The first incidence of violence in the Bible – Cain’s murder of Abel – occurs quite soon after the fall (Gen 4:8). The fact that this is the first sin after Adam and Eve are ejected from the Garden is significant. There was no slow progression through ‘lesser’ sins: humanity’s attempt to reject God’s rule and assert their own swiftly resulted in murder. Nor was there a progression through manslaughter or spontaneous rage – Cain’s invitation to Abel come out into the field shows his crime to be a pre-meditated action powered by reflective jealousy.
There are two things worth noting about God’s judgement against Cain:
Firstly, there is no concept of social justice introduced in the narrative. Cain’s parents are not involved in the judgement, only God.
Secondly, the punishment placed on Cain is not commensurate to the crime in any modern (or later Jewish) sense. Cain is not executed, rather he is excluded. Indeed, God specifically acts to prevent Cain’s punishment from resulting in his death.
It is also worth noting that, by that stage, is seems that there were people “out there” who were likely (at least in Cain’s mind) to kill a wanderer.
Genesis 4 continues with the account of Cain’s descendants, culminating with Lamech. Lamech does not represent murder as a one-off reaction, but as a studied action of vengeance and future intimidation. This story both highlights the degradation of Cain’s line and the escalation of violence.
This continues into the account of Noah. In genesis 6, there are two descriptions of the extent of the evil of humanity, firstly that the ‘sons of God’ interbred with the ‘daughters of man’ (whatever that means) and, secondly, violence.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. 13 Then God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; therefore I am going to destroy them along with the earth. (Gen 6:11-13 HCSB)
As soon as the flood waters had receded, God gave his promise that he would never flood the earth again. He blessed Noah and his family and re-commanded them to be fruitful and fill the earth, and he gives them every creature to eat. Then God gives them a warning
5 I will require the life of every animal and every man for your life and your blood. I will require the life of each man’s brother for a man’s life. 6 Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image. (Gen 9:5-6 HCSB)
Here we see, not only the first clear prohibition of murder, but the institution of a code of retributive justice in the ‘eye for an eye’ model.
It is commonly observed that Genesis 4-11 details a rapid spiral of humanity into more and more degradation, coupled with a commensurate rise in technological and ‘societal’ advancement. In the third and final incident of Genesis 4-11, humanity’s sin extends to the point that they completely reject God and seek to make a name for themselves apart from divine rule (Gen 11:4).
Within this narrative arc, it is notable that murder and violence are highlighted so strongly so early. It seems that fallen humanity’s desires move swiftly to violence.