#8 — The Price of Unforgiveness

As we close out Genesis 3, we find our characters in a real pickle. Adam and Eve (she finally has a name!) have found themselves booted out of the garden. Now they have to become part of restoring what has been broken. And all that has been broken is going to work against them in this process, from children to dirt to their own relationship. And this is where Genesis 4 begins.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.

Again, it’s one of those passages we have a tendency to read through and not consider. Let’s pull this apart and see what we can learn.

We see an obvious shift in the person being dealt with. It moves to the woman, and then to her children. Adam is kind of washed out of the story here. His great contribution ends with his ability to get his wife pregnant, and then he seems to be forgotten in the story. Or is he? We will see.

Eve gives birth to a son. The Hebrew word for boy is yeled (this will matter in a bit). And she names the boy Cain (pronounced Kah - een), which means acquired. She describes his character and takes authority by calling him “acquired.” Odd, unless we see what she says next.

The English translation says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” But she didn’t get a man (ish), she got a boy (yeled). So, why does she say she got a man, and why does she name him acquired, and what is really happening here?

This is a terribly difficult verse to translate. The verbiage is tough. It is not only a tough set of words, but a tough word order. So let’s take a look.

The phrase “I have gotten” is from the Hebrew word qanah (Strong’s H7069). Once again, what we see is that the English is not so much wrong as it misses the nuances implied in the word itself. “I have gotten” is not a bad translation, but there is more.

First, this is from the same root as the word “qannah,” which means jealous or zealous or passionate desire. These are connected. In Exodus 20, God says He is a “jealous” God. He is a qannah God. We are told that Messiah will have a qannah for his Father’s house. Elijah is celebrated for his qannah — passionate desire to serve God. The zealots are known in Hebrew as the qannahim — those who passionately serve the Lord with a fire in their souls.

Why does this matter? Because this word for “I have gotten” is not just a casual word. It is riddled with passion and fire — and not always in a positive way.

Second, the word is translated in other places as acquire, possess, buy, or obtain.

It is important to note the emphasis on Eve’s words are that she initiated and controlled the deal with God. Perhaps a better way to understand her words would be something like this: “I bartered a deal with God for the purpose of possessing another man.”

That’s too wordy, I know, but it better captures what is being said here. The idea in the Hebrew is that Eve controlled the negotiations and God complied. It’s very dysfunctional, but that may explain why the rest of the story plays out the way it does.

The next interesting thing is that she does not barter a deal for a son, she barters a deal for another man. Why does she need this? Well, go back to the last two posts.

If she can’t “ezer” her husband anymore, she will take it out on her son. How is this going to work? I promise you, not well. It is a desire to control and lead based in a dysfunctional kind of thinking. So she names him “I acquired.” Cain is going to be the object of her wrath, but it should be focused on Adam. Adam names her poorly, and she names and takes authority over Cain poorly, as well.

I learned a long time ago that when I speak from a place of peace, I invite others to speak from a place of peace. But when I speak from a place of anger or chaos or dysfunction, I invite others to do the same.

Eve is in a place of dysfunction. Why? Because she isn’t the ezer anymore? Partly. But maybe it has something to do with what Adam named her. Remember? How would you feel if you got named by your worst day?

And maybe this is the first big application point for this post. How do we treat others? How do we label others? How do we label ourselves? And what are the consequences of those decisions?

Next we have Abel. And we have an equation for disaster that resonates with a theme we are going to explore throughout the course of this series: What kind of b’hor are you going to be? More on that later. Genesis 4 continues:

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

This all seems odd again. They both brought offerings. What is God’s deal? Why is He so disappointed with Cain’s offering? Shouldn’t God be thankful they brought Him anything at all? Where is the “participation trophy” for this one?

God doesn’t give participation trophies. But beyond that, it isn’t just about the participation in what we do, but the heart with which we do it.

If you are interested, please take an opportunity to do a study on how God expects us to give to Him. You will be surprised at how many times He says that what we give Him is to be the firstfruits and the best portions.

God won’t accept a leftover sacrifice, and that is exactly what Cain brought.

While Abel brought the fat portions of his firstborn, Cain brought some stuff. And that matters to God.

Before we say this is about the blood, and not about the heart of the sacrifice, please read Leviticus. How many sacrifices are listed that have nothing to do with blood? There are all kinds of sacrifices, from grain and wine to waving — yes, your hand.

I would suggest there are a lot of people in the church today who are not experiencing the blessing of God because they are not being generous at all. But there is another category of people who are missing out on God’s blessing at some level. They are people who give, but they are bringing God the leftovers. And that is not okay. It wasn’t in Genesis 4 and it isn’t today.

God was not pleased with Cain’s sacrifice, so Cain was mad. He had so many options. It would have been easy to fix the problem, but he didn’t. Misplaced resentment ends up causing problems every time. Rather than simply fixing the heart with which he brought his sacrifice, Cain killed Abel.

Cain wants God to grade on a curve!

Since God doesn’t like my sacrifice compared to Abel’s, I will kill Abel so the competition is gone. Crazy!

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

This is a fascinating section of scripture.

God condemns Cain to be a wanderer. Why? I would suggest it’s for the same reason Eve has increased sadness in raising kids and Adam is working ground that works against him. God puts Cain in a position where he is forced to trust God will take care of Him.

God even gives him a mark to keep him safe.

But even then, Cain doesn’t trust God. Look at the end of this section of scripture again. Cain settles in one land. Now couple that with the next verse:

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.

What is Cain doing building a city? Cities in the ancient world are a place of safety and protection. We see Cain trying to control his own destiny rather than trusting God would keep His word.

The end of Cain’s line is a guy named Lamech:

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.”

A lot of word study could be done here. But I want to focus on the last phrase, which is literally “seventy times seven times.”

And the western question is, “Does he mean 77 times or 490 times?” Either number would be an appropriate way to understand this statement. But maybe the point here isn’t about the number, but the mindset. And I think it brings everything full circle.

Jesus expands and explains this idea in Matthew 18:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

It’s the same phrase here — seventy times seven times. And the same western question. But I think Jesus is giving us a way to understand the line of Cain that changes the game for everyone.

By using this phrase, Jesus is throwing us right into this story. Ask any Orthodox Jew what Jesus means when He says this and they will all say the same thing — Lamech.

Jesus is simply saying, if you ever stop forgiving, you are in danger of creating the same line of problems that happened with Cain’s line, ending with Lamech.

But where did it start?

I would submit that this whole nightmare for Cain — the death of Abel, Lamech, and all the mess of Cain not trusting God to provide — starts when Adam refuses to forgive Eve. And that matters.

When we harbor unforgiveness, it is not the person we are mad at who pays the price. It is our great, great grandchildren.

Forgiveness is about being able to establish a legacy of wholeness for those who will come after us. It is not about letting the other person off of the hook. And that is important for us to remember.

That is why God reminds us more than once that revenge is His. It is our job to forgive.

May you always bring God the first and best of everything you are and everything you do. And may you give an abundance of grace and forgiveness when others don’t. May you excel in speaking from peace so others might do so, as well.

Questions for this session:

  1. How does the issue of forgiveness affect you?
  2. What makes it so hard to forgive others?
  3. Have you seen unforgiveness in your family? How did that go?
  4. How will you make sure your grandchildren will know the freedom of peace and wholeness?

Question for next time:

Why does God spare Noah?