This 7-part series originally ran under the German title “Einige biblische Culturbilder” in Der Lutheraner from August 2 to October 25, 1904. The author is Georg Stoeckhardt, who served as a professor at Concordia Seminary – St. Louis for several decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is commonly regarded as the greatest exegete in the history of the Missouri Synod. I offer this translation in the hope it will be edifying and thought-provoking to the 21st century Lutheran reader also. – R.L.L.
Biblical Pictures of Culture, Part 2
Holy Scripture records for us the creation of earth and man, also the appointment and calling of man. It then tells us what man on earth has done for work and how it has gone for him. Above all, Scripture tells the history of the kingdom of God on earth, but it also gives us glimpses into world history. Here and there it also gives us insight into the history of culture. The oldest piece of the history of culture, of which we have knowledge, we find in Genesis 4:16-24. There we hear of Cain. After he wandered as a fugitive on the earth, he settled down in the land of Nod, which means “land of exile.” It was far from Eden. There he became progenitor of a people and built a city, which he named after his son Enoch. The name Enoch means “beginning,” and the name was appropriate for the city. The was the beginning of the establishment of cities. Soon other cities arose thereafter. Country folk lived around the cities. Jabal was the son of Lamech who was a descendant of Cain, and his wife Ada. Jabal was the father of those who lived in shacks and tents and tended cattle. Alongside raising cattle was the working of fields. Industry emerged in the cities. Tubal-Cain, son of Lamech and Zilla, was “a master of all instruments of bronze and iron.” This was the beginning of trade labor. Early on men processed not only the material which was at hand to them, such as the trees of the forest. They also worked with bronze and iron and other metals, which they claimed from the inner parts of the earth. And they manufactured not only useful tools, which were useful in the home and in the field. They also produced works of art, articles of jewelry, for example, on which the names pointed to the wives of Lamech. They also made wind and string instruments. From Jubal, the brother of Jabal, “are those who play the lyre and pipe.” One could experience in the cities not only the blow of the hammer, but also the bright music and cheerful song. The arts emerged, and early on also fine arts, as did music. With music also came poetry. Lamech himself authored a poem, which he sang for his two wives. Trade labor and art was followed by trade and commerce. Tubal-Cain manufactured his ironware not only for his own use. Then he would have been able to lay his hammer down quite quickly. The products of work, of industriousness, and art were then exchanged and sold through trade. And the country folk brought their cattle and fruits of the field into the cities and sold them there. This was all natural development of man’s innate capabilities, his taking dominion over nature. Trade labor, art, and industry have progressed over the course of centuries, and now the newer culture has given the world and man’s life a quite different appearance. Still, we are quite aware in today’s culture of those main features, which confront us in the beginnings of culture as reported in the Bible: the contrast between the city and countryside, in the countryside cattle and crops, in the cities the bustling activity of tradespeople, merchants, artists, as well as the joys and pleasures which art offers.
This natural development was and is not only nature, but from the beginning it stood in service of sin. It was the generation of the godless Cain, the brother-murderer. With him we find the beginnings of culture. And the Cainites imprinted their coat of arms on the fledgling culture. Sin took the upper hand on the earth. Men fallen from God walked according to their own thoughts, according to the desires of the flesh. The polygamy introduced by Lamech was caused by the increasing lusts of the flesh. The two wives of Lamech, Ada and Zilla, as well as the other women of their time, sought to attract the eyes, thoughts, and delight of men to themselves. They sought to increase their natural beauty through all kinds of artificial stimuli. Ada, that means “the ornate.” She wore not moderate and proper jewelry, but she was overloaded with it. Therefore she was given her name by her jewelry. Zilla, that means “the clinking, jingling.” She hung for herself clinking and jingling metal objects around her body. So Ada and Zilla, wives of the distinguished Lamech, were trend-setting fashion women. So trade labor and art also served the vanity and self-consciousness of women. The musicians who had learned from Jubal surely also played for careless dances and show pieces. Even as lust, worldliness, sensuality, and desires of the flesh gripped the people, so also did the actual sins of Cain – hate, murder, and manslaughter. Lamech once stepped into an argument with a young man who was weaker than he. The young man injured Lamech with a minor wound. In return Lamech avenged himself as he immediately struck the man down. He wore a sword on his side, given to him by his son Tubal-Cain. Tubal-Cain certainly “hammered” as the ancient text speaks “all sharp objects of bronze and iron.” This means knives, swords, and weapons which encouraged the Cainites towards murder. Lamech was in no way ashamed of his deed, but he boasted of it in a song which he sang to his wives. The following is an exact translation, the content of the oldest poem of which we have record:
Ada and Zilla, hear my voice.
Wives of Lamech, take note of what I say.
For certain, I have struck down a man who wounded me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.
Since the days of Lamech, the generation of men continued to decay. Men employed God’s good creation in the service of sin. The progressing culture did not make mankind more noble. It did not improve man, but godless men made use of the culture’s evil thoughts, desires, and aggressions. With the progress of culture came the deterioration of morals hand in hand. A famous moral statistician of our time proved it with statistics: in the most civilized lands are the most crimes! The culture in itself is not at fault for this. Even today, the culture affords men many real services. The culture has not ceased to be a good thing for the people. But so great is the curse of this world, that even the natural development of things has been spoiled. It takes the blessing of God and reverses it into a curse. It is like that today, even as it was in the days of Cain and Lamech. We may look wherever we want. The noisy life and business in the big cities shows us something of the nature of the first cities. You see lust and desires of the flesh on the one side, hate, conflict, and murder on the other. These are moving powers which upset the world, which must be tempered by work, business, and the world market. For certain, trade labor, industry, machine work, and acquired skill challenge men to be useful and pious. They also give us joy, and countless valuable products every day. How many goods are on the market, which are misused by so many, but also have a correct use! Then again so many frivolous things are manufactured, so much useless stuff, which is only suitable for vanity, pride, and sensuality! How innovative is our generation in the manufacture of war machinery, and of ever more deadly murder weapons! How many factories and machine rooms are true murder pits for men! Certainly, there are many beautiful and noble arts. It is a feast for the eyes when one beholds a beautiful landscape painting, a good portrait, or an interesting historical painting. One is amazed justifiably at architecture, sculptures, and woodwork of old and new times. Still, what garbage and dirt which passes for fine art is led before our eyes! It is proof of the general moral decay and deterioration, that artists can count on the applause of the crowd, when they showcase man in his nakedness and shame, bringing it to full view. Music is a good gift of God. And there is also good secular music, which cheers and calms the heart. Still, musicians and even the most famous composers understand how to unleash the basest impulses which slumber in the heart of man, and this is what they do for the most part through their mystical tones. There is also good secular poetry and literature, which belongs to good culture. Still, how many poets write similar content as we find in the poem of Lamech? Present-day theater productions and operas glamorize and whitewash especially those sins of blasphemy, prostitution, adultery, murder, and suicide.
So we Christians must always look at the world around us with critical eyes as we consider the works of men. We should keep ourselves unstained of the world and touch nothing unclean as we take up our daily callings. We may and must use the things of this world, but that we never misuse them in the service of sin! We should never forget, that it is our calling to shine as bright lights in this generation. We should witness by word and deed what is right and good in God’s eyes, what is praise and virtue.