Have you ever noticed that the Bible attributes all the building blocks of civilization to rebels against God? Ungodly men started the world system.
Cain founded the first city. His descendants invented agriculture, music, and metal work. After the flood, Nimrod invented architecture, government, war, and religion.
We like to talk about the rise of civilization, but it all began as a consequence of the fall. Surely unfallen humans would have eventually invented all the best parts of it. But given its ungodly start, civilization hasn’t needed to rise. It has needed to be redeemed. God’s redemption of civilization started with Abraham.
Cain and the city
Cain murdered his brother Abel. When God confronted him, he showed no remorse. Then he whined about his punishment. According to Genesis 4:16-17, he went to the land of Nod, which is east of Eden. There, he had a son he named Enoch and built a city he named after his son.
Doesn’t it seem strange to see the word “city” this early in the Bible? It certainly wasn’t what we would think of as a city.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Hebrew word means “a city (a place guarded by waking or a watch) in the widest sense (even a mere encampment).” Notice the word implies something that needs to be guarded. Sooner or later, cities had walls.
God had given Adam dominion over the earth. But here, Adam’s son doesn’t exercise any dominion. He shows fear of something or someone exercising dominion over him. And he built his city to be independent from God.
But notice also where he went: east of Eden. Metaphorically at least, Eden corresponds to the Promised Land, where Abraham settled and where Israel established a homeland. Most of Israel’s enemies came from the east, especially Nineveh and Babylon.
As Frank Viola has observed, “So when Adam and Eve yielded to the devil, the world system was conceived. But the world system was born at the hands of Cain when he left the presence of God.” (Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom by Frank Viola. Baker Books, 2018. Emphasis is original.)
Cain’s descendants and the start of civilization
Genesis 4 continues with Cain’s genealogy. It’s mainly a list of names until we get to Lamech, a thoroughly corrupt man. He took two wives and bragged about killing a man and a boy for hurting him. Humanity had reached its nadir. But Lamech had three sons:
- Jabal, “the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock,” introduced a method of provision.
- Jubal, “the father of those who play harp and flute,” introduced enjoyment and entertainment.
- Tubal-Cain, “a forger of every tool of bronze and iron,” introduced security.
“Father of” has no biological sense. It just means that everyone who practiced any of these arts and crafts ultimately learned them from these three sons of Lamech. And the sons of Lamech didn’t learn their crafts from Satan. Only God is creator and only God can inspire humans to create.
But these achievements cannot represent the beginnings of civilization with all its glory. Rather, they represent the pursuit of provision, enjoyment, and security in a world system apart from God. In Eden, God provided pure provision, enjoyment, and security. Cain’s self-exile from God created a void that he had to fill. In Enoch, people had only their own resources for filling it.
Jabal’s legacy resulted in inequality of wealth, waste, unsustainable agricultural practices, and other evils. Jubal’s ultimately led to bawdy songs, pornography, and otherwise misspent leisure as people learned to use the arts to numb their sense of estrangement from God. Tubal-Cain’s led to instruments for murder and war, a taste for luxury, and despoiling of the land from mining.
Godly people in this and the next chapter all descended from Adam’s third son Seth. But by the end of Genesis 5, the entire human race had taken on Lamech’s rebellious character. The Sethites learned all the best and worst aspects of civilization introduced in the city of Enoch.
Nimrod and empire
Then came the flood. God started over with Noah and gave him the same mandate he had given Adam in the garden. But his sons had learned the entire legacy of the sons of Lamech. (By the way, Noah was the son of a very different Lamech.) One of Noah’s sons, Ham, had a grandson called Nimrod.
Genesis 10:7 names five sons of Cush, then verse 8 says, “Cush was the father of Nimrod.” “Nimrod” means “rebel.” He could be any one of the sons Cush had given another name. And the first use of the word “kingdom” in the Bible is used in connection with Nimrod.
Nimrod founded Babel (Babylon) and surrounding cities in the land of Shinar. There, he conceived of the Tower of Babel, an attempt to storm heaven and defy God. That never works. God created multiple languages so people couldn’t understand each other.
Apparently, some people became strong enough to drive Nimrod out of Shinar. So he went to the land of Assyria and founded Nineveh among other cities.
Along with kingdoms, Nimrod invented war, hunting of lions and other non-food animals, slavery, oppression, and religion. That’s right. Religion is the human attempt to placate the gods and bend them to human will. Judaism and Christianity represent obedience to a loving God who doesn’t need to be placated. They are not man-made religions.
Sargon founded first historical empire. He and emperors for the next thousand years or so built ostentatious temples to various gods. Nimrod probably controlled the priesthood. Historical emperors certainly did. Their priesthood imposed a vast system of sacrifices, eventually including human sacrifices. Hammurabi and some others attempted to rule with justice. Most of them didn’t care.
God’s redemption of civilization
The Bible begins in a garden and ends with the establishment of a city, the New Jerusalem. Clearly, God intends to make use of what Cain built as an act of alienation from him.
The outworking of God’s plan of redemption of civilization began when he called Abraham out of Ur, the seat of three early empires.
Significantly, Cain had traveled east of Eden in the direction of Babylon. Abraham traveled from the vicinity of Babylon back toward Eden and settled in the land of Canaan.
Abraham became a nomadic herdsman—a son of Jabal in that sense. But where Jabal followed Cain in trying to fill a godless void, Hebrews 11:9-10 says that Abraham, who left a city, became a nomad by faith and by faith looked forward to the city God would establish.
Moses led Israel out of bondage to a worldly empire and proclaimed the law, which envisioned a godly society. Instead of an elaborate temple, God had Moses build a tabernacle that would travel with his people. He filled Bezalel with the Holy Spirit to make it beautiful.
Much later, David organized singers to lead worship music. Thus, Bezalel and David began to redeem Jubal’s inventions.
God never intended to establish an Israelite kingship. But once he did, he promised that his chosen savior would be born in David’s lineage and establish a heavenly kingdom. The heavenly kingdom and priesthood redeem Nimrod’s inventions.
As for the redemption of the sons of Tubal-Cain, God promises in Isaiah 2:4 that people will ultimately beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks. Meanwhile, he has turned wars into his own weapon against Satan’s kingdoms.
Civilization doesn’t look redeemed now, but the redemption of civilization has begun. God has promised, and he is faithfully at work.