20 April 2012
Family Feuds: Cain and Abel
By Kristina EmmonsKristina Emmons lives in greater Seattle, WA with her husband and two children. She hopes to convey a sense of community and justice through her writing.
The story of brothers Cain and Abel is legendary as the tale of the first recorded murder, and it was brought about by sibling rivalry. Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve after their unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden. Prior to that life was pretty simple. They had only to take care of the food trees in the garden, which appears to have been light labor since a river watered the garden for them, and there is no record of hardship or suffering. God walked with them daily in the garden.
After Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there came a separation between God and man. They could no longer have free access to him, and there were other consequences. One was that the ground would be hard to till instead of giving yield easily as it had before. Child-bearing would be painful and eventually death would come. Death is always the consequence of sin, according to the Bible. In all, the separation from God meant life would contain plenty of hardship. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden and they started a new way of life: toiling to survive. This leads to Cain and Abel. The story can be read in Genesis 4:2-16 in the Bible.
It opens that Abel kept flocks as a shepherd and Cain worked the soil. Now that the land was hard to work, we can imagine Cain put plenty of effort into growing food. Naturally he must have been proud of his accomplishments; he might have even felt what he did was more worthy of approval than herding animals like Abel. In any case, when making an offering to God Cain offered from his crops and God did not look favorably on the offering, but Abel’s offering from the first of his new flock was accepted. There was jealousy directed at Abel afterwards. I wonder if Cain had a textbook sibling rivalry thought, ‘He always gets it easy! Everything he does gets rewarded but I’m always being shafted!’
God even spoke to Cain, asking why he was angry. He told him it was his own fault for not doing right and we warned him not to give in to sin but to have power over it. By this I can only assume God referred to the boiling anger within that had the potential to get the best of Cain. He must not have listened because later Cain led Abel into a field and attacked and killed him.
God said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” and Cain replied, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?”
God replies, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” He proclaims Cain is now under a curse, that even if he works the ground he won’t be able to get anything to grow because it swallowed up his brother’s blood. He was to be a restless wanderer from that point on and he basically had to leave where he lived. He feared he will be killed by anyone he would come across but God said he would spare him from that.
There aren’t listed how many other children were born after Cain and Abel or how old they were but we can assume by Cain’s fear of being killed that there were a significant amount of people born by this point (after all, the Bible states a little later that Adam lived over 900 years! Human lifespan was later cut significantly). Cain and Abel couldn’t have been very young and they had a history, likely a competitive one.
Going back to what might have been unacceptable about Cain’s offering to God; it was customary to give thanks offerings with the very best of the first of the flocks and crops. There were also sin offerings with strict rules as to the animal, often a lamb, which had to be unblemished and a first born. The shed blood was to be a temporary payment for sin and a painful reminder that sin has terrible consequences. With Adam and Eve, God made them clothing from animal skins before leaving the garden, another instance of shed blood after wrongdoing. Quoting Hebrews 9:22: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Such offerings took place in designated Jewish temples until the last temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but Christians believe Jesus’ crucifixion constituted the final sacrificial sin offering for humanity as the Lamb of God.
All that said, we don’t know if Cain was making a sin offering without an animal or if perhaps it was a stingy thanksgiving offering made up of inferior produce. Either way Abel had nothing to do with it but Cain still killed him, probably as a result of many years of pent up jealousy and/or hatred. Becoming a restless wanderer afterward likely meant Cain was at the mercy of others for the rest of his life.
Fitting after he’d been so merciless with his brother.