Thursday, June 16, 2011

The house that Cain built

In Moses 5:41-56, the sordid story of Cain’s family is set forth. What makes this story odd to a reader (and it does seem odd) is the way we are given a jumble of small bits of information that seems to have little if anything to grab onto and learn from.
41 And Cain was shut out from the presence of the Lord, and with his wife and many of his brethren dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
42 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bare Enoch, and he also begat many sons and daughters. And he builded a city, and he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.
43 And unto Enoch was born Irad, and other sons and daughters. And Irad begat Mahujael, and other sons and daughters. And Mahujael begat Methusael, and other sons and daughters. And Methusael begat Lamech.
44 And Lamech took unto himself two wives; the name of one being Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah.
45 And Adah bare Jabal; he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and they were keepers of cattle; and his brother’s name was Jubal, who was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
46 And Zillah, she also bare Tubal Cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron. And the sister of Tubal Cain was called Naamah.
47 And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah: Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.
48 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech shall be seventy and seven fold;
49 For Lamech having entered into a covenant with Satan, after the manner of Cain, wherein he became Master Mahan, master of that great secret which was administered unto Cain by Satan; and Irad, the son of Enoch, having known their secret, began to reveal it unto the sons of Adam;
50 Wherefore Lamech, being angry, slew him, not like unto Cain, his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the oath’s sake.
51 For, from the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark, and they knew every man his brother.
52 Wherefore the Lord cursed Lamech, and his house, and all them that had covenanted with Satan; for they kept not the commandments of God, and it displeased God, and he ministered not unto them, and their works were abominations, and began to spread among all the sons of men. And it was among the sons of men.
53 And among the daughters of men these things were not spoken, because that Lamech had spoken the secret unto his wives, and they rebelled against him, and declared these things abroad, and had not compassion;
54 Wherefore Lamech was despised, and cast out, and came not among the sons of me n, lest he should die.
55 And thus the works of darkness began to prevail among all the sons of men.
56 And God cursed the earth with a sore curse, and was angry with the wicked, with all the sons of men whom he had made;
57 For they would not hearken unto his voice, nor believe on his Only Begotten Son, even him whom he declared should come in the meridian of time, who was prepared from before the foundation of the world.
58 And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Moses 5:41-58)
Principles and doctrines are noticeably absent and it is hard to grab onto enough to form even a cautionary tale. (Why should we care that Jabal was the father of those who dwelt in tents or that Tubal Cain instructed every artificer in brass and iron? Why give us a map of Lamech’s genealogy and posterity if they were wicked? Why do we care that Lamech told his wives about the murder he committed? Why would he tell them if he was part of a secret combination? Why is this included in the Pearl of Great Price? What is valuable about it?)

The first thing I did when studying this section was to pray to understand it and learn from it. (Always smart to do when confused.) Then I started by comparing the verses in this block to the verses in Genesis 4. The Genesis account ends abruptly after Lamech reveals the murder to his wives, so I knew that everything after that in Moses 5 is supposed to throw some light on it.

Verse 49 reveals that Lamech killed Irad. Who is Irad? Suddenly the genealogy in v42-43 becomes important; Irad is Lamech’s great grandfather. What an enormous crime to kill someone so instrumental in giving you life! And notice how Lamech refers to his victim—“I have slain a man..” Irad is only “a man” to Lamech.

Verse 50 says that Lamech killed Irad for the sake of the oath and not to get gain. We learn what kind of oath this was from Ether 8:13 in which Akish makes his family and friends take the oath that if they should vary from the assistance asked of them or divulge what was made known to them, they should lose their lives. This is evidently what Irad did—he made known their secret. The only reason that I can think of for Irad to expose those secret combinations is if he wanted to escape them and work to make an end of them. It seems that Irad had begun to repent. But Lamech would not tolerate that, even if Irad was his great grandfather. So he killed him. So we can clearly see that Moroni’s words about secret combinations are true; the devil uses these oaths to keep men in darkness (Ether 8:16), to make the cost of repentance seem too high and discourage anyone from leaving secret combinations.

Verse 51 tells us this secret combination was from the days of Cain, with works in the dark, and they knew every man his brother. It was a family matter, and everyone knew everyone else who was in on it and Cain involved his posterity in it.

Verse 52 says the Lord cursed Lamech and his house. How terrible that all Lamech’s family had to share in that curse. This may have been why Lamech came to his wives in the first place, to get the torment of the murder off his chest. “Hear my voice, ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.” (v47) It sounds like a confession, but it isn’t, since he conceals his relationship to the victim and even tries to cover his tracks and deflect investigation by calling his victim a “young man.” All he wants is sympathy for the hurt he feels for committing this grave sin. His wives are the ones closest to him; he should at least have some rest around them, shouldn’t he?

You have to give Adah and Zillah credit. Rather than comforting him, they manifest the proper feeling—outrage. “They rebelled against him, and declared these things abroad, and had not compassion.” (v53) And because of the big stink Adah and Zillah made, no other man in these secret combinations dared to tell his wife(s) anything about their involvement in secret combinations, for fear their wife(s) would react the same way as Adah and Zillah. “And it was among the sons of men. And among the daughters of men these things were not spoken because that Lamech had spoken the secret unto his wives, and they rebelled against him” (v52-53). The secret combinations didn't kill Lamech, though, because he hadn't revealed the secret combination; he had just revealed the murder. (Another reason why Lamech was so cagey.) Yet to put on a show of respectability for their wife(s), those of the secret combination had to publicly repudiate Lamech. “Wherefore Lamech was despised, and cast out, and came not among the sons of men, lest he should die.” (v54)

Something else that stuck out to me was where it said “Wherefore the Lord cursed Lamech, and his house, and all them that had covenanted with Satan; for they kept not the commandments of God, and it displeased God, and he ministered not unto them” (v52). These people were not ignorant of the gospel and the commandments; they had been taught the truth. They knowingly disobeyed.

And even though Lamech’s sons were talented people—Jabal could make tent living comfortable and deal very well with cattle, and Jubal was an amazing musician and music teacher, and Tubal Cain excelled at working with brass and iron (v45-46)—even with their great talents, they were cursed for their wickedness and we are told that “their works were abominations, and began to spread among all the sons of men.” (v52) They used their talents for evil and corrupted others as well, when they could have been a great benefit instead.

I’m sure there is more to learn from this section. When I started looking at this scripture block, it seemed to be a mishmash, but once you get into it, you begin to see that it is actually a story (and a cautionary one) like a three act play, where even the seemingly unimportant details become significant eventually. Actually, from another perspective, it is perfectly organized. All you have to do is think of questions those verses answered and we see how the Lord revealed this to Joseph Smith in response to his questions.

v49 answers the question “Who did Lamech kill?”
v50 answers the question “Why did Lamech kill Irad?”
v51 answers the question “How long was this going on?”
v52 answers the question “Did they know it was wrong?”
v53 answers “How did Lamech’s wives react when they learned Lamech had committed murder?” and “How did everyone else react?”
v55 answers “Did this stop secret combinations?”
v56 answers “How did God feel about it, and how did He try to stop it?”

Ultimately, the greatest thing that we learn from this scripture block that we don’t get from the Genesis account is that God was not pleased with what Cain and his family was doing. We learn God tried everything in His power to reclaim them by having repentance preached to them (v58), that He became angry with them (v56) for their stubbornness and finally punished them by cursing both them (v52,56) and the earth (v56). While the Genesis account makes it seem as if God is ambivalent about all this wickedness and violence and didn’t do anything to try to reclaim them or punish them, the Moses account shows us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that He will strive with man to repent until they utterly reject Him.

2 comments:

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Great post as always...I especially appreciate you final thoughts. He is the same always and modern revelation supports that...

RGG said...

Thanks for this post. I have been reading this record also, and it is fascinating, it's almost like the orgins of organized crime, an ancient version of "The Soprano's" if you will. It show's me that all is not lost in this world, that the wicked are punished and will continue to be punished for their deeds.