Hope lies at the very core of Christianity—but hope in what?
Of course, the short, Sunday–School answer is, “Jesus.”
But what does that mean? What expectations are attached to “hope in Jesus?”
Based on comments I’ve heard among Christians over the years, it seems that, for many, the concept is vague enough to encompass pretty much anything that seems desirable—a better life, a brighter future, heck, even world peace.
As I think back over how I would have answered the question for much of my life, I recall a very different perspective. The image of a small child who has spilled milk all over the kitchen comes to mind. We’re really sorry and God has accepted our apology. He is going to clean things up, but in the meantime, I need to stay out of the way and try not to make anymore of a mess. That was the essence of my hope. God is going to clean up the mess and I can go be with Him when I die. But that is all in the future. For now, try not to test His patience.
Since then, I’ve come to view all of these various notions of hope as the products of a fragmented theology. Pieces of the picture are cobbled together as we hear a sermon, read a book, or do a bible study—all interpreted in the light of our experiences at that moment. So, while we may agree that the Gospel is a message of hope, our notions about the substance of that hope are collectively vague.
So, is that God’s strategy—simply to give us hope? Or does the hope He offers have a distinct content?
This brings me back to the Story. What do we find there? Does it hold out hope for something more definitive? Is there really a “happily ever after?” If so, what does it look like?
Well, we have already gotten a glimpse of hope in the One who will come and crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). We touched on that in the last article. Implicit in this hope was another hope—the expectation that the human race would not end, but that through Eve, life would continue. That pretty much brought us to the end of Genesis 3.
The Story continues in Chapter 4—
“Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” —Genesis 4:1-2 (NAS95)
A few verses earlier, God had promised Eve that she would produce a seed Who would crush the head of the serpent. Now we have the arrival of the first two of her seed—Cain and Abel.
Looking back, we know it’s going to be thousands of years before the Promised Seed arrives, but we have the substantial benefit of hindsight. At the time, it would have been only reasonable for Eve to anticipate the fulfillment of the promise in her lifetime. She was looking for this promised seed to be one of her children.
As chapter 4 unfolds, the contrasts between these first two candidates is presented.
- Cain was born, then Abel.
- Abel was a keeper of the flocks; Cain a tiller of the ground.
- Cain brought an offering from the ground; Abel brought an offering from the flocks.
- Abel’s offering was accepted by the Lord; Cain’s offering was not accepted.
In the contrast, there is an early bias favoring Cain. The statement of Cain’s birth is rich with significance. In the first part of the statement, Eve gave birth to him and said, “I have gotten a manchild…”
There are two noteworthy elements to this statement.
Cain’s name is a word play. The Hebrew word for gotten sounds like Cain. Thus, in naming Him Cain, Eve calls him the gotten one.
But also, note what she says she has gotten— a manchild. The Hebrew word she uses for this baby is “ish” (“manchild”—NAS95; “man”—NIV, KJV). Now, Hebrew has words for boy (yeled), child (walad), and son (ben), but she didn’t use any of those. She called him an ish. This is a surprising choice. Up to this point in the Story, we have understood ish in the very narrow sense of husband, but essentially, it means man.
Clearly, Eve is not saying she gave birth to her husband. That makes no sense. She is saying that she has gotten a male as opposed to a female. But boy (yeled) or son (ben) would have accomplished the same thing, and would be the word you would expect if she was simply excited about having a baby boy as opposed to a girl. She chooses the word for man. She is saying something more.
And this isn’t the end of her comment—she continues—“… and she said, “I have gotten a 3manchild with the help of the LORD.” The NAS95 offers an alternative translation for the last phrase of this verse in the margin notes—“3Or man, the LORD.”
Thus, there are two possible ways to translate the Hebrew for this part of the verse. Literally, it either reads, “I have gotten a man with the LORD,” or, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.”
Translators have leaned toward the former (“I have gotten a man with the Lord”), and have added words like “help of” to clarify what they believe the meaning to be.
However, the fact that the NAS95 includes the other translation in the margin reflects its viability—“I have gotten a man—the Lord.” If this is what she was saying, then this would be an explicit statement that Eve believes him to be the Promised Seed. A discussion of the considerations in the Hebrew text is beyond the scope of this article, but I am strongly inclined to lean toward the later.
Either way, the statement adds an element of emphasis and significance to Cain’s birth. Whatever else we might deduce from all this, one thing is clear—Eve thinks Cain is something special.
By contrast, Abel’s birth is merely mentioned. Although no etymology for his name is given, the Hebrew word linked with it literally means elsewhere always, and is usually understood to mean vapor or breath. It can also be used figuratively to mean evanescent, unsubstantial, worthless—vanity. Given that every other name thus far is significant to the development of the Story, it is hard to overlook this connection.
Eve gave birth to Cain, the gotten one, a baby, yet a man, somehow linked to the Lord.
And she gave birth to Able.
However, with the offering of the sacrifices, the hope that Cain is the Promised One collides with reality.
“Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. “When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to bear! “Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” So the LORD said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.” – Genesis 4:4–15 (NAS95)
Although nominated as the One Most Likely to Crush the Head of the Serpent, Cain is exposed as just the opposite—a defiant murderer masquerading as a whiny victim.
Eve had hoped he was the One to bring relief from the curse. He was not. In fact, he did just the opposite. While Adam and Eve’s sin brought the curse upon the creation in which they lived, they themselves were not cursed. But Cain exceeded them, actually bringing a curse upon himself.
To fully appreciate what is being presented here, the New Testament perspective on Cain is helpful. Consider John’s words:
“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.” – 1 John 3:11–12 (NAS95)
In the curse (Genesis 3:15), Yahweh told Eve of the coming conflict between her seed and that of the serpent—the seed of the serpent vs. the seed of the woman. As one born to her, she assumes Cain belongs to the seed of the woman, going so far to see him as the Promised Seed. But his deeds show him to be of the evil one— the seed of the serpent, not of the woman.
This godless line will seem to flourish through successive generations. Cain, the defiant murderer, becomes Lamech, the polygamist and brazen serial killer. Rather than representing God, His descendants make names for themselves—Jabal, the original cattle–baron; Jubal, the Father of Entertainment; Tubal–cain, the founder of industry.
They are pursuing life, and significance, independent of God.
Turns out, the other son, Abel was the godly line—the seed of the woman. In his murder the seed of the serpent seems to have struck a decisive blow.
But then, the woman bears another seed.
Eve gives birth to Seth, who is explicitly identified as Abel’s replacement. Like Cain, his birth is presented as significant. Unlike Cain, his line brings hope. With the birth of his son, Enosh, men begin to call on the name of the Lord. The seed of the woman is restored and hope continues.
Genesis 5 picks up Seth’s line, tracing it through the successive generations. In each generation, so–and–so lives x years, and became the father of a son, and then lives x more years. In the next generation, the cycle repeats itself, as the son becomes a father.
Generation follows generation until the end of chapter 5, where we come to another Lamech (different from the descendant of Cain). Here, the rhythm of the account is broken by an explanation of the son’s name. Lamech names his son, Noah, in another word play. Noah sounds similar to the Hebrew word for rest. Lamech is hoping his son will be the One to bring rest from the curse.
Like Eve, Lamech is looking for the Promised Seed. And, like Eve, he’s hoping it is his son.
It is just such expectation that will characterize generations of Israelites throughout the rest of the Old Testament—the hope that perhaps This One, whoever he may be, will be The One. When Jesus shows up, they are still looking for The One—The Messiah. But that’s getting ahead of the Story. For now, it is enough to see that the hope offered from the very beginning of the Story is the hope in The One who will come.
At this point, two characteristics are beginning to define the hope he offers:
- He will crush the Enemy.
- He will bring relief from the curse upon the soil.
There is more to come, but this is a start.
©Copyright Garth Oliver