Focal Passage: Genesis 4:1-16, 25-26
The well-known account of Cain and Abel continues the biblical account of sin and its consequences upon humanity in its personal and spiritual relationships. Many cultures identify themselves historically in this tale of jealousy and murder. For example, in Rwanda and Burundi there are those who identify the primordial brothers as Tutsi (pastoral) and Hutu (agricultural) locked in eternal animosity and rivalry. In fact, the author was once told during the time of the Rwanda genocide that Tutsis could never be saved because reception of salvation required repentance and a Tutsi would never admit they were wrong.
Instead, the account is a picture of a culture that devalues life. Interestingly this “murder” occurs in the context of religious expression. The text states that both brothers respond to the Lord by presenting gifts (minha — a gift of homage or allegiance) from their labors — Cain’s fruit of the ground and Abel’s firstborn and fat portions. The Lord’s responses to the gifts were not over whether the particular offering was “blood” related or not, but over the individual’s heart attitude (In Deuteronomy 8 and following we discover that God has room for both). From the text, we find that Cain’s attitude is one of arrogance and deceit (1 John 3:12). There is a play on images in the Hebrew text in which Cain’s face portrays a frown and the Lord offers to lift it up or smile. Cain’s face gives him away and rather than discipline him, the Lord offers restoration if he would only experience a change of heart- like a loving father, the Lord points to his child a way out of danger. With verse seven, the reader and Cain are forced to recognize personal responsibility to actions of sin or the mastery of those acts.
Sadly, though temporarily oscillating between accepting or defying God’s remonstrance (D. Kidner), Cain cold-bloodedly murders his brother. As in the garden after the first act of disobedience, God appears immediately. Rather than “Where are you?” he asks, “Where is your brother?” Once more God offers repentance, but the violator responds “Am I responsible for my brother?” His lie is betrayed by the shout of his brother’s blood crying out from the ground. “What have you done?” and the hardened, impenitent heart discovers that “to destroy life goes far beyond man’s proper sphere” (Gerhard von Rad).
Thus, judgment must be more terrible because sacred life itself has been violated.
But, the last word is not Cain’s. He may protest the curse, but the Lord covenants with Cain His personal protection becoming His go’el (though separated from God remains under His salvific protection). Though the Lord is concerned with the innocent, He is also deeply concerned with the sinner.
The last word is not a tragic shedding of innocent blood. Instead, with the birth of another son, Seth, it is the buoyant shoot of spiritual growth as it begins to break forth and “people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”