Thursday, September 29, 2022

The birth of Cain, Abel, and Theology

 Read Genesis 4

Bob Seger has a song called Night Moves.  You can guess what it’s about.  In the song, there is one line that goes like this.

Working on Mysteries without any clues.  Working on our night moves.

What’s a Bob Seger song got to do with Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden?  These first two people that we learn about, learned how to work on mysteries without any clues.  These two people made another person.

Eve noted it was with God’s help. They named the kid Cain.  I wonder if they knew they were having a baby or if Adam just thought that Eve was putting on a few pounds and knew not to say anything. 

Did they even know to start picking out names before the kid was born?  Adam had some naming experience.  He named all the animals and even gave his wife a name.  In any case, the kid was named Cain.

Sometime later, Eve gave birth to a second son and they named him Abel.

We don’t get to see the terrible twos, losing teeth, or even the preteen antics of these two boys. We see them as men—likely young men.  Cain was a farmer and Abel worked the flocks.

Cain brought an offering—a minchah (מִנְחָה)—of the fruits of the field.  Abel brought fatty portions from his flocks.  Why Abel butchered animals when it seemed that Adam and Eve were vegetarians goes unanswered.  Perhaps that prohibition was only for life in the garden.

In any case, God was pleased with Abel’s offering but not with Cain’s. Why?

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they had been told, “Don’t eat from that tree.”  They had a specific prohibition.  They had a Thou Shat Not!

We don’t see anything that precedes the offerings of the two brothers.  These were offerings, likely not sacrifices to atone for sins.  They were gifts, tributes, and presents.

One was acceptable.  One was not.  And so, begins the course of theological discourse.

Some say that Cain’s gift was too small.  That it was a token offering.  That’s possible but not directly supported.

Some say that for an offering to be acceptable, there must be the shedding of blood.  We are told that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, but the text does not say the offering—sacrifice if you will—was for atonement. Anyway, we will later see grain offerings prescribed when we get to the Law that came through Moses.

Some say that Cain’s attitude was not right.  We see his reaction to God not finding favor in his gift, but we do not see what preceded the gift.  If we give someone something that we think is wonderful and they don’t like it, we don’t always have the best attitude when our gift is rejected.

No one can argue that Cain’s reaction was contrary to the ways of God, but we don’t really know why his gift was not acceptable.

If we search our full biblical witness, we find a single verse in Hebrews that offers some light.  This epistle tells us that Abel’s offering was given in faith.  We are not told that Cain’s gift was bad, just that Abel’s was better. We had to venture a long way to find this answer and would have loved to have received this explanation or at least some explanation in the text of Genesis, but we are told in Hebrews that Abel acted in faith.

So, what prompted Cain to make an offering? Did he feel that he had to make one?  Was this an obligation or duty that Cain perceived?  Was Cain not giving cheerfully?

The Lord loves a cheerful giverDo not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. Let each person give as he has decided in his heart.

We don’t see the reason that Cain’s offering was not acceptable to the Lord in the text of Genesis.  Perhaps the story of why it was not was passed on orally for centuries only to be recorded in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews.

What we do see is Cain’s reaction to not finding favor with God through his offering.  It wasn’t pretty.  Cain killed his brother.  The term murder seems appropriate but the word used in Genesis is not the same word used in the Commandments.  It seems that this action was planned, but that is our presumption—our inference; however, we don’t see scriptural evidence of malice aforethoughtmens rea in legal terms.

Before the killing or murder of Abel, God asked Cain, why are you angry?  Why are you down and out?  If you just do what is right, everything will be good.

Adam and Eve had a single prohibitive command.  Don’t eat from that tree. They disobeyed and there were consequences. 

We don’t see any instructions for Cain or Abel about making offerings.  How did they know what would please God and what would not?

What if they didn’t know?  What if they just brought what they thought they should bring?

One offering was acceptable and one was not. The Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain's.  The scripture does not say that the Lord was angry with Cain.  His offering just fell short of what God expected.

Now think about this. What if, Cain had a teachable spirit?  What if, Cain decided to make his offering more like his brother’s? What if, Cain had tried again to please God?

Look at your life as a child, including as a young man or woman.  Did your parents prescribe everything that you were to do or not to do?

It might have seemed like it at the time, but it is more likely than not that you learned much from experience.  Trial and error has been a learning tool for a long, long time.

The story is that Thomas Edison had 1000-3000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the lightbulb.  This probably wasn’t even to invent the lightbulb but to find a filament that would not burn out too quickly.  Regardless of where you stand on Edison’s invention or refinement of the lightbulb, and who got proper credit, there was a lot of trial and error.

What if Cain, instead of deciding to be angry at God or angry at his brother, decided to try once again to please God with an offering? What if he gave it, one more try? Or two or three or a thousand more?

What if Cain’s heart was set on pleasing God and he kept on trying? But that is not the story we find in this chapter.

Cain invited his brother to go for a walk.  It would be Abel’s last walk.  Cain killed his brother. We like to say he used a rock but that does not come from scripture.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet might suggest Cain used a jawbone or this could just be a literary analogy of the first murder citing it was Cain’s jawbone.

We don’t really know what weapon Cain used.  We do get a glimpse of his heart.  When God questioned Cain, the world’s first killer or murderer seemed to have no remorse.

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

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

First Cain lied and then he gave God a little attitude.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The term murder implies that Cain invited his brother on a walk for the purpose of killing him.  We infer from the rest of the story that might be the case.

In any case, Cain got booted out of his home and went to a land called Nod.  That begs the question: “Who named this place?”

Cain took a wife and had kids.  Again, it begs the question: “Where did his wife come from?”  Did Adam have a sister wife or a side chick in Nod and had some kids over there?  Where would she have come from?

Cain is destined to be a wanderer, but he finds a place to settle down and a wife. 

This brings us to the question of how much we take literally in the creation accounts. We are told that God created humankind, male and female alike, but we are not told that he created two and only two humans.

Are Adam and Eve representative of the entire creation?  God put a whole bunch of stars into the universe at the same time.  Perhaps, he populated the earth with many humans at the same time and the story of humanity is told through Adam and Eve.

If you believe that Adam and Eve were the only two humans that God created, then Cain’s wife becomes a source of cognitive dissonance.  Remember that the creation accounts are faith statements.  God created.  God created everything good.  God created life according to its kind.  God gave commands to multiply.

Genesis—especially the creation accounts—are not science books and not a complete genealogy of every human. We do get some genealogy, but it is of those through whom the story of God’s relationship with humankind will be told.

Through this initial genealogy, we see humankind introduced to tents, tools, and music.  Ranchers join the farmers in this new world.

We also see Adam and Eve becoming great, great grandparents. One of their offspring—Lamech took two wives.  God commanded all creatures to multiply, but he told humankind to fill the earth.  Perhaps, Lamech thought he could speed up the process. 

I think that I might be getting a Nobel prize for brilliance this year.  It takes one woman nine months to have a baby, but if you took nine women and got them pregnant, on average, they would have one baby a month.  I have not yet heard from the committee concerning my Nobel Prize, but the year is not over.

In any case, Lamech doubled his efforts to populate the world.

Next, we have a confession by Lamech that he killed someone who wounded him. The term is not murder. It’s the same term as when Cain killed Abel and not the term used in the prohibitive command used in Exodus 20.  We don’t know who he killed.

The whole account is presented as a short poem.  It’s one that seems to mix a confession with a boast.  Lamech could have killed this young man in combat or it could have been a misunderstanding gone bad. 

It would be almost three thousand years before the Law given through Moses would establish sanctuary cities for those in Lamech’s situation, but Lamech seemed unconcerned about needing a place of refuge before the matter could be adjudged.  He had confessed but thought if God would avenge the murderer Cain, he would surely stand up for Lamech even more.

If you watch enough Law and Order, you know that the detectives seldom get the full story on the first go-round. Motives and circumstances change after every commercial. If you made it this far in the chapter, you probably have more questions than answers.

There is one more aspect that I mentioned only briefly.  This part of the story was presented poetically.  I doubt the scribes in Babylon thought that they would spice up the reading with some literary flair.  They likely recorded a poem that had been passed down for centuries.

Why is this of any significance?  Adam and Eve and their descendants were not cavemen.  They didn’t grunt and wave clubs to communicate.  They had tents and tools and practiced animal husbandry.  Add to that, they had a dose of poetry.  Language and literature tell us that there was an element of intelligence, maturity, and even sophistication in early humankind.

The story shifts abruptly back to Adam and Eve and we are told they had another kid.  These two are great, great, great, great, great grandparents but they are having another kid.  Imagine being 50 or 100 years old and finding out that this newborn kid is your uncle.

OBTW, the kid’s name was Seth. There will be more about Seth’s children and their children in the next chapter.

The chapter ends with the statement that people began to call on the name of the Lord. If everyone had remained in the garden, that would have been a no-brainer. But there were people to the east of the garden—in the land of Nod and surely in places all around, but they began to call upon the name of the Lord.

The story is told through a specific genealogy, but people at large began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Where have we come in this chapter?

Cain killed his brother.

Cain is exiled but not destroyed.

Cain takes a wife and has children.

His children have children.

Those children have children.

We see tents and herds and tools and music introduced to the world.

We see plural marriage.

We see the man with two wives killing a younger man.  Draw your own conclusions.

We see people calling upon the name of the Lord.

We see many aspects of the beginning of this story of God’s creation.  We probably have more questions than answers. People have multiplied, killed each other, and called upon the name of the Lord. Humankind continued to sin and some of it began to seek the Lord.  For those of you who have been through Genesis a few times, you know that there will be more sinning than seeking in what is to come.

In the next chapter, you will get a lot of names and years and then more names and more years and then more names and more years and finally, we will get to Noah.  While you are making your charts and family trees in next week’s reading, think on this from chapter 4.

What if we had a teachable spirit?

What if we had a teachable spirit?  What if when we fell short, we tried to do better?

What if we didn’t get angry with God or with our brother or our sister?  What if we just tried again to please God?

Do you remember the counsel from James?  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger can not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

What if we really did have a teachable spirit?  Could we avoid so much sin by just taking the yoke of our Master and learning from him?

Before Cain killed his brother, God gave him counsel.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

If you don’t give up, if you don’t let anger get a foothold, if you will just do what is right, everything will be just right in your relationship with God.  But if you don’t, sin is ready to take control of your heart.

What if we took God’s counsel and just learned from him instead of getting angry at God or the situation or our brothers and sisters?  What if we just tried one more time to please God?  What if it took two times or two thousand times before we gave into our frustration and anger, and surrendered to sin?

Why must we give in so quickly?

Imagine coaching a team and every time someone didn’t get something right, they became angry at you or other players.  They tried to get back at you or they hurt those players who did the drill correctly.

We expect players to be coachable.  Why are we as Christians not more teachable?

Yes, there is killing, probably murder, in this chapter, but God encouraged Cain to make another effort.  God did not disqualify Cain from anything because of his offering.  God essentially said, “Why don’t you give it another try?”

Why don’t we give it another try when we choose to be angry at God or at each other?  Why not take one more shot at pleasing God?  Maybe it will take a dozen or a hundred or a thousand tries to get it right, but why choose to be angry at God and each other instead of continuing to do our best to please God.

Read the next chapter, but think about being slow to anger and quick to trying again to please God.


Don't give sin a foothold

 Read Genesis 4

Let’s start after the offerings.  Abel’s brought him favor.  Cain’s was less.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Let’s focus on this part: “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

We are charged to be masters over sin.  Paul wrote :

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

From the beginning, humankind had to deal with sin and we are charged to be masters over sin.  Sin is present and powerful but we are to be more powerful.

It sounds like we are to be stronger than sin.  It sounds like this is all on us.  It sounds like we had better use our own understanding if we want to rule over sin.

But God told Cain to just do what is right.  Just do what God expects of us.  We are of the earth.  We are of God.  We struggle, but we can trust the Lord and do what he tells us to do.

Sometimes we have to figure out what pleases God, but we should not get angry and let sin take over when we don’t get it right on the first attempt.

We must be alert, on our guard, and ready at all times because sin lurks nearby waiting for its opportunity.  The more we do things God’s way, the fewer opportunities sin has to make its move.

Sin uses terrorist tactics.  It wants to attack the least defended target that gives it the highest payoff.  If we are focused on doing things God’s way, we are not a prime target.  The Devil and evil would love to bring us down, but when we live to please the Lord, our defenses are strong. Evil wants to bring us down because we are bringing light and love to the world, but our defenses are sound when we remain in the Lord.

Our downfall comes when we think, “I’ve got this.”  When we forget that we are incomplete without God.  When we try to do anything or everything without yielding to the Spirit that lives within us.

Our human nature wants us to be masters of our lives.  That sounds like a good thing.  It sounds like many earthly religions, but we have one Master and it is the Lord.

We are to be masters over our money, our resources, and other things that are part of our lives, but Jesus is our Master. The Spirit is our Counselor and Helper.  We don’t do anything on our own without risking giving sin a foothold in our hubris.

God told Cain to give it another try, but Cain was angry and discouraged.  Cain gave sin a foothold. This might have been a different story if Cain invited his brother to go for a walk and talk about what it was to please the Lord.

We are told to seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness before all things.  Do we always do this? That’s a rhetorical question.  I don’t know anyone who is batting 100%.

It seems that we make exceptions to what God has commanded.  It seems that we all have reasons or excuses as to why God’s way doesn’t work. All of us have something that we consider unique.  We think our situation is different. We know that our case has to be the exception to the rule.

 It seems that we are sometimes quick to anger, despite the counsel to the contrary. Our own understanding leads us to anger and gives sin a foothold.

Sometimes we wonder why we are not at peace when we don’t do things God’s way.  Why won’t God get in step with what I know that I need—with my desires.

God knows your desires and needs and struggles and he knows what is best for you, even when you think otherwise.  Yes, it’s more trust in the Lord over our own understanding, and it won’t be the last time you get that.

There were consequences for Cain, but God did not disown him. There are consequences for us, but God does not disown us.

But there are blessings and peace when we just do our best to please God and set our selfishness and anger aside when we don’t hit the target the first time.

When we let anger take hold, we give sin a foothold.  When we give sin a foothold, we are on the defensive. 

Marines are taught to kill with pistols, knives, entrenching tools, and anything in arm’s reach, as well as with their bare hands.  They are also trained to hit a man-sized target at 500 yards.  While they are ready to fight hand-to-hand, destroying your enemy at 500 yards is much preferred.

You usually get more medals for hand-to-hand combat, but your battles are better won at 500 yards. Your battles are better won where the enemy never has a chance to get a foothold.

Don’t give sin a foothold.  Don’t let it in close.  Let the Lord fight for you.  Trust him. Obey him. Have faith in him. Keep trying to please him, even when you don’t get it right the first time.