And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.(Genesis 4:16-17)
The story of Cain; his rejected worship, the murder of his brother, consequently ,his sentence to be a vagabond on earth, and the city he built, is one of the primary lessons of the entire Bible. The God of the Bible wants us to consider the deeper lessons of this narrative, placing it prominently as the fourth chapter of scripture, after Creation, and the fall.
Cain is brought up again, by Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus, makes mention of the slaying of Abel, (he doesn’t mention Cain by name), as the prototypical martyrdom. The inspired author of the book of Hebrews contrasted the faith of Abel with the unbelief of Cain, in the faith chapter. The Apostle John sets Cain and Christ out as the only two alternative humanities.
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous…Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.( I John 3:12,16)
Finally Jude warns of those false converts and will worshippers who have “gone in the way of Cain”. The lessons of this story go far beyond the surface moral caution against envy and murder. The story of Cain and his line is designed to teach us something about all of fallen humanity, as regarding our relationship to God, ourselves and our environment.
We note that Cain, who previously had no response to the living, personal God, when God was warning him against sin, and afterwards when God was calling him to repentance. Other than a sarcastic, cynical retort, “Am I my Brother’s keeper?”,Cain had no real response to God.
But when the Divine sentence was passed, basically ‘divorcing’ Cain from the earth for life, cursing any attempts at farming, and making him a homeless exile, Cain responded with passionate pleading. He was afraid that someone would take vengeance upon him. The murder had introduced fear, insecurity and homelessness to the world.
But in mercy upon the open rebel, God put a mark upon Cain, an assurance that any who violated Cain would suffer Divine vengeance even beyond physical death. Cain is under God’s protection, even in his homeless wandering. But that mark was not enough for Cain, for he chose not to believe in it.
So Cain departed from “the presence of the Lord”. He would never know whether the mark would have protected him or not, for it didn’t seem adequate to him, therefore he simply left God, not physically of course, but spiritually and morally.
The convicted murderer could have chosen to submit to God’s sentence, and put himself under the mercy and protection of God, but he wanted some better security than God’s ‘mark’. Also, in spite of the Divine sentence passed upon him, he longed for rest from his wanderings.
Cain left the presence of the Lord. Cain would begin a new life, a life without the God who had condemned him. He would himself define life, beauty and meaning without God. He came to love in the land of Nod. Ironically , “Nod” means “Wanderings”. Cain has gone into restlessness. Even if he “settles down” he can never truly settle down, for he is sentenced by God to go nowhere, and to find nothing, and to have perpetual insecurity.
“East of Eden”, away from God’s presence and the memory of the paradise,Cain would set about to make his own life.He would secure himself, and escape from his wonderings by building the world’s first city.
The name of the world’s first city, is also the name of Cain’s son, “Enoch”, or “initiation”. Cain was initiating a new (godless) way of life, as well as a new (godless)security, and a completely new (godless) sense of rootedness. Here the God estranged wanderer could settle in, take root and consider himself ‘at home’.
The only question is, can Cain ( and all he represents) truly stop his endless wandering in the city which he has made? Would he finally be at rest? Will the city give him the sense of permanence and security that he craves? Can the godless exile finally be at home there? Is it possible to remake the world, without God?
We are living in the final stages of Cain’s grand experiment, for the Bible tells us that the real story of human development is the contrast and strivings of two cities, the doomed city of man and the ultimately triumphant “city of God”!
In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength: For he bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low; he layeth it low, even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust.(Isaiah 26:1-5)