Mans’ Sin Calls for Judgment
Genesis 4-5; I Chronicles 1:1-4; Genesis 6
Simplified Reading: Genesis 4-6; I Chronicles 1:1-4
*So, Genesis 4 begins with Adam and Eve outside the Garden of Eden. As the chapter begins, two sons are born to them. Their names are Cain & Abel.
*So, in the fourth chapter of the Bible, we get one of its major themes, that of the warring siblings. Cain is a tiller of the ground, a farmer; Abel keeps sheep. Both attempt to offer a sacrifice to God and God accepts Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Cain isn’t happy with this; God tells him that he shouldn’t be angry; if he forsakes evil, his offerings will be accepted.
*There is some commentary about this passage that says that Abel’s offering is accepted by God because Abel is somehow prescient in sacrificing lamb. Of course, as we move on through the Bible, the sacrifice of sheep becomes incredibly important, even to the point that Jesus as the Lamb of God becomes one of the most important symbolisms in the Bible. Cain’s sacrifice is rejected because he offers vegetables that he has grown, which has no symbolism.
*Of course, the Bible gives the real reason. Cain is a man of evil. Nothing to do with what he offered.
*Cain, having received this wise counsel of God, decides that he could do that. Or he could just murder his brother. He settles on the second option and, “it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” This has, of course, come down to us in myriad works of art as the first murder.
*It also stands in for . . . well, the brutal murder of a brother is one of the most evocative concepts in a lot of literature. The sword between the siblings also works metaphorically, but this story of a brother’s murder has become iconic.
*Just to quote the most obvious example, it’s referenced by Claudius in the scene in Hamlet where he seems to actually feel guilt for killing his brother, Hamlet’s father, and to seek some sort of absolution. Claudius’ great soliloquy begins: O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon't, a brother's murder.”
*Thus for Claudius to kill his brother is for him to commit the most primal sin imaginable, a sin with roots in the most ancient of histories and, as we will see below, a crime that provokes the ‘eldest curse.’
*Actually, that isn’t true, as one might argue that the eldest curse is in fact that curse that drives Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Well, Shakespeare was a genius; we’ll give him a pass on his theology, shall we?
*Then we get one of the great phrases of English literature, as God questions Cain on the location of Abel: “I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
*God responds, beautifully, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Another great image.
*So, God curses Cain and drives him out from among his family. Cain argues that he will be hated of all men for his horrible crime and that he will be killed by someone seeking vengeance or justice. God sets a ‘mark’ upon Cain, warning people not to kill him.
*This, obviously, is also a huge, iconic and evocative concept for Western art. The Mark of Cain comes to stand in for the taint of shame and evil; it is in the back of the mind of many practitioners of literature.
*The Mark of Cain has also come in for some really dodgy theology. The Bible doesn’t explain exactly what this mark is. That weird John Huston movie, In the Beginning, argued that it was a giant tattoo of a tree on Cain’s forehead. Which seems . . . arbitrary. And stupid.
*Yeah, I still hate that movie.
*Regardless, the Mark of Cain has gotten even weirder treatment than that. There’s an RPG called Masquerade, I think, that posits that the Curse of God on Cain was to make him the first vampire. This is because Cain mentions that everyone that finds him, or recognizes him, will kill him. Therefore, God makes him immortal. Why God would require Cain to become a mass murderer, however, is left to the imagination.
*This is silly, but the interpretations get even more reprehensible. The Mormons, among others, were great proponents, in their original incarnation, of the idea that the mark on Cain was black skin. Thus, they argued, all black skinned people had descended from Cain and were cursed of God; slavery, then, was part of God’s curse.
*Yes, it’s true, right here in America, people argued that by enslaving and cruelly treating black people, they were doing God’s work for Him. This can still be found among some particularly extreme quasi-Christian cults who believe in white supremacy.
*Anyway, this entire ridiculous interpretation came from the verse that says that Cain’s ‘countenance fell,’ which the racists (to call a spade a spade) say indicates that his skin underwent a color change. This is, as most wackadoodle interpretations are, easily discounted. The Bible states that Cain’s countenance fell before the murder of Abel, specifically when Cain saw that Abel’s sacrifice had been accepted. Thus, it could hardly be part of the curse put on Cain as punishment for Abel’s murder, since he hadn’t committed it yet.
*So, we’re four chapters in and we’re already come across a particularly egregious example of the Scriptures being twisted in order to support the agenda of men perpetrating cruelty and evil. I wish I could say that this is the last time this happens, but we all know it isn’t. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this kind of reading in as we progress. Sad, isn’t it, that this story that seems specifically about how evil it is to do harm to another human being was used by people to excuse wholesale torture and murder? And people say man is basically good.
*But enough about Cain & Abel. We are then told that Cain goes out, takes a wife and then given a brief genealogy for Cain’s offspring.
*Oh! Two things. First of all, Cain’s wife? Yeah, she would have had to have been a sister of his. Right, I know. Crazy, isn’t it? But how else would it work? That’s right, children, we’re all products of inbreeding. I suppose the basic genetic lines were more pure then? Or something?
*Second thing, we have here another extremely important phrase: “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” So, obviously, Steinbeck’s epic novel of sibling rivalry and betrayal is another text that is very consciously written to be viewed through the lens of this first sibling rivalry.
*So, Chapter Four finishes with a tantalizing story that no one has ever managed to explain to me. Basically, Lamech, who is Cain’s great-great-great-grandson, takes two wives and then he tells them the following: “Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and seven-fold.”
*Then he disappears from the text completely and we are told nothing else about him. I find this brief little passage fascinating. Lamech appears in only seven verses here, but there seems a wealth of information withheld. He’s killed someone, but the killing has resulted in only bad for Lamech; what’s even more stunning is that he says that his crime is eleven times worse than Cain’s. And yet, while the Scriptures tell us in detail about Cain, they tell us nothing about Lamech’s grievous crime. This is one of my favorite Biblical mysteries. I’d love to know Lamech’s story.
*Also intriguing is that this is the first passage in the Scriptures to be in the form of Hebrew poetry, which features a line that sets up a thought and then a second line that either completes it, repeats it or contrasts it. Therefore, the phrasing, “I have slain a man to my wounding/and a young man to my hurt,” would be a line of Hebrew poetry, as would, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,/truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.” So, I wonder, is this just supposed to be a song Lamech makes up? Is Lamech the first blues singer? I wonder.
*The reference to the first song isn’t something I just pulled out of my head. The Scriptures tell us that Jubal, one of Lamech’s sons, invented the harp and the organ and, apparently, music itself. So, this is all very interesting. To me. Maybe not to you.
*Anyway, Chapter 4 closes with Eve giving birth again to another son, Seth. Seth then has a son, named Enos. Then, to end this rather grim chapter on a high note, the Bible says, “Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.”
*So, Genesis 5 is the first occurrence of a particular kind of chapter that will continue almost throughout the entire Bible and generally send one’s mind to wandering. This is the kind of chapter that has labeled the Bible dull and unreadable. I mean, of course, that we have come to our first chapter dedicated to a genealogy.
*Or, as John Lithgow put it on Third Rock from the Sun, after reading a similar chapter, “These people begat their brains out.”
*We begin again with Adam and move through several generations, ending with Noah being born at the end of the chapter. The structure is that we are told how long a person lives until they father their first child (except in Adam’s case, where Cain and Abel are both skipped, and we are told how old he was when he fathered Seth) and then told how many years he lived after that firstborn son was born and then his age when he died.
*I will pass over completely the foundation being laid here for the devaluing of women and the rise of the corrupt patriarchy. I just don’t have the strength to get into it.
*There are a couple of interesting things here, however. First and foremost, as most of you will already know, are the extreme ages given. We are, for instance, told that Adam was a hundred and thirty years old when he fathered Seth and that he was nine hundred and thirty when he died!
*These extreme ages continue throughout the chapter. They create an icon in verse 27 when we are told of Methusaleh, who was nine hundred & sixty-nine years old when he died. This is the longest span of life recorded in Scripture and so Methusaleh, about whom nothing else is really told, has become famous, even down to this day; he’s used comedically to refer to elderly people or to ancient customs or whatever.
*So, do you want me to talk about these extreme ages? They begin here, at extreme lengths, but slowly fall away. Within just a few chapters, Abraham will be talked about as being a hundred years old and that this is far too old for him to father a child without some sort of miracle happening. By the time, we’re out of Genesis, all ages are within the realm of possibility.
*Some people argue that the numbers are actually supposed to be months, not years. This puts the death dates in a pretty typical range. However, there are problems; for instance, if we do this translation, this means that Enoch fathered Methusaleh when he was five years old! This seems about as outside the realm of possibility as someone living to be nearly a thousand years old.
*Others, who take the Bible as not an accurate history, ascribe the status of myth to these numbers, while others, seeking a deeper theological explanation, argue that mankind had not yet begun to feel the detrimental effects of the Fall and that the first few generations were therefore incredibly long lived. A sort of afterglow from the Garden, if you will.
*Make of these numbers what you will.
*One other interesting thing from Chapter 5 , and then we’ll move on quickly to Chapter 6, is the presence of Enoch, Methusaleh’s father. We are told that Enoch “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” This rather tantalizing phrasing has led many scholars to link Enoch up with Elijah, another prophet of God who was taken directly to Heaven without dying (in Elijah’s case, in a chariot of fire; we’ll get there; not soon, but we will get there). Some people believe that Enoch was a similar case, a sort of divine translation from this life to God’s Heaven, without having to go the way of the grave. He is thus seen as a sort of symbol of the church that will be raptured when Christ returns to Earth.
*You guys all have a sort of basic understanding of rapture theology, right? I don’t need to go into that? If I do, just say so and I’ll do a follow up post about it.
*For my part, I’ve always thought it would be a great idea to write a sort of mystery style, literary novel about someone looking for Enoch after his mysterious ‘disappearance’ and uncovering all sorts of weird supernatural things. It could be sort of a post-modern gloss on a noir novel, only set in the period of ancient, ancient history and with some interesting things to say about God’s presence and absence in our lives. Does this sound awesome to anybody else?
*Anyway, there is an apocryphal Book of Enoch which purports to be Enoch’s visions and prophecies before his ‘translation.’ It isn’t accepted as a book of Scripture, but it is quoted in the New Testament by Jude, which means that a brief portion of it is sort of second-hand Scripture. I haven’t read it, the whole book I mean. I guess I should.
*You know, keeping up with these apocryphal texts wears a guy out. The Gospel of Thomas was just stupid. I could hardly get through that one. Or was it the Gospel of Judas? See, they all run together. I mean, the Gospel of Judas was like Platonic or something. Weird.
*I actually considered adding in the Apocryphal texts to this project, at least the ones that were originally in the Bible (and still are in the Catholic Bible). I decided against it. This is a huge enough project as it is.
*So, as Chapter 5 ends, with all of our old characters dead and gone (Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel), we are privy to the birth of our new main character. His name is Noah. In the final verse of Chapter 5, Noah reaches the age of 500. He has three sons, Shem, Ham & Japeth.
*Okay, now according to the exact chronology, I would now skip over to I Chronicles for a few verses and then back to Genesis for Chapter 6. This gets really complicated as we move on. There’s a day coming up where the reading stars in Genesis, jumps to I Chronicles, goes back to Genesis, then back to I Chronicles, then back to Genesis and then wraps up in I Chronicles.
*So, I’ve decided that I’m going to go ahead and break the readings up by book. So, in the case of this day (and the other example I gave), I’m just going to read the entire reading in Genesis and then the reading in I Chronicles. Make sense? I’m posting those up there with the daily reading as well, under the heading Simplified Reading, in case you tend, like me, to get weary with a lot of page flipping.
*So, Chapter 6. As you might expect, our final chapter today is taken up mostly with the story of Noah.
*And, I mean, if you went to Sunday School for thirty seconds, you know the story of Noah. It’s such an epic show stopper; every teacher wanted to tell that one. So, I’m assuming you all know this story.
*But before we get there, there’s a brief, odd passage at the start of Chapter 6 that I have to talk about.
*Man, I thought that, after my first post, these would start getting shorter. Not yet, they’re not.
*Anyway, Chapter 6 opens with a bit about . . . well, let me quote: “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose . . . there were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”
*So, we’ve got daughters of men, that’s obvious. But who or what are these strange ‘sons of God?’ And how do they connect to the ‘giants’ that are in the earth at this time? Are the ‘sons of God’ the giants? Are they called this because they’re bigger and stronger than ordinary men? Just some sort of hypo-glandular cases ascribed a descent from deity because of their great size?
*Or are we talking angels here, descending from Heaven to make love to earth women? Some people actually believe this.
*Others believe that this is evidence of, and I kid you not, alien abduction in ancient history.
*Those who comb through ancient culture for evidence of alien abduction are generally out of luck. Unless they make a movie about it and stick Indiana Jones in it; then we’re out of luck. If you get my drift.
*There are, however, some interesting things in ancient art and literature that do seem to point to some non-earthly visitors. My favorite are the sand drawings in New Mexico, images that are only visible from high in the air . . . how would ancient people have conceived to create these images? Weird stuff.
*There are also two very specific passages in the Bible that alien enthusiasts love. This is one of them. The other is quite a bit later in Ezekiel. Still, I think it’s stretching here. I mean, it’s possible, if you squint and tilt your head and come with preconceived certainty about aliens breeding with humans . . . but if you just read it, no. I think I come down on the most natural explanation; a group of strangely sized humans. I mean, let’s not get too crazy here. I mean, I know God speaks openly to people and stuff and a snake was talking earlier, but alien abduction? Angel rape being carried out willy-nilly? Nah.
*Anyway, also at this point, God says that from here on out, man will live only to a hundred and twenty. I guess the earth is getting too crowded (though that won’t be a problem for long!) and people are getting more and more evil and such. Huh. You know, I had actually forgotten that this was just in here explicitly like this. So, this is the change over, I guess, from the thousand year life span.
*So, anyway, God sees that wickedness is spreading; cruelty and evil abound. Beautiful, chilling line: “The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
*Man, doesn’t it feel that way sometimes to you? Like when you watch the news? And like some kids like set a stray dog on fire for laughs or some methhead stuck her baby in the washer or some teacher just got caught raping a student or some bastard just sent a kid out wearing a bomb to blow up a load of other kids and then said he was doing God’s work? It’s like you just wonder, how can people come up with such awful stuff to do? How do you think about evil long enough to come up with this crap? Is every imagination, every thought, focused on finding a new way to **** somebody up, to wreck somebody’s life? I mean, God.
*I don’t watch the news a lot. I can’t take it. Give me a nice, sweet movie like Saw or something. I can’t take the absolute bleakness and darkness of the evening news.
*Anyway, things get so bad that God has reason to find regret: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
*A lot of people find God’s actions at this point extremely chilling and vindictive and such. I see the point. He does, after all, set out to entirely destroy every human being on the planet, except for his few favorites. But, I have to be honest: I kind of get it. I mean, yes, it’s horrible, yes, it’s chilling, yes, it’s grim. But, seriously, like I was talking about the kind of stuff you see on the news . . . I mean, if you had created mankind, wouldn’t you occasionally just throw up your hands and say, “What a disaster. What an absolute disaster.” I mean, sometimes you do just stop and think, “Well, God, this whole humanity thing? Yeah, it has really not turned out well.” I mean, just think about it. If it was you, wouldn’t you have a regret now and then? Like, after the Holocaust?
*So, God visits Noah, who has found grace with God because of his faithfulness and holy life. He opens with something you never want to hear God say: “The end of all flesh is come before me.”
*So, God instructs Noah to build an ark, a giant boat. He gives Noah dimensions, strict instructions on its construction. He tells Noah that once it is finished, he is to take his family and also two of every animal on the planet into the Ark. God will then send a flood to cover the entire earth. Only two of every animal and Noah’s family will survive.
*As Chapter 6 ends, Noah sets to work according to God’s plan.
*Okay, so let’s very briefly hit our section of reading for today that’s in I Chronicles. I Chronicles comes quite a bit later in the Bible, as most of you probably know. There’s Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings and then I & II Chronicles. So why are we leaping so far ahead so early in our reading?
*Well, simply put, it’s because I & II Chronicles is essentially a parallel telling of stories told elsewhere in the Bible. Some of the stories, like the stories of King David, which takes up I & II Samuel, are told in great detail. But the first ten or so chapters of I Chronicles are taken up entirely with genealogies.
*You see, the anonymous scribe who wrote I & II Chronicles was interested in creating a sort of history of the entire Jewish race, so he (or she, though this is incredibly doubtful, obviously) started at the very beginning. There is no easier way to demonstrate what I mean than by quoting the first four verses of I Chronicles in full. This is, of course, our reading for today, but I’ll just go ahead and quote them completely.
*Here they are: “Adam, Sheth, Enos, Kenan, Mahalaleel, Jered, Henoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”
*So, you see both what we can look forward to in the first ten chapters of I Chronicles and also why we’re breaking up the reading as we go through the other historical books.
*Frankly, I’m kind of glad we’re breaking these sections of I Chronicles up. It’s probably the single most difficult passage of the Old Testament when you hit those first several chapters of I Chronicles and you’re just plowing through this endless list of names.
*This also points out that the Bible contains a lot of versions of different people’s names, often because of passages being written in different language. What I mean is that the person listed as Sheth is Seth from Genesis. Enoch, the character who walked with God in Genesis, is listed here as Henoch. This can create some confusion, so we’ll try to keep everybody straight. Not that these differences are often important or anything.
*So, is anyone interested in a comparison of the two genealogies? You know, to see if the one in I Chronicles lines up with the one in Genesis. Most likely, they more or less do, since the book of Genesis was probably a source used by the scribe who wrote I Chronicles.
*So, let’s just do this real fast for fun. We maybe won’t do this every time we have two dueling genealogies, unless people want (!!) me to do so. But we’ll do it this one time to see how things shake out.
*So, I printed the genealogy from I Chronicles above. I’ll just quote the names, and none of the details, as they occur in Genesis.
*Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methusaleh, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham & Japheth.
*Okay, so as you can see, they line up exactly, only with the few spelling changes. Of course, as I said above, this isn’t really surprising.
*Okay, so today’s Further Exploration is a couple of songs and, by extension, the fabulous albums they appear on.
*So, we talked about Cain and Abel this time around. So, let’s point out a couple of references to Cain in popular music. First of all, let’s take a look at Elvis Costello’s Blame It on Cain.
*And, like I said, I recommend not only that song, but the entire album it’s on, My Aim is True. It’s a frigging fantastic album; it’s Costello doing his great pop-punk routine. It’s got Alison and Mystery Dance and a ton of other great songs.
*And secondly, Bruce Springsteen’s Adam Raised a Cain.
*This isn’t one of Springsteen’s most famous songs, but it’s a great example of how even the Boss’s second tier (or maybe even third tier) contains a heck of a lot of fantastic recordings. I mean, Springsteen’s vocal performance here is just incredibly soulish. I mean, it’s fabulously raw.
*And, once again, as long as you’re listening to this song, you should listen to the whole album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is one of Springsteen’s best albums. I might put it only behind Born to Run and The Rising. I dunno, I mean maybe Born in the USA and The River and Tunnel of Love plug in there somewhere, but Darkness on the Edge of Town is just darn good, that’s all there is to it.
boy, I think we’re done for today. And this post actually was two pages shorter than the first one!
*Next time, we’ll continue through both Genesis (four chapters) and I Chronicles (more of chapter 1). Join me as we see the Flood come, God making His second promise to mankind and . . . of course, more genealogies.