The Story of Civilization

January 28, 2018 ()

Bible Text: Genesis 4:17-26 |


The Story of Civilization | Genesis 4:17-26
Brian Hedges | January 28, 2018

Turn in your Bibles this morning to Genesis, the fourth chapter.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am amazed by what human beings are capable of doing, and I’m amazed in both positive ways and negative ways.  When I think about human ingenuity and creativity and capacity for good, I see stories in the news sometimes of people who do things with amazing good will for other people, I’m deeply moved, and I’m touched by how good people can be.

And on the other hand, sometimes I marvel at human beings’ capacity for cruelty, for wickedness, and for evil.  Almost every day when you read the news you see new stories that surprise you at just how depraved the human race can be.

Human beings are characterized by both “greatness and wretchedness,” to use the words of Blaise Pascal.  He said in his Pencées, “What sort of freak, then, is man; how novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious.  Judge of all things, evil earthworm; repository of truth, sink of doubt and error; glory and refuse of the universe.  Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.”

That’s an astute observation.  When you look at the world, you see the greatness of human beings, you see the wretchedness of human beings.  You have to say with Pascal, “The glory of the universe, the refuse of the universe.”  You see human beings at their very best and that very worst, and it begs the question, why are human beings the way they are?  What is the reason for this?  What is this great principle of greatness that we see, and what is this principle of wretchedness?

Well, the book of Genesis gives us answers to those questions.  The book of Genesis, of course, tells us the story of creation and of fall; creation in Genesis chapters one and two, the Fall in chapter three, and then from chapter four onward we have the outworking of the fall in human life, in human society.

In the second half of Genesis four, in particular, we have the story of human civilization in a nutshell.  We see really interesting things.  We see human beings doing really great things, and we see human beings doing terribly wicked things.  It causes us to ask the question, what is the hope for the human race?  Well, our passage this morning will answer those questions.

So we’re going to read it, first of all, Genesis chapter four, verses 17 through 26, and then I want you to notice three things from this passage with me.  Let’s read the text, Genesis chapter four, beginning in verse 17.

“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.  To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech.  And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.  Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.  His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.  Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
Lamech said to his wives:
‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain's revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.’
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’  To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

This is God’s word.

So, this passage shows us the story of civilization in a nutshell, and it shows us three things about human civilization that are, I think, really interesting and important.  It shows us:

I.  Cultural Advance: The Beginnings of Human Civilization
II.  Moral Decay: The Decline of Human Civilization
III.  God’s Promise: A Hope Greater than Human Civilization

So let’s look at each one of these three things.

I.  Cultural Advance: The Beginnings of Human Civilization

First of all, cultural advance.  You see this in verses 17 through 22, where you have the beginnings of various aspects of human culture.  You see several indications of this cultural advance.

(1) First of all, in verse 17 you have the very first city.  Now this word could refer to any grouping of people in a dwelling place, so it could have been a small city or something larger.  But we see it in verse 17, where Cain built a city, and he calls the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.

You think about all of the great cities of the world that have been built since then.  Some of you, perhaps, have visited some of these great cities.  Think of cities like New York City, or London, or Paris.  You go to cities like this, you see skyscrapers that are 90 or 100 stories tall, you see these great monuments, these great architectural feats such as the Eiffel Tower, and you’re amazed, aren’t you, at what human beings are able to do.  Every time I go to Chicago I’m just amazed at these skyscrapers and that people know how to build things like this.  It’s just amazing, human capacity.

But of course, in the city you also see really negative things.  Cities are places of greater crime. There’s greater poverty, there’s greater need in a city, simply because there are more people.  The more people there are, the more you have of both of these things; great advances in human culture, but also really negative things.

(2) You also see in this passage agricultural development.  You see that in verse 20: “Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.”  So here are people with a nomadic existence, who are beginning to domesticate animals.  They are keeping sheep, or cattle perhaps.  They are developing agricultural enterprises.

(3) And then in verse 21 you have the cultivation of the arts.  Jabal’s “brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and the pipe.”  So he was a musician.  He was the very first of the musicians, according to Genesis.

And again, when you think about the music that the world has given to us, it’s amazing.  I mean, you should just stop sometime, if you haven’t done so, and listen to the symphonies of Beethoven; absolutely amazing.  Or, who would not love listening to the jazz riffs of a Miles Davis?  It’s also amazing.  It’s a very different kind of music, but really wonderful music.  Or the ballads of Bob Dillon or Johnny Cash or the film scores of a John Williams.  Amazing music that the world has given us, and if I haven’t touched your particular genre (I chose the things I like) you can fill in the blank!

Now, I live in a family that loves music.  We have three kids who are learning instruments right now, and my kids are diving into music all the time, bringing new music to us, asking can they listen to this, can they listen to that…  A few nights ago, one of my kids came downstairs after bedtime and said, “Can I listen to music to help me calm down and get to sleep?”

I said, “No.”  (It was already past bedtime.)

He said, “Well, Martin Luther said that music drives the devil out.”

To which my wife replied, “Drive him out at nine o’ clock, not ten o’ clock!”

Well, Luther’s right.  Music is good.  Music helps us, right?  Music is a wonderful blessing of culture that comes to us, often from unbelievers, often from non-Christians who are geniuses when it comes to music.

So you have the beginnings of music here.

(4) You also have the beginnings of technology.  Look at verse 22, where you see the first forger of instruments of bronze and iron.  This is Tubal-cain, half-brother to Jubal and Jabal.  So he was evidently making utensils, he was making tools.

And again, just think about how wonderful life is when you have the right tools.  I had to reattach a shutter to my house yesterday, and it was helpful having tools that would help me to do that. It’s great to have a good screwdriver, to have a wonderful hammer, or have more advanced tools than that; not to mention modern technology.  You think about the benefits that come to us from planes and trains and automobiles.  You think about the convenience and the wealth of information that is right at our fingertips with an iPhone or with an iPad.  We thank God for the great inventors who have brought so many blessings into modern life.  You think of Thomas Edison, or the Wright brothers, or Henry Ford, or Steve Jobs.

All of these are advances in culture.  You see the beginnings of it right here in the book of Genesis, and we continue to see advances in culture in our day today.  But here’s the deal with culture: it’s always a mixed bag.  In the advances that we see in our culture (and this is true in every culture), there’s always a mixture of good things that we can affirm and sinful things that we should not affirm.

On one hand, we see the evidence of God’s image in man.  God created us in his image.  God himself is a creator, and so part of being created in the image of God is our capacity for creativity, and that continues even in fallen human beings who continue to create things, who continue to make things and invent things.

We see evidences of God’s common grace in these cultural advances.  Beauty in the arts.  I mean, those are wonderful things that God gives to all people.  Scripture tells us that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall even on the wicked, even on the unjust, and just as much as that is true, he gives creativity to people who are wicked and unjust.  He allows them to sometimes do wonderful things, beautiful things, good things, and we can affirm all of that.  But there’s always a mixture in human culture, in human civilization.  Every time you see cultural advance, you’ll see at the same time moral decay, moral decline.

II. Moral Decay: The Decline of Human Civilization 

That leads us to the second observation about this passage.  There is not only cultural advance here in Genesis four, there’s also moral decline and moral decay, there are hints of rebellion, first of all.  Cain, of course, is the first one to build this city, and it seems that that may have been an act of defiance against God, because God had actually condemned him to a life of wandering, and yet here it seems that he builds a city.

Tubal-cain carries the name of his ancestor Cain, and perhaps that is because the instruments that he made included not only tools and utensils, but also weapons, weapons that could be used for violence.  And in fact, when you continue to read the story of Lamech, we see two ways in particular in which moral decay takes the center stage in this narrative.

You see it, first of all, in verse 19, where we read that “Lamech took two wives.  The name of the one was Adah, the name of the other Zillah.”  So here, for the first time in human history, you have polygamy.  What is this but the corruption, the distortion of marriage?  God had given a pattern for marriage when he brought Eve to Adam in the garden.  God pronounced marriage good then.  The pattern for marriage was to be one man with one woman, united for all of life, but right here you have Lamech, a wicked man, who takes two wives for himself.  He’s not satisfied with one.  His lust, presumably, causes him to marry two.

And of course, those of you who know biblical history know that the Old Testament is replete with stories of polygamous marriages, even, sometimes, among God’s people.  You might think, for example, of Jacob, who marries both Leah and Rachel; or you might think of David, who had many wives.

But what you find invariably in these stories of Scripture is that the stories themselves, as they are told, serve to deconstruct polygamy as any kind of good.  The stories show that polygamy always leads to disastrous effects in human relationships.  You see untold misery in these relationships, even as they’re recorded in Scripture.  There’s never a place in Scripture where Scripture actually gives approval of polygamy.  The pattern, stated in Genesis and then reaffirmed in the words of Jesus and in the teachings of the apostles, is one man with one woman for all of life.

Of course, today, we think about our own culture.  This is one place in particular where we continue to see increasing moral decline.  We see degrading standards when it comes to human sexuality.  I think it’s interesting that here in recent days we’re beginning to see the fruits of this.

The sexual revolution sowed the seeds of sexual liberation, liberation from the constraints of marriage, the whole “playboy” culture; we saw that in the 1960s.  Now, finally, the chickens have come home to roost, and numbers and numbers of women are rightly calling it for what it is and are starting to call out the abuse and perversion that has taken place in our culture.  Now of course, no one, it seems, apart from Christians, are going all the way and saying, “The real place to find safety for the expression of human sexuality is in a covenantal relationship of marriage.”  Nobody’s saying that yet.  But still, we’re seeing some of the consequences, aren’t we, in the whole #MeToo movement.  Well, moral decay is always seen in this area.

And then we see it in a second area, and that is in violence in verses 23 and 24, and here you have Lamech’s boast to his wives.  It’s poetic.  In fact, this has been labeled by many commentators “The Song of the Sword.”  Lamech’s Song of the Sword.  Listen to what he says.

“Lamech said to his wives:
‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain's revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.’”

What seems to be going on here is that someone wounded Lamech, and he retaliates severely.  He murders someone.  But he’s not shameful about it.  He’s not ashamed, he’s not hiding, he’s boasting, he’s gloating.  He is a bully.  He is a barbarian.  He is a scoundrel.  He is a wicked man.  He boasts of his wickedness.

It also seems that the person he killed was perhaps just a boy.  The word “young man,” that word in the Hebrew carries the idea perhaps of a boy or of a lad, or maybe just a younger man, but someone that was probably weaker, someone who was vulnerable to Lamech.  It is the most senseless kind of violence.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Genesis, says, “The immediate conversion of metal-working to weapon-making,” that is, the metal-working of Tubal-cain to the weapon-making and slaying of a man in Lamech, “The immediate conversion of metal-working to weapon-making is ominous.  Cain’s family is a microcosm.  Its pattern of technical prowess and moral failure is the story of humanity.”

Cultural advance, moral decline.  Technical prowess, moral failure.  Increasing cultural goods, and at the same time, deepening moral decay.

This is always the case in human culture.  There’s a non-Christian, I think he was a philosopher, historian named Will Durant, who wrote this monumental, 11-volume Story of Civilization in the 20th century.  In Volume I, William Durant, who was not a Christian, I don’t believe, but he made this observation.  He said, “For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms...  Barbarism is like the jungle.  It never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.”

And indeed, in every civilization in the history of the world you see this in some degree.  Think about Egypt and the pyramids and all of the cultural advance.  They’re just artifacts now.  Think about Rome.  Perhaps you’ve heard of, probably very few people have read, the famous book by Gibbon, The [Decline] and Fall of the Roman Empire, which traces the development of this great culture and then also its moral decline.  Think of England.  At one time it was the empire of the world, at one time even a bastion of Christendom; and now has pretty much lost its empire altogether and is a bastion of secularism.

Every human culture is something like Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.  Do you remember Nebuchadnezzar’s statue in his dream, in Daniel chapter two?  It had a head of gold, it had a chest of silver, but its feet were made of iron and clay.  It was top-heavy.  It was doomed to fall.  And that’s what human culture is like.

The apostle Paul said it well in First Corinthians chapter seven, verse 31.  He said, “Let those who deal with the world be as though they had no dealings with it, for the present form of this world is passing away.”

Paul is reminding us that we are to hold the world very loosely, because the world as it now is is passing away.  The present form of this world is passing away.  Don’t put your hope in cultural advance.

Let me give you just one more illustration of this.  We’re in awards season right now.  So you had the Golden Globes here a couple of weeks, and this Screen Actor’s Guild awards, I think it was last week; the Grammys are tonight, the Oscars are coming up.  Now, you may or may not award shows.  I tend to enjoy watching some of the award shows, my wife does not enjoy watching the award shows. That’s fine, wherever you fall in the spectrum.

But I’ll tell you, this is what I enjoy, and at the same time cringe.  I enjoy seeing talented people.  I mean, I am amazed at people’s ability to act and to convey emotion and to lose themselves in another character and to pull me into another world for awhile.  So I enjoy a good movie, a good film, or good television.  I enjoy seeing the creativity of people in the world.

But you cannot watch one of those shows without at the same time being impressed by both the incredible talent and creativity of these people and the absolute godlessness of the entertainment culture.  You see both things at once, and I want you to know that, wherever you look in human society, you’re going to see both things.  It’s inescapable.  You’re going to see human advance, cultural advance, and at the same time you’re going to see moral decay and decline.

That teaches us to have a very careful, nuanced perspective on culture.  On one hand, because people are made in the image of God, and because many cultural goods come to us through God’s common grace, we should not be overly negative or overly critical.  We should be able to affirm, “Yes, this is a beautiful piece of music.  This is a great piece of acting.  This is a wonderfully written book.  This is an amazing skyscraper.”  We should be able to affirm those things.

But on the other hand, because of the Fall, because of the seeds of disintegration that are sown throughout our world, because of sin, because of the godlessness of a world in rebellion against God, we should never be overly and unduly optimistic.  We should never think that our salvation, that our redemption, that the rescue of the human race, that the good of the human race, is going to be found in just better education, or in better healthcare, or in a better government, or in a better system of any kind!  It won’t.  Human civilization cannot save itself.

III.  God’s Promise: A Hope Greater than Human Civilization

So we need another hope, and we find that also in this passage, in verses 25 and 26.  This leads us to the third point, which is God’s promise: a hope greater than human civilization.

I just want you to notice two things here.  First of all, there’s the promise itself, and then the response to the promise.

(1)  The promise itself, there’s a hint of it.  It’s not explicit, but there’s a hint of it in verse 25: “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’”

So here’s Eve, named Eve because she is to be the mother of all living, and she has lost one son through murder at the hands of her firstborn, Cain, and now she has another son.  She has another son, and calls him Seth, and she says, “God has appointed for me another offspring.”

The key word is the word offspring.  It’s the same word that you find in the promise in Genesis 3:15, where God spoke to the serpent and said, “There is going to be enmity between your offspring and the offspring of the woman.  You’re going to bruise his heel, and he is going to bruise, or crush, your head.”

I think right here you have a little glimmer of hope that the snake-crushing offspring of the woman is still on the horizon.  Perhaps Eve is hoping again.  Perhaps she’s again hoping that this child will be the deliverer, but she’s looking to the promise; she’s holding onto the promise, that God, through her own children, through her descendents, somehow God is going to bring a deliverer to the human race.  That’s the promise.  That’s the hope, the snake-crushing offspring.

(2) Well, of course, Seth is not the Messiah.  Seth is not the deliverer.  Seth also has a son.  We see this in verse 26, and you begin to see something interesting in verse 26.  It says, “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his Enosh,” a word that perhaps carries the idea of frailty or weakness.  “...he called his name Enosh.  And at that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”  They began to call upon the name of the Lord.

So right here you have the beginnings of something.  You have the beginnings of worship, the beginnings of prayer.  There’s actually a new book that has just recently come out that’s actually on this phrase, Calling on the Name of the Lord.  The book is subtitled "A biblical theology of prayer", and the author of this book, Gary Millar, shows, I think very persuasively, that when you study this phrase, the phrase “calling upon the name of the Lord,” when you study it throughout the book of Genesis and then through the rest of the Old Testament and then its quotations in the New Testament, what you see is that this phrase is used to denote prayer, but a particular kind of prayer.  It’s prayer that is oriented specifically to the promises of God.  God has made a promise, and we haven’t seen the fulfillment of that promise yet, but in hope that God will fulfill this promise we call upon his name.  We ask him to answer to his word; we ask him to fulfill his promises.

This is what Millar says: “It is clear that, as the Old Testament unfolds, to call on the name of Yahweh is not simply to pray, in any generic sense.  To call on the name of Yahweh is to cry to God to come through on his promises, and specifically to rescue and give life to his covenant people.  It is a prayer for salvation, or an expression of the fact that one is relying on God for salvation.  To put it anachronistically, calling on the name of Yahweh in the Old Testament denotes gospel-shaped prayer.”

So right here you have a response to the promise of God.  The response is a response of faith, and it is prayer, which is "the chief exercise of faith," to use Calvin’s words.  The way we express our faith, our trust, our hope in God, is to pray and to pray in particular in accord with his promises.  It’s to look at the promises of God, to trust the promises of God, to believe the promises of God, to call upon the name of the Lord.

And did you know that in the New Testament, when you have the first preaching of the gospel after the ascension of Christ and the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter in Acts chapter two, do you remember what Peter says?  He quotes a line from the prophet Joel, Joel chapter two, and he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Well, it’s reaching all the way back to Genesis chapter four, when men began to call on the name of the Lord, they began to hope in the promise.  They saw the deliverer had not come yet, and they’re hoping, they’re calling, they’re praying, they’re worshipping.

Brothers and sisters, this is the hope for humanity.  It’s not found in the great cultural advances of human civilization.  Our hope is found in another place altogether; it’s found in the seed of the woman, the offspring of the woman; it’s found in Christ, who is the second Adam, who is the head of a whole new humanity, a whole new human race; it’s found in Christ, who comes to crush the serpent and to bring in new creation.  And it’s only through Christ that we can be rescued from our moral decay; it is only through Christ that we can see the development in the new heavens and the new earth of a truly flourishing human culture under the reign of the glorious creator God, so that God will be glorified forever and ever.

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank you this morning for the hope that we have in Jesus.  We thank you that Christ has come and he has defeated the evil one, as the apostle John wrote.  Christ died to destroy the works of the devil, and as we read in the book of Revelation, this child, born of a woman, is the one who defeats the dragon, the ancient serpent, Satan, the one who is called the devil.

So we are grateful this morning for the hope that we have in Christ, and we pray that you would help us, then, to locate all of our hope in the right place, that we would not look to what human civilization can do, but we would look to what Christ, the true and better Adam, does for us.

As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that you would nurture us and nourish us and feed us.  As we take the bread and the juice, may we by faith take Christ himself, who is the living bread, the bread of life, who gave his life for the life of the world.  So draw near to us now even as we continue to worship.  We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.