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The first announcement of God’s plan of rescue
Genesis Chapter 3, verses 14 and 15
So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Adam’s and Eve’s pitiful attempts to excuse themselves didn’t deserve an answer from God and didn’t get one. Instead, God turned to the serpent and announced a curse.
The serpent’s method of movement was henceforth to be changed; from now on he would crawl on his belly.
If this seems unfair, remember that God was doing this to teach the two people who were still blushing from the first sin. The snake’s unusual method of moving along the ground was to serve as a constant reminder to them and to us that this is the animal Satan used to drag down the crown of creation to his level. Crawling in the dust would also symbolize Satan’s defeat and humiliation. Adam and Eve heard the words God spoke to Satan; they were to know that although Satan had won his little victory here, he would not triumph permanently.
The Lord God then addressed some even more significant words to Satan, words in which he announced a new program of his faithful love. Martin Luther said of Genesis
3:15, “This passage contains in itself everything noble and glorious that is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures.” These words furnished light for the early believers, and they do the same for us. But the precious truths these words convey were spoken in a form that partly veiled the full measure of truth, thus challenging believers then and now to think about the words.
God spoke about enmity, enmity on three different levels. He told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” There had been friendship between Eve and
Satan. She had regarded him as her friend; she had believed her “friend” when he spoke. And if God had not intervened, Eve and all her descendants would have gone to live forever with this “friend.” God’s promise to send a Savior to redeem lost sinners created faith in Eve’s heart, and that friendship she had felt toward Satan was now replaced with enmity. What a blessing that you and I have learned to look upon Satan as our enemy!
The enmity God had announced was going to extend further. God promised it would expand to involve coming generations of both Satan’s offspring and Eve’s offspring. God foretold the ongoing hostility between Satan’s followers and those of Eve’s descendants who would share her opposition to the evil one and her trust in God’s grace. This is the hostility that exists between God’s believing children and the unbelieving world down to this day.
This enmity would reach its climax in one of Eve’s descendants, here identified only as “he.” God warned Satan: “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The prophecy culminates in the enmity between Satan and Christ. It was at this one descendant of Eve that Satan directed his most vicious enmity, realizing how much was at stake. “You will strike his heel.” We see the fulfillment of this promise early in the Savior’s life when Herod tried to kill him. We see another fulfillment immediately after Christ’s public inauguration into his work when Satan tempted him to forget his Father’s plan. And on that evil Friday that Christians call “Good,” Satan struck his enemy’s heel with a ferocity that cost the Savior his life.
But Satan’s enmity against the woman’s offspring was futile, because “he will crush your head.” The serpent’s crushed head spells defeat. As it was through the woman
that Satan brought sin and death into the world, so it was through the woman’s offspring that God would conquer sin, death, and Satan. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John Chapter 3, verse 8).
Genesis Chapter 3, verses 16 through 19
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
The Lord God had announced his long-range plan for punishing the old evil foe. But the heavenly Father now had to deal with some children who had doubted his love, disobeyed him, and tried to hide from him and deceive him. God now had some words for Adam and Eve, in which he announced appropriate discipline for both of them.
Christian teaching has consistently distinguished between suffering that God in anger allots to someone who has violated his majesty and suffering that God allots out of love and for a corrective purpose. The former we call God’s punishment; the latter we call God’s chastisement, his discipline.
God first addressed Eve. It was she who had first believed Satan’s lie that following him would bring blessing. Every time Eve or one of her daughters would bring a child into the world, the pain of childbirth would be a reminder that sin brings sorrow and suffering instead of satisfaction.
In the fall Eve had sought to act independently of her husband. She had assumed a position of leadership in that family. And so God reminded her that his creation order still stood and would continue to stand: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Although sin and selfishness would now enter the wife’s relationship to her husband, and his to her, sin did not change God’s original design for headship in the family. The New Testament reaffirms this and asks Christian
women to find joy and contentment fulfilling God’s role for them (1 Timothy Chapter 2 verses, 11 through 15).
The Lord God then addressed Adam and announced a discipline suited to his particular misdeed. Adam, you remember, had surrendered to Eve his leadership role in marriage. Because he had submitted to his wife, instead of leading in love, and had gone contrary to God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit, he would experience insubordination on the part of the soil (which up to now had been under his complete control). To remind Adam of his sin and to help him in his daily battle with his sinful nature, the Creator cursed the ground. Adam, as well as his children in generations to come, would experience misery and difficulty wringing a livelihood out of the soil.
God had given Adam dominion over his creation in order to protect and preserve it. And that had been Adam’s attitude while he still possessed the image of God. But a terrible change came over Adam when he lost God’s image and instead took on a sinful image. Remember how Adam had tried to hide from God, how he had lied to God, and how he had tried to take advantage of his wife by shifting his blame to her. We see these same trends in the human race today. God’s human creatures, originally designed to exercise God-like dominion over creation, now take advantage of it and exploit it. Ugly words have entered our vocabulary words like smog, pollution, acid rain, endangered species, and abortion. It’s clear why God would not want such creatures to have unlimited dominion over his creation.
The final penalty God announced for Adam’s sin was that his body, into which the Creator had breathed the breath of life, would one day return to the material from which it had originally been made. What a shattering message for Adam to hear! “Dust was your origin; dust will be your destiny!” In God’s solemn announcement, we see the reason people are afraid to die. Death is something that should never have been, something totally unnatural and a violent intrusion into God’s good plan.
The faithful God had appeared to Adam and Eve in an amazing display of his mercy. Not only had he exposed their sin, he had announced his great, good plan of deliverance from their sin, and he had designed appropriate discipline for each of them. What was their response?
Genesis Chapter 3, verses 20 through 24
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Adam gave his wife a name meaning “living,” or “life.” Surely with this name Adam was saying more than that Eve would have offspring; that would hardly seem significant enough to mention. The term life is often used in Scripture to describe union with God (what we sometimes refer to as salvation). The term death, on the other hand, connotes separation from God (damnation). Since Eve would in a very real sense be the mother of all human beings, the One who would restore life in its fullest sense would also be her descendant. In naming his wife, therefore, Adam showed his faith in the promise God had spoken.
God now proceeded to show his love for his children in another way. When Adam and Eve felt the first blush of shame at their nakedness (Genesis chapter 3, verse 7), they took immediate but unsatisfactory steps to cover themselves with fig leaves. By providing more adequate clothing for them, God strengthened their sense of shame to aid them in their struggle against temptation.
A statement that God made may puzzle the reader: “The man has now become like one of us.” Luther remarked, “God says this in holy irony.” After Adam and Eve had eaten
the forbidden fruit, they knew from experience what good and evil were, but that knowledge was a caricature of the knowledge God had intended them to have. They now
knew good as something they had forfeited and lost. They now knew evil as something that permeated their whole being, a built-in enemy against which they would have to
struggle even after they had been brought to faith.
It follows, then, that there was one more thing God had to do, and it required of God what we sometimes call “tough love.” He had to drive two people out of their garden home. The two verbs Moses uses to describe God’s action are intensive verbs, and one gets the impression that Adam and Eve were unwilling and had to be compelled to leave. God’s stated reason for driving them out of Eden was that now he did not want them, in their sin-stained condition, to eat of the tree of life, for that would have perpetuated their present form of life. God didn’t want them to live permanently in bodies enslaved to sin, like the damned in hell; that would have made Christ’s great work of restoration impossible.
To block any attempt Adam and Eve might make to reenter their garden home, God stationed cherubim with a flashing sword at the entrance. By so doing, God was announcing that life is no longer a continual paradise but rather a time of grace, a period God gives us in which we can find our way back to God through Jesus Christ. The last book of the Bible promises us that when we one day enjoy the perfect fellowship of God in heaven, we will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation Chapter 2 verse 7).
The two divisions of the human family
To many people the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden does not seem terribly serious. Perhaps the best answer to that objection is this: Look at the results their action had! Chapter 4 of Genesis illustrates the truth of this statement of Saint Paul: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans Chapter 5, verse 12).
Genesis Chapter 4, verses 1 and 2
Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
Old Testament and New Testament writers both use a special form of the verb to know as a delicate euphemism for the sexual relationship between husband and wife. “Adam knew his wife.” The verb connotes knowing from experience. Adam recognized Eve’s special nature and function; he knew her as his very own. God blessed their union with a child, a baby boy.
As Eve held her little son in her arms, she spoke some significant words. Unfortunately, several of her words have two different meanings. Luther understood Eve to say, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.” According to this translation, Eve thought that her little son was the Savior, the promised descendant who would crush the serpent’s head.
An alternate and probably better translation of Eve’s words is “Together with the LORD I have produced a man.” If that’s the way Eve’s words are to be understood, then
she was expressing her amazement and gratitude over the miracle of the first human birth. God had actually permitted her to share in his creative work! It’s also worth noting that in choosing a name for God, Eve did not choose his Creator-name but his Savior-name. By giving Eve a son, the God of the covenant was serving notice that he wasn’t about to let the human race die out. Eve rejoiced at this evidence that her family line would continue, so that at the proper time its most famous descendant would be born. The translation of the King James Version (“I have gotten a man from the LORD”) is impossible without emending the Hebrew text.
To prepare us for the tragic narrative that lies immediately ahead, Moses records the birth of a second son. We also learn that, after a time, Cain became a farmer and Abel a shepherd. Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters (Genesis chapter 5, verse 4), but, with a single exception, we don’t know their names.
Genesis Chapter 4, verses 3 through 8
In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
It doesn’t surprise us to learn that the two sons of Adam and Eve brought sacrifices to the Lord, perhaps at the time of harvest. Those two God-fearing parents would have taught their children to worship God. Cain brought his offering from the produce of his field, Abel from the first and best of his flock.
We have no way of knowing whether God had commanded this particular form of worship. It seems unlikely that it was self-chosen, since the Bible records a number of
different forms of worship that originated in the mind of sinful man, and they’re downright appalling. We hear, for example, of worshiping the sun and moon. In ancient times parents actually offered their children as living sacrifices to the gods in order to earn their favor. In ancient Canaan, men and women practiced temple prostitution to gain the gods’ blessings. This is the sort of worship that the sinful human mind will invent when left to itself. Surely it was not an accident, therefore, that Adam’s family practiced a type of worship that was pleasing to God.
Their sacrifices were offered “to the LORD.” Adam and Eve had taught their children to know and to love the Savior-God, the God of free and faithful grace. The symbolism behind the offering may have been the same as that behind our offerings; we place a portion of our possessions on the Lord’s altar in token of the fact that we have first dedicated ourselves to him.
Why Abel’s offering was acceptable to God but Cain’s wasn’t, the New Testament tells us, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did” (Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 4). And the apostle John gives us this significant insight into the goings-on in Cain’s heart: “Cain . . . belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother . . . because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John Chapter 3, verse 12). Cain was angry when his sacrifice was not accepted, thereby showing that his sacrifice had been made from a self righteous motivation.
In the actions of these two brothers, we see that not all the children of Adam and Eve shared their parents’ faith in the promised Savior. Cain’s sacrifice was displeasing to God because God regarded it as a piece of unbelief. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” the apostle writes (Hebrews 11:6). From the earliest days of the world’s history up to the present, there have always been two groups of people—believers and unbelievers. In the two sons of Adam and Eve, we can detect the beginnings of these two tendencies, which become more pronounced as the narrative of chapter 4 progresses.
“The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” Note the double object of the Lord’s favor. Through faith in God’s promise, Abel was acceptable to God; God looked upon him as his own dear child. And because his sacrifice flowed from that same faith, Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God. Nor could the unbelief in Cain’s heart remain secret from God. Although Cain was a member of the family of Adam and Eve and even participated in joint family worship, he was outside the family of God. Outwardly Cain offered his gifts to the true God, but his motivation was impure. He went through the motions of worship, but his motives were selfish and self-seeking.
In some way unknown to us, God let Cain know that the attitude of his heart displeased God and that his offering was unacceptable. Cain recognized this, resented it, and the angry look on his face showed it. When Cain added the sin of anger to his sin of false worship, the LORD, the Savior God, spoke to him, perhaps face-to-face. He showed his faithful love by warning him: “Cain, you’ve got no business being angry with me and with your brother! Sin, like a dangerous beast, is crouching at the door of your heart, but with my help you can resist it.”
Cain rejected the Lord’s warning and his kind offer. He resisted the gentle striving of the Spirit of God. Instead he invited his brother out to a field, where there’d
be no witnesses. And then in cold blood, he killed his brother. It was clear that Eve’s offspring had become Satan’s offspring (John Chapter 8, verse 44).
Genesis Chapter 4, verses 9 through 16
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
The faithful God of the covenant appeared to Cain again, this time not with an offer of help but with a crushing message of law for the bold sinner. “Where is your brother? What have you done?” Cain may have thought he had forever silenced his brother’s voice, but he learned that Abel’s shed blood was continually crying to God for vengeance.
To arouse Cain’s conscience and to serve as a lifelong reminder of his crime, God announced a curse on him. This was not an irreversible sentence of damnation. Cain, a farmer, would no longer be permitted to settle in the cultivated portion of the land but would eke out a living only with the greatest difficulty. Furthermore, he would be compelled to spend his life as a restless wanderer.
With those solemn words, God had gotten Cain’s attention. The bold sinner was terrified by what he had just heard, but his response showed no indication of repentance. His worst fear was for his own life. “Whoever finds me will kill me.” It has been estimated that there may have been three or four generations of Adam’s descendants on earth at this time, all of them blood relatives of the man whom Cain had murdered. Cain’s fear was a very realistic one, that one of Abel’s relatives might take blood-revenge on him.
To assure Cain this was not going to happen, the faithful Lord gave Cain a sign. Some have understood this to be a visible mark of identification on his body. The Hebrew seems to suggest it was a miraculous sign God gave to Cain, similar to the signs God gave to Moses (Exodus Chapter 4, verses 8 and 9), to Gideon (Judges Chapter 6, verses, 17 through 22), and to Hezekiah (Isaiah Chapter 38, verses 5 through 8). In either case, the sign was a miraculous reassurance to Cain that his life would be spared.
The sight of this wretched man—homeless, forever on the move, and managing to survive only with the greatest difficulty would be a warning to anyone minded to imitate
the attitude and the behavior of Cain.
Genesis Chapter 4, verses 17 through 24
Cain lay with 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 the harp and flute. 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.”
The Bible says, “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Proverbs Chapter 13, verse 22). The heritage Cain left to his children was a dreadful one. They did not learn from their father what a precious gift God’s mercy is. They didn’t learn that the purpose of life is to glorify God. Consequently, Cain’s descendants followed the path their ancestor had chosen.
Cain married, and his wife followed him into the wretched existence God had promised him. Since at the beginning God had created only one family to populate the earth, Cain’s wife must have been a close relative probably his own sister, possibly a niece. (If Cain didn’t marry his sister, one of his brothers must have.) This was
inevitable, since God had determined that all of earth’s inhabitants were to have a common parentage.
We have quite a detailed description of the Cainite branch of Adam’s family, and it’s not impressive. Consider these specifics: “Cain was . . . building a city,” a fortified settlement. We’re not told that the building project was ever completed, but Cain apparently tried to neutralize God’s curse of banishment. “Lamech married two women.” Lamech, in the fifth generation after Cain, introduced polygamy into the human race. By so doing, he showed contempt for God’s stated purpose for marriage, that a man and a woman glorify God and serve each other by an unconditional commitment of love. Among the Cainites, God’s original purpose was perverted by lust.
The occupations of the Cainites are listed, and they’re impressive. Cain’s descendants raised livestock; they made musical instruments; they were skilled in working
with metals. All of these point to an advanced culture, a sharp contrast to the picture commonly drawn of the early occupants of our planet. The picture we get here
of the Cainites is of a group of people who developed the fine arts and an advanced culture but whose activities were completely directed toward this earthly existence. Cain’s descendants were people who had little use for God.
To this record of cultural advancement, Lamech provides an unhappy postscript. The first poetry recorded in the Scripture is a song Lamech sang to his two wives that
breathes the spirit of revenge. Perhaps at the moment, Lamech was holding a sword his son Tubal-Cain had made. To his boasting he adds the blasphemy that, if anybody would dare to harm him, his own hand could do more than God’s sevenfold vengeance would do to anyone who would dare to take Cain’s life.
From this sacred record, it becomes clear that the earliest civilizations made the greatest strides among those who were alienated from God. Perhaps this is not surprising. For one thing, the person divorced from God wants to blunt the curse of sin and tries desperately to anesthetize himself against the dull ache of an accusing conscience. Second, the person trying to live independently of God struggles to inject meaning into his life, which is empty without God. Understandably, all of his efforts will be channeled toward the goal of achieving a pleasant existence.
Genesis 4, verses 25 and 26
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.
This brief description of the Sethite branch of Adam’s family is in sharp contrast to the Cainite branch Moses just sketched. God gave Adam and Eve another son, Seth,
to take the place of Abel. In contrast to the boastful, blasphemous Lamech, who claimed credit for what he was, Eve gave God the credit for having blessed her with
Moses supplies very little information about the descendants of Seth, but that little says a lot. The New International Version and the King James Version both say
that at the time of Seth’s son Enosh, “men began to call on the name of the LORD.” In our idiom “to call on the name of the LORD” means “to pray.” Surely the sacred writer cannot mean to say that the practice of praying to God started with Adam’s grandchildren. A footnote in the NIV offers the alternative translation “to proclaim” the name of the Lord, and that surely must be the sense of the passage here. Up to this time, worshiping the faithful Savior-God had been done privately, within the family. At the time of Enosh, God’s children began to proclaim publicly the Savior’s name, his marvelous works in the interest of his people. While their Cainite relatives were perfecting their skills in the arts and sciences to enhance their lives in this world, the Sethites were making significant cultural advances in matters pertaining to God and to life in his presence.
Chapter 4 begins with the scriptural record of Cain’s lineage. The record of this branch of Adam’s family began with premeditated murder and ended with a song glorifying violence and bloodthirsty revenge. It becomes clear that this would not be the lineage from which God would give the promised Savior to the world. Because of its godlessness, this brilliant early civilization was destroyed in the great flood. Chapter 4 closes with the record of the Sethite branch of Adam’s family, the lineage from which the Savior descended. From this point on, the book of Genesis traces the history only of this Sethite branch.