After the shalom of God is finalized, life carries on nicely – for a while. Then, disobedience and making ourselves our own God, enters in. Sin and his brother death enter God’s paradise at our invitation screaming bloody murder. To illustrate what just happened – the gravity of the situation – God shows Adam and Even what they just wrought upon the world. Genesis 3:21 reads:
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them
Don’t skim over that. It isn’t only God demonstrating that He still loves and cares for Adam and Eve. That’s part of it. The real point here is to bring the couple so close to the consequences of their actions – making sure they get it. God brings them so close to their choice that they have to wear it. The very creature Adam named (Gen. 2:20), one he probably loved, was slaughtered before his very eyes, and then he wore the hide to cover his now-ashamed body. He and his wife are now thrust into a very different world. A world that would soon be screaming bloody murder.
Time passes and we meet the kids. Cain and Abel. The text doesn’t give us much background other than this: Cain raised a garden and Abel raised livestock. It’s clear the family still worships God because the two offer sacrifices. Cain, however, is jealous. He thinks God likes his brothers’ stuff more. God has a pep-talk with Cain, addresses his “heart” as the problem, not the content of the offering – even telling Cain sin is waiting outside your door to master you – don’t let it! Cain chooses to disregard God’s warning and goes his own way. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Cain says, “Hey brother, let’s take a walk out into the field. I want to show you something.” Abel obliges as the two walk alone. It is here that we read:
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Gen. 4:8, NIV)
The first murder. A son of Adam murders his own brother out of jealousy and envy. Not much has changed, has it?
God comes back to Cain, trying to get some honesty. He says, “Hey Cain…where’s Abel?” To which the famous line comes as Cain’s response:
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9, NIV)
The text shows us God isn’t keen on Cain’s sarcasm. He knows what happened. He was hoping Cain wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes as his dad had. You remember, right? The time Adam tried to play a game of cosmic hide-and-seek, stashing himself behind a shrub in the garden. That got dad olly olly oxenbanished. So God lays it out:
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. (Gen. 4:10-11, NIV)
That phrase “cries out,” is the Hebrew word tsa’aq. It means “to shriek, cry out, call for help.” In other words, Cain’s life was screaming bloody murder. The ground cried out as the first homicide is carried out in the field east of Eden. As the lifeblood of innocent Abel hits earth, the very Creation tastes blood for the first time.
Cain, like mom and dad, understands the implications of his actions. He is wrecked. God doles out the sentence. God consigns Cain to be a wanderer – always on the move – sowing but never harvesting. The earth won’t respond to the farmer, no matter what (Gen. 4:12). We get a glimpse of Cain’s despair.
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Gen. 4:13-15, NIV)
At this point, we’d expect God (in our vengeance-laden minds) to say, “So what?” However, as God is usually in the habit of doing, we are treated to the debut performance of something that glues the rest of Scripture together. Genesis continues:
But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,east of Eden. (Gen. 4:15-16, NIV)
God responds to the first murderer not with capital punishment or consignment to hell. God responds to the first murderer with grace. Grace is the visible preservation of shalom. God places a mark on Cain so that no one will hurt him or his family. God doesn’t smite Cain, he gives him grace and mercy. Yet, as the ground screamed bloody murder, Cain foisted murder and violence upon the earth.
Sin continues to show itself in violent ways. Right after the first murder we meet a guy named Lamech. Where Cain was remorseful of his violence, Lamech was proud of his. Lamech strolls onto the scene with bloody hands boasting about murdering a teenager (see Gen. 4:23-24). Sounds like a nice fellow, doesn’t he? Lamech’s song sets the tone for humanity as violence engulfs the world. Instead of only the ground screaming out, the whole world is screaming bloody murder. It gets so bad that God decides to wipe the slate clean and start over.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (Gen. 6:11, NIV)
Don’t miss what the text is pointing out. God isn’t just punishing arbitrary evil – not even close. Look at the last word. God is specifically punishing violence. Violent actions flooded the globe, and so God floods the earth.
Here’s the takeaway: The early chapters of Scripture celebrate peace, not violence. God continually shows derision for violence among mankind. God shows grace to a murder, despite the grounds for “just” punishment of a murderer. Even as the world was screaming bloody murder, God begins to point humans back to peace.