Genesis 4 – Abel, Welcome to Die

Genesis 4 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s PassageGenesis 4

In yesterday’s chapter, as a consequence of humanity’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, death became a fact of life. Today, we witness the first recorded human death, and not only is it a murder, it’s a fratricide.

However, this is a good moment to rewind a bit and talk about the tree of life and how Genesis introduces the possibility of death into its narrative. Though we first hear of the tree of life when God is preparing the Garden of Eden for his humans, we don’t learn anything whatsoever about what it does until after the humans have sinned. God has issued the curse of death on them–”You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19)–and he further remarks to himself, “He might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (3:22). It’s a tree of immortality.

I’m not sure why it was there in the garden, because it would seem that disobeying God flipped a delayed-action killswitch in humankind. Prior to their sin, it looks like death wasn’t even a possibility; they wouldn’t need to eat from the tree of life in order to proceed indefinitely without expiring. Paul tells us, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12), and if death was not a part of God’s original creation, then the tree of life seems superfluous. If I were in God’s shoes, I would not have planted the thing at all; it strikes me as nothing but a safety hazard. But there is a tree of life in the garden, and if this isn’t our first rodeo (and for many of us I expect it isn’t), we should not be surprised at all when the Bible proves to be weird.

Anyway, my point is this: after humanity’s inaugural sin, death becomes an inevitability, but with Cain’s homicide, it becomes immediate. It’s there, it’s real, it’s blood in the dirt, and Cain can’t cover it up. As the first murderer, the Guy Who Dared to Kill His Brother, Cain knows that no one will believe they’re safe around him. “Whoever finds me will kill me” (4:14), he tells God. Wait, “whoever kills me?” Who is he referring to? Adam? Eve?

Apparently there are other people now. The Bible is weird. It would seem that Adam and Eve have been having other children off-camera. You might expect the text to mention that fact, but ancient Near East narratives tend to leave such things for their readers to infer. And yes, when Cain has a son, his wife must necessarily have been a child of Adam and Eve as well. Ew, gross! But marriage within one’s nuclear or extended family has not yet been forbidden, and still on the books is the big command to be fruitful and multiply. So, here we go.

The chapter concludes with the family tree of Cain, some of whose offspring are noted for spreading various hallmarks of civilization: domestication of animals, music, metalworking, revenge. As we wrap up today’s entry, I’ll leave you with a story from my childhood about that section. In third grade Sunday School, we were reading through this passage, and when we came to Jubal, “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (4:21), one of my friends exclaimed, “Jubilee!” The teacher responded diplomatically to the interruption, speculating that maybe that’s where we get our term for musical celebration. But I doubt that too many of us were familiar with the definition of the word. This was the early 90s, the age of X-Men: The Animated Series, and the only Jubilee we knew was Wolverine’s spark-slinging teenage friend.

Anyway, by the end of the chapter, we have the first murder on the books. Humanity, welcome to die.

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