The First City

“Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch” (Gen. 4:17).

- Genesis 4:17-22

Departing from God’s presence, Cain settles in Nod, which means “wandering” (Gen. 4:16). The name of his land demonstrates the futility of Cain’s effort, apart from the Lord, to find solace in human society. As Matthew Henry comments, “those who depart from God cannot find rest anywhere else.”

The remainder of chapter 4 highlights the further degeneracy of Cain’s line before concluding with hope in the birth of Seth and the list of his progeny (vv. 25–26). Sin’s increasingly corrupting effect on those who remain far away from the Lord is apparent in Cain’s line, especially in his descendant Lamech who is introduced in verse 18. Verse 19 tells us Lamech took for himself two wives, Adah and Zillah, and thus perverted God’s intent for marriage with the institution of polygamy. This twisting of the marital bond will later be adopted by the Lord’s people. But note that though God seemed to overlook polygamy to some degree in the lives of men like David and Solomon, the results of polygamous marriages in Scripture are negative (for example, Gen. 30:1; 2 Sam. 11–12; 1 Kings 11:1–8).

In Cain’s line we see the flourishing of a civilization in the building of cities (Gen. 4:17) and the development of shepherding, music, and tools (vv. 20–22). Moses does not highlight these events just to provide history; he wrote for the newly constituted people of Israel, and these points helped them to see their need to follow him out of Egypt. Despite the harshness of slavery, leaving such a civilized land was not an easy choice to make (Ex. 16:1–3). In reading of the world’s first extensive progression in Cain’s evil line, Israel learned that advanced culture is nothing without knowledge of the Lord.

However, this does not suggest all societal progression is evil. God’s later approval of music in the Psalms, for example, reveals cultural development is not necessarily evil in itself. The image of God, shattered as it is in sinners, is still able to produce arts and sciences that glorify the Lord. As believers called to exercise dominion over God’s creation (Gen. 9:7; Matt. 28:18–20), it is incumbent upon us to make our civilization serve the Creator.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments on today’s passage, saying that in Cain’s line “we see, at the present time, that the excellent gifts of the Spirit are diffused through the whole human race.” Although we must be ever aware of the blasphemy of which sinful civilization is capable, we must not disregard the discoveries and creations of non-believers. Thank the Lord for human creativity and endeavor to make wise use of knowledge and the arts.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 11
Ps. 23
Isa. 38:20
Acts 25:1–12
1 Tim. 4:1–5

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