a fugitive and a wanderer you shall be on the earth … and he (Cain) built a city. Genesis 4: 12b, 17
and (Abraham) lived in tents, … for he waited for the city which has foundations. Hebrews 11: 9, 10
How strong that similarity is between Cain and Abraham. Whilst they are each other’s opposites – Cain is the father of the godless while Abraham is the father of all believers – they are alike in that both are wanderers; and both are driven by the strong desire for the permanent, safe residence. Both know the quest for a city of safety.
What makes the similarity even stronger is that in their wandering and searching both are being driven by the word of the Lord. For it is the Lord who made Cain to wander; and it is the Lord who made Abraham to wander. It is the Lord who denies that eternal rest, that land of peace and that permanent house here on earth, both to the believers and to the unbelievers.
But herein lies now also the difference between Cain and Abraham – in the word of the Lord. Behind both stood that word of God as a living force. Cain’s wandering was the result of God’s word of curse; Abraham’s wandering the result of God’s word of blessing. That is the difference! And that makes the nature of their wanderings essentially different.
Just compare Cain with Abraham! Cain is the restless wanderer; Abraham knows only rest. Cain feels chased by obscure and restless shadows, the voice of the shed blood; Abraham sees above him the hand of the Lord who blesses him. Cain feels sheltered nowhere but threatened everywhere; Abraham knows himself sheltered everywhere and threatened nowhere.
It is for that reason that their longing for a permanent, safe residence is fundamentally different. Both are indeed looking for the secure home of the safe city, yet Abraham does not seek it here but elsewhere.
Over against Cain’s eagerness to build, stands Abraham’s confidence and trust. Cain wants to lay the foundations and build the walls himself; Abraham knows that God is the builder and maker. Cain wants to put the safe house on this earth; Abraham places it in the life hereafter.
That’s how they stand opposite each other.
Cain in his quest for peace and security looks no further than this world and his own strength. Abraham in his desire for the permanent, safe home wants to know only about the house of heaven, built by the hand of his God.
Cain and Abraham – the one who will build the city himself, and the other who expects the city through faith.
Cain and Abraham – the one in pursuit of the city here below, and the other in pursuit of the city from above.
Cain is the father of many children and many nations. We still live in the midst of that search of the Cainites! The world is fully occupied with that search. All desire and seek the rest in the permanent residence here on earth and will therefore never find rest. To have a home, a permanent home, a place here on earth – that’s what it’s all about; and that’s what the struggle is for: a permanent place which we acquire ourselves and no one can take from us anymore.
That’s what we’re working and struggling for! That’s why we’re busy in trade and science! That’s the goal of culture and art! But that’s also why there is sin: the lie, the fraud, the competition, the hatred, the murder!
It causes all the misery in the world, all the despair and destruction, all the shedding of blood, the floods of sorrow and the power that brings forth fire and blood. Thus we see in our days the nations in endless turmoil, searching for peace and security.
Cain, Cain in his restless wanderings – he does not find peace because the earth curses him and his city is never finished!
Abraham, too, is the father of many children and of many nations. His children, too, are wanderers (strangers) on this earth. But their wanderings are the consequence of the Lord’s word of blessing. They are on their way to the permanent city, and are therefore at peace amidst the restless wanderings of the Cainites and the feverish pursuits of the city builders here on earth.
And the rest for Abraham’s children (that is, for Christ’s Church) is that they do not have to build themselves and do not have to prepare the city; that they do not themselves have to procure peace and create security. For the foundations have been laid by the Other One; the walls are being built by Him who prepares the eternal home for His people.
Therefore we can be at peace, possessing the rest of faith! Christ Jesus builds our city! That’s why that eternal dwelling will be completed. And that’s why that city can never be destroyed.
Hence we are, as the church of Christ, seeking the rest provided in the eternal dwelling. But it is a seeking in faith, a seeking in the assurance of obtaining it.
It is coming, for sure: the city with the twelve foundations and the twelve gates of pearl, with all her blissful rest and lasting safety (Revelation 21).
The turmoil increases by the day!
The search is accelerating!
The world is on fire!
But our faith in the permanent, eternal city gives us assurance – confidence in the face of the dark future.
The word of blessing of our Lord, which turns us into strangers in this world, will give us the permanent dwelling that Christ builds.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy Temple.
M B van ‘t Veer
(Dr M B van ‘tVeer, 1904-1944, was minister of the Word in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands and is the author of My God is Yahweh: Elijah and Ahab in an Age of Apostasy. The above meditation is translated from a Dutch book of his meditations, Het Rijke Woord, Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1946? pp. 100-102.)