Put God in a box and He’ll bust out every time.
Get Him all figured out and He’ll surprise you, enlighten you and thrill you with His ways.
Recently when working through Genesis 4 & 5 I encountered an insight I had previously missed.
In Genesis we find a narrative which shapes our understanding of who God is and who we are and what life is all about. ( How’s that for a grandiose expectation for a biblical text?) But it’s true. Genesis needs to be read over and over again with a careful eye ready to observe new and fresh insights.
(By the way, expect more of scripture when you read it and it will deliver every time.)
On to the matter at hand. In Genesis 4 there is the tracing of the descendants of Cain. In the early part of chapter 4 Cain murders his brother Abel. God proclaims a curse upon Cain. v.11. He is told that when he works the ground it will no longer yield its crops for him. You will recall that it was Cain’s offering from his crops that had displeased God and led Cain to his jealous rage against his own brother.
Cain’s descendants are variously described as getting on with life as best they can. Even though I knew what the text said, I was caught by surprise this time as I read these familiar verses. The accomplishments of Cain’s descendants are impressive.
They built a city.
They learned to raise live stock (reminiscent of brother Abel’s skills and abilities).
Jubal contributed to the development of music with the harp and flute.
Tubal-Cain forged tools out of bronze and iron.
What struck me here is how the world was blessed with societal development, the arts and science and technology. The text doesn’t put a moral value on these developments. Perhaps the music produced was bawdy and sensual, the tools of bronze and iron could have been in the form of weaponry, the cities could have been crime filled and oppressive to the poor. I don’t know. The text doesn’t say.
What I do know is that these Cain-cursed descendants are allowed by God to become creative, productive people even though their genesis stems from a jealous murderous event that infringed on the good Creation of God.
What I see here is a willingness on God’s part to allow not-so-perfect people a way to accomplish some things which likely led to someone being blessed. I have to assume that some of the music, some of the tools, some of the societal developments brought some comfort and goodness to someone along the line somewhere.
We can all recall incidences where God has used a not-so-godly someone to bring about a blessing. I once had an automobile breakdown along a deserted highway in Illinois only to be assisted and sent on my way by two guys who wreaked of alcohol and cursed like sailors. But they helped me get my car started on a cold dark night. God can bless us through our Sunday school teachers but He can use some pretty unlikely people and circumstances to convey blessings.
Genesis 5 offers a glimpse at the lineage of Adam through Seth. One of the contrasts I observe in comparing the line of Adam/Seth with that of Cain is the absence of any mention of societal accomplishments. I’m sure these people were creative, talented and inventive but the text says nothing about that. What we observe in this line is the phrase, “and then he died”. It occurs 8 or so times. I would suggest this phrase, among other things is intended to provoke the reader to consider the meaning and purpose of life. In other words, to ask what constitutes a life well-lived?
The two people of note are Enoch (v.21-24) and Noah (v.28-32). In the case of Enoch it is said simply that he “walked with God then he was no more because God took him away.” He was a man recognized by his desire to be with God….to be in His presence….to be in His company. Of Noah it is proclaimed by his father that he “will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” In chapter 6 we get an additional testimony about Noah’s character. v.9 “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”
Contrasting the line of Cain with Adam/Seth, we can make two observations. Cain’s line is full of movers and shakers. They are known for their accomplishments and their achievements. To read between the lines, I could project that they were likely fond of saying, “look at who we are” ……. “look at what we’ve done”.
In the line of Adam/Seth I anticipate more of an attitude of “how does God want us to live so we can be a blessing to the world?”.
It is character, not accomplishment that comprises the resume of the Adam/Seth line.
I leave these thoughts for you to ponder. On which do you most focus? Your accomplishments or your character? I believe in accomplishing things. I think God does too. He frequently instructs us to do good things….to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. To feed the hungry, lift up the fallen, rescue the perishing.
But in the end, would we rather have people speak of our accomplishments or would we rather have them say, “they walked with God”?