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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 20 - Cain is Sentenced and Exiled (4:9-16)

In the last lesson, we saw that Cain, the son of Adam, committed the first murder in history when he slayed his brother Abel in cold blood over a wrong sacrifice.  It is apparent that the consequences of the Fall were manifesting themselves, and Cain was about to pay a great price for his violent act.  But, as we will see, God's mercy was dispensed to Cain too, in spite of Cain's own issues.  Again, one of the things we want to glean from studying Genesis is that God is loving and merciful in the way he deals with humanity, and despite how bad some of our race get, God still reaches out to them. It was a lesson which would not be lost on the earliest disciples of Christ either, as He demonstrated this character as well when his persecutors cruelly tortured Him.  It is in this context that the lesson continues, as now Cain has committed the act of violence, and much like his father Adam in Genesis 3, Cain is given a chance to "own" his sin and seek forgiveness.  This is where our story continues.

In verse 9, God questions Cain by asking, "Where is your brother?"   Cain answers God's question indirectly with a question of his own:  "Am I my brother's keeper?"   God is all-knowing, and of course He knew already what Cain had done but wanted Cain to confess it himself, which Cain dodges.  In response to Cain's avoiding the giving of a straight answer, in verse 10 God chastises Cain by first asking him, "What have you done???"  Note also in this passage that God hears the voice of Abel's blood crying from the ground, but not hearing as in an auditory sense - the very essence of life, the life that oozed out of Abel's dying body, resonates in a way that God can discern it.  Cain too knows he has done wrong, and at this point is literally "shaking in his boots," for he knew from his father's story what was to come next.

As God is righteous, no crime goes unpunished, and therefore God pronounces a judgment on Cain in verses 11-12.  The first part of this judgment we read in verse 11 is that Cain is cursed from the earth. It is vital to note the wording of that, because God is not cursing Cain, but rather is taking from him that which defined him.  This "cursing from the earth" is related to Abel's spilled blood, because if Cain were to cultivate the land and grow anything, it would be tainted by spilled blood of a fellow man and therefore deemed unfit for either consumption or as an offering to the Lord.   Therefore, the "curse" is that if Cain does try to grow anything, it would be unfruitful.   Now, in contrasting Cain's judgment with Adam's in Genesis 3, we see that Cain is prohibited by God to do what God commanded Adam to do, both because of the taint of spilled innocent blood as well as the fact that Cain had a misplaced pride in his own works, and God was taking that away as a punishment.  In verse 12, Cain is then compelled to take up a more nomadic existence, becoming what Scripture calls a "fugitive and vagabond."  Essentially, Cain's livelihood was lost, and his restless wandering was connected to his survival.  As Cain was attached to the land and farming was his life, he is quite upset by this judgment, and says in verse 13 "My punishment is more than I can bear."  Having received this blow to his whole way of life, Cain seems a little stunned as he repeats back to God what was just pronounced on him, and in great fear he remarks, "My punishment is more than I can bear."  It is at this point God's mercy is displayed too.

Knowing Cain was fearful of his uncertain future, God still loves Cain and vows to protect him.  In verse 15, the Scriptural account tells us that God gives Cain a mark, and also a solemn vow that anyone who kills Cain intentionally will receive seven-fold punishment for doing so.  The specifics of this "mark of Cain" are not really given in Scripture, but a lot of incorrect speculations have grown up around this question over the centuries.   First, the mark has often been associated with a curse, but the problem with that conclusion is the Scriptural record itself - it says in this passage that Cain was given the mark for his protection by God Himself, and that rules out the curse aspect.  It should be seen rather as a sign that God has not given up on nor forgotten Cain, and the protection God gives Cain is an expression of divine love and mercy rather than something evil.  Secondly, one of the most ludicrous theories about the "mark of Cain" was more widespread in earlier generations than it is now, and it is a racist theory that suggests that the "mark of Cain" was black skin, which to be honest is so stupid that it almost deserves public derision.  Therefore, many people who espouse racist viewpoints have tried to say that the whole Black population of the earth is somehow "cursed," and that Cain fathered the Black race because of his curse.  But, the theories on this get even sicker - some idiots (and I am being extremely charitable with this term!) have even said that because Cain lacked a wife, he molested an ape and that is where Black people come from.  Anyone who would be dumb enough to hold to such racist drivel is rightly condemned a heretic by the Church, and this view is soundly rejected by the Church Fathers as well as most Biblical scholars today.  Black people are as human as anyone else, and they are of the same heritage as anyone else.  Any attempts to dehumanize them with some twisted theology or hermeneutical isogesis is to be rejected as well.  As mentioned, no one knows what kind of mark Cain did receive, but the mark was not a curse but rather an extension and expression of God's mercy.   With judgment now pronounced and God's mark upon him, Cain leaves for the "land of Nod," which we are told in the passage is in the east (v. 16).   Many speculations about where "Nod" was have been debated and discussed for centuries, as some believe it was in either the area where China is today or in Persia somewhere.  I would personally say that I believe the ancient land of  "Nod" to be in central Asia,  in an area traditionally called Transoxiana just northeast of Persia on the steppelands south of Siberia.  That, however, is a personal theory and nothing that I would be dogmatic about.   The exact location of Nod is not really relevant to the overall context of Scripture, which as we said is to chronicle God's plan of salvation, and that is why I believe little is mentioned about it.

At this point, we will spend the remainder of the lesson looking at several insights we can take away from a reading of this passage.  To begin, it is already established that rather than focusing so much on the judgment aspect of the passage, the story of Cain's judgment tends to reflect a beautiful picture of God's mercy.  God could have easily killed Cain where he stood for the violent death of Abel, but God does not do that.  Rather, as St. Ephrem notes, God offers Cain the chance for repentance, and that is even for the violent murder of his brother.   Therefore, in looking at it from that perspective, the problem then is not God's vengeance for Abel's death, but rather Cain's initial refusal to repent.  Instead of remorse for what he did, Cain is filled with wrath.  And, as Adam did in the Garden a generation earlier, Cain tries to justify his crime by covering it up.  However, God had already witnessed the crime, and as God is omnipresent and all-knowing, there was no way for Cain to hide what he did.  So, what Cain tries to do is rely on his own faulty reasoning, in which he assumes that God would not interfere in earthly affairs.   This attitude is still evident even among church people today, and what I am about to say is going to really cause a problem for some who read this, but the truth must be spoken.  During the Enlightenment era of the late 18th century, many of what were then called "secret societies" began to spring up all over the place, in particular one organization called the Freemasons.  Using religious language and supposedly being a "Christian fraternal venture," the Freemasons were in reality naturalistic secularists who tried to "church up" what they did with religious language, but their philosophy was never compatible with orthodox Church teaching, and here is why.  Freemasons view God as an impersonal force based on another Enlightenment innovation called Deism, and essentially God to the average Mason is just someone who is a "Great Architect" of the universe who just wound it up like a big clock, and then let it run itself until it runs out, and then it is rewound and started all over again.  Masonic views on this are so at variance with Scripture and what the Church has historically taught that it is incomprehensible why so many orthodox Christians can be members of lodges like that.  Cain, in essence, was the first Deist - like the Freemasons, he didn't deny God's existence, but rather denigrated God's role in human affairs in order to justify his own behavior.  We have seen another example of an upsurge in this type of thinking via what sociologist Christian Smith terms Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and the tenets of it he describes on pages 163-163 of his excellent book, Soul Searching (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2005).  What Moralistic Therapeutic Deism essentially says is that God is needed only to resolve problems, and that He doesn't need to be particularly involved in one's life otherwise.  Essentially, according to this mindset, if you are good when you die, you go to heavenly bliss (which is the heresy of universalism).  The problem with both Freemasonry and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is that the Scriptural record disagrees with both of them, because in Scripture we see God being very involved with His creation, and in particular with the affairs of man.  Cain almost bought into a similar mindset too, but God didn't let him get away with it because God is present everywhere and to anyone who is open to hear His voice. The story of Cain therefore - even in spite of Cain's own self-rationalization - refutes deistic heresies because just this account alone shows that God is involved in the life of individuals as well as the collective human race, and He is concerned about the safety and well-being of even the disobedient.  So, in this story, we get a picture of God as personal as well as a vivid and beautiful picture of His mercy at work. 

Now, for a few further thoughts about the "blood crying out."  As Maximus of Turin notes, although the blood itself doesn't have a literal voice, its existence calls out to God.  The metaphorical imagery of "the blood crying out" is a powerful one that reminds us that the life of a being is in the blood, and so much so that of a human person.  And, its "crying out" also, by the fact it still lingers, will serve to sear the conscience of the person guilty of shedding it.  It is also a major reason why in both the Levitical and Deuteronomic Codes the consumption of blood is forbidden to the Hebrews later as part of the covenant God makes with His people, and that has resulted in a rather specific procedure of slaughtering, dressing, and preparing meat that Jews still practice today called kosher.  Kosher dietary practice requires that all blood be removed from any meat consumed, and that in the slaughter of any animal strangulation is not an option.  It is also medically sound as well, being that the blood which circulates around the body also cleanses it of impurities and works with the kidneys, liver, and digestive tract to remove them from the body - if one consumes raw blood, for instance, the risk of contracting microbes and other parasites is increased.  It is also a very vivid picture of the Eucharist too, for Jesus does command us to partake of His blood in order to obtain eternal life, and that is why we are admonished as Catholic Christians to fast prior to its reception as well as being in the right state of receiving, because to receive it unworthily is an action with serious consequences.  So, in Abel's death, we see also a picture of Jesus Christ, as we discussed last lesson, and also of the Eucharist. 

So, Cain has become a fugitive, so therefore what are his options in life?   Chrysostom in his writings affirms that this punishment was a mercy God extended to Cain, as it was meant to encourage him to exercise more self-control.  Rather than being a bondage, this punishment was in fact liberating for Cain in such a way as it got him away from one source of his sinful act.  And, as a further sign of that mercy of God extended to Cain, he is protected by God Himself with a mark.   However, the mark has nothing to do with Black skin!   However, it is possible that it could have been a physical infirmity of some nature.  Chrysostom, for instance, believed that Cain was inflicted with a type of palsy which may have been similar to what we see in conditions such as Parkinson's disease today.   Being Cain was basically forbidden from working the ground, this type of infirmity may have insured that it would be physically impossible for Cain to work as he once did.  In lieu of the crime, St. Cyril of Jerusalem notes that this punishment was actually quite mild, which again signifies God's love and mercy. 

Now, the question that concludes this lesson is where did Cain go when he was exiled?   St. Clement of Alexandria gives the spiritual implications of this based on what "Nod" translates as ("Nod" means "disturbance, wandering.").  He says that Cain was driven from "rest" (Eden) to wander in disturbance as a consequence of his sin.  So, would this have been a life sentence?  Scripture again is silent on this, although as we will see next lesson there is evidence from extra-biblical sources that Cain did eventually have a home and a family.  Therefore, a possible theory is that Cain was given a sort of "time-out" to meditate on his actions and be drawn to a place of repentance for those actions, at which point he would have had some level of restoration.   As for "Nod" itself, the only thing Scripture reveals is that it is "east of Eden," and many have proposed locations for it - the ancient area of Elam in southwestern Iran, the Arabian Desert, China, or I would propose personally the Central Asian steppelands.  Any way it is looked at, "wandering" denotes a nomadic existence, which would have made agricultural life impractical anyway, which means also that God knew what He was doing. At this point, no one has conclusively located an ancient land of "Nod," and being this happened pre-Flood, the land itself may not be in a recognizable location in today's world. 

To close, the lesson we learn from Cain's story is fairly simple.  Although we sin, God's mercy is limitless.   In the stories of both Adam in Genesis 3 and of Cain in Genesis 4, we also see that this is an immutable attribute of God Himself, as His mercies were evident and preceded the coming of Jesus by centuries.   Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," and John 1:1 reminds us that Jesus was God from the beginning.  God does not change, and although He may resort to drastic measures to get our attention when He wants to order our steps, His mercy is still evident.  We see more of this mercy extended to Cain as we explore the family tree of his descendants in the next lesson. 

(All references to the Church Fathers are utilized from Andrew Louth and Thomas Oden, ed.  The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament Vol. 1 - Genesis 1-11.  Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2001.  pp. 107-110)