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The Beginnings of Culture

The Two Seeds (The Spread of Sin into the World)

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 9, 1998

Genesis 4:16-26

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In Genesis, chapter 4 we have seen God's glorious work of creation recounted in Genesis 1. Specifically the creation of Adam and Eve and the covenant relationship that God established with them in Genesis 2. We have seen that sad picture of the fall in Genesis 3 and in our study of the first half of Genesis 4, we've already begun to see the effects of the fall in human history. And tonight as we come to Genesis 4, verses 16 through 26, we view there the unfolding of the original human civilization, with all its potential and creativity and evil. In all the cultural advances and accomplishments which are catalogued in this part of the chapter, there is not one shred of redemptive hope. Only in God's gift of a covenant child, Seth, in the line of the seed of the woman at the very end of the chapter do we find any reassurance. So let's look then to God's holy and inspired word beginning in Genesis 4, verse 16:

Genesis 4:16-26

Our Father, we thank You for the truthfulness of Your word and we pray that as we look square in the face of the stark outlines of this chapter that we would see a picture of the potential for evil in our own hearts; that we would see as it were a foretelling of the evil in our own society, and that we would recognize Your own covenant provision for redemption. The only provision of redemption that there is. We pray that we would be instructed by this word, and we would be encouraged to believe in Your promises, for we ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Genesis 4 begins with unexpected hope. We might even say unexpected mercy. Even after the fall of Adam and Eve their rebellion against God a child is born. And Eve perhaps hopes that that child will be the one through whom God will accomplish redemption. Unfortunately, that hope is severely disappointed in the light of Cain. And it follows on this chapter with a depressing dirge of sin's consequences in the life of Adam's family, and particularly in the line of Cain. But, this chapter concludes with a ray of gospel hope for us all. And I want us to note three things in particular tonight as we study this passage.

I. Sin brings an isolation from God.

First you see in verses 16 through 18 an account of the banishment of Cain. And we learn there again a principle that we have seen before in Genesis and that is that sin brings a breach of fellowship with God, and within a family. Here we see an example of the isolation that sin brings in our relations to God and with family. Cain, in verse 14, had expressed his fear of being banished from the presence of the Lord. And yet he not only refuses to repent of his sin, but he even complains about the justice of God's sentence against him. And so in a just and you might even argue in a merciful way God's sentence is carried out on Cain. It would have been perfectly just would it not for God to have executed a judgment of capital punishment against Cain for his capital crime. But he sends him off in banishment from his people. And so Cain experiences the banishment from God's presence that he feared. Horatias Bonar in his thoughts on Genesis has these words to say about Cain's exile: "Like Judas from the presence of Jesus, so does Cain go out from the face of God, from the face where the visible glory of God, the Shekinah, had its abode. It's a sad picture. We've seen it before and we will see it again in both the lives of Esau and Ishmael, where rebellion against God and rejection of His covenant promises mean banishment from His presence. There's no possibility in this life of rebelling against God and fellowshiping with him simultaneously. And if we’ll understand sin in those terms, in terms of rebellion, we’ll understand why it is that we can't go on our merry way sinning and simultaneously enjoy the blessings, the presence of God, the favor of God, the fellowship of God. The two things are mutually exclusive. One may either choose to rebel against God or one may choose to fellowship with God, but one cannot do both at the same time.

It is striking, isn't it, that on the cross we see the perfect son of the Father's love banished, excommunicated, cast out for our sins. He who had done no sin becomes sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This is the mystery of justification. The mystery of imputation. His sacrifice for my sin and my sin charged to His account. And His bearing the banishment that was due to me. So it is an odd thing isn't it when we see the Lord Jesus Himself banished for sin. Cain being banished for sin we can understand. But apart from God's redeeming plan it makes no sense when we see Jesus banished for sin. The only answer to that mystery are those glorious words for us. He was banished on our behalf. He took up our reproach willingly and by the covenant He redeemed us by His own blood.

Now I was asked last week, and the question comes up again, who are these people that Cain fears running into if he's banished from the presence of God's people? And who is it that he's married to? Where does his wife come from? Well, there are indications already in Genesis 4, verses 14 and 15 and in Genesis 5, verse 3 that the human family had already started to grow. The family of Adam of Eve is growing far and wide and children are being born and they are pairing up and they are moving on and they are expanding the territory and taking dominion. And this is the answer to where Cain's wife comes from and where these people come from that Cain fears retribution from. The name that Cain gives his son is the same name that is given to a righteous man in the line of Seth in the next chapter. But in Cain's context, the name Enoch, which means to ‘initiate’ or it means to forge,’ is referring to the one who is the initiator or the forger. This seems to indicate an attempt on Cain's part at a new beginning.

It's interesting isn't it that the first accomplishment recorded in his exile is the building of a city. And one is tempted to see in here the parallels that Augustin would draw on thousands of years later when he wrote the City of God, and he compared it to the city of man. It's interesting that Enoch, of Cain's line, has a city named for him, where as Enoch of Seth's line is taken up to glory "to that city whose foundations and whose architect and builder is God."

At any rate, the Canaanite Enoch's descendants, going all the way down to Lamech, here in chapter 4, and the Sethite Enoch's experience and his descendants down to Noah, provide a study in contrast between the two lines. The seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. It's not surprising is it, that when we see the descendants from Cain to Enoch all the way down to Lamech, we see a study in rebellion and in sin. But in the line of Seth to Enoch to the Lamech ,who is the father of Noah, we see a study in God's grace. And so we see a contrast again between these two seeds in the world. The seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.

What do we learn from these few verses here in Genesis 4:16 through 18 as they record the banishment of Cain? Well again, we learn that sin always brings with it a breach of fellowship with the Lord and with others. But we also are reminded that the family separation that occurs here between the line of Cain and then eventually the line of Seth is a good thing in the sense that it is part of God's plan to protect the seed of the woman, to protect the righteous seed from intermingling with that which is in rebellion against God.

It's interesting that Genesis 6 seems to bring back before us a picture of the line of Cain and the line of Seth inter-mingling. Do you remember the passage in which it speaks about the sons of God and the daughters of men? Listen to what Bonar says: "Cain and his posterity spread eastward, just as Seth and his posterity spread westward. The two great families separated, only to meet again in after ages, when overflowing wickedness had erased the line of separation, and a common ungodliness made them one." Bonar is referring to Genesis 6:2 where the sons of God and the daughters of men mix. And this seems to be referring to the line, the godly line of Seth intermarrying with the ungodly line of Cain. And the resultant wickedness is legendary, of course. So in this passage we see the breach of fellowship sin always brings and it's a salutary warning to us all.

II. Sin not separates us from God, but dehumanizes us.

Then as we look at verses 19 through 24 we see a picture of one of Cain's descendants. And a picture of the workings of depravity in Lamech, who is of the seed of Cain. And we learn there that sin not only brings a breach of fellowship with God and alienation within families, but sin dehumanizes us.

The picture of Lamech in verses 19 through 24 is not a pretty picture. He is the first polygamist recorded in scripture. And I think it is no accident that he is of the line of Cain. Moses is the one who wrote Genesis 2. He knows what God's original purposes are. And here, he's telling us that the first man to take two wives is of the line of Cain. But the picture given here of the family of Cain is not an unfair caricature. If men, even holy men, were the authors of the word of God, you would expect no good thing to be said about Cain. And yet here we have some very positive things said about the line of Cain and this, too, is evidence of the divine inspiration of scripture. The Lord acknowledges the accomplishments of the line of Cain. They are expert in nomadic activities. They are experts in herding. They are expert in the musical arts, and they are the founders of metal work. All of these things the Lord acknowledges were accomplishments of the line of Cain. They were the ones who were the founders and the leaders in these particular areas of human exploit. Listen to what Kidner says: "A biased account would have ascribed nothing good to Cain. The truth is more complex. God was to make much use of Canaanite techniques for His people, from the semi-nomadic discipline itself to the civilized arts and crafts. The phrase ‘he was the father of all such’ acknowledges the debt and prepares us to accept for ourselves a similar indebtedness to secular enterprise; for the Bible nowhere teaches that the godly have all the gifts." And so there is a balance here of appreciation for their human creativity as a divine gift and yet a recognition that technique and technology are no replacement for the life of God in the soul of man and the morality which flows from that. And so let's look again at Lamech's wickedness.

In verses 19, 23 and 24 we see a picture of the kind of man Lamech was. First of all, as we've already said in verse 19 we see that he was a polygamist. Second of all, in verse 23 we see that he was a murderer. Third, we see that he was an evil boaster. He not only murdered, but he boasted about that murder. And fourth, we see that he was a perverse man, and his perversity is seen in three ways in verse 24.

First of all, notice how Lamech takes comfort in Cain's sin. Who in their right mind would take comfort in another man's wickedness? Lamech does. He rejoices in the fact that Cain murdered and "got away with it." Then, he goes on to spurn God's forbearance. He doesn't learn a lesson from the fact that God did not strike Cain down immediately. He exults in the fact that God didn't do that and therefore he thinks he will be able to go on with impunity rebelling against God. And finally he scoffs. He is a scoffer at God, not thinking that the Lord will bring judgment. Again, Kidner says, "Lamech's taunt-song reveals the swift progress of sin. Where Cain had succumbed to it, Lamech exults in it; where Cain had sought protection, Lamech looks around for provocation." So we see here a picture of sin going yet another step further in another generation in which the godly or the ungodly line of Cain is compounding in its wickedness. And it's no wonder when we get to Genesis 6 and we look at the extent and the depth of wickedness that we see there when we already see it here in Genesis 4.

Note again how sin directly strikes at forgiveness. There is no forgiveness in the heart of Lamech. A man wounds him, he kills him. A child, and that is literally what the text says, a child wounds him and he strikes him down. There is no forgiveness in the heart of Lamech. He is a man of vengeance. And isn't it interesting how the loss of moral righteousness brings with it a loss of capacity for forgiveness. It's interesting, isn't it, that Jesus will use the phrase seventy times seven precisely in the area of forgiveness as He speaks to Peter. Again, Kidner says, "Jesus may well have had Lamech's seventy-seven saying in mind when he spoke of forgiveness unto seventy times seven in the gospel." What a contrast in the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Why? Because forgiveness is one of those indelible marks of a work of grace in our hearts. And a heart with no forgiveness is a sure sign of a heart which has no grace.

And so we see the heart of Lamech and it's a sad thing to see. It's a frightening thing to see. Lamech is not a person that you would wanted to have lived near and one feels for his wives, the both of them, having to live with a violent man like Lamech. Again Kidner says, "Cain's family is a microcosm; its pattern of technical prowess and moral failure is that of humanity." We live in an age characterized by technical and technological prowess, but it has night brought with it moral improvement. Just the opposite. Men are skilled in technique and in technology and they are utter failures, not only in the sphere of human relationships, but in the sphere of relationship with the divine. So again, we see sin here dehumanizing us. Satan wants to say sin against God, you will become more than human. But Genesis 4 records for us the constant result of sin. When you sin, you become less human, not more. So often, we've heard them saying before, to err is human. Or you’ll hear people say, "Well I'm only human in response to sin." Humanity is not the root of sin. Moral rebellion in the heart is the root of all external sin. It's not that we sin because we're human, it's that we sin because we're fallen. And so to say that when we sin we're only being human, is a misnomer. When we sin, we're only being fallen. It's not that we're being human. Sin dehumanizes us.

III. God's covenant mercy is the only bright spot in human history.

One last thing we see in this passage. And you’ll see it in verses 25 and 26. In this depressing passage which records the descent of Cain's descendants into sin and depravity, we have here in the final two verses, 25 and 26, the hopeful birth of Seth. And I believe that there is an important message for us here. It is that God's covenant program of mercy is the only bright spot in the dark history of sin in the human race. God's covenant program of mercy is the only bright spot in this dark history here in Genesis 4. Eve's faith comes through even more clearly here in verse 25 than it did at the first of the chapter. She immediately ascribes the birth of Seth to the Lord, she gives him a spiritual name. He is called Seth, which either means the appointed one or the one who is a replacement, indicating again the Lord's hand being upon her. She emphasizes God's providence by naming him Seth, the one who is appointed.

And then in verse 26 we have the first disclosure of the divine name Lord in the Scriptures. Lord has been variously pronounced Jehovah or Yahweh, but it is that covenant name of the Lord which especially is revealed in the time of Moses in the Exodus. And here we have the first public communal corporate worship of the Lord recorded in human history. We are told these words: "Then men begin to call upon the name of the Lord." This phrase to call upon the name of the Lord is very usually used in the Old Testament to refer to corporate worship. You may imagine that prior to this time that worship would have been rather spontaneous and it would have been within the confines of particular families. Now we have an intimation from Moses that in the time of Enosh, son of Seth, that people began to gather communally to worship the Lord God corporately together. So isn't it interesting that whereas we see the progress of technology in the line of Cain, we see the progress of the worship of God in the line of Seth. It is in his descendants that people first gather communally to worship the name of the Lord.

Now I want also to point out one more thing. Isn't it interesting that the only ray of hope in this chapter comes from God and none of God's people make a significant contribution to it. That ray of hope is the bringing of a covenant child into the world who will be established in holiness and will bear a godly line. A line which will worship the Lord, which will walk in the ways of the Lord in contrast to the evil of the men of their generation. We note again that it is not our plan of hope that brings rescue to the wicked world. It is God's plan which brings hope for redemption in the world. And that's a plan over which we have no control. If you had said what's going to be the antidote. What's going to be our plan to combat the wickedness of Cain? Who would have thought that the antidote would be well, there's going to be this line of covenant children. That's going to be the stratagem that God brings into the world to combat the wickedness of Cain. Surely, we would have wanted to set up some organizations, some institutions, some trust funds, some educational - I mean you can imagine all the things that we would have thought of to combat the influence of Cain. But God's plan is to bring this covenant child into the world named Seth who is going to rear godly children, who are going to rear godly children, who are going to rear godly children, who are going to rear godly children. And by that he is going to fight back against the wickedness of Cain.

Now there's a story like this in our own experience not too far away. Last century in Scotland, at the beginning of the century, the state of the church in Scotland was in very, very sad order. Evangelical preaching was rare. A naturalistic, rationalistic form of preaching was almost universally experienced in the churches and what was God's plan to attack that state of affairs in Scotland. It was the same plan that we see here in Genesis 4. And it came with the birth of some covenant children. I'd like to share that story with you. Ian Murray tells it in his wonderful biographical introduction to William Cunningham's historical theology: "At the beginning of the 19th century, weakness, slumber and death almost universally characterized the pulpits of the church of Scotland. A scattered Evangelical remnant still remained within her ranks. But for more than half a century they had struggled unsuccessfully to turn back the tide of moderatism and worldliness which had entered the national church early in the eighteenth century. The religion of the moderates, as the prevailing clerical party was called, was a cold appeal to virtue and morality accompanied by a lordly contempt of the Evangelical message and fervor. Their only article of faith seemed to be that God existed for the benefit of man. The godly, but somewhat eccentric, Dr. Kidd of Aberdeen was once called to preach at an ordination service of a student, an Evangelical student, but in the presence of a predominately moderate Presbytery. He delivered a perfect satire aimed at the typical clergyman of the day. ‘My young brother,’ he began, ‘you have now been set apart to the office of the holy ministry. Whatever you do, be sure that you don't overwork yourself. Why should you die before your time? There are some foolish people, as you may be aware who go in for Sabbath schools and prayer meetings and Bible classes. But my beloved young brother, I counsel you carefully to avoid all that sort of nonsense." You can imagine the reaction from the crowd as they heard him preach in that way. But it was said in those days that a moderate sermon was like a fine Scottish winter day - cold, clear and brief. Murray goes on, "In the previous century the Erskines and Bostons had raised an unheeded warning against this kind of natural religion and by the end of that century, a full third of the Scottish people had ceased to listen to the men who stood in the pulpits once occupied by the Reformers and martyrs." This was Scotland's condition in 1800, and yet by the 1840's such was the spiritual transformation that an unbiased English observer like C.H. Waller, once Examining Chaplain to Bishop Ryle and principal of the London School of Divinity, could describe the revived Scottish church, the Free Church, as "the nearest approach that he knew in the history of the church universal to apostolic conditions of faith and learning." It is the movement which resulted in that transformation which we refer to as the third reformation and we shall be particularly interested in the part played by two men whose best works are shortly to be republished.

Now he goes on to say that there three things that God used to bring reformation and revival in that setting. I will give you a hint at the other two, but I won't read about them. The second thing that he mentions is the conversion of Thomas Chalmers in 1809. Thomas Chalmers had been a moderate clergyman in a tiny, obscure parish near St. Andrews University. He was more interested in mathematics than he was in theology, and the Lord converted him on his deathbed. And then brought him back from his deathbed to minister for many more years in the church of Scotland. The third thing that he mentions is the publication of a book by Thomas McRee called The Biography of John Knox. And that book found its way to the shelves of laymen and women all over Scotland, and it is said that that book worked in their hearts almost like Homer's stories worked in the hearts of the Greeks causing people to aspire to be like these great reformational heroes that John Knox talked about in his own time, and which McRee talked about in his books.

But the first thing that Murray says was used by the Lord to bring about reformation and revival was this: "Within a short span of years three events occurred which mark the beginnings of a new and better day. The first was the birth of a succession of infants whose names were later to be revered all over the land. James Buchanan in 1804, William Cunningham in 1805, R.S. Camblish in 1806, James Bannerman in 1807, James Begg in 1808, Horatious Bonar in 1808, A. Moody Stewart in 1809, Andrew Bonar in 1810, Robert Murray McCheyne in 1813, George Smeeten in 1814. Those names may not mean much to many of you here, but those were the men, those were the first order Evangelicals that God raised up all in a tiny span of years and thirty years later they would break forth on the Scottish scene and they would be used by God to bring life into the hearts of men and women. What was God's stratagem against Satan there? The birth of covenant children. Nurtured under the truth of God who broke forth on the scene, preaching and living the word of God. God's covenant promises working out in His plan, His program of mercy. That is the bright spot in the story of this dark human descent into sin, even the story we see here in Genesis 4.

Perhaps we should begin praying that the Lord will in our own day raise up a generation of mighty men who know the Lord, who will proclaim His word fearlessly and faithfully. And perhaps we shall see reformation and revival in our own land. Let's look to Him to in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, we cry out to You in praise for your redemptive stratagem, through the promises of the covenant You preserve Your people. And you do it in such a way that we can take no credit for it. We praise You for it. Now help us to believe in trust in dark times, and we will give You all the praise and all the glory, we ask it Jesus' name, Amen.

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