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Keeping my brother?
Cain and Abel
The Story so far
Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, yet God hasn't totally abandoned them and it seems that at times he does come down to visit them, or at least he makes his presence known to them.
We're not sure how much time passes (the Bible isn't really interested in telling us how long it was) but by now Adam and Eve have children, two brothers will play a prominent role in the next story for very different reasons, one as the victim and the other as the culprit.
Cain is the older of the two, he's a farmer, he's learned to grow plants and crops. By the sweat of his brow the earth yields it's produce just as God said it would be. Abel on the other hand is a shepherd, caring for the livestock that the family need to live.
Both brothers decide to bring God an offering. Abel brings a lamb to be offered as a sacrifice and Cain brings some of the produce but a strange thing happens, you see God accepts Abel's offering, but he rejects Cains, why is that?
What was so special about the one offering that it was accepted and the other so mundane that it was rejected, was God really so mean as to accept one above the other?
The first real argument
Who were they?
Two people we often think we know, but do we really? I mean the Bible actually tells us very little about these two brothers.
Genesis chapter 4 shows us that they were born after Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden. Cain was the firstborn and Eve gives him his name. Cain's name has meaning and its likely that it had a significant meaning to Adam and Eve as well as to the first listeners to the story. In ancient times you didn't waste things like the naming of a child (even in a Historical record) because it could carry the meaning of what you were trying to get across over much more powerfully than just telling the story.
'Acquired' Eve said "I have acquired a child from the LORD"
Meaning and origins of the name
Not surprisingly the name is older than the Hebrew language. Hebrew as a language didn't really start to form until about 1,500 BC (it may have been around before then but was developing and just like the English of 900 years ago we wouldn't recognize it if we heard it)
Ever tried to read the King James Bible in it's original 1611 English. I assure you that you haven't and unless you really worked hard 99% of us wouldn't be able to. You see languages develop over the centuries and sometimes change.
The name Cain comes not from Hebrew but from ancient Akkadian (southern Iraq) and Ugaritic (Northern Syria) and predates Hebrew by at least 2,000 to 3,000 years.
Akkadian and Ugaritic are the oldest languages known to have been written that have been deciphered and date to around 3,500 to 4,000 BC. The name Cain goes right back to the formation of those two languages and even then had the meaning of an acquisition but also has the inference of creating something or someone. Did Eve see this as the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise to send them someone who would break the curse they were under? (Genesis 3 verse 15)
The 'Other son'
It's interesting that Genesis simply says about Abel that Eve had another son and doesn't really tell us the meaning of his name! Abel isn't the focus of the story, Cain is!
It seems that 'Abel' literally means 'sorrow' or 'transitory' and some have actually suggested that the name 'Abel' was the name Adam and Eve gave him after the event to remind themselves of how brief his life was, a life cut short by the event which he's remembered for HIS MURDER.
The events of both Cain and Abel's lives are brief and to the point. What they did before the event aren't really important to the story. Just the fact that the one time we hear of them offering a gift to God one is accepted and one is rejected. I don't want to dwell too much on why Abel's offering was accepted and Cain's wasn't (we're not really told) though it seems that Abel offered the best he had where Cain simply gave a little from his surplus!
Am I my brother's keeper?
Watch the video
This video is done by the Hebrew University and gives us a Jewish perspective on what was going on with the brothers. Some of the things that they mention are not taken from the Bible but from the Midrash (the writings of the Ancient Rabbis) which can be very interesting.
One accepted and one rejected
Abel's offering is accepted but Cain is left standing there as his offering is rejected, not only that but God actually makes it clear that not only his offering but he is rejected!
One thing leads to another and soon Cain is so angry (probably with God but how can you argue with the Almighty?) he takes his anger out on the one innocent person that he can show his anger to, he kills his own brother!
How old is the story?
Scholars have debated how old the book of Genesis really is. Some who believe that the ancient Hebrews were largely illiterate shepherds claim that the book was originally two or three sources (The J.E.D.P theory known as the documentary hypothesis) that was finally compiled during the Babylonian Exile (590 BC to 520 BC)
One of the arguments for the theory is the presence of Babylonian 'loan words' in the text that they make a big thing over. Two of these loan words are here in this story.
It's claimed that the name Cain is actually from a Babylonian word but as we have seen the word is actually much older and goes back to Akkadian (known as Old Babylonian) and possibly even to Sumerian.
Every so often in the Bible we come across a word that isn't Hebrew in it's origin and takes us right back to the beginning of time itself in it's origins. The name for Cain is one of those words! (is this a hint of the language from before the Tower of Babel, we'll meet this phenomena again in the story of Noah's Ark but until then I should stay quiet)
The word used here is actually the name of a Babylonian demon! Sin is personified here and we're given a picture of what sin does, it crouches at our door waiting to devour us if we let it in!
These two words aren't evidence so much of a late origin of Genesis as evidence that the book is much older than we realize and may actually have started it's existence not as the writings of a prophet some hundreds of years later but as records of events that took place much nearer the time and written or carved on clay tablets by the people to whom they happened! We'll explore this more in other hubs, but think on the idea that we might actually be reading notes about their dealings with God that were made by people like Noah or even earlier and here is a snippet of the evidence that is sprinkled through the book.
A message for today?
I think the story of Cain and Abel is a message for us today. Two brothers bringing their worship to God, one can be accepted and the other can't, why is that?
Abel brought the best that he had, the idea that his was accepted because it was a blood sacrifice isn't really the point of the story. Abel brought the best, most perfect lamb from his flock.
I just wonder, as he was preparing the offering, did he pause as he made his way to where they were making the offering (we presume Cain and Abel were together and made the offering together) and think of all the smiles the lamb had brought playing in the fields, getting stuck in mud, chasing round the meadow, or what about the sleepless nights when the ewes were lambing and Abel had stayed with them to make sure everything was OK. Abel's sacrifice was the best he could find and that lamb had cost him something, be it time and effort in getting the flock into such good condition, and here he was giving back a life to the creator. Knowing that the lamb was never his to keep.
Cain, on the other hand had worked the land and had seen it produce. His sacrifice had cost as well, but there was a difference, his wasn't the best of the land but just some of what he'd grown. Almost as if it was just the leftovers (maybe not quite that but you get the picture) Cain just thought that he'd give out of what he had! after all, it was his to give right?
'Your brother's blood calls out to me from the Earth'
What God tells Cain and us
To me, the message is clear from God's reply. We are our brother's keeper. Man was put on the Earth not only to tend and care for the Planet but also to care for each and every other man and woman in creation.
It was Cain's greed that caused the problem (he wanted to keep the best for himself). it was his anger that fueled the rage that killed Abel but it was his pride that got in the way of admitting what he'd done was wrong that caused him banishment and wandering.
Our greed causes us to hoard our precious resources. It's long been recognized that the next major war won't be over religion (actually most of the wars that religion got the blame for have been masked over and they were usually about greed or pride but religion got the blame as no one wants to admit they're wrong!). It'll be over water!
Then there's Oil, how many wars have been over that?
Once the greed has gotten hold it's our anger that causes us to lash out! How many domestic incidents happen through anger? and Pride stops us admitting the problem.
But it doesn't end there. Being our brother's keeper (and sister's) means we are called to do something about it.
Our Brother's keeper
Do they know it's Christmas?
What about you?
I know there are times when I'm just like Cain, my greed gets in the way, it leads to anger and eventually my pride tries to hide the reality of what I did or didn't do. But it doesn't need to end there. We can know forgiveness through Jesus Christ and we can once again walk with God in the way we used to. All we have to do is ask him for forgiveness.
Today God is looking for those who will stand up and say "I am my brother's keeper" and I want to be involved in helping him (or her) wherever they are! Are you one of those?