Home > John's Blogs, Temptation & Sin, Theology > The End of Cain’s Story

The End of Cain’s Story

I’ve begun reading “The Meaning of the City” by Jacques Ellul. It’s old, but it’s an outstanding book. He points out something I never noticed – that after Cain kills Abel and is then given his punishment and protection by God, Genesis tells us Cain’s reaction: to have a child and build a city. It’s the city that Ellul is interested in, and I was fascinated by his observations.
First, God tells Cain that as punishment, he will live in the “land of wandering” (Gen. 4:12). Second, God tells Cain that God will be the protector of Cain. Then, Cain goes and lives in the land of Nod (4:16). How is Cain dwelling in a land when he is supposed to be wandering? The answer is that the two words, “wandering” and “Nod” are roughly the same in Hebrew. So Cain was effectively living in the “land of wandering.” And look what he does!

He builds a city there. Why do that? Says Ellul:

Cain is completely dissatisfied with the security granted to him by God, and so he searches out his own security. However, this search is no different from his first desire for God’s presence, and his security can only be found in God. It is only when he believes in God that he will be able to believe that the mark placed on him (and in fact on us all?) is an effectual guarantee, because it is an integral part of God’s word (his pledge).

Thus, Cain becomes a description for us of life without Christ. We try to find security and satisfaction in our own work (whatever it is) but like Cain, we are cut off from God’s presence unless we submit to Him through Christ. Ellul continues talking about Cain:

And as for his security, he will find another way to procure it. And another way to satisfy his desire for eternity. He will try to take care of his own needs in these areas. He is about to take the wrong road, where every step leads further from God. But is it possible to be further from God than Cain? No, the road does not really lead further from God, it leads to the mirages of man’s heart because it leads to temporary satisfactions of the thirst for eternity and rest. (italics mine)

Ellul has accurately described all of us without God. We try to find our own way, but we are unable. We think we find it for short periods, but we don’t. What we find is a temporary replacement for what we truly long for: eternity and rest. And they are found only in God.

I had never noticed or thought about why we are told Cain’s reaction to his punishment, but Ellul eloquently explains why. And it is a great lesson for us: we cannot find satisfaction anywhere except God. Cain found out.

  1. April 2, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks for posting this. Interesting.

  2. brianmcl
    April 3, 2008 at 7:51 am

    So is Ellul anti-city? I recall hearing about a scholar that was anti-city. I have a hard time with this because God establishes an eternal city in Revelation 21. But, the rest I like.

  3. jlemke
    April 3, 2008 at 9:23 am

    He is anti-city, and I don’t agree with him. He selectively chooses his references to city, and sometimes uses his references inappropriately (he’s not a biblical scholar – I think he’s a sociologist, but I’m not sure).

    On the other hand, his problem with cities is that man builds them to find satisfaction independently of God. I don’t disagree with that. Thus, when he comes to the end of his book – and I’m not there yet – it looks like he takes a positive view of the New Jerusalem.

  4. April 12, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I thought the central idea behind Ellul’s book is that God redeems the City and establishes it as part of heaven. In other words, the City may have been man’s creation, but God accepts it and transforms it into something good.

  5. jlemke
    April 14, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    He seems to be headed in that direction (I’m not done yet, and have been way-laid by a family matter), but in the first half of the book he is anti-city. That is, men build cities as a way of trying to find satisfaction in places other than God. In fact, I’m two thirds of the way through and he has had nothing good to say about cities yet!

    As I noted in response to Brian above, Ellul takes a positive view of the New Jerusalem. However, before that time, he never sees any redeeming qualities in cities at all (a position I find Biblically untenable in light of how the OT speaks so highly of Jerusalem – not the new Jerusalem, just Jerusalem).

  1. April 7, 2008 at 3:14 pm

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