East Side Story
September 24, 2017
In 1961, a musical film was made about two rival street gangs battling for turf in the upper west side of Manhattan, in the concrete jungle of New York City. There is a white gang called the Jets. And there is a Puerto Rican gang called the Sharks. The situation gets complicated when Tony, a former member and friend of the leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, a younger sister of the leader of the Sharks. The film plays out a modern day Romeo and Juliet tragedy filled with themes of hope and loss and the American dream. If you’ve ever seen it, you would remember its fascinating dance choreography and captivating finger snapping. And if you’ve never seen it, then perhaps you’ve at least heard of it’s name: West Side Story.
In Genesis 4, we read an account about two rival kingdom peoples living very different lives in the outer east side of Eden, outside of the temple garden of God. There is a people who try their best to play it cool as they live in this lousy world. And there is a people who call upon the name of the Lord. The situation gets worse when Cain, a worker of the ground who was filled with anger and hypocrisy, murders his younger brother Abel, a keeper of sheep who was filled with faith in the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. The account plays out for Israel back then and for the church today a tragedy filled with themes of hope and loss and the dreams of this world. If you were to think about it, you would remember its empty sadness and prideful sinfulness. And if you allow me to do so, I give this sermon the following title: East Side Story.
In the beginning of today’s Scripture text, we read that Cain “went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” This cardinal direction is very significant - for two simple reasons.
First, the cardinal direction of east shows us the door of God’s presence. When God drove Adam and Eve out from the garden of Eden, they left from its eastern side and went eastbound. And when God put the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life, he put them at the east of the garden of Eden.
Second, the cardinal direction of east shows us the departure of God’s presence. When Cain murdered Abel, God drove Cain further east. Cain settled in the land of Nod, which was even more east of Eden than ever before. But more importantly, for Cain to go east meant that Cain was decisively away from the presence of God and a blessed relationship with him. Cain was effectively out. There would be no sabbath rest for him. No consummate reward for him. No eschatological goal for him. And every step that he took toward that direction meant one more step farther away from the tree of life.
What a sad lot in life! To be away from the presence of the Lord. But even sadder was what Cain and his descendants did with this lot in life. They would do many things that would forever mark them as people of the kingdom of darkness.
First, they would continue to disobey the Lord. Cain built a city. Now, there was nothing wrong with Cain building a city. But the thing is that God condemned Cain to a fugitive life. After Cain murdered Abel, God said to him, “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” This was God’s commandment to Cain. But instead of obeying God and receiving his due punishment for his sin, Cain built a city. This means that he rejected the life of the fugitive and the wanderer and instead chose to settle down and live the comfortable life. Therefore, for Cain, this was a blatant defiance against God. The trouble isn’t that he’s lazy. The trouble isn’t that he drinks. The trouble isn’t that he’s crazy. The trouble isn’t that he stinks. The trouble isn’t that he’s growing. The trouble isn’t that he’s grown. The trouble is, gee, I don’t know, maybe sin? Yes, the trouble is his sin and rebellion and disobedience and hate against God. East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives. How sad!
Second, they would revel in their own pride and glory. When Cain built his city, he named it after his son, Enoch. By the way, this Enoch is not to be confused with the Enoch of faith in Hebrews 11. The city of Enoch is an eerie precursor of the city of Babel, whose citizens would say, “Let us make a name for ourselves.” East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives. How sad!
Third, they would try to be happy and merry on their own. Cain’s family tree zooms in on three interesting names: Yavaal, Yuvaal and Tuvaal-cain. They were the sons of Lamech. Names were important in the Old Testament. And names often had deep meanings behind them. The names Yavaal, Yuvaal and Tuvaal-cain are all related to the idea of festivity. Even the sounds and the alliteration of their names are festive. There was a striving for happiness and cheer. And perhaps their lives were filled with dance and finger snapping. East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives.
Fourth, they would distract themselves with work and be stakeholders of the world. They would pour their hearts and souls into farming and agriculture, music and the arts, and architecture and industry. They would fill the remaining time that they had on building stuff. Perhaps like the girls of the Sharks, they would have sang, “Skyscrapers bloom in America! Callidacs zoom in America! Industry boom in America! I like to be in America!” East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives.
Fifth, they would value outer beauty. The sister of Tuvaal-cain was named Naamah. And Naamah’s name is connected to the profound idea of outer aesthetic beauty. Looks mattered to them. And they would sing, “Naamah! Say it loud and their’s music playing. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. Naamah, the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives.
Sixth, they would indulge themselves in wicked adultery. Lamech took two wives: Adah and Zillah. This is polygamy. And this is disgusting. God said in Genesis 2:24 that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Lamech took marriage as God designed it and threw it out the window. East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives.
Seventh, they would descend into limitless vengeance and murder. Lamech boasted that he killed people for wronging him, and that would do it again and again. He said that if Cain’s revenge was sevenfold, then his would be seventy-sevenfold. Here is a vicious and savage man who would not hesitate to escalate and say, “If they say blades… then I say guns.” East of Eden, from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, this is what Cain and his descendants decided to do with their lives.
Brothers and sisters, all of this is tragic and devastating. People disregarded the gospel of Jesus Christ and instead chose to determine the meaning of life on their own. People did not care about the judgment of God and instead chose to settle down and live the comfortable life and be merry as they can be. People looked at death and just accept it as a mere part of life. Some people knowingly or unknowingly found something to distract themselves with until the day of their inevitable death. Other people knowingly or unknowingly shook their fists at God and tried to live forever. People focused on temporary beauty and whatever was good in the here and the now. People committed adultery and feel that sexual experiences make their lives worthwhile. People hated each other and murdered one another.
Brothers and sisters, all of this is so sad. Cain and his descendants forgot what was the worst thing in the world: being away from the presence of the Lord. What does it profit for Cain and his descendants to gain the whole world and forfeit their souls? All the agriculture and art and architecture and aesthetics amount to nothing if you do not have God. Cain settled in the land of Nod, but the word Nod is connected to the idea of wandering and unsettledness. Cain never really got what he was looking for. There really is no place for him. There really is no time for him. There really is no somehow, someday, somewhere for him. Yes, the mark worked for Cain. Yes, God showed him common grace. Yes, Cain had children and lived a relatively full life. Yes, in the eyes of the world, Cain had much to be proud of for his family tree. But in the eyes of Israel and in the eyes of heaven, Cain still received the darkest ending of all. He was away from the presence of the Lord. And with that, all dancing and finger snapping ends.
But remember, there are two types of people in this world. There is another kingdom and another people. And their story continues in verses 25-26.
And 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.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.
God promised a way back home. A way back to him. And that promise remained unbroken, even though Cain killed Abel. For God appointed another offspring instead of Abel. What a wonderful new hope! The darkness of Genesis 4 is pierced with a glimmering light of hope at the end of the chapter. It’s almost as if Seth is Abel back from the dead. It’s possibly a picture of the hope of resurrection glory. It’s most likely a reaffirmation of the promise of Genesis 3:15, that an offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. It’s most definitely a preview of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his east side story.
Many, many years and generations after this story, there would be the nation of Israel in the desert. And in the middle of their camp was a large tabernacle or tent. And in that tent was the presence of God. And with that tent was a door, an entrance. Take a wild guess which direction that entrance faced.
In Exodus 27:9-13, it is written these words by the Lord “You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side. Its twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver. And likewise for its length on the north side there shall be hangings a hundred cubits long, its pillars twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver. And for the breadth of the court on the west side there shall be hangings for fifty cubits, with ten pillars and ten bases. The breadth of the court on… the front… to the east… shall be fifty cubits.”
Brothers and sisters, this is our east side story. The tabernacle or tent represented the original garden of Eden. And with it came the presence of the Lord in the room called the Most Holy Place. And the entrance to the entire tabernacle or tent faced east.
But there is more. Around the tabernacle or tent were all the twelve tribes of Israel. They surrounded it on all sides. On the north, the west, the south, and of course, the east. Take a wild guess which tribe of Israel was camped at the east side.
In Numbers 2:1-3, it is written these words by the Lord to Moses and Aaron: “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. Those to camp on the east side… toward the sunrise… shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah….”
Brothers and sisters, this is our east side story. For out of Judah would come the Lion of Judah, the promised savior of Genesis 3: Jesus Christ. If you wanted to enter the presence of the Lord, you had to go through Judah. If you want to be saved, you have to go through Jesus. You have to call upon the name of the Lord.
What a beautiful picture of salvation for Israel! And what a beautiful supplement picture of salvation for us who know the full salvation of Jesus Christ!
And so while one kingdom tried to play it cool as they lived in this lousy world, another kingdom called upon the name of the Lord. This phrase refers to a formal and organized worship of God. They trusted in the word of his promise of salvation. They spoke to him. They remembered his big picture. And so while one kingdom raised the banner of vengaeance and hate, another kingdom raised the banner of forgiveness and love. While one kingdom made the world its playground, another kingdom longed for a better world. While one kingdom forgot about God and kept going east, another kingdom never forgot where they came from and always wanted to go back to the presence of God that Adam failed to achieve in the covenant of works.
Brothers and sisters, let us not be worldly. Let us not settle for this world or settle down in this world. It is easy to be distracted and forget about the big picture. And when that happens, we start thinking that all there is to life are our hopes and plans and dreams. Remember that the world is passing away (1 cor 7:31). Please do not conform to the things of the world (Romans 12:1-2). Do not forget that friendship with the world is enmity toward God (James 4:4). Please do not love the world or the things in the world (1 John 2:15). Yes, the world seems so… festive. And we the church will often feel left out. But don’t fall for the world’s festivities. There is no FOMO - no fear of missing out. Our future festivities in the new heavens and the new earth will make everything you see here look so lame. We are pilgrims and exiles. This world is not our home, we are just passing through. Let us not be worldly.
Brothers and sisters, let us forgive others. One time, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” I wonder where Jesus got that number. The Lord’s command to forgive is a direct shot against everything that Lamech stood for. And Peter was reminded that day that our kingdom does not declare Lamech’s anthem. Let us forgive others.
Brothers and sisters, let us praise the Lord. As it is written in Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” And while the city of Enoch was built on sand, the city of God is built on Christ. And we the church sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Let us praise the Lord.
In closing, brothers and sisters, know that there really is a place for us. Know that there really is a time for us. Hold Christ’s hand and we’re halfway there. Hold his hand and he’ll take you there. Soon and very soon the Lord will return. And there will be plenty of dancing and I guess some finger snapping in the new heavens and new earth.