“The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation.
For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.
Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be.
God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.
Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone.
God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.”
For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.
Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be.
God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.
Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone.
God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.”
- John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, pg. 160.
Two brothers at the threshold of history bring an offering to the Lord. Cain, a worker of the ground, brings the fruit of the ground. His younger brother Abel, a keeper of sheep, brings the first of his flock and their fat portions. It’s the heart that makes a difference: Abel brings the best of what he has because his heart is given totally to God. Cain does not bring the best of what he has because he keeps mostly himself in view. When the Lord favors one to the other, Cain takes offense. He is ignited with anger. He decides that he will eliminate his brother as soon as possible.
We must inquire: just why is Cain so angry? Is Cain simply a hot-head prone to extreme temper tantrums? Or is there something else, something more to the story? If we backtrack a number of years, we find there is more to the story...
It’s man’s last day in the Garden of Eden and the serpent is luring Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. She eats it. She hands it to Adam and he eats it too. Later they hear God walking in the cool of the evening, so they hide among the trees from which they are supposed to eat. God questions them and they confess. He asks Eve, “What is this that you have done?” She answers, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” God then curses the serpent. He says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Now Eve, overhearing this, is particularly interested because she is the woman and this involves her directly. She carries these words with her as she and Adam are escorted from the Garden wearing the garments that God has fashioned them from animal skin.
In the wake of Eden, the enmity between the woman and the serpent intensifies. Smelling the sweat when Adam returns from his work everyday, anticipating the tremendous pain each time she nears childbirth, more and more Eve despises the serpent that deceived her and stole so much from them! She has only to close her eyes to picture it as if it happened yesterday. And every time she thinks about it, her soul tumbles into a dark cellar of remorse. But then she clings to the light, to the promise that God made before them: that her offspring will crush the serpent’s head. Indeed, he will kill the serpent! And then maybe, just maybe, his victory over the enemy will restore their access to the Garden.
Enter Cain. Cain is Eve’s firstborn son. In her eyes, he is the promised child! He is the fulfillment of God’s promise! Eve harbors a special hope for her firstborn son. She entertains this thought often, that Cain is the one destined to get them back into the Garden where they belong!
We have to understand that Eve is a human like anyone else, and we humans tend to be very near-sighted. Eve believes the fulfillment of the promise will come to pass in her own lifetime. She underestimates God’s plan for salvation. She does not foresee the big picture: that God will come to Mary, the woman, thousands of years later, and deposit within her the Son of God, God Incarnate, and that He will be the One who crushes the serpent’s head to fulfill the Lord’s great promise. No! She can’t possibly foresee such a wonder. She thinks in terms of human logic which is, again, so often near-sighted. She naturally assumes that her offspring––literally, her offspring––will fulfill the promise. She has no reason to think otherwise. And lo and behold, her firstborn child is a son. She names him Cain, for “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” she says. It sounds like something Mary could have named Jesus. Yes, as far as Eve is concerned, Cain is the savior!
Cain grows up thinking this, too. From a young age, his parents tell him about the Garden, tell him about serpent, tell him about the promise. His eyes widened every time he hears it: his mother saying, “God promised that my seed will crush the serpent’s head.” Cain is infatuated by the idea that he is the chosen one, the one to redeem his mother, to avenge his family, to return them to the Garden that he so desperately wants to see. He works the ground everyday in preparation for their return to Eden. The promise comes to define his identity. The vengeance he seeks supplies his warrior spirit with purpose. Working the fields as much as he does, he encounters a snake every so often, and the thrill of killing it––of crushing its head with his heel––is deeply satisfying. He continually waits for the day it will happen, the day in which he crosses paths with the serpent. For that is the day he will prove his worth; that is the day he will save the world.
But something else happens that shakes Cain to the core. Bringing an offering to God alongside his brother one day, God turns toward his brother and his brother’s offering. Wait! This is wrong! According to the rules of Cain’s universe, Cain is supposed to be the chosen seed! Why is his offering not accepted? Why is he not accepted? The issue is larger than the offering alone. This concerns Cain’s very identity. It’s about his perceived role in life. Over the years, Cain has come to develop a messiah complex, but God’s disregard causes him to question everything. He becomes angry because he is offended, and he is afraid to accept the implications. Such anger aggravates the anger already within him, for he has spent much of his life kindling an anger toward the serpent, a hatred that he could always justify with noble intentions. But now the noble intentions melt away to expose the furnace of his ego underneath. Is Abel the chosen one?
Cain uses his cunning. Before killing his brother, “Cain speaks to Abel his brother” (Genesis 4:8). This chilling detail is preserved because it is part of the plot. It’s connected to the murder. Just like the serpent used words to lure Eve to her fall, here Cain uses words to lure Abel to his fall. And Abel trusts his older brother like his mother once trusted the serpent. We see from this that Cain’s crime is not a crime of passion. It’s instead a crime of calculation, a premeditated murder of the first degree. “Let’s go out to the field,” Cain says according to the Septuagint. “Come with me,” I hear him saying. Soon sensing their isolation in the field, he strikes, unleashing the lethal venom of his rage. It happens fast. He puts Abel on the ground in the blink of an eye. Cain isn’t even breathing hard when he looks down at his brother’s motionless body, the stolen life of a person who trusted him. And then it occurs to him, a thought Cain tries to put away quickly: that in his jealousy, he has become the serpent! He has become the very thing he was supposed to kill!
God speaks to Cain. “Where is your brother?” He inquires. Now as a principle, whenever God asks a question, it’s never because He needs the answer. God already knows the answer! He asks the question only because He wants you to contemplate the answer. He asks for your sake, not His. But Cain refuses to go there. Whereas his parents hid among the trees, Cain hides beneath lies that foliate with excuses. He responds, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s keeper?” My, what a turn of events! Not that long ago, Cain used to think of himself as his brother’s savior, as his family’s avenger. He used to fantasize of his returning them to the Garden of Eden. But no, not anymore. Not with his brother laying facedown in the open field. Now the idea of being a savior is sickening to him. He rejects the notion altogether. And in so doing, he rejects his place within the family. It is decided: he will leave them all behind. He will go his own way. God tells him as much, declaring, “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” And this is exactly what happens, but not before Cain is cursed from the ground. The Lord, having seen how Cain misused his strength, says to him, “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength.” Cain responds in turn, “My punishment is too great to bear . . . From your face I shall be hidden.” Cain then departs from the presence of the Lord, and with his wife, he goes on to settle in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
In the land of Nod, Cain begins a new enterprise: the city. He builds a city and names it after his son, Enoch (Genesis 4:17). Cain compares himself to the boy. Whereas Cain was the son who grew up in the shadow of a place he could not have, his son Enoch would grow up in a place to possess and call his own. This thought pleases Cain a great deal. We soon see the City of Enoch flourishing with activity: Cain’s children have children who have children who have children, many of whom reside in the city. Many of Adam’s children and grandchildren migrate into the city as well. Eventually the urban qualities of city-life emerge: production, technology, innovation and music. The City of Enoch is the first of its kind. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
Why does Cain build a city? As Rabbi Hirsch explains, “Cain is cut off from the soil; the land no longer supports him. Unlike the countryside, the city is detached from the soil and from agriculture. In the countryside, the fields are cultivated; in the city, man is cultivated. In the city, the slumbering capabilities of man are awakened. Man, as it were, is awakened. Now Cain no longer needs the ground to yield him its produce. He is his own field. His mind produces mechanical skill, the mighty lever for industry, and thus landless Cain regains his ground. The villages bring the produce of the fields to the cities, obtaining in return the benefits of urban industry” (Hirsch Chumash, Bereshis, pg. 140, 144). In this way, Cain positions himself such that others come to him. And in exchange, his city offers them technology and entertainment. In the Garden he was not welcome, but in Enoch, all are welcome, for “I am more welcoming than God” Cain concludes.
Cain develops into a kind of mob boss in his later years. To elaborate, everybody in town knows who Cain is. He’s a powerful man; it’s his city; he pulls the strings, and business is good. His reputation precedes him. Whenever he walks into a room, heads turn and no introductions need be made. And everyone knows, too, that he’s a killer, a murderer. Cain is calloused to his past and that makes him calloused in the present. His temper inclines him toward brutality at times. Also fitting for a mob boss, he is a made man. God put a mark on him such that, if anyone comes against him, he will be avenged sevenfold (Genesis 4:15). Therefore nobody messes with Cain. He’s protected. He does as he pleases in the City of Enoch. And be advised: if you cross him, he’ll come have a talk with you, maybe like the one he had with his brother on that fateful day.
Away from the public and alone with his thoughts, the mob boss occasionally reflects on his youth, on the life he left behind. At that time so long ago, he really did believe that he would kill the serpent and save the world. But now he shakes his head when he thinks about it. He pities that boy in the field crushing the head of a worthless garden snake. How deceived he was. How much he has changed since then. Now he loves snakes! In fact, he keeps several as pets. They remind him just how far he has come.
Deep down he remains bitter toward God––even though they haven’t spoken in years. Why didn’t God accept him as the chosen one? That is, after all, all Cain ever wanted as a young man. Didn’t he earn it? He comes to scoff at the promise altogether.
He remains bitter toward his parents––even though they haven’t spoken in years. In his mind, it is their fault that he believed something so foolish. It is their fault that his offering was disregarded by God. He brought it believing that he was the messiah! But clearly there is no such thing. Yes, Cain concludes once more that his parents are the ones to blame for his confusion. They are to blame for his false perception of himself. They are to blame for his anger. And so he goes on, blaming them. But little does he realize, Cain has again become the thing he hates. His own children––separated from God, raised to think they own the world––take from Cain a false perception of themselves, one that will inspire their eventual destruction. Not a single descendant will survive the flood.
But that’s far off. Tonight, with the sun setting behind him, Cain––now a man nearing 700 years old––surveys from his rooftop balcony what the City of Enoch has become. He is proud of this place, of his legacy. He has lived up to his name, having acquired so much power and respect. His favorite pet snake coils around his arm as he peers down at a group of young prostitutes walking the city street below. He doesn’t recognize them, but he knows what they do. These service the out-of-towners who visit Enoch regularly to trade and to indulge in the city’s finer things. Cain feels sorry for the out-of-towners. He remembers working the ground once like them, but now sweating is as behind him as it is beneath him. He hires others to sweat. Let the outsiders toil in the sun, but let the residents of Enoch enjoy themselves. If only his parents could see how great he has become. Cain kills this thought as soon as the field resurfaces in his mind. He shifts his focus back to how beautiful his city looks at sunset.
Meanwhile, from Heaven, God surveys the catastrophic corruption of His creation. The spectacle pains His Spirit. In God’s view, the City of Enoch is far from beautiful, and the city is but a microcosm of the world at large. As we read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:11-12).
The word that best describes this period in history is the word “corrupt” (shachath in Hebrew, pronounced shaw-kaat). It is repeated three times in Genesis 6. But “corrupt” is the simple translation because the Hebrew word shachath is very meaningful. Shachath is like a mixture of dark hues which color the world that Cain and his powerful family stand in front of. The following Scriptures isolate the shades of shachath:
* Jeremiah 13:7: “Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the loincloth from [the hole in the ground] where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled (shachath); it was good for nothing.” From this passage, we see that shachath means rotten or spoiled, good for nothing. In such a state, something is ruined beyond repair. It is the result of remaining in a place of darkness.
* Jeremiah 18:4: “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled (shachath) in the potter’s hand, so he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.” As seen here, the potter doesn’t like how the clay is settling. A deformity has undermined the project’s purpose, so the potter sees fit to rework the clay into a new vessel.
* Exodus 32:7: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted (shachath) themselves.’” This verse leads into the incident of the golden calf. In this instance, shachath refers to idolatry and gross immorality. The people were “feasting and drinking and indulging in revelry” (Exodus 32:6).
* Proverbs 28:24: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt (shachath), their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”
* Genesis 38:9: “But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, he would waste (shachath) the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” In this usage, shachath refers to the misuse of something meant for life, the mockery of something sacred.
* Exodus 21:26: “If a man hits his male or female slave in the eye and the eye is blinded (shachath), he must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye.” Here shachath is related to violence. It can mean blinded, damaged, or disfigured.
These usages show that shachath means to be rotten, ruined, defected, deformed, wasted, blinded, immoral, damaged or disfigured. It’s the misuse of something meant for life, the mockery of something sacred. It’s the fool who commits vile acts and says in his heart, “There is no God.” A mixture of such ideas describe the corrupt state of humanity before the flood! A sad sight, yes, but not to Cain. Cain perceives otherwise. From his balcony, he hears the sound of feasting and drinking, the kind of revelry that proves the City of Enoch is alive and well. Nothing will ever change this soundtrack insofar as he can ascertain. But Cain does not anticipate what is to come. He does not realize that God will soon rework the earth into a new vessel by adding water and reshaping the clay model. Also, something else escapes Cain’s awareness. To see it ourselves, we have to return to the very field that Cain never wants to revisit.
Back in the field hundreds of years earlier, we wince as Cain strikes his brother down. Not long after the deed is finished, God asks Cain a question: “What have you done?” God says, “Listen! Your brother’s bloods cry out to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). This is no typo! In Hebrew, the word “blood” is plural in this verse. Abel’s bloods (במי) cry out to God. What are we to make of this?
From Leviticus 17:11, we learn that “The life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood...” So the very life of a thing is found in the blood. Apply this truth to the plural bloods of Abel. When Cain kills his brother Abel, Cain does more than end the life of one man. He also ends the potential that is intended to come out of that man. Abel’s entire lineage is stunted! Here’s how Matthew Poole’s Commentary puts it: “In the Hebrew it is bloods to charge Cain with the murder of all those that might naturally have come out of Abel’s loins” (Source). Keeping with this concept, the victims of Cain––Abel and his unborn descendants––cry out to God from the ground.
God does not ignore the plea of Abel’s bloods. Those lives escape the actions of Cain even though Abel does not. At least, this is what Eve concludes. Genesis 4:25: “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.’” It is reasonable to suspect that Seth is the first son born after Abel’s death. Eve may even be pregnant with Seth when she receives the news that Abel has been killed. Such a timeline would explain Eve’s special connection between the two of them. In her mind, God has predestined one to replace the other. Eve sees in Seth something significant: he isn’t just another child; he’s an instead of child. According to Eve, Seth will take Abel’s place. In a sense, Seth is Abel.
What we’re talking about is substitution. Substitution, at its depth, is that the substitute becomes the substituted! This truth is portrayed in the Bible. For instance, when the ram becomes a substitute for Isaac, the ram goes to its death as Isaac. Isaac dies that day! Because the ram dies in his place. We perceive the paradox: Isaac climbs off the altar and yet his place in the world is offered to God. The ram dies and yet the ram’s death is Isaac’s death. In the same vein, Jesus’ death on the cross is your death. Jesus dies in your place. He dies as you. Dead but yet alive, now you go on living as a living sacrifice as did Isaac.
The Hebrew word at the heart of substitution is the word tachat (תחת). It means “instead of.” Tachat is the word used when “Abraham takes the ram and sacrifices it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Genesis 22:13). It’s the word used in Exodus 21:23-24 where we read: “If there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” The principle in this verse is restitution (not vengeance), and the word translated “for” is the word tachat. You might say, “eye instead of eye, tooth instead of tooth...” Here’s the idea: if someone damages your eye, then he must pay you what is equivalent to the value of an eye. The money will be in place of your eye. If someone damages your hand, then he must pay you what is equivalent to the value of a hand. The money will be in place of your hand. Again, the principle is restitution. Determine the value of what is taken, then the taker must offer something of equal value to stand in its place.
In Eden, Adam and Eve steal from God the one piece of the Garden that is off-limits. It can be said, then, that the first sin is an act of theft. In fact all sin is theft, in that sin is to seize that which God has deemed off-limits. This is why Jesus is crucified between two thieves. It’s a picture of the whole problem with its one solution (Jesus) at the center. It is here that Jesus extends His substitution to every sinner in history. It is here that He becomes the thief that is you. In your place, He yokes Himself to the original thief: the serpent! The yoke that binds the two is death itself. The serpent, being so entangled, cannot slip the grip when it happens: Jesus is crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5); it is the Lord’s will to crush Him (Isaiah 53:10). Thus He and the serpent are crushed at once. But God raises Jesus from the dead because it is impossible for death to keep its hold on Him (Acts 2:24). Jesus resurrects––bruised but yet alive, wounded but triumphant.
Looking again at the word tachat, this incredible scene is foretold. It is hidden in the very letters of the ancient Hebrew word.
Every Hebrew letter is a symbol, and every Hebrew letter is a number (since Hebrew is alphanumeric). In Hebrew, the letter chet is the number 8, and the number 8 represents new beginnings, or new life. The letter tav is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it symbolizes a cross! (This is so according to non-believing Jews. Note that the cross becomes more evident in Paleo-Hebrew.) Set together, the letter tav and the letter chet spell the word tachat: that is, tav-chet-tav. So get the picture: we have a cross on the left and a cross on the right. In between them, we have the number 8 representing new life. Amazing! To students studying Jesus’ language, the word tachath is a picture of Calvary, where Jesus––between two crosses––dies instead of you. Where He makes restitution for what was taken in the Garden. Where He renders the enemy powerless by crushing the serpent’s head to fulfill the promise God made before Adam and Eve, the very promise Cain comes to disavow, the very promise to which Eve clings even after she loses understanding. What an remarkable thing!
Remember that verse from Genesis 4? We read: “...Eve bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’” It’s our word: tachat! Yes, as far as Eve is concerned, every child that Abel was supposed to have, Seth will have instead, for Seth is appointed to be in Abel’s place. We might say that Genesis 5 lists Abel’s descendants, those born to Seth instead. The bloods that cry out to God are the very lives that Seth now brings into the world. Through the act of substitution, there is restitution. The potential of Abel escapes the field that Cain almost confines them to. And out of that potential comes the seed of Messiah, the One who will ultimately restore man’s access to the Garden. This is a truth that Cain never comprehends: that man is returned to Eden not by an act of vengeance but by an act of substitution; that the blood of his murdered brother contained the voice that will save the world.
Only in the course of history will such a truth be revealed. For now, Eve knows only the pain of the immediate. She weeps when Adam, with blood on his hands, tells her about the body found in Cain’s field. Cain, her beloved firstborn––the one whom she thought would kill the serpent––has instead killed her son Abel. It doesn’t make sense! This is not how it was supposed to happen.
Cain somehow senses the pain he has caused his mother. Instead of facing it and asking for forgiveness, he decides to leave without delay. He tells his sister––the woman whom he has married––to gather their belongings. They will head east because Cain wants to get as far away from the Garden as possible. Giving no notice, they are gone, and Eve is left with so many questions that Adam doesn’t know how to answer. While Cain runs away from the field, Eve can’t seem to leave it. She finds solace in the idea that her newborn baby will stand in place of the son who died, but still, she does not understand the promise anymore. Her offspring was supposed to crush the serpent’s head! Yet with each passing decade, with each passing century, she watches the enemy’s head grow larger and more menacing while she and her husband grow weaker and more irrelevant. Sometimes she pulls out the garment that God made for her when she left Eden, and for long moments by herself, she stares at it without saying a word.
. . . . .
There is a party in the City of Enoch. Another one, bigger than the last. God is watching the revelry from above. He has been patient, refraining from intervention. We know this because one of Seth’s descendants––Methuselah––lives to be 969 years old. He dies the same year that the flood occurs. Methuselah means “his death shall bring.” Suffice to say, Methuselah becomes the oldest person in recorded history because God keeps holding off His judgment. God is slow to anger so Methuselah just goes on and on living. But it can’t keep going this way. The corruption and violence only continue to escalate, and God would be unjust to let it persist.
The enemy down on earth marvels at his work. Of course he credits himself entirely for the corruption of all flesh. It is a job well done. God had tried to have a bride, but the enemy stole her away, and now she is his bride and he feels like God. However, the Lord did a subtle something many years ago that the enemy didn’t notice, nor expect. He freed Abel’s potential from the field, and using Seth in Abel’s place, He brought along a descendant named Noah. God now whispers to Noah and instructs him to pitch together some wood. Noah obediently goes to work, hammering down one board at a time. The project begins to take shape outside of town, somewhere off the enemy’s radar. Meanwhile, the enemy busies himself with the kingdoms of the world (thinking this is where he will have the greatest impact for his ongoing domination). Even if the enemy is aware of Noah’s project, I suspect he is so drunk on his own success and so possessed by his own ambition that he underestimates the significance of one layman’s contribution to the world (a mistake he will not make in the future). Had the enemy been concerned about Noah’s project, I imagine he would have called together the kings of the earth to ride up on the construction site and burn the boat to the ground. But as it happens, the ark is completed, the project is finished, and God’s plan is set into motion. At the appropriate time, the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of heaven open wide. The release of water is on a scale so massive that it is difficult to fathom. Yet no matter how high the floodwaters rise, the ark abounds all the more (a nod to Romans 5:20).
The enemy watches water pour over the horizon from the same balcony that he used to share with Cain, back before Cain was buried with honors. The historic City of Enoch––this pinnacle of achievement for the both of them––disappears from the map as a wall of water advances faster and louder than an army of chariots. All life––crowned with its corruption and violence––comes to an abrupt end. And for the first time in a long time, the enemy is speechless. Without the kings of the earth, without the servants he had produced and the dominion he had claimed, the enemy has neither hands nor feet with which to carry out his desires. Suddenly he finds himself back where he started. He is a lonesome, low creature without any legs or arms with which elevate himself.
The serpent perceives his defeat already, but the defeat is felt most when the floodwaters subside and Noah’s ark touches down on Mount Ararat some time later. To appreciate the gravity of this moment, we have to look into the Hebrew. Here we visit three Hebrew words and one Hebrew letter.
The first Hebrew word is shuph. In the Garden of Eden, God says the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). The word translated “crush” is the word shuwph, which can mean bruise, crush, or to fall upon.
The second Hebrew word is arar. It means “curse.” Arar is spelled ארר. This word is used by God when He curses the serpent, saying, “Cursed are you...” (Genesis 3:14).
The third Hebrew word: Ararat. This is the name of the mountain upon which the ark comes to rest. In Hebrew, the word Ararat is spelled אררט.
On to the Hebrew letter. As I mentioned before, every Hebrew letter is a symbol. So, for example, the letter aleph represents an ox. The letter beit represents a house. The letter gimel is a camel, the letter dalet a door. The letter we want to look at is the letter tet. What does the letter tet represent? The letter tet represents a snake! (Reference) You can see that the letter even resembles a snake with its curled tail on the right and its head lifted up on the left:
Now putting it all together, we glimpse the enemy’s humiliation at Ararat:
It’s the place where God’s plan for salvation falls upon the head of the cursed serpent. The weight of the ark drives itself deep into the wet mud of Ararat, bruising its cold and slimy surface. Even more, the sharpest bruise done to Ararat is a footprint put in the mud, that of Shem’s wife as she steps off the ark and her heel presses into the new world. For it is she who carries the Messianic seed which will one day crush the serpent’s head for good!
Gazing down at this footprint in the ark’s enormous shadow, the enemy discerns his ultimate defeat with an inevitability that bears down on him. You and I know what is slated for the serpent. There is, however, a question that remains unanswered, a question we now ponder. That is: what about his servant, Cain?
1 John 3:12 says that “Cain belonged to the evil one,” yet Cain appears to have escaped judgement, dying a rich man in the comforts of a flourishing city. Unlike the serpent, Cain is not alive to witness the flood. He never sees the destruction of his legacy. So where is justice done in this regard? Well it should be said that his death in Enoch is not the end of him. If the tale of his life is a mansion to be explored, here two tour guides (Daniel and John) lead us to a hidden room at the end of a long hallway, a room that size can’t describe. Only with our imaginations can we turn the doorknob to peak carefully into this holy space.
We identify Cain one last time, spotting him in the front row of an audience made up of all humanity. The audience is silent. The audience is kneeling. The audience is illuminated by immense firelight.
Before them, thrones are set in place and the Ancient of Days takes His seat. His clothing is white as snow, the hair of his head white like wool. His Throne, encircled by an emerald rainbow, is flaming with fire, its wheels all ablaze. From the Throne strike flashes of lightning, and rumblings, and rolls of thunder. A river of fire is flowing, coming out from before Him, emptying into a lake of fire prepared for the enemy and his angels. Thousands upon thousands attend to Him, while ten thousand times ten thousand stand before Him. The court is seated, and the books are opened. Today is Judgement Day.
“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God...” (Romans 14:11-12).
“...not even the Father judges anyone, for He has given all judgements to the Son...” (John 5:22).
Cain is motionless, kneeling in silence like everyone else at this moment. He is captivated by the One seated upon the Throne. All at once he is mesmerized and terrified. Part of him is afraid to look; part of him can’t look away. This is the One––it’s Him! The Messiah, the Promised Seed, God Incarnate. Cain is awestruck. He has no vocabulary to describe the majesty that maximizes every molecule in front of him.
It is not long before the life of Cain is called into motion. Cain is unable to hide when he is summoned forward. He steps onto something like a sea of glass. It is water so still and undisturbed that it may as well be glass, clear as crystal, reflecting the radiance of the Throne like a tranquil lake would reflect the sun at sunrise. By Jesus’ beckoning alone is anyone allowed to stand and walk on this water. As Cain approaches the Throne––albeit staying at some distance––he is blasted with a sudden gust of wind. Overwhelmed with fear, he sinks to his knees.
The Ancient of Days addresses him directly, asking, “Where is your brother?”
Cain finds the ability to speak. “He is here, Lord.”
“Why did you regard your brother with contempt?”
“I was jealous, Lord.”
“You did not do well: you murdered your brother.” At this statement, the chambers swell with a thunderous roar. The audience behind Cain raises an outcry that upsets the glassy floor beneath his feet. “Peace! Be still!” the Lord calls out, and at once, the cry of Abel’s bloods ceases and the sea of humanity is calm. He looks at Cain. “You were jealous because you were afraid. Why were you so afraid?”
Cain is taken back by his own answer: “I wanted to be You. I wanted control. I wanted the authority to determine the course of my life. I was afraid to accept anything less.” The words come out of him as though he is not the master of them anymore.
Watching this scene unfold alongside Daniel and John, we are reminded of the Pharaoh in Exodus. Pharaoh would be warned of a coming plague, but again and again he would harden his heart and refuse to listen (Exodus 7:13, 22-23, 8:15, 19, 32, 9:7). Finally after five plagues come and go, we read that “the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart...” (9:12). This language is not used in the previous plagues (except once as a forewarning to Moses), but we find it more as the story continues. Before the arrival of the eighth plague, the Lord says to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart . . . so that I may perform these signs of mine . . . that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians . . . and that you may know that I am the Lord” (10:1-2). The Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart at every plague thereafter (10:20, 27, 11:10) “so that His wonders may be multiplied in Egypt” (11:9).
For a length of time, Pharaoh has the power to choose. He can choose to surrender to Moses and release the Israelites, or he can harden his heart and refuse to listen. At first Pharaoh is entirely free to decide one way or the other. But after choosing the latter option time after time, Pharaoh’s freedom to choose is removed. It is decided: God will use Egypt as a backdrop to display His Mighty Hand, and Pharaoh has no choice but to continue down the path he has chosen.
And so it is with Cain on Judgement Day. For so long Cain has made the choice to harden his heart. But now, standing in God’s presence like Pharaoh once stood in the presence of Moses, Cain has lost the ability to choose otherwise, for he has already chosen and there is no going back. Bound to his decision, Cain will be used as an instrument that heralds the holiness of God.
Cain speaks again, discovering the words as he hears them out loud. “When my offering was not regarded, I was afraid that You wanted less for me than I wanted for myself.”
“Cain, the son of man, let the Son of Man tell you: I wanted more for you than you can imagine. I made you the eldest brother on purpose! You were meant to be the elder who guided the beginning generations to Me. All of the world was made to look up to you. You, the eldest brother, had their ear and their hearts. I gave you such influence that lineages of men would heed your example. And even after you became faithless, I remained faithful, for I cannot deny Myself. I entrusted you with a gift, and having given it to you, I would not take it away. But entrusting one with such influence, I require humility as a counterbalance. Instead you were filled with pride. Instead you were filled with resentment and anger. Reveal your heart, Cain.”
Cain spits before the Throne, but it evaporates in midair. What is happening?! Cain is mortified, embarrassed beyond measure and afraid for his life, but there is no stopping his words or his actions. They escape without control. The truth of his heart cannot be concealed in this place. His soul is exposed.
The court, silent and still, waits for the One seated on the Throne to speak. After a moment, He does. “You murdered My brother. And whatever you did to the least of My brothers, you did it to Me. And because you did it to Me, I wanted to forgive you. I wanted to stand in your place before this court.”
Cain’s countenance changes. He doesn’t understand.
“A son of yours spoke of vengeance once. He said, ‘If Cain is avenged seven times, then I seventy-seven times.’ But I say how many times shall I forgive one who sins against Me? Up to seven times? I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Cain, I was eager to forgive you, always waiting for you to ask for it, always waiting for you to be forgiving of others––like your parents, whom you never forgave.”
Cain has no words. He just stands there dumbfounded as the proceedings go on, each deed and careless word being brought before the Judge until all are accounted for, each time the Judge asking if there is in the book a request for forgiveness, each time the bookkeeper answering, “There is none.” Finally after all is heard, these words are spoken: “Cain, the court will grant you your choice. Your will be done in Heaven as it was on earth. I permit you to follow after the authority you have chosen. And may My Father’s Authority be glorified. Let it be known that whoever loves God is known by God. Now depart from Me, for I do not know you.”
A book is closed and instantly Cain finds himself among the audience again. He remains on bended knee until an angel approaches his position.
“So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matthew 13:49).
He looks up at the angel, one of thousands in attendance. But this angel is unique because this angel speaks with Cain’s voice! It’s with his own voice that Cain hears, “Come with me.” There’s a flashback to that fateful day when he spoke to his brother Abel. Cain cannot control his reaction: there is no struggle; there is no spoken response. God’s Justice is perfect, and in this place, perfect justice is not complicated. Cain is compelled to simply stand and follow the angel escort to the left of the Throne Room. And as he follows behind the angel, he glances down and realizes that the mark on his body is gone.