Genesis 4:17-26 - The Early Civilization
Read Genesis 4:17-26
How did man live in the earliest days he lived on this earth? Was there a time when "primitive" man had no tools? Did he discover the use of stones for tools later and still later the use of iron and brass? These are the questions to which men have sought answers for many years and much effort has gone into digging up the remains of former ages to find such answers.
We are indeed indebted to archeology for the light it has cast on the way people lived even thousands of years ago, but we always have to go back to the Bible for the light it alone can give on the earliest civilization. Nor do we have to "piece together" various findings but we have history given by inspired revelation! The history of these earliest times have also been given us for a purpose.
First of all, the history of the family of Cain is revealed. The same terminology is used as in verse one of this chapter. Cain was married, and the age-old question always arises: Whom did Cain marry?
It should be noted that the name of Cain's wife is not mentioned nor the name of either her father or mother. However, there is no need to mention her family name because there was only the one family on the whole earth. Of course, Cain married his sister! There was no other choice!
But, the argument goes, to marry one's sister is forbidden in the Scriptures (Leviticus 18). It was forbidden because this would be an incestuous relationship. This is true, of course, but this argument loses sight of the fact that there is a "history of revelation" as well as a "history of redemption". Even Abraham was married to his half-sister, which was also forbidden in the law of Moses. Things which were allowed at one time were not allowed later — even though the truth does not change. When people had multiplied on the earth it was no longer necessary to marry one who was closely related and it was then forbidden. Although the truth of God stands from beginning to end, we do violence to the Scriptures if we do not bear in mind the different times in which various rules were given. We may not apply Mosaic legislation to the time before the flood, for example. The Bible doesn't do that either.
We now read that Cain built a city which he called Enoch, after the name of his son. Some have thought that this fact is in conflict with verse 12 where God had told him that he would be a fugitive and wanderer in the earth. However, there is no conflict here. The kind and size of the city which he built must not be measured in the terms to which later times have become accustomed. No doubt, the city of which mention is made here consisted only of a wall surrounding a few habitations. Even the naming of the city may indicate that Cain has no permanent dwelling place but that he hopes for better things for his son.
Descendants of Cain
Several generations of Cain are now mentioned. This is not the history which will receive the center of the attention of the author of this book. The history of the people of God will receive the lion's share of his attention. However, it is also necessary to know something of the history of the line of Cain to be able to understand the world in which God's people live.
The names of the descendants of Cain are somewhat similar to the names we find among the descendants of Seth in the following chapter. This has led some critics to say that the two groups of names have come from different sources, but that they represent the same family. That this is not true is evident to those who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. True, there are similarities (as in many branches of families of a later date) but there are also many differences.
Again, this writer believes it to be fruitless to try to decipher the meaning of the names given here. We do not even know what language was spoken at the time and what good would it do to know the meaning of names which have been translated into a different language?
Lamech and His Two Wives
Nothing is revealed concerning the descendants of Cain until the time of the man Lamech. Of him we read that he took two wives, and their names are given. This is the first record of a non-monogamous marriage.
In the beginning God had given one woman to one man. The number of males and females born into this world has always been approximately the same. The intent of the Creator is, therefore, evident not only in the marriage of the first two people, but also throughout the history of the human race. Marriage is to be monogamous.
Cain was not a believer and the line of his descendants goes farther and farther away from God's service and His commandments. Lamech takes two wives and has children by both. To use the words of the text: he is the father of all such as undermine the divine rule for marriage. This is the first recorded instance of having more than one wife and this practice has, in later years, slain its thousands.
Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain
Lamech's first son was the ancestor of those who live as nomads and have cattle. These have moveable dwellings so that they may live where the cattle graze. Abel had small cattle, such as sheep and goats, but Jabal also has larger animals.
The second son of Lamech was the inventor of musical instruments such as stringed instruments and wind instruments. Not only is attention given to the means for making a living, but some of the finer things of life already appear. Civilization and culture are developing and they are developing in the line of Cain! These instruments may have been crude by today's standard, but "primitive" man does not seem to have been so primitive after all.
The half-brother of these two made cutting instruments of brass and of iron! Evidently he already knew how to extract iron and brass from the raw material to make cutting instruments of these metals! The brevity of this historic account should not blind us to the long period of time covered by it. To make this account complete the author adds that Tubal-cain had a sister, Naamah.
A Godless Culture
The names of Cain's descendants have now been given through seven generations. The accomplishments in this line have also been recorded. The character of the lives of those descending from Cain has been alluded to by mentioning the fact that Lamech took two wives.
Now the author gives an instance of the development of sin in these generations. Lamech speaks to his wives and speaks in poetry! It is one of the most arrogant speeches recorded in the Bible. He tells his wives that if a man so much as wounds him, he will slay him, and if someone bruises him, he will kill him! God had said that vengeance would be taken sevenfold on anyone who would slay Cain; Lamech says that he will be avenged seventy and sevenfold! Cain had slain his own brother in anger; Lamech stands in utter contempt of the lives of others. His own son, Tubal-cain, has given him the weapons to satisfy his brutality. He will be the master and others will be his enemies.
So ends the history of the generations of Cain. His descendants have accomplished much. They have been able to subdue the earth and cause the riches of the earth to serve man. Such abilities have been given them so that men may now enrich their lives with music and poetry.
However, where does this cultural development lead? It is a godless culture in which man uses the instruments he has discovered or invented to sin against God and his fellowman. Lamech becomes the spokesman for the inheritors of that civilization and that Culture. Now we are able to understand the nature and character of the godless humanity descending from Cain before the time of the great flood. Now we begin to understand the reason why it repented God that He had made man on the earth (6:6). The cultural mandate which God had given to man in the garden of Eden has been violated. Culture, separated from God and His word, destroys man in the flood.
Significance of Seth
Having reviewed the life of several generations of unbelievers to show us where this unbelief leads, the author now returns to the other line of the generations of Adam. If it seemed for a while that this line had been cut off with the murder of Abel, we are now introduced to the one who has taken Abel's place.
We now read of the name "Adam" as a proper name for the first time. The previous history of the line of Cain must not give us the mistaken notion that Seth was born after the time of Lamech. No, Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born and lived another 800 years after Seth's birth.
Eve has high hopes concerning Seth. She sees him as a substitute for Abel. Cain has left as a fugitive and wanderer. In Seth is their hope for the future. This is also God's plan. It is indeed touching to hear this mother (Eve) say that Cain had slain her son Abel! A sword must have pierced her heart when she heard of this brutal murder! Her sin and the sin of her husband has certainly filled their lives with grief. But, she seeks salvation in her child-bearing!
Of Abel we read nothing until he brings the sacrifice which becomes the reason for his death. He is then remembered in Scripture for the faith he manifested and this fact still speaks even though he is dead. Of the one who takes his place, Seth, we read nothing at all except that he had a son, Enosh, and other sons and daughters. But, he becomes the father of the line which leads through Noah and Abraham and David, all the way to the Christ. This is the great significance of Seth. His line of descendants leads to life and Cain's line leads to destruction.
It was during the days of Enosh the son of Seth that men began to call upon the name of Jehovah. Abel had, of course, also called on this Name and had brought sacrifice. However, men now began to call upon Him publicly.
So far worship had been restricted to the individual — it was private. Now, as men multiplied in numbers, public worship makes its appearance. This brief statement again differentiates the line of Seth from that of Cain. Seth's descendants are godly!
Questions for Discussion:
Has the unbelieving world been more successful in developing culture than the world of believers?
What must be our attitude to this world's culture? Does the statement: "all is yours" have bearing on this question?
Do you think a "stone age" existed among those who were scattered as a result of the Tower of Babel?
Do we use this world's culture in the proper way? How must this be done?
Is it important to know the history of unbelieving tribes and peoples?