A Line of Evil and of Good?

Last time I looked at Genesis, I focused on Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4:1-8. While Cain’s murder of Abel was talked about, I didn’t go too much into what happened after the event. I’ll be doing this here, but I want to think about a concept that comes out of Cain’s murder and subsequent punishment. Does this event cause an evil line of men to come from Cain and a good line of men to come from Seth (who is born at the end of Genesis 4 to replace Abel)?

In Genesis 4:9-15, God comes to Cain after Abel has been murdered and asks Cain where Abel is. Cain plays innocent, but God knows of his sin and uncovers it. God also punishes him with further exile and that he will be unable to grow crops. Cain appears to be remorseful and laments the punishment.

It is interesting that Cain’s punishment is not death, and that God is even willing to place some kind of mark that both reminds Cain of his guilt and protects him against those who might take revenge. Cain, now an exile, leaves and settles in another land. There he builds a family and a city.

Of his descendants we’re told that the originators of animal husbandry, musical arts, and metalworking come from the line of Cain. Now if we view this as an evil line, then it is not too much of a stretch to view these activities as suspicious. However, this seems unlikely. Owning flocks of animals was never viewed as a negative in and of itself, musical instruments appear in the worship of God later, and while metalworking could create weapons of war, these are hardly the only things that could be made out of metal.

This reality challenges the idea that these inventions were negative. So if the line of Cain is to be understood as an evil or ungodly line of men, we’re left with the idea that evil men can still create good and useful human accomplishments.The idea of those who don’t follow God can still contribute to humanity shouldn’t be too hard to swallow. Many advances over time have been accomplished by those who are not followers of God.

This doesn’t really answer the main question though. Were Cain’s descendants this evil line of men who didn’t follow God at all or was the reality a bit more mixed? I’m thinking that our answer to that question will depend on how you look at the figure of Lamech.

Personally, I’ve always viewed this figure as negative. He takes two wives, which is not a detail I would view as being positive. We also have the somewhat odd speech in Genesis 4:23-24 where it certainly seems that Lamech is making a pronouncement that seems more natural coming from the lips of God and could be another example of mankind trying to be like God.

However, John H. Sailhamer in his Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Genesis again presents an idea that challenges my perception of this passage. He presents the idea that Lamech may be the originator of human law. Sailhamer puts it this way, “When read in the context of the Mosiac law and in the context of the teaching regarding cities of refuge, however, Lamech’s words appear to be an appeal to a system of legal justice.”

So “If Cain, who killed his brother with malice, could be avenged, then Lamech would surely be avenged for killing in self-defense, that is, for “wounding” him.” This makes some sense to me (although it may be stretch to call Lamech the father of law), but I like the way that Sailhamer concludes this section. He says, “The point of this narrative is not so much to show that Lamech’s sense of justice is correct or even exemplary. Rather, it is to show that Cain’s city and descendants had a system of law and justice representative of an ordered society.”

So where does this leave Cain and his descendents on the good-evil scale? Beats me, as they seem awfully human, or at least as human as you can get in such a short telling. Is Lamech usurping God’s authority in his declaration, or acknowledging God’s justice and mercy by appealing to what happened with Cain (He admittedly, doesn’t speak of God directly, but who else would be doing the avenging?)? It could be either or a combination of both honestly. Still doesn’t make the whole line wicked or good.

To further explore this, let’s briefly look at Seth’s line. Seth’s birth is presented in Genesis 4:25-26. Now, we’re not told much about him other than that he was considered a “replacement” of Abel and that he had a son named Enosh.

Then we have the rather cryptic phrase, “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.” Was this because of Seth and Enosh? Is this phrase more indicating the completion of the introduction to humans here in Genesis 3-4? I mean Adam and Eve called on the name of the Lord right? We have them doing that in this passage, as well as earlier in the chapter. So if it is an indicator beyond just Seth and Enosh, does that mean that Cain’s line could potentially have called on the Lord’s name as well? Is that what Lamech was doing by reiterating and expanding the promise of God to Cain?

Then we have the genealogy presented in Genesis 5. There is little indication that this line is godly or for that matter ungodly. Most of it is just a rather specific line, even within the line of Seth, followed. The only two that get any kind of further note are Enoch and Noah. Enoch is recorded as “walking with God,” and that “God took him away” and he didn’t experience death because of his faithfulness to God.

Noah’s significance seems more like an element of foreshadowing his purpose in the flood. Nothing about his following of God is displayed here, but he is presented as a positive figure. So really Seth’s line isn’t really marked out as overwhelmingly positive or negative. After all when we get to the flood we see that only Noah and his immediate family are saved from the flood. The rest of the unnamed line of Seth is just as destroyed as the even more unnamed line of Cain.

So all this to say that I have a hard time labeling one line as wicked and ungodly and one line as being pristine and godly. That’s not the way that the Bible honestly handles people. The ones who follow God can be sinful and wicked, the chosen line can disregard God and chase after other gods.The “pagans” can sometimes be ones who are faithful, I’m thinking of Rahab and Ruth as two examples of this. So it would seem a bit strange to put this in terms of a godly line and an evil line. It seems that all of humanity was wicked at the time of the flood so what do we do with that?

In some ways, I feel that presenting the idea of a good and evil lineage here potentially causes us to do that in our own lives and relationships. We feel that we are the true godly line and that those who are outside of the line are wicked and ungodly. The line could be our literal families, our denominations, our local church, or whatever kind of group we’d like to present as the good, Godly, choice. We can fail to see the evil that lurks in our own hearts and take actions and attitudes that may not be in line with following God at all. Then we fail to see the “wicked” as those made in the image of God and human just like us.

So we wind up setting up barriers rather than erecting bridges of love, mercy, and hope. In the story of Cain,  God still seemed to care for Cain, protecting him despite his sin, and Cain seemed to care for God in his lament that he would be hidden from his presence. I’m not sure I’m willing to sit in the judgment seat for Cain, Seth, their descendents or anybody else for that matter. Doesn’t mean that I can’t see what Cain did was wrong, just means I don’t know the final result of his life to say his line was therefore evil.


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