Descending to Demonism: From Cain to the Sons of God

The scenes from the story of Cain and Abel, up until the “sons of God”, and the global Flood cover a period of perhaps two thousand years.  Genesis 4 properly belongs with the previous three chapters.  It begins and ends with namings; the naming of Cain (“acquired”, or “brought forth”), and the naming of Seth (“granted [substitute]”), and then Seth’s naming of Enosh (“frailty”).  In the beginning of this chapter we find two brothers, Cain and Abel, who are worshipping God (Yahweh).  Their offerings come from the different spheres of their activity.  Cain is a farmer and so he brings the produce of the ground.  Abel is a shepherd, and so he brings a choice lamb from his flock.

The narrative is not detailed, but the Lord’s opinion of Cain’s offering was one of disapproval.  The problem was not external; it was not with the offering.  Those who teach that because the earth is cursed the gift of Cain was inappropriate forget that Abel’s lamb ate from the produce of the cursed ground.  No, Cain’s problem was in his approach to God.  In his lack of faith (implied in Heb. 11:4), his offering was not truly an offering.  Cain refused to rectify his worship and he became the first murderer.  He does not murder a stranger for riches.  He slays his own brother, Abel.  Why did he do this?  Because Abel’s offering had been accepted by the Lord and Cain had been “burning” (charah) toward his brother.  He was filled with religious envy.  The first murder was religiously motivated.  He is then depicted as admitting (not really confessing) his guilt (but not before lying about it), and he ends up going out “east of Eden” and building a city which he names after his son Enoch.  It is of interest that in the Bible only one city is viewed in a positive light: Jerusalem – and that not always!  Secondly, the Bible appears to approve of history moving from East to West, and to disapprove of movement from West to East.  Adam and Eve travel East (3:24), as does Cain (4:16), and the people who came to Shinar and built a tower (11:2), and Lot chose the goodlands to the East when he and Abram separated (13:11).

One thing which Cain forfeited by his murderous deed was the right (if we may so speak of it at this venture) of the firstborn.  T. D. Alexander observes that, “For killing his brother Abel, Cain, the first-born, is passed over in favour of Seth, the third-born.”[1]

Cain’s lineage is given up until verses 23-24, which records Lamech’s bragging about the murder of a young man.  Thus, although there are accomplishments: city building (if such can be said to be an accomplishment), animal breeding, music, and metallurgy, the genealogy begins and ends with two murderers.  In Cain’s line Lamech occupies the seventh position; a position of honor[2].  The Adamic genealogy in the next chapter places the godly Enoch in that position.  So what we are given is a picture of expansion in various spheres.  But along with this growth of creativity there is a greater opportunity for independence to be reinforced, and for sin to produce death.

The fifth chapter is a death chapter.  The names in Adam’s genealogy are of men who lived, by our standards, an immense amount of years.  But they all died (save Enoch, who was taken – Gen. 5:22).  If you are like me you would like to know why Enoch was taken and why we are told that he was.  Some might tell us that there is a typological teaching hidden in there.[3]  They may be right, but I find I cannot get any help from the Bible (Heb. 11:5 merely repeats the fact).  But he is the only person other than (possibly) Elijah who did not see death.[4]  Even the Son of God had to die!

But even in a chapter where the refrain “and he died” is constant there is hope.  Genesis 5:1b-3 declares,

In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

As well as telling us that this is Seth’s line, these verses use the same words about Seth that were used of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-27, although in reverse.  Seth is in Adam’s likeness (demuth) and image (selem), and is therefore in God’s likeness and image.  This means that even fallen mankind has intrinsic worth above what his deeds testify to.  It is well to recall this fact when pondering God’s actions in the flood.  This is why God’s promise of a victorious Seed in Genesis 3:15 carries with it a hope for man.

Since chapter 5 concerns Seth’s line and not that of Cain, it is scarcely credible to associate what comes next with the Sethites.  Explanations of the sons of God in the first part of chapter 6 which resort to making them into sons of Cain, while at the same time turning “the daughters of men” into daughters of Seth, are making the text say something it is clearly at pains not to say.  It used to be that one was hard pressed to find an evangelical who was prepared to identify the “sons of God” with fallen angels.  It was easy enough to find liberals who had little trouble with the identification (they simply had trouble believing it!).  Thankfully the situation has changed[5].  Now we find evangelical scholars who are more comfortable with the designation.[6]  This is important, if only because it is in places like this where we feel pressured to come up with an alternative interpretation of what the text appears to be saying.  Such a maneuver, especially when made by those who elsewhere plead for grammatical-historical interpretation, hardly helps the case for plain-sense hermeneutics.  As enigmatic as the passage may be, all the scriptural evidence points to the bene ha elohim[7] being either demonic angels or demonized humans.[8]  

It is hard to imagine the influence of such creatures as the sons of God and their apparent offspring, the nephilim (giants), on the pre-flood earth.  But there is enough in chapters 4 and 6 to show that those who bore the image of God had become so debased that they provoked God to destroy them, and the early earth along with them.[9]  The Divine repugnance is worth reproducing:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Gen. 6:5-7

We should not interpret the “repentance” of God (nacham) as anything else but anthropomorphism. His “regret” is but an expression of moral revulsion, not a latent incapacity to know how human depravity would descend into further concupiscence.  But that said, it is a mark of the wickedness of this pre-diluvial generation that the Creator wiped them out.  Peter speaks about “the world that then existed” and “the heavens and the earth which are now” (2 Pet.3:6-7), indicating (again) the extent of the Flood upon the earth, and also the fact that we cannot get back to that world.  It is cut off from us; buried.[10]  The world after the Flood will be very different.  Although the Lord will put up with human, sin He will place the world under covenant control.  The first covenant will establish relations between God and this present order, both human and animal; in fact, with this whole new order.

[1] T. D. Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land, 105

[2] See K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1 – 11:26, 282

[3] Some pretribulation rapture advocates makes use of this ‘typology’ as Enoch is taken before the Flood.  They see a pattern arising where saints are removed before catastrophe (e.g. Noah; Lot, etc.).  This only goes to show that typology is in the habit of confirming the teachings of those who employ it.

[4] If, as I believe, Elijah is one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, he will die in the future.

[5] I think in no small part this was brought about by an article by Willem Van Gemeren.

[6] Examples include Gentry & Wellum, Schreiner, Waltke, and Hamilton.

[7] A specific term only used elsewhere in Job 1:6; 2:1 and 38:7 where it does refer to angels (unfallen in 38:7).

[8] In view of “the angels that sinned” (2 Pet. 4:2) and those who “did not keep their proper domain (arche)” (Jud.6) we would have an answer to the logical query “how?” if we went with the former of the two interpretations (cf. also the “elect angels” of 1 Tim. 5:21, which implies non-elect angels!).

[9] I have little patience with those who deny a global flood.  The Bible is not ambiguous on the matter.  Attempts to confine the deluge to a small tract in the ancient East in order to “square” with “science” fall flat of their faces.  The explanations of these compromising interpretations sound silly under scrutiny.  Helmut Thielicke writes of “the total destruction of the world”, and God who “allows his creation to be blotted out”, and who “simply obliterates his bankrupt work and drowns it in a gigantic flood.” – How The World Began, 237.  We should all speak this way if we say we believe the Bible.

[10] For this reason I think the descriptions, for example, of the four rivers of Eden in Genesis 1 describe an earth which has disappeared.  Moses is reproducing an earlier witness.



  1. Sounds like you believe that Satan and his minions didn’t need to ask God’s permission to do what they wanted to do to humans in the pre-flood era (Job 1; Luke 22:31)? That the post flood covenant(s) established a different way that God was going to work with man and Satan after the flood?

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