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East of Eden

Wisdom in understanding the hatred of the wicked

Proverbs 29:10

10 The bloodthirsty hate the blameless,
And seek the life of the upright


The works of American novelist John Steinbeck are known by the author’s keen sense of place. In “Cannery Row,” he paints a picture in words of the rust and noise of the sardine canning industry and the little seaside village that both supports and is supported by it. His account of the rocky beaches filled with sea life and the town of Salinas with its human life make you feel as if you have already walked its streets or waded in its surf.

Steinbeck does the same in “Of Mice and Men,” revealing the orchards and fields of the valleys and the California farming world. In his most famous work, “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck follows a family of sharecroppers as they migrate from the Oklahoma dust bowl to a new life in California. 


In 1952, Steinbeck published his last major novel, “East of Eden.” In the work, he paints a beautiful picture of the Salinas Valley of southern California as it was at the dawn of the 20th century. The fertile valleys and endless horizons make it seem a land of promise just waiting to bless whomever can put down roots.  

The novel follows Adam Trask, who settles in the valley to farm. His wife soon bears two sons, twins by the name Aron and Caleb. The two boys were born on the same day but are nothing alike. Aron is virtuous and dutiful while Caleb is rebellious and dark. It is clear that the boys are mirrors of a far older story: Can and Abel. 

As Steinbeck writes his saga of two families, he is nearly overcome by the Old Testament account of Cain and Abel, later writing in his journal, “what a strange story it is, and how it haunts one.”

The story of Cain and Abel is indeed a tale as old as time, as the biblical account is found in Genesis 4, with the newness of creation only now beginning to fade after the fall of their (and our) parents, Adam and Eve. As Steinbeck wrote, he became enamored of the story of the two brothers—and of the murder of the innocent:

As I went into the story [of East of Eden] more deeply I began to realize that without this story [of Cain and Abel]—or rather a sense of it—psychiatrists would have nothing to do. In other words this one story is the basis of all human neurosis—and if you take the fall along with it, you have the total of the psychic troubles that can happen to a human.–John Steinbeck, “Journal of a Novel.” 

In his attempts to explain through his novel how the sin of Adam and the shadow of Cain is cast over a fallen humanity, he cannot help but see the duality of man:

Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil.–East of Eden

In his way, Steinbeck is acknowledging a biblical truth: that man, though made in the image of God, has been corrupted by sin—and each of us faces one of two ends, as reflected in Daniel 12:

2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.–Daniel 12:2

In “East of Eden,” the animosity of Caleb over his brother Aron is based on his own sense of sin or unworthiness. He sees the goodness of Aron and hates him for it—and hates himself. Cain murders Abel when Abel’s sacrifice is accepted by God and his own rejected. As a result, Cain is cast out, with bitterness and bloodthirstiness to follow him all of his days, and in all of his generations:

16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden.–Genesis 4:16 

Solomon is not only a student of the Word, he is a student of human nature. He has personally witnessed the betrayal of brother by brother for the sake of inheritance or blessing. What’s more, his gift of wisdom allows him to plumb the depths of the human heart and understand the nature of what it means to be righteous in an unrighteous world. Here in chapter 29, he lays it out:

10 The bloodthirsty hate the blameless,
And seek the life of the upright–Proverbs 29:10

This is a proverb that gives translators and scholars fits, or as commentator Tremper Longman puts it, “throws them into a tizzy.” Part of a series of proverbs revealing the nature of various fools such as “the mocker” (verse 8,) and “the raging fool” (verse 9), it turns it up to eleven with the fool crossing the line into murder. 

“The bloodthirsty” offers no sugar coating of the condition of the heart of the fool once he has entertained his selfishness and anger beyond the point of reason. Natural man, unless tempered by the grace of God’s staying hand, will stop at nothing short of the persecution and murder of the righteous.    

This sounds harsh in a culture steeped in the idea that “there is a little bit of good in every one.” Even Darth Vader was able to “search his heart” and be found to have “good still in him.” Should not Solomon tone down the rhetoric here?

No, he is only revealing what is the ultimate desire if sinful man when he encounters someone truly righteous and virtuous. If he cannot possess such a gift himself, he will seek to destroy the one who bears it.

Think about this. Have you encountered this in your life as a Christian? Perhaps at work you seek to be honest and forthright in all your doings. Others around you flaunt the rules, bend policy, and even engage in unethical behavior. In avoiding the same laziness, or corruption that others have embraced or winked at, you can enrage others who suddenly feel guilt or shame for their own compromise.

Maybe you have chosen to stand for truth in light of certain issues or trends that pervade our culture. You see neighbors, friends, and family accept “alternative lifestyles” of homosexuality or heterosexual promiscuity and decide that you will not affirm these sins along with them. This will quickly earn you the epithet of “hater,” and in certain circles justify even physical cruelty against you.

Why is this? Like Cain and Abel you know that the violent reaction against your faith is due to the fall, and the appearance of righteousness in the midst of this world’s darkness. As John writes in his first letter to the church:

10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.–1 John 3:10-12

C.S. Lewis, in his novel “That Hideous Strength,” describes Mark Studdock, a non-christian being initiated into a corrupt and evil institution. He is required to stand on a crucifix, and when he refuses, he begins to see the reality of this eternal conflict:

And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to the crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight—what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross.-CS Lewis

The darkness will always seek to overcome the light (John 1:5).

You see this on the news every day, do you not? Christians are persecuted worldwide for their faith: from underground churches in China, to Islamists attacking worshippers at church in Nigeria on Easter Sunday, to American Christians forced from their jobs for refusing to affirm new genders—or refusing to participate in unethical practices.

Solomon is reminding you that there is nothing new under the sun. All mankind bears the mark of Cain, for we are all his descendants. When you stand for righteousness, you will kindle his wrath and feel his blows.

Jesus knows all of this, and in His ministry, He continually warns His disciples and followers that the heavenly reward of eternal life often comes at a high earthly cost of pain and suffering.

Jesus teaches in His Sermon on the Mount that to follow Him in this life will not mean a life of peace and quiet. Instead, you will stick out like a sore thumb:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.–Matthew 5:14

As Jesus encounters more and more the rage of “the crooked,” He knows that the sons of Cain will soon seek His own blood. And so, in His final hours, Jesus tells His disciples—and you and me—that if the world hates Him, it will surely hate us who follow Him:

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.–John 15:18-19

If you love the One who has overcome death and the sin of this world, how can you expect any less? For death and its father Satan in their hatred of you, really see the Christ in you. One question may be, if you do not feel this tension in your life, if your faith is not one that meets resistance or even reaction, is your faith true? 

As Christians you and I should never seek out persecution, but should also have a faith that is real enough to stand out in stark contrast to the evil of this world, lest we be adherence to an easy gospel. 

The Apostle Paul knew this and felt very real pain for his faith in the form of beatings, whippings, imprisonment, and rejection by others. In what may be among his very last words, Paul writes to his young friend Timothy that he must come to expect the same treatment for his faith:

12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.–II Timothy 3:12

And yet…and yet, Paul also encourages:

17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!–II Timothy 4:17-18

You see, the world may seek to reject you, or even harm you, but you are never alone. Because you are saved, you are united in Christ by His spirit. The world’s hatred of you is actually hatred of Him—and He both knows your pains on His behalf, and endures them with you. 

Your hope is that of the first disciples who, beaten for their faith, nevertheless, departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name (Acts 5:41).



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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