16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch.
In addition to exile from Gods presence, verse 16 tells us about two very important facets of Cain’s new circumstances. First, we are told that Cain “settled in the land of Nod.” This is an oxymoron. Nod literally means “place of wandering.” How does one settle in the land of wandering? It can’t be done but this is Cain’s new mission
Second, Genesis also locates Cain’s new home as east of Eden. When you and I look at a map, how do we commonly orient ourselves? We find a legend that tells us which way is north. Not so with ancient people. For the Jews, and many other ancient cultures, everything was oriented toward the east. The east was the where the sun rose. It was the place of beginning. The sun set in the west. The west was the place of completion and fulfillment. To be sent eastward (just as Adam and Eve were from the garden) symbolized regression. It was descent in to chaos.
So Cain left the presence of God to settle in a land where he could not be settled and he descended into chaos. The tiller who planted himself, and would not embrace God’s mission to fill the earth, was cursed by loosing his ability to be a tiller and by being forced to wander. Cain was stripped of both his relationship with God and his illusion. So what was Cain’s response? Time for a new illusion.
Verse 17 says that Cain, had a son, built a city, and named both of them Enoch. The name “Enoch” means “initiate.” Cain was confronted with his own mortality and the meaninglessness of his existence. One way to achieve a kind of immortality was to create a lineage that we would carry on his name and values. So part of Cain’s plan was to “initiate” a life apart from God, was to start a family. Is it possible that his idolatry of questing for immortality is part of what led to the debasement of women in ancient culture? Rather than living as the fully complimentary beings God created in his image, did women become a means to the idolatry of immortality through family? Was this the flower of the curse “your desire shall be for your husband and she rule over you?”
But Cain also built a city. The word in Hebrew literally means a “fortified encampment.” The contrast to God’s plan can not be more striking. God created the earth with the intent that it be filled with humankind. They would be a race of beings in a loving relationship with God and participating in creation as overseers and co-creators with God. Instead we have humanity holed up in a city, out of relationship with God, and hiding behind defenses to protect a pathetic and deluded existence. The city in ancient times was the center of culture and Genesis is telling us that not only did Cain personally sin but he manufactured an illusion (human culture) that would perpetuate his delusions and hide him from the absurdity that had become his life. Humanity went from glorious co-regents of creation to defiant, pathetic and deluded fools.
Welcome to Cain’s "brave" new world. Welcome to human existence.