December 03, 2008

Genesis 4.1-16

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord." And again, she bore his brother Abel.

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.

And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.

So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry?--And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out to the field."

And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?"

He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"

And the Lord said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth."

Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me."

Then the Lord said to him, "Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.

Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.


At 1:52 p.m., Blogger Tom Smith said...

I have often referred to two of the first questions asked by God as questions we need to constantly ask ourselves. "Where are you?" and "Where is your Brother?" Jesus' answer to the question "What is the greatest commandment?" echoes these questions. "Love the Lord thy God," a direct relationship with God is one of love. "Love thy neighbor as thyself," the implication is that we need to know who is our "brother" (everyone) and where they "are."

Jealousy, Greed, "Being number one," etc. become major barriers between people and between God and us. They lead to making "them" less than human and not worthy of being with "us." This leads to allowing "us" to kill "them."

At 12:42 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

One Jewish take on this goes: "God did not curse Cain for killing Abel, but for saying, 'Am I my brother's keeper?'"

Thanks for commenting; I've felt bad about not posting the next passage yet, but I wanted to do more with this first.

One implication of this story, for whoever first told it, was that a pastoral way of life put fewer barriers between a person and God than tilling the ground (an element in Adam's curse, remember.) Of course a more settled way of life also tends to make for larger families, a steadier but less nourishing food supply--and a lot more concern for the future. You can't move a crop when the rains are off. But you can, if you're ruling an agricultural people, get together a sizable army and take some land where conditions may be better. You can--and must--plan more for the future; and there are perverse incentives to premeditate harm to your neighbor, that don't apply so strongly between nomads. One might trust more in his own ability to control his life, & temporarily forget his dependence on God.

& poverty, oddly enough, can be an escape from that...

At 12:26 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

One puzzle for me in this story is what did Cain do? The Lord intimated that he had sinned, but how? For saying "am I my brother's keeper"?
We can speculate about the brother's professions: agriculture, it seems to me was higher in the cultural scale of evolution; perhaps the pastoral life was the "good old days" for the writer.
Finally the matter of two brothers: oddly enough the two always seemed to get the short end.
In my mind it may be simply an announcement that some people are worthy, and some not.

At 10:56 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Sorry, been moving furniture & enjoying a mild bug at home... needing to sort out years of physical & mental clutter...

Jesus makes it clear that God is equally good to "the Just and the Unjust" which ought to mean equally good to "the worthier & the less so..."

I once got to spend a school year at Pendle Hill. To me, I'd gone to Quaker Heaven; I never wanted to leave! To me, this was a rich reward--but if you'd offered this reward to many other people, they would have considered it sheer Hell!

So when God is being good to "the unworthy," they will undoubtedly get something that suits them. But being "unworthy" may entail being hard to please, perhaps being the sort of person who "would complain if you hung him with a new rope." Getting someone "unworthy" to long-term happiness might well require some short-term wretchedness. Doesn't it seem so?!

Likewise at Pendle Hill--I found growing veggies in the garden a sacred experience. But this is a far different activity than "eating bread from cursed ground by the sweat of one's brow."

Not only is Cain not a Noble Nomad (ie not living a lifestyle the author of this story may well have wanted to glorify)--but he is literally living under the terms of the curse laid on his father!

This reminds me of John Noye's precept: "If you don't get in a rut, the Devil won't know where to find you." It sounds like there's something intrinsically 'sinful' in living a boring life. Adam gets the idea of "Good and Evil," and feels unworthy, and can no longer trust God to provide--so he has to fearfully sweat for his living, and Cain is following his example. Cain's sacrifice doesn't give good results because he's stuck in a rut and afraid to let himself be led out of it! He kills his brother because of envy, and because his brother exacerbates his fear by being free of it, and because, living under the Curse, he (like his mother and his father) is inclined to seek someone else to blame for it.

The trouble with "Am I my brother's keeper?" is multiple: 1) denial of guilt, and 2) denial of any responsibility for his brother-- but above all:

3) denial that he and his brother are the same.


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