‘At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.’
Found in Genesis 4:1-26 and 5:1-3
“Adam made love to 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.” Genesis 4:1-2
The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth. Lines to live repeatedly without thinking by. Life gives us this script and we learn these lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through our lungs, drawing them into our veins, running them straight to our heart. And our heart beats in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. We’ve learned the lines by heart, the human family-lines, lines running back through time, lines first spoken outside a garden long ago.
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” Genesis 4:3-5
The truth is found not just in what is present, but also in what is absent. Abel’s gift to God was the best he had to give. Cain’s gave ‘some’ of what he had. And God sees the hearts of both and responds reciprocally. But rather than producing realisation, conviction or repentance in Cain, he responds with the anger of an offended ego, revealing an absence far deeper than simply that of his gift.
Cain, the first born child of all human beings will become the first to take another’s life. Cain’s jealousy, fuelled by a half hearted devotion to God, to YHWH, will drive him to rip his competition down and the earth for the first time will soak up the blood of a human being made in God’s image.
Cain’s violence however, did not begin with him; it ended with his act of murder, but it began years before at the foot of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It began when the first human beings, his parents, replaced God on the throne of their hearts with their own desires. Cain committed the first murder but Adam and Eve had let death in the door (Romans 5:12) . Cain’s parents had planted the seeds of his destruction long before Abel lost his life to them. He was merely reciting lines, script lines, lines he knew by heart. From that hissing whispering moment the will of all human beings was broken, including Cain’s.
The problem was not that Cain did not give God a sacrifice that God liked. It was never about the sacrifice (just as it was never about the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). It was always about the state of the heart that was giving it. Is it begrudging, careless, going through the motions, or is it love? Wholehearted love, the love God has for us. God, who gave His all for us longs for us to return His love in kind, and from this place of love in God to find strength and renewed humanity to love all others the same.
Like Eve and then Adam, Cain did not keep God on the throne of his heart, as Lord of His life. His heart, first formed to be fully filled only by the love of God, shoves God out, and into the empty void rushes resentment, rage, envy and… well our actions are the fruit of our core. Cain murdered Abel in his heart long before the earth soaked up Abel’s blood.
Cain failed to make this choice and out of the dark corners of his apathetic heart festered a half hearted acknowledgement of God devoid of wholehearted devotion; a passive response to God’s presence. Cain had the personal presence of YHWH, His voice right there with him by his side. But rather than giving God his very best and being fulfilled and refreshed by his relationship with God, Cain is double minded and half hearted, giving some but not his all, not his whole heart. And the part he kept back, the part of any heart not wholly God’s is the part where darkness set up camp and dwelt, breeding contempt, birthing death.
And God, despite Cain’s indifference towards Him, fought for Cain, fighting for his heart, fighting with his heart, warning him like a concerned father. I see you Cain, your feelings, your face, but you can do better, you can be your best self, that is all I want for you, to be fully filled and fulfilled in my love. Choose life!
“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 rule over it.” Genesis 4: 6-7
And sin, it lies in that dark corner ready to pounce, ready to drag Cain down and devour him if he opens the door. We think we are in control when we reject God’s words and choose our wilful ways, but actually we are being devoured, torn apart from the inside out. True freedom is only found in loving God. Everything else is a bondage to emptiness, to devouring darkness. Eventually.
YHWH fought for Cain, as He fights for us. He believed in Cain’s (and our) ability to choose and longs for us to choose Him, to choose wholeness.
He named it for Cain, Cain’s two trees, the two paths, life and death, light and dark. Choose life Cain! Choose Life. He pleaded. But Cain had made up his mind and set his heart towards darkness.
“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis 4:8
For the first time in all created time, the earth from which we are formed now soaks up the blood spilt from our veins. And the first in a great tidal wave of violence enters human experience: death camps, firing squads, gang warfare, knife crime, genocide, homicide, suicide, gas chambers, the holocaust. It began with Cain, and ended nowhere.
But God’s heart full of love and justice was not done with Cain yet. After the dust had settled over Abels blood, God comes looking for Cain.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Genesis 4:9
In knowing God, did Cain ever truly know Him? Did he really believe God didn’t know and didn’t see and didn’t hear his brother’s cries? But there has always been that small part of Cains heart, the half hearted, double minded part, the part that never gave itself fully to God, that part has always been an atheist, never knowing God, blind to Him while standing in His presence.
God knew. Just as He knew when He had asked Cain’s parents in the garden, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) He now asks the same of Cain, “Where is your brother?”. One chance to name, one chance to own and repent. In asking Cain “Where is your brother” He was also asking Cain, “Where are you?”.
And the answer should have been “Lost”, just as it should have been with his parents all those years before, ‘Lost in the dark of sin and death’. That was the answer that could have led to acknowledgement, to repentance, to life. Because there’s no way to be found until you name that you are lost, lost in the dark of the midnight of your soul. We never reach for the light until we know we are in darkness.
But Cain, like his parents, deflects and avoids and with callous insolence shrugs ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’.
We were all created to keep each other, to keep God in our hearts so we can keep our emotions in check, keep our anger managed, keep our violence at bay. Any heart not living alive in the breath of God within them will be increasingly numb to the value of human life.
Murder is not the only way to bring death into this world: callous apathy and shrugging avoidance is another way. Letting the love and care of our ‘brother’ (all human beings) be somebody else’s business, somebody else’s problem. Calloused hearts usher death into the world in a thousand subtle ways: walking past, labelling, rejecting, dehumanising, succumbing to prejudice, redefining human beings into categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It is so easy to slide into violence and hate when it is only ‘them’.
And Cain, he could not have known how vast the engulfing flood of death and murder and violence would be; war, retaliation, slavery, domination. Yes humankind, we learned our lines by heart, thoroughly, diligently, and now war, death and carelessness has become an all too familiar backdrop to our existence, a state of the art industry, a reality pervading every news bulletin.
We know our lines by heart, we human beings, script lines, lines to live repeatedly without thinking by. And our hearts beat in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. We’ve learned the lines by heart, the human family lines, lines running back through time, lines first spoken outside a garden long ago.
“The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground’’ Genesis 4:10
What have you done? Feel it Cain. Let your heart feel, feel it beat even for a moment as human being. Feel the weight of the darkness pressing in. The darkness you chose.
And the darkness falls like a storm, like drenching rain thundering black, the dark of emptiness; a heart emptied of God, empty of love.
One generation. It took just one generation after the fall for humankind to move from disobedience to violence.
Hearts once emptied of the love of God find all kinds of darkness rushing into the void. And now all human generations roll and spin and writhe with dark and death. Brokenness begets brokenness, darkness begets darkness in a never ending spiral of destruction.
More than his brother Abel is destroyed by Cain’s violence. His actions have real consequences on the physical, emotional and spiritual ecosystem of his whole existence. Everything is broken now. He finds himself at odds with every aspect of his human life.
At odds with his Imago Dei calling,
“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” (Genesis 4:11)
At odds with his personal connection with God,
“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;” (Genesis 4:13-14a)
At odds with himself, his own heart and soul,
“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear…
… I will be a restless wanderer on the earth..” (Genesis 4:13-14a)
And at odds with his fellow human beings,
“…and whoever finds me will kill me”. (Genesis 4:14b)
There was no part of Cain’s life that was not destroyed by his actions that day. Abel lost his life, but Cain, though living, lost his also.
Now God, He doesn’t change when we become less that who we are. From the beginning of our breath He knew things would get messy. Before time began, before humankind began, before sin began, before pain began, grace was there, waiting for us.
God does not stop extending grace to Cain even after all Cain’s done.
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” Genesis 4:15
Cain now bears the mark of a marked man, marked not by his own violence as he perhaps deserves but marked by grace, marked by the grace of a God of second chances, of love and justice beating in one heart.
“So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Genesis 4:16
And this perhaps is one of the saddest lines in the Bible ‘Cain went out from the Lord’s presence’. He lost the one thing that mattered most, that makes everything else make sense. God with Him.
But in truth, it wasn’t this moment that Cain lost God’s presence with him. It was all the corroding moments leading up to this one, every small moment that he chose a vacuous existence, over a life filled with the love of God, the void, over God on the throne of his heart; his own will and wiles and ways, over the way, the truth and the life of God.
Now Cain, he wanders east of Eden to a land called ‘Nod’, which means ‘wandering’, the land we all dwell in when we don’t dwell with God, wandering around in the darkness, far from the garden with God.
In grace God protects Cain from death, but the choices Cain has made will become his descendant’s lived reality. Their hearts will beat in time to the script lines he lived out, the scar lines he laid out, and they will learn their lines by heart. Thoroughly. Diligently.
“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.” Genesis 4:17-22
At first glance this family line appears blessed. They had many gifts and talents: raising livestock, playing instruments and forging tools from bronze and iron. But their hearts, having been emptied of God could not humanise them.
“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.”
All the knowledge, talents, technology and progress in the world cannot restore humanity or give us a moral compass. Only YHWH’s love, God himself at the core of the beating heart of humanity can do that. Cain’s family line had become God-less, less and less of the image of God within them.
Within just five generations Lamech, Cain’s descendant had followed in his footsteps, murdering a ‘young man’, and even boasting that he will get away with it, citing Cain’s own arrangement with God.
Life gives us a script and we learn the lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through our lungs, drawing them into our veins, running them straight to our heart. Lamech’s heart was beating in time to the lines laid out by Cain. He knew his lines by heart. He lived them by scars.
And all our human family lines, all our beating human hearts, would have been beating in time with theirs, but for the intervention of grace.
The very next lines after Lamech’s boast are lines less like a script and more like a song. Song-lines of grace about a family line begun anew.
“Adam made love to 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.” Genesis 4:25-26a
God, despite everything is still with Adam and Eve. A new son is give to them, and then a grandson. And there is then this one small line, the line that underlines the new-found strength of a new family line…
‘At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord’ Genesis 4:26b
They reached for God, and He reached back. And a new family line is etched into time. And this phrase ‘to call on the name of the Lord’ can also be translated as ‘to proclaim the name of the Lord’1. Because to call on YHWH, to reach for Him, is also to proclaim His name as faithful. Because that is who He is. Faithful and full of grace when we have lost our way.
Because of this grace, this is not just the story of a new family line, but is also the story of a renewed beginning, a renewed creation story.
“This is the written account of Adam’s family line.
When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created.
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” Genesis 5:1-3
Here in Genesis chapter five we find the first of several renewed creation stories. Using phrases from the first creation story in Genesis one, this renewed creation story is written down in time as a renewed beginning, a redeemed storyline, a restored family tree for the human race with God as their creator-Father reaffirming His image in them, blessing them, and naming them human once more.
But Cain, his name is conspicuously absent, no longer there in the renewed genealogy of Adam and Eve recorded in Genesis chapter five. While within five generations of Cain’s family line his descendant Lamech is boasting of murder, in six generations of Adam’s renewed family line, his descendant Enoch ‘walks faithfully with God’, so much so that he does not see death at all (Genesis 5:24). One family line follows history’s footsteps into death, and the other, by grace, follows a renewed humanity’s footsteps into life.
Seth’s family line that began ‘to call on the name of the Lord’ became a line of humanity that walked with God and in Hebrews 11 we find mention of them there, Enoch and Noah, heading up a great lineage of the faithful, a family tree not built on lines of flesh and blood but on the song-lines of faith, obedience and intimacy with God; the new human genealogy stretching all the way back to Abel, and all the way forwards to us2.
And in the book of Luke (chapter 3) we find Jesus own genealogy again drawing a straight line from Jesus “the son of Joseph” to Adam “the son of God” with mention of both Noah and Enoch among many others3. Jesus became an heir of Adam’s renewed family line, a renewed human family line where faith was an inheritance and walking with God the storylines laid down.
And Cain’s line, his clever family line with all their knowledge, gifts, talents… and violence, is, it seems, wiped out of the pages of history with the flood.
It is not our gifts, knowledge and talents that makes us fully human, but our calling on the name of the Lord, our walking in faithfulness with Him. Because God is an essential part of the human ecosystem, as essential as the air we breath and the blood which courses through our veins; our humanity warps and withers without Him.
God knew this. So before Cain’s treachery, before his parent’s fall, before all time began, God’s walk to the cross had begun.
Abel’s death was the first death, it was the beginning, not just of a tidal wave of human homicide, but the beginning of God’s own long road to death Himself. The nails that pierced Jesus hands were wrought first in Cain’s own callous heart, unleashing and conditioning countless generations of murders since, until this one day on a dusty hill just outside Jerusalem humankind commits the worst homicide of all: The murder of God Himself.
But in this, our most horrific crime yet, the final new creation is born. One death that does not end life, but begins it. New. For all humankind, for all time past and all time to come.
This final and complete new creation offers us a new beginning, new footprints to follow, new lines to live. Not lines of a script blindly repeating the past, but lines of a melody breathing new life; lines of a lingering ancient song, a song half remembered but almost forgotten, a song first breathed over us in a garden long ago.
Read 2 Timothy 1:9, and Genesis 4:26…
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life -not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” 2 Timothy 1:9
‘At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.’ Genesis 4:26b
What do these scriptures say about the song-line YHWH breathed into you from the beginning of time and the storyline He wrote for you from before your first breath?
Where are your script-lines and God’s song-line/storyline for you in conflict?
References, Credits and Notes
1 NIV Cultural Background study Bible, Zondervan, 2016, note on Genesis 4:26
3 Luke 3:36-38
4 Genesis 3:17, 4:11-12 and 5:29.
All Photos taken by Liz Campbell except for the baby photo of Liz and Zoë which was taken by Caroline Harrison