To see this, we need only go back to the opening chapters of Genesis. After he murdered his brother, Cain was cursed by God to “be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). We do not have to read very far before we find Cain refusing to accept his sentence: after Cain’s wife bore him a son named Enoch, Cain built a city, which he named after his son (vv. 17–18). Refusing to wander, he built. As we continue to read, we learn as well that it is in the line of Cain—the line of pride, bigamy, sexual abuse, violence, and disproportionate vengeance—that Genesis locates the flourishing of technological culture. In a pattern that recurs throughout Genesis, Cain’s genealogy draws to a close by breaking into three branches. Lamech has three sons, each son identified as the father of a form of technē: Jabal, the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock; Jubal, the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe; and Tubal-cain, the forger of instruments of bronze and iron. Technology, we may minimally conclude, is given a disreputable family connection.
The story of Cain the city builder anticipates the story that draws the primeval history to a close. Once again, men decided that they would contravene God’s command by building. This time, it was a tower that was to reach into the heavens (11:1–9). The project differed, but the spirit remained the same. We know how their story turned out, and we know, as well, that Cain was frustrated in his efforts. Genesis tells us that he built his city in the land of Nod (Gen. 4:16). Nod is the Hebrew root from which is derived the Hebrew word for “wandering.” Cain settled in the land of wandering. And so the Bible assures us that, for all his making, Cain could not escape his curse. He remained a wanderer, alienated from God. The problem Cain was trying to fix did not admit of technical solutions.
From its earliest pages, then, Scripture warns us against the fallen instinct to overcome our alienation and heal our brokenness through the work of our own hands, a temptation that has only grown stronger as our tools have grown in power. Along with these warnings, however, we are presented with an alternative. Alongside the line of Cain we read about the line of Seth, among whom were those who first called on the name of the Lord (4:26). Immediately after the judgment of Babel, we read of the call of Abram, who responds to the promise of God in faith (12:1–9). It is Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, who, in his night vision, sees the anti-Babel, a staircase built not by human hands that bridges the gap between heaven and earth (28:10–22). Later, in John’s gospel, we learn the full significance of this vision. It anticipates the saving work of Christ on whom we would see angels ascending and descending (John 1:51). Our hope must not be in what we make but in what we receive.