The ancient Hebrews did not always intend their genealogies to be used as a chronology. Often, names were left out of a genealogy in order to produce symmetry, a neat and clean pattern. The primary purpose of the genealogy was to establish a person’s family identity, a person’s roots.
In my mind’s eye, Adam stares with numb shock and sorrow as God’s mark appears on Cain. Perhaps automatically he lifts his arm to draw Eve close, and she shudders with horror as the reality sinks farther in. Her firstborn, brought forth into their harsh world with cries of agony and wonder, with such eager hope, was now leaving them forever. And her other frail, beautiful son, lost forever to the ground they had come from, “…for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Genesis chapter 4 is kind of a depressing chapter, really. It begins with murder and it ends with murder. In between is a lot of living that, at first glance, seems pretty impressive. But on second glance reveals a growing trend towards debasement and debauchery. What can the church gain from this dark chapter?
What does a civilization without God look like? Activity, growth, progress, technological advancement, wealth, sophistication, an appreciation for towering intellect, and powerful art. All stem from God’s grace to humankind, yet without God, civilization degenerates.
The penalty for sin is far reaching. Sin can rupture every relationship, becoming the source of untold harm both to ourselves and to others, between ourselves and God, with the power to wrench every good thing within us into ruin.
Our God-given capacity to feel, emotions that enhance our knowledge and experience of Him and each other, cover the whole spectrum of life, from ecstasy to horror, from rapture to envy, from sorrow to elation, grief to bliss, serenity to rage. Cain’s smoldering resentment, anger, hurt pride, jealousy, and envy, which he brooded over and nurtured, covered a dark spectrum that drained away his joy and delight.
What was really more wrong with Cain was not what he offered, but the condition of his heart when he offered it. God was not pleased with Cain because unrepentant sin was already in his life.
Adam and Eve immediately noted the difference in their two boys: Cain was the chosen one; Abel was the also-ran. It would have been natural for them to favor Cain as the firstborn, maybe the one to fulfill God’s great promise. If there was parental favoritism, it would help explain much of what happens in this chapter.
As chapter 4 opens, it seems Adam and Eve had picked up the shards of their broken lives and begun to build a new life, out of the hard scrabble of a cursed ground. The story begins from Eve’s perspective, “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.’”