Thursday, January 5, 2012

Genesis Chapter 4: Cain and Abel

The fourth chapter of Genesis concerns the first male children of Adam and Eve, the first murder, and the first few generations. In verse one, Eve says, “With the help of the Lord, I have produced a man.” This shows that her faith has remained in God and she acknowledges the precious gift of children and gives God the credit for it.

The boys grow to manhood and we can assume they were taught how to worship God as they both made sacrifices to the Lord. It is unknown how ritual sacrifices began, but it was done to atone for their sins. Cain brought the “fruits of the soil” or the Hebrew word minchah. This means an offering of fine flour, with oil, and frankincense. This shows that Cain did not take the sin sacrifice seriously as he brought dead things. Abel brought the best of his flock and offered a blood sacrifice as an offering of atonement. This was a living, blood sacrifice and shows Abel’s faith in God. Cain is angry that his brother’s sacrifice is greater than his own and feel’s resentment against Abel. There is “no spirit of inquiry, self-examination, prayer to God for light, or pardon.” (Barne’s Notes on the Bible)

God then asks Cain, “why are you wroth (angry)?” God did this not out of ignorance, but as a call to repentance. Again this shows God’s Prevenient Grace, as He initiates the contact, not man.

God warns Cain to do what is right and that sin is “crouching at your door.” This is all explained as “Cain’s fault now was not bringing a Sin-offering when his brother brought one, and his neglect and contempt caused his other offering to be rejected. However, God now graciously informs him that, though he had miscarried, his case was not yet desperate, as the means of faith” were still in his power. (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible)

However, Cain rejected the means of grace and instead led his brother into a field and murdered him. It is interesting that in the original ancient texts there is a mark here indicating more to the story. I researched Jewish Rabbinical theories on Genesis and learned about what is called a Midrash. A midrash is generally defined as a process of interpretation by which Rabbis filled in “gaps” found in the Torah. It is a series of writings and studies that seeks to answer the questions people may have on the why and how of things that occurred in the Torah. I find these to be fascinating as it helps us understand the Jewish thoughts and ideas of the ancient texts and this would be some of the same ways that Jesus would have studied the Torah as a Jewish Rabbi of the times.

The following was written by Rabbi Iscah Waldman, director of education and family programming at Ansche Chesed in New York City and come from the website

If we look beyond Breishit Rabbah, we find many more rabbinic responses to this story. In Midrash Tanhuma, a compilation completed between 300 and 500 years after Breishit Rabbah, another aspect of the reasons for violence between brothers is explored.The Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" and he said, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper? (ha-shomer achi anokhi?)" (Genesis 4:9-10)

A parable: To what is this similar? To a thief who stole things in the night and was not caught. In the morning the gatekeeper caught him. He said to the thief, "Why did you steal those things?" He said, "I am a thief and I didn't let down my profession, but you, your profession is to guard the gate, why did you let down your profession? And now you ask me this?"
And this is what Cain said (to God): "I killed him [because] you created in me the evil inclination. But You--You are the keeper (haShomer) of all things, why did you allow me to kill him? You are the one who killed him--You who are called I (Anokhi), for if you had accepted my sacrifice as you did his, I wouldn't have been jealous of him!" (Tanhuma Bereishit).
Here, the biblical retort in which Cain asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" has been turned on its head. The word in the text is Anokhi, a somewhat uncommon form of the word meaning 'I,' which is, strikingly, also used at the beginning of the 10 commandments, as in, "I am the Lord your God…."

I believe it is supremely important that we study the Old Testament understanding the Jewish teachings and Jewish thought. In my opinion one of the biggest mistakes we make when reading the Old Testament is reading it from a thoroughly western, Latin-Greek thought process and taking each story fully literally as A leads to B leads to C. Some of the stories are historical, some are allegory, some are parables, but all are important to understand the will of God.

God curses Cain and he is forced to leave home and to wander the world. Cain is not sorry and does not repent of the sin of murder, in fact his response shows his pride and unbelief that he had done anything wrong. He blames god, and complains “not about his sin, but of his punishment.” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary) Cain is not concerned about his family, but that someone will seek revenge on him for the murder. Again God shows grace and states that anyone who kills Cain would suffer vengeance seven times over.

The rest of the chapter is a quick genealogy of the descendants of Adam and Eve. Lamech, one of Cain’s descendents boasts of killing a man who had injured him. Lamech boasts that if Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then his was seventy-sevenfold. This shows his own pride, and he mocks God! He seems to “abuse the patience of God in sparing Cain” in making others believe that you may sin and go unpunished.

My thoughts:
I am very interested in the Midrash by the early Rabbis and think it is important to understand Jewish thought, traditions, and teachings.

God is always seeking man and His grace is always present, even when we turn against Him.

God Bless

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