Cain and Abel #15
In our previous post we discussed Genesis 4:17. We saw that Cain built a city and called it after his son, Chanoch (Enoch). But that was not the end of Cain’s dynasty. His descendants were instrumental to the evolution of human society and culture. Not bad for a person who, without the punishment for killing his brother, would have remained working the soil for the rest of his life. The question we must never forget to ask ourselves when we read the Bible is why is it telling us this story. In other words, what can we learn from it, and how it is relevant to us?
Verses 18-22 are mostly a list of births. So instead of analysing it word by word, as we normally do, I will draw it as a chart.
For seven generations we are not told anything about Cain’s family – only the names. Were they not important? Didn’t they do anything worth mentioning? Or maybe the Bible wants to keep silence about them, as if it does not want to rub in the success of Cain’s dynasty, perhaps not to encourage us to think that murder can be rewarded with success.
But whether it is the curse that stopped them from doing anything or value, or the Bible hiding it from us, after the mythical seven generation they are back in the spotlight.
But why seven?
Seven is a mystical number that appears over and again in the Bible in many different connections. For instance, the seven days of creation, or anyone who harms Cain will be avenged seven-fold. Maybe the number is so important because the word for the number seven שבע (sheva), while pronounced differently, is written the same way as the word for being satisfied or not hungry שבע (sa-ve-ah). A man who dies in old age after good life, for instance, is called שבע, as though he has lived a satisfactory life, and he is not hungry to keep living any more. For instance, in Genesis 25:8
וַיִּגְוַע וַיָּמׇת אַבְרָהָם בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה זָקֵן וְשָׂבֵעַ
And Abraham was dying and he died in good age, old and satisfied.
Whatever the reason for the silence might be, after seven generations we are told that Cain’s family is still instrumental to human society and culture.
Yaval, was the ancestor of all those who pastured cattle in large quantities, and probably the father of commercial livestock agriculture (מִקְנֶה).
Yuval was the ancestor of all musicians.
And Toval-Cain was the forger of anything made of brass and iron.
What an impressive dynasty it has become. But that might be the very point of the story … well at least one of them (in the Bible, there are always many more.)
What does the story of Cain teach us?
We tend to despise Cain because we know of his past. Most of us, as I have discovered over and again in multiple discussions, would consider him evil, beyond redemption. They would never forgive him, even when they learn about his and his family’s future contributions.
But this is not how we would normally treat other people of impressive success and contribution. How many of the dynasties, successful families, monarchies, financial empires, politicians that we follow and admire achieved their initial power and wealth by shedding blood or other not less horrendous deeds? But because our familiarity with them started from knowing their achievements and contributions, we tend not to dig into their past, or forgive them about it. But should we really judge a person based on how we got to know about them, and the order in which we learned about them?
So maybe the story teaches us that even the most successful can have a shady past. And if we judge Cain by his past, so should we judge everyone else – even those that we admire. Alternatively, if we judge them by their contribution and forgive them for their past, so should we forgive Cain. Or maybe, it teaches us that however we judge our judgment is bound to be flowed, and therefore we should not judge at all.
After all, if God has forgiven Cain, who are we not to?
I think you miss the point. Cain, the firstborn, slew Abel, the second son of man. This is a pattern God has revealed throughout the history of Israel: Cain vs Abel, Ishmael (born first though not adopted as a son proper) vs Isaac, Esau (the first born) vs Jacob, Reuben… Read more »
Thank you very much for the detailed information. However, I do not think I missed the point. I am quite familiar with your interpretation – which is the most commonly used to explain this story. But we should never forget that your interpretation, even if the one taught at Sunday… Read more »
You are always welcome. Please feel free to discuss comment or ask any questions. Ran
Have you seen this website? I find their archaeological, nonsectarian approach to the Bible very interesting.
I was not familiar with it. So interesting. Thank you for introducing it to me
When I think about the stories of the Bible where people got saved by God, whether it is the story of Cain, Lot, or Noah I always have the feeling we do not really understand the pain of these people. We find it a great mercy of God towards them… Read more »
Thank you Mark for the detailed comments. I think you bring a very good point. Reading the Bible we often so focus on God and the righteous people that we forget to look of the normal people, people like us, people who make mistakes, people who fail and suffer. Absurdly,… Read more »