for "human", 'adam, is tied to the Hebrew word for ground, 'adamah. Throughout this essay, I purposefully place emphasis on this connection. Therefore, it seems suitable to call Adam the "creature" because of the connection between the English words "creature" and "creation".
To some people, the Biblical story of creation is loaded with traps and controversy. Was it a literal six-day creation? If Adam and Eve were the only two people, who did their sons marry? Why did God refuse Cain's sacrifice? Some of these questions used to bother me, but I've learned a powerful argument that answers all of these questions satisfactorily and even encourages me to read more carefully.
I am a teacher and a parent. When I explain a concept to child, I'm not always as technical as I could be. I consider my audience when I prepare my explanation. Often, I oversimplify or neglect details that I think might even detract from my essential and overarching meaning. To some people, to omit details may seem like a less accurate depiction, but I would argue that it is actually more accurate. Accuracy does not stem from the resolution of the detail, but from the clarity of the connection: I know my children. I know what they do and don't already know. I know what they can and can't understand. Most importantly, I know what they need to hear. Sure, we can say to God, "Why did you leave these questions, these gaps, in your Word?" but to ask such a question overlooks the nature of our father-child relationship. Maybe the point of Genesis isn't to convey photorealistic documentation of mankind's beginning. Maybe these verses, whether partially or wholly literal, were chosen to convey something more important. If that is the case, it would be entirely foolish to dismiss or argue even a single word.
Purpose. While the question of purpose is inescapable for all of us, it is also most elusive. No one who has ever asked, "What is my purpose?" can detach it from "Where do we come from?" This is because we are one of two things. Either we are the consequence of a cosmic coincidence, an insignificant, albeit self-important, spark of self-awareness in a vast universe that begins and ends in darkness, or, we are a part of something eternal, members of a race of beings whose existence transcends this physical universe and whose actions have everlasting consequences. If you think about it, independent of religion or creed, these two extremes are the only two options. The universe we live in is some version of the former or some version of the later. The problem is the barrier of preexistence and death. If only we could step outside of ourselves and see what happens a billion years after our sun expires or if we could somehow trace life back to the very first "life"-qualifying organism. If only we could put a finger on it and come to an understanding. Even if we couldn't see it, if we could perhaps get a word on the matter, then we could reason through our purpose.
In Greek, "purpose", "reason", "understanding " and "word" are all tied to the word logos. It is on this this which John writes, "In the beginning was the logos." (John 1:1)
In the beginning was the Word, the reason. The purpose and the reason was God. Before there was man, it was God who put purpose to the cosmos. It was the Holy Spirit that intertwined and guided the formless material in space that would become the sustanance of life. (Genesis 1:2) It was God who brought order out of chaos and put a name to it. Over and over again, He put a name – a purpose – to "day", "night", "sky", "land" and "sea". (Genesis 1:5,7,10) He gave governance of these orders to the sun and the moon and they are untouchable in their hold. (Genesis 1:16) On the earth however, He created a new kind of order, a new kind of purpose: life. In all forms He created it, both plant and animal. (Genesis 1: 11, 20, 24) He did not give life over to the dominion of the sun, nor the moon, nor the angels nor any cosmic force. With a greater purpose in mind, (Genesis 1:27) God reached into the very substance of the Earth and formed a creature whose relationship with the earth would be entirely symbiotic (Genesis 1:28-30) to the extent that God called the race "Blood Earth," ('adam) as it was made from "red soil" ('adamah) (Genesis 2:7, see also this article) Upon this creature, God bestowed the remainder of the task He had started, that of naming and purposing the rest of creation. At this, the Lord rested.
Now before the story continues, the Bible takes a pause to describe the setting in which this creature lived. At that time, there were four rivers nearby. Their names were "overflowing", "bursting", "swift" and "fruitful". This creature, this man, lived at the head of those rivers, a fount that didn't even have a name so you can't even imagine what living there was like. (Genesis 2:10-14) Furthermore, in this garden, Good planted a very peculiar tree. It was and is a tree that can never be uprooted and never die. It was there before man and will be there forevermore. (Revelations 22:2) God planted it with no intent to remove it, (Genesis 3:24) but what is especially peculiar is the fact that God imbued the tree with the power to give life everlasting, regardless of the condition of man. (Genesis 3:22) In a sense, salvation was planted in the very beginning.
Alongside this tree was another tree. It was the notorious tree of "knowledge of good and evil." It was the tree from which God commanded the man never to eat from. (Genesis 2:17) The difficulty here is that it appears God planted it in the garden to serve as a moral test for mankind, leaving one to wonder, "Why would God do such a thing?" But God's commands are never arbitrary. This is important: God does not issue commands to satisfy some inherit desire to control us. In every situation, His commands are for our betterment. They are guidelines for living in the universe He created. The deception, then, is believing that God's commands are threats meant to control us. (Genesis 3:4-6)
There was indeed a danger in the fruit of the tree, the danger of assuming autonomy from God. There were many trees for sustenance and enjoyment on Earth. (Genesis 2:9) Perhaps there were even trees that were not mentioned: a "tree of creativity", a "tree of strength", a "tree of serenity", and so on. What then, do you call a tree whose effect is to bring shame (Genesis 3:7) and separation from God? (Genesis 3:8) It was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In a world where man can do no wrong, it is a tree that gives man an inalienable awareness of wrong and the responsibility of choice. This was the only fruit God warned us against because it is the only responsibility mankind cannot bear on its own.
It is well known that this creature did indeed allow its own reason and judgements to take precedence over God's. It was this self important attitude that led to "the Fall", but the resulting curse was not against the creature but the creation. Specifically, the curse fell on the earth, the material from which the creature was formed. (Genesis 3:17) Because of the relationship between the man and the earth, a curse against the earth is a curse against both. For the man, it is a curse against his work and his role on earth. Furthermore, mankind was banished from the heavenly garden that had been designed to be his home.
Immediately after the pronouncement of the curse, there appears (on the surface) to be a bit of a non sequitur. At this time, Adam is said to name his wife 'Eve' because she is to be the "mother of all the living." (Genesis 3:20) The story resumes, with God making clothes for the banished pair and removing them from the garden. But why does the story briefly digress so that Adam can name Eve? An answer is found in the story of her offspring.
If our original home, Eden was unimaginable in the most wonderful way, after this banishment, mankind entered an era that was unimaginable in an entirely different way. It was an era of separation and loss. There is nothing written of prayer, there is nothing written of music or poetry as a means of worship. The first recorded attempt on behalf of man to connect with God comes in the form of a series of offerings: one from a man named Cain, the other from a man named Abel. They are Eve's children. It was Cain, the tiller of that cursed earth whose offering was not accepted. (Genesis 4:5) At this moment, God consoled Cain. He explains Cain's sacrifice was rejected as a consequence of wrongdoing (a lesson we learn again in 1 Samuel 15:22-23) and advises him to guard is heart from sin. The way He explains this to Cain is astounding. Just as he said to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” he says to Cain, "[Sin] desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7) In not so many words, God brings clarity to the human condition: we are just as married to our sinful nature as Eve was to Adam. Furthermore, if the seemingly spur-or-the-moment decision to name Eve after receiving the curse didn't initially make sense, it should make a little more sense now: The condition is generative.
When Cain murders Abel, the Lord says that Abel's blood cried out from the ground. Specifically, He says it cried out from 'adamah. It is almost as if He is saying Cain's crime is against creation itself. (Genesis 4:14, but read on for clarifying notes) As a result, the 'adamah drives Cain away and refuses to yield its crop to him. (Genesis 4:11-12) For Cain, the farmer, it means he has lost his livelihood, but his fear doesn't stem from uncertainty of where he'll find his next meal. In the NIV, it reads "I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (other translations of "whoever" include: KJV: "every one" and NLT: "anyone") but the word for "whoever" in this verse is not the same as it is in Genesis 9:6, Genesis 26:11 or in many other places. It is rarely translated as "whoever" (27 times in the NIV) but often (2,868 times in the NIV) translated as "all". It is frequently used to describe creation in Genesis 1 and 2. (Genesis 1:31, Genesis 2:1 and elsewhere.) Furthermore, if Cain were only confessing a fear of people, his response wouldn't rationally follow from what God had just said, "When you work the adamah, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth." (Genesis 4:12) I think there is enough evidence, both literally and contextually, to suggest that Cain's fear was not just from people, but from the harshness of all of creation. Think about the language used in these verses:
Since the fall of man, there is a tension in the earth. I think that is what Cain was experiencing when he said, "My punishment is more than I can bear." (Genesis 4:13)
God protects Cain from that which he fears most. (Genesis 4:15) God puts a "sign" on Cain but in many Bibles, the word used for "sign" is translated as "mark". In the KJV, this is the only place where the word is translated this way. The word is the same word used to describe the day and night, (Genesis 1:14) the rainbow, (Genesis 9:13) and circumcision. (Genesis 17:11) So I will raise the question: what if God didn't give Cain a mark that was purely physical? What if He is declaring that Cain's life is a sign? I am going to reiterate that I am not a Hebrew scholar and I could be way off the mark here, but let me ask what makes more sense: the Bible is including a detail about a physical mark on Cain that is mentioned once and never mentioned again or, the story of Cain's life is a "sign" that is worthy of considerable contemplation? If the later, then how are we to interpret the sign on Cain's life? Consider the story so far:
Mankind is exiled from paradise.
Mankind sins through the shedding of blood and knows the consequence is unbearable.
God promises to preserve mankind despite his wrongdoing.
I don't know about you, but that sounds like a sign to me.
The story doesn't end there. If you haven't read the entry on Romans, I hope that you do. One of the topics covered is how to live free of sin, the question being: if sin is covered by grace, can we sin as much as we'd like? (Romans 6:1) That question can be found underscoring the situation with Cain and his descendants. Cain committed a sin worthy of an unbearable punishment and God protected him. Five generations later, we read how Cain's family interpreted God's provision and how their interpretation affected their lifestyle. As much as we would like to hear that Cain and his household were humbled by God's protection, that was simply not the case. Cain's descendent, Lamech, was so self-centered he invented polygamy. (Genesis 4:19) Furthermore, when a young man harms Lamech, Lamech kills the young man and brags about it, saying, "If you thought Cain was untouchable, I am infinitely times more!" (paraphrased, Genesis 4:23)
So this is the state of humanity in its infancy. We began as authority figures with privileged access to the presence of God. We felt restricted in our position, as if God were depriving us of something greater and we took action to gain autonomy. The decision resulted in us having to assume a responsibility we could not handle. Even after God consoled us in how to deal with the situation, we acted on our impulses and succumbed to evil. Our actions were so terrible, the very earth that we had once been an inextricable part of disavowed us. But God said, "Not on my watch." When we were murderers, He spared us. In return, we used His mercy as a reason to do whatever we wanted. There weren't commandments before the days of Moses, but marriage and the protection of life seemed to be fairly well established. Both of those were violated.
These were the days when it was written,
And is it any wonder?
We are only at Genesis 6 and find that the world already needs a savior. We needed someone who would wash us from our transgressions and that is exactly what we received: (1 Peter 3: 21-22)
He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.”