Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cain: First Builder of Cities (Genesis 4:1-17)

From Genesis 4 (1-17) we learn that it was the murderer Cain who built the first city and, with it, started civilization. Today’s Global Technological System (GTS) is the finest embodiment of that first city and all that it represented. Here we follow the insightful reflections on Bible and city made by Jacques Ellul in his book, The Meaning of the City (pp. 1-9).

4:1 The first thing we learn of Adam—after Yahweh had expelled him from Eden—is that he had sexual intercourse with his wife. He lost access to the tree of life and perhaps compensated for this by hoping to maintain significance beyond his own death through the life of a son. Impregnated Eve gave birth to Cain and later to Abel.

7-9 Cain rejects Yahweh, embraces the unholy spirit of the Olympian gods, and murders his brother. When Yahweh asks Cain about his brother, Cain contemptuously replies, “I don't know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10-12 Yahweh curses Cain by withdrawing from him the fertility of the ground. Instead of being able to root himself in a place and enjoy its bounty, Cain must now wander. That is the consequence of his open rebellion against Yahweh and Abel: a break in his relationship with the soil as well.

13-14 Cain then makes four complaints to Yahweh: (1) he finds his punishment unbearable, (2) he is driven from the soil, (3) Yahweh will no longer see him, and (4) the first person to find him may want to kill him.

15 Despite Cain’s intense rejection of him, Yahweh proves the falsehood of Cain’s third complaint. Yahweh puts his own seal of protection on the rebellious Cain.

In truth, it is only Yahweh’s ongoing concern for Cain, the grace of Yahweh represented by this seal, that grants Cain the vitality he needs to bear the desperate situation he created for himself.

16 Despite the fact that Yahweh’s grace is everything for Cain, Cain further distances himself from Yahweh by abandoning proximity to Eden to live in the land of wandering. There Cain will seek to guarantee for himself present security and future significance apart from Yahweh. The GTS embodies our same vain quest today.

17 The first thing we learn of Cain—after he had abandoned Yahweh—is that he had sexual intercourse with his wife. As with his father Adam, perhaps Cain also hoped to maintain significance beyond his own death through the life of a son. Cain’s wife gives birth to a son named Enoch.

Cain’s second response to his rejection of Yahweh, murder of Abel, and alienation from the soil was to build a city. To the consequences of his broken relationships with others, he chose to build his own alternative world. Having rejected all security, happiness, importance, justification, and meaning from Yahweh, he chose to find them in the embrace of the Olympian gods—especially Vulcan, god of technology and patron god of cities. Cain names his city Enoch like his son.

One root meaning of “Enoch” is inauguration. If Yahweh created the heavens and the earth, so Cain will inaugurate a new counter-creation. If Yahweh placed the first humans in the perfect context of Eden, so Cain will put himself in the center of the city as the most profound yet absurd contrast to it.

Copyright © 2014 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.