Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My Iniquity Is More Than I Can Bear

"My iniquity is more than I can bear!"

These are the words of Cain. Yes, that Cain.

Most English translations give his statement as "My punishment is more is more than I can bear." His words were spoken in response to God proclaiming judgment on him because of his murder of Abel, his brother. Worded this way, the response of Cain seems self-pitying . . . An "Oh no, I'm caught" type of of sentiment. But, the sense in Hebrew is quite different. Cain's word are an expression of genuine remorse . . . he is, in fact, seeking mercy from God.

Cain says to the Lord, "My iniquity (sin) is more than I can bear! Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me" (Genesis 4.13-14).

You remember the judgment God had put forth. Cain would be made a wanderer, driven from his family (and civilization), and the ground would be against him--this farmer would essentially lose his occupation, his livelihood. But, what happens as the story progresses? Cain settles down. He finds a wife. A son is born to him. He builds a city. His family flourishes. Is this the legacy of a wanderer and fugitive? Hardly. Cain became an accomplished man. And, by the way, name an ancient city that did not flourish on a foundation of agriculture?

Was God's pronouncement of judgment hollow? Did his words have no power? No, they had power, but so did Cain's. God heard the plea of Cain . . . Cain's plea of sorrow . . . "My iniquity is too great" . . . and God had mercy. Cain was forgiven. Is there any other way to read this story?

"So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod." He was not cast out. He went out. Simply semantics? Perhaps. But it seems that the wording is intentional.

Cain was certainly guilty. The judgment God gave was just. Cain had murdered his brother, and it was certainly appropriate for his life to be forfeit. Lamech's lament expresses as much. "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times," he cried (v. 24). Lamech had killed a man in self-defense, not in cold blood. Cain's crime was worse, much worse, Lamech is saying. But, Lamech recognizes the mercy of God in Cain's case. He is mindful of God's protective words, "Not so, if anyone kiils Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over" (v. 15).

Do you know any Cain's? I can't think of one bearing that name. I do know lots of Blake's, and Mary's, and Zach's, and Susan's, and Jeff's. A name is not shared, but something more important can be. We have all sinned . . . we have all fallen short as the apostle says . . . but God, in his rich mercy found in Christ, washes away the sin, frees our life from the guilt and the demands of the law against our crimes.

"My iniquity is more than I can bear." These are the words of Cain. Are they yours?