Cain and Abel (3)


The First Mourning (Adam and Eve mourn the death of Abel); oil on canvas 1888 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Exposition (continued)

Genesis 4:8-16

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Consider the magnitude of contempt for the LORD that is packed inside of Cain’s response. Cain has just assumed the right to destroy Abel, a being of the highest value to the LORD. Is not this the ultimate position of responsibility that one human can assume over another? And yet, Cain not only lies about Abel’s disposition, but also throws this defiant challenge back at the LORD, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What possible madness could possess a man to address the LORD God so? How could the LORD God allow a mortal to so address Him and not be made such an example that none would ever dare to do so again?

10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Listen deeply to the LORD’s words, “”What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Is there not the sense of a grieving parent in these anguished words? It is as if the LORD is looking past Cain’s contempt and into the abyss of sin that has just been opened wider and sunk deeper by Cain’s act.

13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

So, we have our answer. In response to Cain’s acts of murder and contempt the LORD renders a punishment that has within it the provision of mercy. This is far short of a grisly example that would have echoed down the ages of man. To understand why this is so is to begin to understand what sets this LORD God apart from the multitude of gods who have competed, and still compete, for man’s allegiance.


Cain and Abel (1)

Giovanni Domenico Ferretti, Cain and Abel, 1740

Giovanni Domenico Ferretti, Cain and Abel, 1740

Opening Thoughts

The story of Cain and Abel proceeds on two dimensions – horizontal between the brothers and vertical between the brothers and the LORD. The horizontal dimension is all tragedy. That is, it tells of the victory of anger and violence over righteousness. The vertical dimension is tragedy redeemed by an unexpected mercy that foreshadows future depths of humility and suffering by the LORD God that will break wide-open humanity’s heart of stone.


Genesis 4:1-5

1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Eve gives glory to God for blessing her with this awesome gift of procreation. Note though that Adam is entirely out of the picture. At the Fall Adam blamed Eve for his failure. Is this a continuation of the estrangement between the sexes that exists to this day?

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

We see here the beginnings of worship and immediately with it the concept of right and wrong worship. We would do well to consider the implications of this passage with the greatest of seriousness.

So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has taught that this is the point at which Cain first murdered his brother.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Matthew 5:21

We should not be surprised that the prototypical act of murder in humanity’s misty beginnings falls exactly into the teaching of humanity’s perfect Redeemer.

For my part, this passage makes me fear to drive. Why is the temptation to say, “You fool!” (and  worse) so magnified when behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? May I, may we, be so captivated by Christ’s spirit that to utter such words, even on the roads, is not in our hearts.