From Independence From God to Dependence on God

What is prayer, why and how should we pray, and what does this have to do with the family trees of Cain and Seth?

Chris Hutchison on June 13, 2021
From Independence From God to Dependence on God
June 13, 2021

From Independence From God to Dependence on God

Passage: Genesis 4:17-5:32
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When we think of the word “family,” we often think of people who we depend on. For example, kids depend on mom and dad in the same way that mom and dad depended on their moms and dads. But is that what “family” really is? Because the families we see gathered here today are a reflection of the true family that we’re in, with God as our Heavenly Father who we all depend on together.

Yet why is it that we act like our modern understanding of family and live independently from our Father? We might be dependent on Him on Sundays but when Monday to Saturday comes around, we are found walking on our own and doing our own thing.

This is what we’re going to see in our text today. The difference between a family who is independent from their Father in contrast to a family who is dependent on their Father. Last week, we talked about God’s grace and mercy despite Cain’s sin. This week, we’ll be looking at God’s grace on Cain’s family despite their independence from Him, in contrast to Seth’s family and their dependence on Him.

Man’s Independence from God (4:17-24)

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch (4:17).

The first hint of man’s independence here is not that Cain was intimate with his wife and conceived a child… By the way, the question that you might be asking is: “Where did Cain get his wife?” Genesis 5:4 says that Adam “had other sons and daughters.” So Cain would have married one of his sisters. Why? Because everything back then was relative.

But before you go to Leviticus 18 and the laws prohibiting these practices, remember that we are in Genesis 4 and those laws at this point were irrelevant. In fact, not only was this practice of Cain marrying one of his sisters acceptable at this point, but it was also necessary in order for the human race to descend from Adam and Eve.

Even many years later, Abraham married his half-sister. Sarah and Abraham had the same dad according to Genesis 20:12. It was a very different world back then, very relative, and this was one of the differences.

But this is not the first sign of Cain’s independence from God. Neither was it him naming a city after his son Enoch. Rather, it seems to be Cain building a city in the first place. The first likely sign of man’s independence from God is the first city.

The First City

Look at 4:12: “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” God told him he’d be a fugitive and a wanderer, and Cain responded by building a city.

But was it a bad thing to build a city? Was this rebellion against God? Because it’s likely that Cain was acting independently by trying to protect himself instead of trusting God’s promise to protect him.

Nonetheless, here we see the first city—the first record of a city in the Bible! Despite Cain seemingly acting independently from God, God in his grace allowed him to have this accomplishment. Down the line of Cain’s descendants, we will see more of this happening.

To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech (4:18).

After the first city, the next sign of man’s independence from God is found in the details that we are given about Lamech—that is, the first polygamy.

The First Polygamy

And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah (4:19).

Here we read about the first mention of polygamy in the Bible, which is the act of a man marrying two or more women.

Some people are curious about the Bible’s description of polygamy. Why did so many people do it and why was it tolerated? If we actually read the stories, we’ll see that polygamy is never described in a really positive light.

It never works out well for anyone. Like first of all, how does Solomon even remember 1000 names? Even for godly men like Abraham and David, we see that marrying more than one person is always a source of pain and strife.

Why? Because God’s intention was for a man to marry one woman. In the first marriage of Genesis 2:24, it says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

So God says one woman, one flesh; Lamech says “I don’t care what you say, I want more.” Yet despite Lamech’s outright disobedience, God’s mercy again is shown through Lamech’s children and their accomplishments.

Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah (4:20-22).

Here we see the first tentmaker/cattle farmer in Jabal, the first musician in Jubal, and the first blacksmith in Tubal-cain. Is this really a bad thing?

God in his grace allowed this to happen despite the fact that they are products of Lamech’s polygamy, in the same way that God allowed their ancestor Cain to be the first city-builder.

God told Adam and Eve to have dominion over the earth and here we see Cain’s descendants doing that. Human technology is not a bad thing, and this cultural/technological development by Cain’s descendants shows us how people are fulfilling God’s mandate even in their sin.

And this is what we see next in Lamech’s words. The third sign of man’s independence from God is the first boast.

The First Boast

“Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me’” (4:23).

We live in a culture today where humanity takes pride in the heinousness of their sin, like what Lamech does here. Think about movies/country songs/“pride month.” Bragging about their sin and making it a normality because it’s on Netflix, Spotify, & flags.

The preacher of Ecclesiastes is right: there’s nothing new under the sun indeed. And if that wasn’t bad enough, look at how Lamech tops this off:

If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold (4:24).

God promised to protect Cain with a sevenfold vengeance in 4:15. And here’s Lamech bragging about himself that if anyone hurts him he’ll get a seventy-sevenfold vengeance.

In short, he claims to be 11 times more important than Cain and he’ll take care of himself 11 times better than God took care of Cain.

But hear what the prophet Jeremiah says: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord” (9:23-24).

Yet once again, God’s mercy shines despite humanity’s sin. In verse 25, we see a shift from Cain’s line and man’s independence from God, to Seth’s line and man’s dependence on God.

Man’s Dependence on God (4:25-5:32)

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 (4:25).’

In Hebrew, “Seth” sounds like the word for “He appointed.” Eve’s phrase that God had appointed her an offspring sounds like an echo of Genesis 3:15, where God promised that an offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

In short, it sounds like Eve is anticipating that Seth is the promised offspring who will crush the serpent’s head, just like she hoped Abel was going to do before Cain killed him. So here comes Seth, the serpent crusher.

And yet, what are we told about Seth?

To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh (4:26a).

That’s it! Talk about a downgrade. From Seth the serpent crusher, to Enosh the serpent crusher..? Nothing they expected was happening. Seth came, Seth has Enosh, Seth dies (which is a pattern we see in chapter 5).

And at that time, people started to realize that the promised offspring who was supposed to crush the serpent’s head and deliver them from the curse on the land and on their bodies was not coming soon, since it wasn’t Cain or Abel or Seth or Enosh.

So what do we see next? We see a clear shift in the narrative (main idea); a clear sign of man’s dependence on God. Here we see the first prayer.

The First Prayer

At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26b-5:32).

On that day, people began to pray. In his book, Gary Millar refers to this as “The day prayer began.” He points out that when the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord”  “is used in the Old Testament, it is asking God to specifically to do one thing—to come through on his promises.” [Millar, Gary. Calling on the Name of the Lord: New Studies in Biblical Theology. InterVarsity Press, p.22].

And this is why in chapter 5, a genealogy that lists the descendants from Adam all the way to Noah, we see a pattern that we saw with Seth carry on: He was born. He had children. And he died.

And if you read through the rest of chapter 5 that phrase just jumps you at you as it’s repeated again and again. “And he died. And he died. And he died.”

God’s words to Adam and Eve were true. When they disobeyed, they brought death upon themselves and their children. And nobody escapes from this sentence of death.

Yet as people prayed for God to come through on his promises, we see glimpses of hope and life in chapter 5. We see that in v22, Enoch who walked with God (repeated twice), which seems to echo the intimate relationship that God had with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 as they walked with Him in the garden.

As a result, he does not die like the others. As opposed to Cain’s line that leads up to a young man’s life being taken by Lamech, Seth’s line leads up to Enoch whose life is taken by God.

In fact, chapter 5 seems to be a reverse picture of chapter 4—with the Enoch of Cain’s line in 4:18 eventually fathering Methushael who fathers the killer Lamech, while the Enoch of Seth’s line in 5:22 walks with God and fathers Methuselah (different spelling from Methushael, and the person who lives the longest), who then fathers Lamech (identical name but different description from the killer Lamech).

This is a little glimmer of hope, in the middle of the bleakness, that blessing is at work in the midst of the curse. Chapter 5 even ends with Lamech from Seth’s line having high hopes for his son Noah.

High hopes for blessing instead of curse. High hopes for rest and comfort (which is what Noah means) from the painful work he was in chains to.

Summary: So we’ve seen the shift of man’s independence from God through the first city/polygamy/boast to their dependence on God through the first prayer.

Small glimpses of hope that God will deliver them from the curse, but not yet. This is where chapter 5 and this narrative ends. And we’ll save the rest for when we come back to Genesis in the future.

So What?

But why is this text important for us here today? Well, we are not too far off from Cain’s line. We are not too far from being tempted to declare independence from God and say “God I don’t need you.”

We are not too far from being impatient with God because he seems to be taking his time, and questions are starting to come with doubts if he’s really there…

Especially in our Western, North American culture today where we have microwaves and smartphones that give us what we want in a matter of seconds.

I’ve lived in three different cultures and I think there’s a reason why I have a conviction to preach the Word in North America. It’s because we are comfortable. We have everything we need and want with a click of a button, and most of the time we’re still not satisfied.

We are not too far from Lamech who says “God I don’t need to trust you with my life! I can trust ME with my life!” But is that really the case? Try breaking a leg. See if you can walk on your own.

While you can get help, you’ll need more than crutches/medicine/people to encourage you mentally. You need Jesus to redeem you from your cursed body that is rotting and wasting away.

Even if you’re healthy and able now, read Ecclesiastes: You will die eventually, because everything on this earth is vapour/breath/meaningless.

But the story doesn’t end in the genealogy of Genesis 5. Ephesians tells us that the mystery of God’s will, the mystery of the gospel (Gen 3:15, mystery of the offspring) is now revealed in Christ!

This is why Matthew 1 starts with a genealogy, where we read about who the story has always been about: Jesus Christ! And he’s the promised seed that we need to deliver us and give us eternal life.

And that was according to God’s will, which is to unite all things on heaven and on earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10), so this is why we pray for God to come through on his promises! This is why we call upon the name of the Lord!

Remember the Lord’s prayer (or the disciple’s prayer): “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10).

Three requests: that God’s name would be honoured as holy, that God’s kingdom would come, and that God’s will would be done.

All of these are biblical promises which God has promised to do. All of them are tightly connected to the gospel and God’s saving purposes for His world.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he told us to begin by doing what the people in Genesis 4:26 did. Call upon God’s name to ask Him to come through on His promises.

Just like Daniel did in Daniel chapter 9. Just like Solomon did at the dedication of the temple. Just like John does in the second-last verse in the entire Bible.

Listen to what Revelation 22:20 says: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Jesus says “I am coming soon.” And in response we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Now What?


When you’re tempted to fall into the sin of declaring independence from God and making your will be done instead of His, get on your knees and pray. As one of my favourite songs from Casting Crowns says, the only way we’ll ever stand, is on our knees with lifting hands.

And I don’t necessarily mean that literally. If you’re able to great. But God is interested in a broken and contrite heart that humbly seeks his will.  Pray for God to come through on his promises to us.

Read the Bible to see what God has promised, in particular to understand the promises of the gospel. Pray the prayers of the Bible, especially the New Testament ones. It is filled with gospel prayers!

And if you feel bad that you haven’t been praying enough, remember that you have a mediator named Jesus Christ who sympathizes with your every weakness and intercedes for you to the Father (Hebrews 4:15-16). Even when you forget to pray, Jesus is praying for you!

As we groan inwardly in the pains of childbirth, longing for the redemption of our bodies from this curse, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you and I with groanings too deep for words according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

Pray. Pray for God to come through on his promises.

Pray and Wait.

Because from our passage today, it seems as if God delays in His promises. And it’s true; He does. Like why wouldn’t He just send Jesus right away? Why keep Adam and Eve and all of us waiting for thousands of years before Jesus finally came to keep those promises?

And the answer is Isaiah 48:9: “For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.” The answer is that all of those long centuries of waiting turned up the volume on the celebration that came when Jesus finally arrived, and God was ever so glorified in that!

If Seth or Seth’s son had been the promised Messiah, what a small story that would be. How small our understanding of Jesus would be. So God had a purpose in waiting.

God’s purpose in the history of the world is to bring glory to Himself through Jesus the son. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray “hallowed be thy name.”

That’s the reason for everything. God’s name being honoured as holy; God being glorified and worshipped is what everything is about.

Colossians 1:16 says that everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus. Ephesians 1:10 says that God’s plan for all time is to unite all things in Jesus. Jesus at the top, with everything finding its proper place in relation to Him.

And so God delayed in sending Jesus for thousands of years so that we could clearly see how much we need Jesus—that we could clearly see who Jesus is so that we could appropriately worship Jesus for who He is. Jesus came in the fullness of time, like Galatians 4:4 says. If he had come any sooner we wouldn’t know and see Him as well as He deserves.

This should also remind us that God has a purpose in waiting to send Jesus even now. Jesus is waiting to return until His church finishes its mission of preaching the gospel to every people under heaven.

2 Peter 3:9 is speaking about the return of Christ when it says that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus is waiting until the full count of His people are saved.

That’s why, a few verses later, Peter wrote that we should “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). Just like that song we sang, “strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.” Strength to endure disappointment; strength to persevere; strength for salvation.

When God waits, He waits for the purpose of salvation. Just think: if Jesus had come back 1,000 years ago, you would not be born. You would not have come to know Him. You would not get to spend eternity enjoying Him in a New Creation.

When God waits, He waits on purpose. And we can trust His purpose. Pray and wait.

Keep On Praying and Waiting.

As we pray and wait, we will be tempted to be impatient. We will be tempted to stop trusting in him when we face disappointments in waiting. Yet God has a purpose for our disappointments.

All those years of suffering and disappointment highlight Jesus in a way that nothing else could. Israel’s total failure to keep God’s law after all of their blessings and all of their curses shows just how much we need a saviour, and that there’s no way any of us could be saved on our own.

And each disappointment shows us Jesus in a better and a clearer way. The story of the Bible is full of disappointments like Noah and David and Solomon, men who looked so close to the real thing and yet fell so hard. And yet each of their failures highlights Jesus in all of his glory. We would not know Jesus for who He is if we didn’t see Him in contrast to all of those long stories of disappointment.

And by the way, God has a purpose in your disappointment now. I can look back over my life and see that God always gave me what He promised in His word, but often not on my timeline.

He has always provided, but has often waited to provide until I’m really certain that I need Him. He’s not playing games with us when He does that; He is making sure that we fix our eyes on Him. He is making sure that He gets the glory, not anybody else, when He keeps His promises.

God has a purpose in your disappointment. God has a purpose when He delays in answering prayer. And the arrival of Jesus after all of those years of waiting should remind us about this.

Be patient because God is patient towards you for salvation. Keep in praying and waiting.

The more we do that, the more we are connected to the mission and heart of God. Theologian RC Sproul said that “you don’t change God’s heart and mind if you pray; rather, God changes your heart and your mind when you pray.”

We keep our eyes on Jesus as we pray—bringing Him glory when he answers. “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor 1:11).

As Gary Millar says: “So do you want to become an ‘advanced praying person'? Then you do not need a stopwatch. You do not need to learn new contemplative methods. You do not need to do knee exercises. But you do need to become an expert asker – this is gospel-driven prayer. You need to realize that you are a walking disaster who needs God every step of the way, every day, to avoid making a train wreck of your life and the lives of those around you, to realize that the gospel yells at us, ‘You are weak and sinful and flawed – but he is strong and gracious and good!' So ask him to do what he has already promised to do. And, above all, pray for the spread of the gospel everywhere. God will answer, because this is how he displays his goodness and glory in our broken world.

And keep doing it, until that day when we no longer need to pray, because we will see our God and King face to face.” [Millar, Gary. Calling on the Name of the Lord: New Studies in Biblical Theology. InterVarsity Press, p.239-40].