July 31, 2011
July 30, 2011
The setting of Genesis 4
One can ignore the foregoing section and claim that the dates given for the beginnings of human beings and for the development of various cultural practices are in error and that the only reliable data about the beginnings of humanity and human culture is to be found in the Genesis record. Alternatively one might decide to claim ignorance of what really happened and when and how it happened. A third possibility is to recognise that, for example, the references to many names, and the origins of various human practices as recorded in Genesis 4 are very suggestive of the writer/editor having access to reliable historical data. We might also conclude that these practices and even the reference to a city have their roots in what some recognise as the Neolithic era as it came to be in the Levant – that part of the world seemingly inhabited by Cain and his descendants. This position amounts to seeing the setting for chapter 4 as that of the Neolithic world, indeed the beginnings of the Neolithic world.
However where Genesis 4 indicates that the nomadic life style, the development of certain musical instruments and the forging of metals had their beginnings at around the same time, a modern understanding is that they arose at different times though in the Neolithic era. So as a further possibility, though the setting looks a little like that of the Neolithic era, the setting is a reconstruction of beginnings by the writer/editor that simply happens to roughly correspond with the Neolithic era. Perhaps the writer/editor seeing only the world with which he is familiar – a world located in what we would now call the Middle East, and being very aware of the existence of various cultural practices and the existence of cities, in his world, creates a scenario that accounts for their beginnings. He also interweaves this account with some historical data to which he has had access. His interest is to create a holistic account of beginnings but always an account that indicates the nature of Yahweh and his involvement with human beings.
In answer to questions such as, “From where did Cain get his wife?” and “Why would Cain need to build a city?” one could simply reply that the writer/editor, by implication, acknowledges the existence of human beings over and above those whom he has named but is not concerned with the questions, such as the above, we sometimes like to ask. He interweaves what he sees as realistic with the theological truths he is concerned to portray.
The focus of the Scriptures
If there is any truth to some of these last suggestions and if there is any reliability to the general features for the earlier eras outlined above, then we are left with pre-historic data on which the Bible is silent. We can postulate, for example, that there were human or human like beings well before, say 10, 000 B.C. and that they may well have had certain religious beliefs and displayed attitudes and abilities that we associate with being human. Further we may conclude that God only decides to treat them as moral beings answerable to him at around the 10, 000 B.C. mark or at some other designated time. There may be something in such a suggestion but we do not really know. What we are given in Genesis 1 – 4, under God’s good and guiding hand, is at least an account of beginnings which was particularly relevant for his people, the Israelites of the ancient world, that is still relevant for his people no matter what their ethnic background and that indeed has always been relevant for all of humanity.
We read Genesis 1 to 4 and we are able to understand the awesome power of the one and only Creator God. We learn of his special interest in mankind and mankind’s failure to trust him. We see how mankind is inventive and survives in a world that is however suited to him – a world of difficulty, appropriate for disobedient, self-centred, God forsaking humanity. We read these chapters and if we are not morally blind we begin to see ourselves and the depths of degradation to which we of the human race have descended. As we proceed to read the following chapters we see that this degradation is even worse than might first have been apparent and that God’s judgement has a terrible finality about it that can only be escaped by his marvellous grace. We are being educated to learn of the account of his entrance into his own world in the person of his Son with the assured promise of life with him in this world and life with him in the world to come. Whatever has occurred in ancient times on this planet will fade into insignificance compared to what God has prepared for those who are his.
July 29, 2011
The Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras
What follows is an outline of the eras that are thought to be relevant for the beginnings of “humankind”. The information has been largely gleaned from the internet and corresponds with what are thought to be prevailing views among the scientific community. However there is considerable divergence of opinion, for example, about dates, how the eras and subdivisions of eras should be categorised and how fossil finds and their relationships should be understood. Some divergence arises because different scientific disciplines work from different criteria and in the case of the Neolithic era, different dates are assigned to different cultural regions. With this in mind, much that follows should be taken to be a rough guide only. It is with the context of these eras in mind that comments will then be made on some of the items dealt with in Genesis Chapter 4.
The Palaeolithic Era is divided into the Lower Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), extending from 2,500,000 to 200,000 years ago, the Middle Palaeolithic, extending from 200, 000 to 40,000 years ago, and the Upper Palaeolithic (Late Stone Age), extending from 40,000 years ago to 12,000 B.C E. The Mesolithic Era covers 12,000 to 10, 000 B.C.E. The Neolithic era is considered to have begun around 9, 500 to 10, 500 B.C.E. in the Middle East.
A variety of dating procedures are used in determining the antiquity of human beings and objects and animals associated with them. The most well know is radiocarbon dating. It relies on the ratio of the two isotopes carbon -12 and carbon -14 found in carbon containing substances and is useful for dating entities up to around 50, 000 years ago.
Another radiometric dating method is potassium-argon dating. This relies on the radioactive decay of potassium-40 to argon-40. Potassium is found in many minerals. This dating method is very useful where the age involved is many thousands to many millions of years and where molten rock has been involved. Where the age of what was once molten rock can be determined, the age of what is immediately underneath that rock is taken to be of around the same or of an older age.
Thermoluminescence dating is useful where carbon dating is unsuitable because no carbon material is involved. For example, it can be used for the dating of ceramics or burnt flint. It depends on the radiation dosage that has accumulated since the time the pottery, e.g. was fired. Electron Spin Resonance dating also relies on a type of radiation exposure and can be useful for examining the ages of animal and human bones and teeth or any carbonate material, where the age is beyond that measurable by radiocarbon dating. Fission Track Dating relies on tracks made in a mineral or glass by fissionable material such as uranium-238. Dating by Archaeomagetic intensity measurements relies on variations in the earth’s magnetic field at specific areas at different times.
Items such as pottery are often dated according to similarities in style but, as with the use of “index fossils”, the dating technique involved relies on some “absolute” dates having been established for some specimens by other means.
No expertise is being claimed in the above descriptions. Nor is the list of dating procedures referred to exhaustive. Mention is made of them to indicate that a variety of dating procedures are available. None of them are simple to apply and various techniques, such as calibration curves have been developed over the years to deal with difficulties in their application. Where possible, a number of dating procedures are used for the one item to provide greater confidence for the estimated age of the item being assessed.
There is much debate about dates assigned to specific finds and how, for example, some of the human or human like fossils are related. Using various dating techniques and fossil finds, the following are examples of some of the claims that are made.
The first evidence of the use of stone tools, such as hand axes and cleavers, is found in the Lower Palaeolithic era and marks its beginning. Numerous fossils have been found in both Africa and Asia of skeletons identified as Homo erectus, some dated to around 1.8 million years ago. These skeletal fossil remains are not greatly dissimilar to those of Homo sapiens.
The beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic era is marked by stone tools shaped by, for example, flaking. During the Middle Palaeolithic era there is evidence of art work, perhaps of a ritual nature, and bone and antler appear to be used for a variety of purposes. There is some evidence of death occasioned by the use a spear some 40, 000 to 50, 000 years ago. Homo neanderthalensis is thought to have flourished in Europe from 300, 000 years ago up until the late Upper Palaeolithic era. Intentional burying of Neanderthals is dated from 80, 000 years ago. There appears to be clear evidence of gathering and hunting and the use of rock art, beads and bracelets during the Middle Palaeolithic era, if not earlier and Homo sapiens is thought to have existed from around 200, 000 years ago and to have migrated out of Africa about 1000, 000 years ago. Hunting and gathering are thought to be in evidence during the Middle Palaeolithic era if not before. The use of fire became widespread during this era and there appears to be evidence of intentional burying of humans, with a possible indication of a belief in an after-life. There does not appear to be much difference in the tools used by Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa.
During the Upper Palaeolithic era, tool development becomes more sophisticated, the use of fire to harden clay figures is evident, cooperative ventures and village life seems to operate and wall paintings become more common. At the moment, the oldest cave paintings are dated around 30, 000 BC or later and figurines begin to appear at around the same time. There appears to be evidence of warfare in Egypt around 13, 000 BC. The first flutes may have been used during this era.
The Mesolithic era is characterised by finer small stone tools, the production of pottery, some village life, and a movement away from hunting towards domestication of plants and animals.
Only Homo sapiens appears in the Neolithic era. Neolithic culture appears to have had its beginnings in the Levant (roughly our Middle East) and spread at different times to Europe, Asia and Africa. An early walled city was Jericho. Domestication of both animals and plants becomes common and metal working to provide a new type of tool is evident towards the end of the era.
July 28, 2011
Genesis 4: 25, 26 – Seth
“Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’ Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord (Yahweh).”
Again Eve gives birth to a child, a son and she gives him the name Seth. (Although it is not explicit she seems to have given Cain his name also. She is the one, not the man who relates the name “Cain” to the idea of “bringing forth”.) The name “Seth” relates to the idea of being a substitute and so she refers to God giving her another child “in the place of” Abel. As with Cain she refers to God as the one who enabled her to produce the child. Though the birth of Seth, the one who replaces Abel, gives an indication of a future, otherwise denied, the stark reference to “since Cain killed him” (Abel) does not permit us to forget the heinous crime that has been committed. Yet this reference to Cain’s deed is closely followed by the announcement that Seth himself gave birth to a son, Enosh. We are moved rapidly from Cain and his infamy and even his genealogical line to Seth and his progeny. We are being prepared for a genealogical line that shall prove to be more significant that Cain’s, one that eventually leads to Noah.
As previously mentioned, Genesis 4: 25 is the first clear reference to the man of Genesis 2 and 3 having the name, “Adam.” Genesis 4: 1 reads, “The man lay with his wife Eve” but Genesis 4: 25 reads, “Adam lay with his wife again.” It would seem that given the mention of numerous people by name, from 4: 1 onwards, it is now appropriate to refer to the man, when he is next mentioned, by name and no longer as “the man”. His name is repeated a number of times in the following chapter.
Before the second “toledoth” (“the generations of” or “the account of”) of Genesis begins at 5: 1, we are given this somewhat enigmatic statement, “At that time people began to call on the name of Yahweh.” The last time that God was referred to by his personal name was when it was recorded that Cain left his presence. Given the intervening references to the names of numerous people, almost all in the line of Cain, it could be that the writer/editor sees it fitting to mention that Yahweh has not and should not to any extent be forgotten or diminished in importance. And so he draws attention to an “historical” note, that “At that time” people began to call on his name.
But why would they begin to call on his name at that time and what is actually meant by this comment? Is the writer/editor indicating that at this point in time there was a general recognition by people of their need of this God who could be known personally? Alternatively is he indicating that a time had arrived when people were beginning to blaspheme God by inappropriately using his name? This latter suggestion would seem odd given that the birth of Seth has just been mentioned and where Adam’s line through Seth is about to be given in some detail. Perhaps the writer/editor in making the statement that he does, is giving the reader/listener a reason for hope as the genealogical line of Adam through Seth is about to unfurl. Cain’s line could be noted for some achievements but the recording of murderous Cain and boasting Lamech creates very bad vibes. Although in chapter 6 the account of sinful humanity is further outlined, chapter 5, because of the detail give to Adam’s line through Seth, could be seen to be leading to better things. Whatever we make of the reference to the name of God at this juncture, of all the names mentioned before and after, his is the most important name by far.
July 27, 2011
Lamech and his family
The reference to the marriage of Lamech to two women, Adah and Zillah is given without comment though some would see in the double marriage a hint of the sexual laxity that one observes from time to time later in the Old Testament. Of additional interest is the mention of the third women – Naamah, the sister of Tubal-Cain. The naming of Adah and Zillah is convenient because they produced different progeny but Naamah is simply mentioned as a sister. Perhaps it is significant that a woman of that name is mentioned in I Kings and 2 Chronicles as the Ammonite mother of Rehoboam. The way the account reads however is that all three women were real women, known perhaps from a source independent of the Genesis account but now incorporated into it.
Adah and Zillah are not only conveniently named as the mothers of different progeny, they also become the audience for Lamech’s boast. The double-fold form of address, “Listen to me” and “Hear my voice” seems to add strength to his boast. His reference to them as his wives perhaps suggests that he sees himself as superior to them. All up, the portrayal appears to be that of an arrogant man.
His boast is in terms of his disregard for human life and his personal hand in ending a life. Additionally however the boast relates to two further matters. He sees the hurt he brought about as greater than the hurt done to him – “He wounded me; I killed him.” Furthermore, the one he killed was young, and he Lamech was older – “Though I was older (and not as strong?), I killed him.” That the young man is not named might also indicate Lamech’s lack of interest in his no longer being alive.
His boast is made further evident in his reference to Cain. Whether his view of how seriously God might consider his act by comparison with that of Cain was correct or not, Lamech wants it to be seen as having greater significance! “God having said that anyone killing Cain would be avenged by him seven fold, surely means that he would avenge anyone killing me seventy seven times.” The appalling nature of what Lamech says to his wives is so abominable that it becomes difficult to imagine how the sinfulness of humanity could further degenerate. It is as though, at this point, the reader/listener should not be forced to endure reading/hearing of any further depravity and a new development is recorded in the account – the birth of a child. Death reigned but now new life comes on the scene. The TV channel has been changed and we can rest easier for a time.
The beginnings of various living styles
Cain was building a city and named it after his son Enoch. Walton points out that “in Mesopotamian tradition the first city was Eridu” and that consequently some have attempted to construct verse 17 in such a way that Enoch names the city after his son Irad (whose name can easily be associated with Eridu)” (p. 276). While recognising this as a possibility Walton is persuaded that the text is more easily understood as normally translated. Though the word translated “city” does not have to imply that what Cain built was all that large, it is no doubt significant that a city was built. Being the first mention of a city is probably meant to convey the idea that it was the first city built. There may be additional significance as well. From the point of view of the account, did he decide to build it because of the birth of his son? His parents did not set about building a city upon his birth. Was it that he thought that the animosity towards him by others might vent itself on his son and his son therefore needed protection? Whatever our answer to that question, the building of the city is probably meant to indicate that while Cain continued to survive it was not as a farmer, since he had been told that that would no longer been possible, but as a city, town or village dweller. Even if the “city” was not an actual site for dwellings but perhaps an area set aside for, e.g., storage facilities, public buildings, a meeting place and the conducting of religious ceremonies etc., it might have been an enclosed site with dwellings close by. If it is implied that it was a walled enclosure then that would perhaps indicate the need for the protection of whatever structures lay within as well as the protection that Cain needed. What is of considerable interest is that the restless wanderer seems to have found a resting place though far to the East, and certainly not in the open countryside.
With Jabal and his brother Jubal and their half brother Jubal-Cain we are introduced to the domestication of animals, the playing of musical instruments and metal working. The names, Jubal and Jabal, very similar in the Hebrew, appear to have much the same etymological connection, being related to the word for “stream”. Perhaps their names should be understood to signify the notion of “offspring”. Each is spoken of as “the father of” and by that we are meant to understand that these practices originated with them. We are probably meant to see Tubal-Cain (meaning offspring of Cain?) in the same light – he was the one who first worked with metals using a forge. Their names being associated with the idea of “coming from”, could be understood to resonate nicely, in an “upside down way”, with their being regarded as, “fathers of”.
The “living in tents” may be a reference to a nomadic way of life but the “raising of livestock” indicates a settled way of life, even if it was life on the move. Presumably moving from one place to another was brought about as a result of the need, from time to time, to seeking out fresh grazing lands and/or better sources of water for the herds. The introduction of musical instruments is indicative of a way of life where one could take time out from working the land, engaging in business, caring for flocks etc. to enjoy oneself by appreciating music either in the producing of it, or simply listening to it or having it accompany various activities. The Hebrew word for bronze simply indicates copper related material whether an alloy of copper or mainly copper itself. Comments on these verses and how the information given relates to evidence external to the Old Testament for the origins of these activities will be given later.
A little intriguing is the attention given to the origins of these various activities when as the account unfolds, the line of Cain comes to an end with the flood. It is as though the writer/editor is ignoring the flood and what it entailed for Cain’s line. He is simply outlining the beginnings of these facets of human life skills because they are important aspects of what humans do, whether one takes into account the flood or not.
July 25, 2011
Genesis 4: 17 – 24 – Cain’s descendants
“Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
Lamech said to his wives,
‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.’” (NIV)
Cain’s genealogical line
The wife of Cain somewhat mysteriously appears without any indication as to her origins and she is not given a name. Except for the bearing of the child Enoch (not to be confused with the Enoch of Seth’s line), Cain’s wife would appear to be of little significance, except that like Eve she is a life giver. Lamech’s two wives also receive a mention in this connection. Their names are however given, perhaps a general reflection of the detail that is given to Lamech. The matter of the origin of Cain’s wife will be briefly referred to later.
From Adam to Lamech through Cain’s line, there are seven generations: Adam – Cain – Enoch – Irad – Mehujael (smitten of God) – Methushael (man who is of God) – Lamech. Some consider that these seven generations have a later parallel with the seven generations from Adam to Enoch through Seth’s line: Adam – Seth – Enosh – Kenan – Mahalalel – Jared – Enoch. This Enoch receives special attention as does Lamech. However the amount of material devoted to Lamech far surpasses that given to Enoch so perhaps not too much should be made by way of comparison. What is of significance is that though Cain’s line is associated with early civilisation, it comes to an end. Seth’s is the more important, leading to Noah, the righteous man. According to the account, it was only Noah along with members of his family who under the merciful hand of God, having survived a devastating flood, gave rise to a new humanity.
July 24, 2011
Cain’s cry for help and Yahweh’s response
And now Cain becomes aware of many matters. He has received judgement and he is being punished. He is being forced from literally, the “face” of the ground (adamah). It is, as it were, that he cannot remain on it, in the same place, farming the ground. He cannot any longer be attached to it. But not only is the face of the ground denied to him. The face of Yahweh is denied to him also. “And from your face I shall be hidden.” No longer can he expect Yahweh to look upon him with any good will or to look upon him at all. This is the God whose personal name is known to him, the God who relates personally to people. But now, not to Cain. And he will have no roots in this world. He realises he can never settle down anywhere on the earth. And is that because of what he believes when he finally says, “And whoever finds me will kill me”? Why will they kill him? The suggestion above was that perhaps he would be seen to be an intruder in their territory. As an alternative, the idea might be that Cain perceives that because he has killed, any others who find him might feel obliged to kill the killer, delivering as it were some form of justice. (We might have a question about “Who are these who might find him? So far, besides Cain, we only have the man, and Eve his wife.) Is there some portent of what Lamech boasts of later in this chapter? We will leave discussing that question till later. No wonder that he begins addressing Yahweh with the words, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” So much flows from it. So great is his depression. However, great also is the irony – he cuts short a life, but his own life is now unbearable, but he fears that his life shall be cut short!!
Yahweh’s response is two-fold. There is a warning to anyone who might contemplate killing Cain and Cain is meant to receive some assurance that he will not be killed as easily as he imagines. The vengeance that Yahweh promises any killer of Cain is not like Cain’s punishment. If we understand the Hebrew correctly, the punishment was the outworking of justice, while the vengeance is beyond that – suffering seven times as much as would be that person’s due. Is that the sense? While the “sevenfold” is probably not meant to be taken literally, the severity of the vengeance is great, and so described as “sevenfold”. The message to anyone considering killing Cain is, “Be aware of the vengeance of Yahweh.” So Cain is meant to have some reassurance from the God whose face, he fears, will never light on him again. The second part of Yahweh’s response is meant to supplement the first. How will people know to avoid killing Cain and that killing him would call in the vengeance of Yahweh? I take it, that that is the purpose of the mark, the sign. It isn’t just an odd marking. It is something which gives information, it points to something beyond itself. It is meant to preserve the life of Cain.
If the account had recorded that Yahweh brought Cain’s life to an end we could understand that. Why didn’t he? Perhaps we are meant to see that while Cain might regard the life of his brother as of little account, Yahweh does not hold life with such disdain. In fact that notion may lay behind both Yahweh himself not bringing Cain’s life to an end but also in Yahweh’s provisions meant to ensure against his life being taken by others!
So Cain goes out from the presence (literally “the face”) of Yahweh and lives in the land (erez) called Nod, east of Eden. To be removed from Yahweh’s face is not only to no longer have Yahweh look upon him, it is as though Yahweh can no longer look upon him. He has physically moved away from the very presence of God. And to where has he gone? Surely he shouldn’t be seen to be settling down anywhere! He is to be a restless wanderer! But in a sense that is what the text conveys. The Hebrew for “Nod” has the idea of “wanderer” behind it. And where is “Nod”? If Canaan is the reference point for Eden (see the earlier blog series and the comment on Genesis 2: 8), Nod is even further east. To an Israelite reader or listener, it is way beyond what may be conceived as the familiar, ordinary world. It has to be that only in the unfamiliar unordinary world that a restless wanderer would in fact be allowed to have roots.
July 23, 2011
With whom was Cain angry? He was not angry with himself. Surely we would expect him to be angry with Yahweh, unless he was somehow aware that he and his offering were not worthy of Yahweh’s favour. Even then we might still expect him to be angry with Yahweh. After all Yahweh was the one who was somehow or other acting more positively towards Abel than Cain, for whatever reason. But how does Cain give vent to such anger. He cannot expect to gain some advantage over Yahweh, at least not directly. So his anger his directed towards his brother with jealousy of his brother also coming to the fore.
The NIV indicates that Cain talked to his brother about going out to the field, (the countryside?). Though we are probably meant to understand that that is what happened, the text simply says that Cain talked to his brother, after which they went out to the field. Certainly we are meant to see Cain taking the initiative and executing a plan he had in mind. The significance of the locality might be that Cain takes Abel onto his own turf, his farmland, but the term for “field” is too general to be positive about that assumption. We have already come across the term many times in chapters 2 and 3. It is more likely, given what follows, that Cain’s intention is carry out his plan away from prying eyes. He is interested in deception. And why the need for deception? Because we are automatically to assume that what he is about to do is wrong, heinous and utterly appalling. He attacks his brother and kills him. “Murder” now follows upon anger. Cain has failed to take the advice of Yahweh.
Just as God had previously asked the whereabouts of the man, now he asks the same of Abel but the question is directed to Cain. This is the third time in this chapter that Abel has been defined as brother to Cain and maybe we are meant to react to what is going on with the understanding that brothers are meant to be close. “Where is your brother Abel?” is not only met by a lie – “I don’t know” when of course he knows but a type of denial of his responsibility towards his brother. I think we are supposed to be horrified with Cain’s response. He is his brother’s keeper! Abel is his brother! The reverse of course has happened. Rather than protect his brother he has himself slaughtered him. If anyone or anything were to threaten Abel’s life, Cain’s responsibility as Abel’s brother would be to safe guard him – to preserve his life. Instead, he took it.
God’s exclamation is very similar to that made to the woman in 3: 3. In this case, it is simply, “What have you done?” The woman made a circuitous response but Cain is not even given the chance to respond. There is no “Listen!” in the Hebrew. However the description of the blood of Abel crying out from the ground (adamah), the ground from which the man had been made, the ground now soaked with the life blood of another man, is graphic. It shouts to God. This has been a most horrible occurrence – the death of a man, the first death. And not the death of old age, the death of a human being brought about because there was no access to the tree of life, but death savagely achieved by another human being, a life cut off well before any normal expectation. And God hears the voice; he did not need Cain to tell him where Abel was or what had happened to him. And surely we do not err in seeing God himself responding with great heightened emotion. The voice that cries out inexorably results in God uttering his judgement upon Cain.
Neither the man nor the woman, who ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were directly subject to a curse from God, though the serpent was. In his judgment on the man, God placed the ground under a curse. Now in the case of Cain, he himself is cursed and his curse is somehow associated with that very ground, which in graphic terms, opened its mouth to receive his brother’s blood brought about by his own hand. The imagery is that the mouth that received the blood is the mouth from which the voice came. The ground already cursed will now be even more difficult for that farmer who once worked the ground with some difficulty, because he himself is now cursed. There is even a suggestion that the text could be read to say, “You are cursed more than the ground has been cursed.” Significantly, the curse that Cain is now under involves the interaction between Cain and the ground. He will work the ground but no more will it give up its potential (literally its “strength”?) to you. (The NIV, reading into the text, refers to “crops” instead of “strength”.) It is as though the ground itself, having been forced to take to itself the blood of Abel, has been greatly offended. As a consequence it would never yield to Cain’s efforts again.
Not being able to exist by working his “farm” he will not be able to have permanent ties to any one area and will be forced to be move from place to place, never having a fixed abode. The two Hebrew words, translated, “restless wanderer” begin with the same sounds and in meaning play off against one another. Each has an underlying sense of “change”. Perhaps we are meant to understand that if he cannot remain in the one place he will be seen to be a threat to others when he moves into their area and so will continually have to be on the move – a wanderer who can never settle down anywhere on the earth (erez), because others become a threat to him. Perhaps this idea comes to the fore in Cain’s response (but see below).
July 22, 2011
Cain’s reaction and his confrontation with Yahweh
Two descriptions are given of Cain’s reaction to Yahweh looking favourably on Abel and his offering but not on him and his offering. He glowed greatly and his face fell. These references to visible physical characteristics certainly depict emotional responses but carry with them concrete evidence of Cain’s inner feelings. In the context, “glowing greatly” seems to be a clear reference to considerable anger but it is not immediately clear what might be meant by “his face fell”. There is a tendency to see it as a reference to sadness or depression. However in the context it more likely indicates something that would be more closely associated with anger, even simply anger itself. There is only one occurrence in the Hebrew Scriptures, outside of Genesis 4: 5, 6 of a reference to “face falling”. The text in Jeremiah 3: 12 reads, “I will not cause my face to fall on you (Israel) for I am merciful.” This looks something like God (not) frowning and this is the way that the NIV translates that text. “God not frowning” seems to be a physical way of referring to his not being angry (or not continuing to be angry). God says he will not be angry with Israel because he is merciful. The text in Genesis 4 is probably better translated with both physical features being portrayed: Cain is glowing greatly and his face has fallen. Taken together or even separately they are probably both physical signs of Cain’s anger. Mankind is on a steady decline. First shame, then fear and now anger.
Yahweh responds to these physical features as signs of serious inner emotional responses, and asks him, “Why are you greatly glowing and why has your face fallen?” Translating the text without interpreting what either of the physical features mean, allows us to understand God’s question indicating, on first glance, that God does not know what Cain’s physical characteristics signify. For example, they could be mistaken for extreme embarrassment. It is a little like those questions God put to the man in Genesis 3: 9, 11 – “Where are you?” etc. as if God doesn’t really know! Cain, unlike the man however, makes no response. Perhaps we are meant to interpret this as a sign of Cain realising it is actually better to maintain silence than to state the truth. On the other hand, the text could be read as Yahweh not allowing Cain the opportunity to respond. He has not asked a question for which he expects a response. He knows the answer to his own question. He has simply confronted Cain with the inappropriateness of his considerable anger.
Yahweh follows his question with a piece of advice in the form of another question and then gives Cain a warning. The question, “”If you do right will you not be accepted?” has commonly thought to be a reference back to the offering that Cain had made. The question is thought to carry the implication that he had not done what was right and for that reason he and his offering were not looked upon favourably. However, the Hebrew for “acceptance” and “looked with favour” (literally, simply “looked to”) is quite different. Given what immediately follows, there is a case for connecting the notion of “doing right” with what occurs later rather than with what has gone before, with the idea of acceptance having a connection with both what has just happened and what might happen. Furthermore, the Hebrew for “acceptance” can carry with it the idea of dignity and status. By Yahweh “looking to” Abel and his offering but not to Cain and his offering, Cain has felt a loss of dignity and his status lowered. Read this way, the warning that Yahweh gives to Cain may be understood as a reference to Cain operating with dignity and no loss of status. Besides, the question and the warning are connected with a waw indicating some intimate connection between them and translating it as “and’ rather than, for example, “but” would not seem inappropriate (but see below).
Perhaps “And, if you do not do right …” is to be considered as an incomplete statement. Cain is being faced with the two alternatives, Doing right or not doing right. If you do right, then you are accepted. If you do not do so, then … Beware … As an alternative, the “doing right” might be better understood as “having an appropriate attitude.” In that case what Yahweh says is, “If you have the right attitude (and abide by that attitude) does not acceptance (by me) follow. But (rather than “and”) if you have an inappropriate attitude, realise the dire circumstances in which you are placed – sin is crouching at the door and it wants to get at you but you must master it rather than the other way around.” This seems the preferable view to this writer. The “waw” still forms an intimate connection between the question and the statement but one does not have to appeal to an unfinished statement.
In understanding “sin is crouching at your door”, Walton takes note of the fact that “The word translated ‘sin’ is a feminine form, yet the participle … (‘is crouching’) is … masculine singular as are the pronominal suffixes connected to ‘desire’ and ‘rule’” and appeals to the possibility that a reference is being made to the idea of a “well-known Mesopotamian demon who lingers around doorways … ‘Sin’ is then portrayed as a doorway demon waiting for its victim to cross the threshold. From the Old Babylonian period on in Mesopotamia such demons were considered evil and were thought to ambush their victims.” (264) The warning to Cain, coming as it does from Yahweh himself, should provide adequate reason for Cain to abandon whatever was in his mind.