The City of Man 1.0 (Genesis 4:17-26)

So the last time we saw Cain, he was travelling eastward, into the land of Nod, the land of wandering. He can never stay in one place for very long. He has to move constantly and always be on his guard, because he can never be sure if the next person he meets will greet him — or try to kill him in revenge for his murder of Abel.

And as we catch up to him here we discover that he is married, verse 17: Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch.

And of course the question everyone asks at this point is: who did he marry? One of his sisters? And: what kind of woman would marry a murderer anyway?

I’ll answer the second question first: probably Cain was already married before he murdered Abel. When God sent him into exile, his wife went with him, just as Eve went with Adam when they were driven out of the garden.

And as for who Cain did marry, he probably married one of his sisters, or a niece, or a cousin. Because Eve has certainly produced other sons and daughters, who have been producing other sons and daughters.

And, of course, when we hear that we say, “But…isn’t that a bit weird?”

But if we asked Moses that question, he would think that we are a bit weird. He would say, “Yeah! Sure, he married his sister, or his cousin, or some other relative. But why do you care? If it was important I would have written it down!”

Because in the cultures of that time, kinship ties were the very foundation of a society. As much as possible, people married within the family, in order to preserve unity and wealth. Marrying cousins was very common — as it still is today among many tribal people — and even marrying sisters was considered okay until the time of Moses, when God, in his law, told his people not to do that anymore.

So Moses would be confused by our concern. And he would be concerned that we are missing the point. Because the point of saying that Cain has a wife who bears him a son is to show us that God’s promise to Eve is has been passed on to her daughters: children are being born. God is gracious: he continues to give life through the women in these mens’ lives, even though these men actually deserve death.

And at this point we discover that Cain is tired of wandering. He’s tired of looking over his shoulder. So he builds a city, and names it after his son Enoch.

And this is a very important turning point in the history of redemption. It is also extremely controversial.

See, here’s the problem: God cursed Cain to wander. Instead, he builds a city. So is he rebelling against God, or did God tell him to build a city?

If we say, “Obviously Cain is rebelling against God by building a city!” then we could also say that the city — as a concept — is an act of rebellion against God. Which means Christians should never live in a city, Christians should do their best to completely separate themselves from civilization, culture, the rest of sinful mankind. And many Christians have done this!

But, on the other side of the argument, some scholars have pointed out that God promised to provide protection and justice for Cain. In those days, cities were the centers of proctection and justice, just like our own cities today. So they argue that Cain building a city is actually the fulfillment of God’s promise to protect him and give him justice. Now, if that is the case, then the city — as a concept — is actually good. It is a gracious gift from God, designed to protect the helpless and give them justice. Which means Christians should live in the city. We should be at the centers of civilization and culture and protection and justice.

So: what is the correct answer? Is the city good or bad? Should God’s people completely separate themselves from the world, or should they engage with it?

Let’s go on, and see if Moses answers this question:

[18] 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.

So, God’s promise of life continues. The city is growing. And what we have here is the list of kings who ruled over that city, all descended from Cain.

— and I’m going to pause here to point out that probably this is not a complete list. These are just the high points. Moses is carefully selecting which names to include and which ones to leave out.

Why is he being so selective? Because Moses wants us to pay special attention to this guy Lamech. He has carefully constructed this list so that Lamech is the seventh name from Adam.

Why is that important? Well, as we noticed last week, in many ancient cultures, seven was a number that symbolized completeness. So for Lamech to be the seventh from Adam is Moses’ way of saying, “This guy is the pinnacle. This guy is the perfected result of the whole breeding program, he is the best of the best!” This guy is the kind of guy all men wish they were. He is a man’s man.

So, now that we’re paying attention, Moses introduces Lamech to us: [19] Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.

Mmmmmm. So, the first thing we learn about Lamech, the man’s man, is that he has taken two wives. So he really is the kind of man all men wish they were!

— and I’m going to pause here again to address something. Some people have noticed that Moses doesn’t say, “Remember, boys and girls, polygamy is very very bad!” And so they try to argue that God is not against polygamy. After all, Abraham, Jacob, David, all these great Old Testament heroes had many wives! — therefore it must be okay!

They are wrong. Moses did not have to say, “polygamy is bad!” because he expected his readers to notice that, from beginning to end, all the way through the Old Testament, polygamy always, always, always leads to bad things: jealousy, anger, incest, rape, murder, the degradation of women. There is not one single example of a “good” polygamous marriage in the whole bible.

Now, does God approve of the degradation of women? No, he does not. The degradation of women makes God furious. So is God in favour of polygamy, which always leads to the degradation of women? No, he is not!

So when Moses introduces Lamech to us as a guy with two wives, that’s his way of saying, “Brace yourselves! This man is not a good man!”

Then he tells us a little more about Lamech by actually telling us the names of his wives: Adah and Zillah. Now remember, Moses does not like to waste ink writing down names that are irrelevant. He did not tell us anything about Cain’s wife because her identity was irrelevant to the story. But these names are significant because they tell us more about what kind of man Lamech is. Adah implies “pretty face.” Zillah implies “pretty voice”. So what we are learning here is that, as a man’s man, as a kings’ king, Lamech has picked up a couple of trophy wives: a model and a singer.

But they aren’t just pretty, they’re also productive! [20] Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. [21] His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. [22] Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

The boys’ names all come from the same root word, the Hebrew word for “production”. Lamech’s wives are productive, and his sons are productive. Jabal is an administrative genius, he invents farming on a large scale: he feeds the city. Jubal is a creative genius, he invents music and the arts: he beautifies the city. And Tubal is a manufacturing genius, he invents metal tools: he protects the city and makes it even more productive.

And what about the daughter, Naamah? Is she special? Well, it is very unusual for daughters’ names to be included in a kings’ list, so…yeah, she must be special! Her name must tell us something more about this man and his family. So what does her name mean? Naamah means “pleasant, graceful, gorgeous”. And while Moses doesn’t tell us anything more about her at this point…she will turn out to be significant later on.

So what is going on here? Why Moses telling us all this? First, he suggests that Lamech is the ideal man, the seventh from Adam. Then he reveals that Lamech is a polygamist: he collects women, he degrades women — and not only that, he’s a bit of a playboy: he only degrades the finest of women. Then Moses reveals that Lamech has a beautiful daughter and three very productive and powerful sons —

So is Lamech a good guy or a bad guy? Is he blessed by God or cursed by God?

Is this whole “city” thing working out? Is it the center of God’s justice, or is it the center of rebellion?

Brace yourselves, friends: we’re about to find out.

[23] 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. [24] If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

This song that Lamech sings is sometimes called The Song of the Sword. It is a song that glorifies power and violent revenge. And it tells us quite a bit about who Lamech is as the greatest king in the history of Cain’s city.

The first thing we have to notice is that he sings this song out loud. What does that tell us?

Well, it shows us just how far Lamech has fallen in comparison to his father Cain, who had already fallen far below his father Adam. Adam tried to hide it his sin because he was ashamed of it. Cain was not ashamed, but he tried to hide his sin because he was smart enough to realize there would be consequences if he told the truth. But Lamech does not try to hide his sin. He is proud ot it! He believes he is above all judgment.

So what we are seeing here is the sin of pride — which began in Adam, and grew in Cain — we are seeing what pride looks like when it is full-grown. Complete. Pride Level: Seven.

The second thing we notice is that Lamech sings this song to his wives. What does that tell us?

Well, I think we all know that men like to look good in front of women. Lamech is strutting his stuff here in front of his ladies. And we’ve all done that, right guys? But sociologists have noticed that historically — and even today — men who boast about their violence to the women around them are trying to dominate those women. This is song is a not-so-subtle threat, telling his wives that they had better behave or else!

So what we are seeing here is the sin of degradation — the degradation of women. This sin began with Adam, who was supposed to protect his wife from danger and degradation, but instead stood quietly by while the evil one violated her. Now, seven generations later, Lamech is himself the violator of his own wives! What we are seeing here is what the degradation of women looks like when it is full-grown. Complete. This is Degradation Level: Seven.

The third thing we notice is that Lamech kills a man for wounding him. What does that tell us?

Well, by this point the people of Israel have learned God’s law from Moses, and that law says that, in a conflict between people, if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Now, I realize that when we hear this we think, “Ugh…! Really? That sounds barbaric!” But that’s because, in our modern world, when we hear about hands being cut off, our only mental association is hands being cut off for stealing. But that is Islamic law, that idea is not found in Christian scripture. That is not what God’s law teaches.

If we could travel back in time and see this law through the eyes of ancient Israel, we would be seriously impressed. Because what this law means is that the punishment should fit the crime.

And, of course, our response is, “Uh, ya think? Duh!” We don’t realize how unusual this concept actually is. We don’t realize that God’s law here is actually the source of our modern idea that the punishment should fit the crime.

Israel, living under God’s law, was extremely unusual when compared to the pagan nations around them. In the other pagan nations, the punishment was not designed to fit the crime, it was designed to fit your social status. So if you were high status, and you killed someone’s slave, you paid a fine. But if you were a slave, and you accidentally wounded a high status person — spilled hot coffee on them or something — you could be tortured to death, along with your whole family.

So what we are seeing here, in Lamech’s song, is the celebration of injustice. The city of Cain is not the center of God’s justice, it is the premiere example — the foundational example — of all the pagan cities in the lands around Israel, where the law is not life for life, wound for wound, it is life for wound. What we are seeing here is what injustice looks like when it is full-grown. Complete. This is Injustice Level: Seven.

And the last thing we notice about Lamech’s song is this strange boast: if Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times. What does that even mean? And what does that tell us?

Well, do you remember who promised to avenge Cain seven times if Cain got himself murdered? God did. When God said, “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over,” that was a way of saying God will bring complete justice.

Now, Lamech is saying, “Cain was so pathetic he needed God to avenge him. But I am so great, I don’t need God to avenge me! And when I bring vengeance, I don’t bring a sad little ‘seven times’ to the meeting, I bring seventy times seven!”

He’s basically saying, “If God brings 100% vengeance, I bring 1000%!”

So what we are seeing here, friends, is a man announcing to his wives and to the world that he is God. This is what self-actualization looks like when it is full-grown. Complete. This is Self-Actualization Level: Seven.

So Lamech is a very bad guy. Moses has carefully constructed this list of kings so that Lamech comes out as number seven from Adam. That was designed to catch our attention, and make us wonder if Lamech might be the best of the best. But then Moses revealed that no, he is actually the worst of the worst.

And this finally gives us our answer to last week’s cliffhanger. Last week we were left wondering if Cain was repentant or still rebellious. He wandered for a while, which suggests that he submitted to God’s judgement. But then he stopped and built a city, which left us wondering if that was good or bad.

Well, here, hundreds of years later — perhaps even thousands of years later — we see that Cain’s sins have grown to monstrous proportions. God warned Cain that if he did not rule his sins, they would grow up to rule him. So here we are: Cain passed his sins on to his son Enoch, who passed them on to his son, each generation worse than the last, until we reach Lamech, the seventh from Adam, the image of a king completely ruled by pride, degradation, injustice, self-actualization.

So, going back to the questions we were asking at the start: does this mean that the city — as a concept — is the physical embodiment of man’s rebellion against God? Should God’s people never live in cities? Should we withdraw from civilization and culture and do our best to live quiet lives far away from the tyranny of evil men?

Well, so far that is what it looks like. Cities clearly embody the rebellion of Satan’s children; therefore, as God’s children, we should have nothing to do with that system at all!

But…the story of Cain and Abel is not quite finished. So before we draw any conclusions, let’s read on a little further:

[25] 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.”

So here we find a spark of hope. God promised Eve that she would give birth to the Messiah. When Cain was born, she saw God’s promise being fulfilled. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man!”

But then Cain murdered his brother Abel. And when Abel died so did Eve’s hope for a Messiah. Because clearly Abel is not going to produce any sons! And while Cain definitely produced some very productive sons, they were all productive in the wrong way. No Messiah is going to be born from such a corrupt line of men!

But now there is another son: Seth. Eve’s hope of a Messiah has been restored. And this time, when she speaks, she says something different than she did before. When Cain was born she gave credit to God — but she also gave credit to herself: “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth…” This time she gives all the glory to God: “God has granted me another child…”

But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? What if this kid also goes bad? Then what?

Well, let’s cross our fingers and find out:

[26] Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

So…that’s good. Seth has gotten farther than Abel did, anyway.

But…we still don’t know if Seth is righteous like Abel, or corrupt like Cain. After all, Cain also had a son, and that did not turn out so well!

So, let’s press on:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Soooo…that’s good. Right?

Yes! Yes, that’s good! It’s good news! This book ends with good news! Adam failed to lead his wife into true worship. Cain failed to lead his younger brother into true worship. But Seth has succeeded in leading his son Enosh into true worship, and Enosh is now leading others into true worship.

And what does this true worship look like? It looks like people calling on the the name of the Lord.

But to be clear: this is not actually a reference to prayer. Moses is not saying that anybody who prays to the right God is therefore practicing true worship. No. This phrase “to call on the name of the Lord” is actually a way of saying that people began to call themselves by the name of the Lord. Today we would say that they took God’s name as their surname, as if God was their father.

And that is the point Moses is making: true worship means accepting God as Father. True worship means faith in our Heavenly Father’s promises, and repentance when we fail to have faith — because repentance is faith in our Father’s promise of forgiveness. And the clearest mark of true worship, true faith, taking God’s name as your name.

So Moses is deliberately setting up a contrast here between Cain and Seth. Cain had a son, Enoch, and he named his city after Enoch. Seth has a son, Enosh, but instead of naming a city after him, he names Enosh after God. The sons of Cain proclaim themselves to be gods. But the sons of Seth proclaim themselves to be the sons of God.

Cain built a civilization centered around the worship of his sons. But Seth is building a civilization centered around the worship of his Heavenly Father.

Here, in the last sentence, Moses is telling that there is hope.

And that’s great! But how does that answer our question? Is the city — as a concept — good or bad? Should Christians live in cities, or not? Should we engage with the world around us, or should we separate ourselves and set up an alternative civilization dedicated to God?

And you should know, friends, that Christians have argued about this almost from the beginning of our faith. Many have said, “No! God calls us to be holy. We need to avoid being corrupted by the world!” But others have said, “Yes! God has called us to be salt and light in the world, not outside of it!”

And most of those conversations about culture begin right here, in this history of Cain’s city. And that is why this passage is so important, and so controversial.

Those who think we should engage with culture say this: “Look, obviously Lamech was a bad guy. But his three sons did good things! This is the invention of farming, the invention of music and art, the invention of tool-making. Really, these three boys are the inventors of civilization and culture as we know it, and that is a good thing! So clearly Moses is trying to tell us that culture is a gift from God, and it is a mark of God’s grace that he gives it even to corrupt people.”

But that is when the other side says, “Aha! But, see, you’re making our point for us! These are corrupt people. The three sons of Lamech were obsessed with power and wealth and that’s why they invented factory farming and rock music and the assembly-line and all the other dehumanizing ills of civilization! So clearly Moses is trying to tell us that God’s people should not work for large corporations, we should not be involved in music or the arts, we should not be involved in mass production or mass pollution or anything else. We should all throw away our TVs, cancel the internet, and just focus on keeping our community pure.”

So…what’s the answer?

Well, this is why it is always important to go back to the text, and do our best to try to understand it as the ancient people of Israel would have understood it.

See, our modern debate about engaging with the world is centered around culture: is culture good? is culture bad? or is culture neutral? And how we answer that question changes everything about how we engage with culture.

But the problem with our modern debate is this: Moses is not talking about culture. Moses is not talking about society. Moses is not even talking about the rise of civilization.

Moses is talking about the covenant of worship.

Ever since the beginning of Book 2, when the garden of Eden was introduced, Moses has been talking about worship: what true worship looks like, what false worship looks like.

True worship looks like faith in God’s covenant promises and repentance when we fail. False worship is faith in your own promises, and the refusal to repent or ever admit that you’re wrong.

True worship means calling yourself a son of God, as Seth and his sons do. False worship means calling yourself God, as Lamech does — and then worshiping that false god, as Lamech’s three sons do.

See, when we read about Lamech’s three sons, we look at their accomplishments and we think, “Ah, the invention of civilization and culture!” And then we argue about whether culture is good or bad or neutral.

But when the ancient people of Israel read about Lamech’s three sons, they thought, “Ah, the invention of pagan worship!” And they knew, without having to argue! that this is very very bad.

See, ancient people knew something about cities that we have forgotten: long before cities became the centers of protection and justice and civilization, they were the centres of worship. Modern archaeologists have confirmed that the first cities built by mankind, 10,000 years ago, were temple complexes. Only the god-king and his priests would live there. The people lived outside, in villages, as close as they could to the protective presence of their god-king.

And what are the three things that every temple complex needs? Animal sacrifices. Music for worship. And metal tools for working with the fires of sacrifice. Jabal provided the animal sacrifices. Jubal provided the music. Tubal provided the tools.

Moses is not giving us a history of the rise of civilization. He is not trying to convince us that cities — as a concept — are bad. What Moses is giving us is a history of how Adam’s sons responded to the loss of God’s garden.

Seth and his sons settled down and lived in the wilderness just outside the eastern gate of the garden. They called themselves the sons of God, and they lived as close to God’s presence as they could, looking to him for provision and protection, looking forward to the day when he would reopen the gates of his garden-temple and let them return. They had faith in their Father’s covenant promises.

Cain and his sons rejected God’s promises of provision and protection. They moved away from God’s presence. And instead of trusting that one day God would let them return to his garden-temple — instead, they set up their own garden-temple, their own garden-city, centred around their own god-king Lamech. They set up their own system of worship, supplied and driven by Lamech’s three sons, worship that probably involved their sister Naamah in some unspeakable way. They set up their own covenant system centred around Pride, the Degradation of women, Injustice, and the Self-Actualization of men.

And once we realize that this is what Moses was talking about, his message to the ancient people of Israel becomes obvious: don’t do that!

And this was an important message for them to hear. Because as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness just outside the eastern gate of the Promised Land, there would have been a tremendous temptation for each man to just take his family, slip away from God’s people, move quietly into the Promised Land, join a pagan city and live happily ever after.

Through this story, Moses is telling his people, “Don’t do that. It is better to die in the desert waiting for God to open his city to you, than to go and seek out a pagan city. At first you’re going to think that you can worship the true God quietly in your heart and still participate in that society. But soon you will discover that in order to be promoted, in order for people to trust you, in order to be successful in that system you will have to perform public sacrifices to the god of that city. You will have to worship the gods of pride and degradation and injustice and self-actualization — and you will become what you worship.”

So what, then, is Moses’ application for us? Stay with God’s covenant people, and avoid living in pagan cities?

Well, yes! and no. Yes, we need to stay with God’s covenant people. Worship is communal, not individual, which means we do need Christian community in order to worship properly and be transformed into our Father’s image.

However, our situation is different. In Moses’ time each city had one god/goddess combo. One city, one temple, one god. So if and when you moved to a new city, you were not just changing your citizenship, your were changing your religion. That is why it was so important for the ancient people of Israel to live in Israelite cities, cities covenanted to the God of Israel.

Later on, with the rise of empires, it became common for cities to have several temples, several gods, in order to serve all the different conquered ethnic groups in that city. This was the situation during the time of Jesus, which is why it was possible for God’s people to live in pagan Roman cities and still practice true worship of the true God.

And this is our situation now. We are living in a city here that is dedicated to a thousand different gods at least! and we are exactly where our Father wants us. We are not called to live physically separated from the world. But we are called to practice true worship while we live physically in the world.

And that is difficult, because the temptation to worship other gods is always right here with us. Oh, I don’t think many of us are tempted to enter a mosque or a temple and participate in the worship there! But we are tempted to worship other, less obvious gods: the god of family, the god of ambition, the god of money, the god of ecological awareness…the god of food? We look around and we quickly realize that in order to be promoted, in order for people to trust us, in order to be successful in this system we really have to perform public sacrifices to these gods. If we don’t worship these gods we get left out. We get left behind.

This is the hard truth, brothers and sisters: to practice true covenant worship in a modern city often means deliberately putting yourself on the losing side of things. Trusting God to provide often means choosing to remain in the wilderness while all your friends are busy building garden-city-temples of their own. It can mean waiting for the right girl, the right guy to marry when all your Christian friends have already settled for marrying non-Christians. It can mean slowing down your career to raise your kids when all your other friends work 120 hours a week to get ahead. And it is hard to make those decisions and then stand by them.

Why? Because we’re afraid. Deep down we struggle to believe that our Father will provide for us. We struggle to believe he will protect us. We struggle to believe he is actually faithful to his covenant promises.

So what is Moses’ application for us?

Moses called the people of Israel to remain faithful in the wilderness until God reopened the gates of his garden-city. And that is what he is calling us to do as well: remain faithful even when it looks like true worship means volunteering to live in the wilderness.

But we have one huge advantage over Moses’ people, we have this Good News: God has already opened the gates of his garden-city! To the rest of the world we look like we are living outside the city gates, worshiping a loser Messiah who was crucified and killed outside the city gates. But the reality is reversed: we are actually inside, everyone else is outside. And one day that will be made clear. One day the veil will lift, and everyone will finally see things as they really are.

So if you are here today, and you have not yet accepted the promises of God in Jesus Christ, you have a decision to make. You can keep on building a city for yourself. You can put up walls and plant a garden, close your defensive gates and call it paradise. Or, you can admit what your spirit is already telling you: that you are foreigner and a stranger on this earth, that you are longing for a better country. You can believe, and you can let our Father carry you into the city with true foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

But if you are here today and you have already accepted the promises of Christ, then these are our Father’s instructions for us: even as we live in this city dedicated to a thousand other gods, let us join our Saviour in the wilderness outside the city gates. Let us take his name upon ourselves, and suffer alongside him, because we know that all these shining towers are strictly temporary. We are looking for the city that is to come.

So, in conclusion: are cities the centres of false worship? Yes. Should God’s people separate themselves from cities? No.

What should we do instead? Take the covenant name of Christ upon ourselves, and worship. This is how the Book of Hebrews describes it: through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Let’s do that.

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