July 13, 2014: Could you murder your brother?

Posted on : Jul 10th, 2014 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

This week we move into the 4th chapter of Genesis and we meet “the First Family.” In this story, Adam and Eve are presented as the first family of faith. They get together and have kids, two boys. The oldest was named Cain, the younger, Abel.

This story is really bizarre. It pits two different traditions of the Hebrew patriarchal culture against each other. The first is the sacred spot of the first born son (male). In the Hebrew tradition of the time, the first born male was the most important person in the family. He inherited most everything, regardless of how many sons there were. Women could not inherit in this time in history, only men could. Thus, first born sons became the father’s (but not always the mother’s!) “favorites.”

This tension emerges in a later story in Genesis in which a second born son, Jacob, steals his brother’s birthright. The two were twins, but Esau was born first, so he was his father’s favorite. A similar family conflict arises even later in Genesis where Joseph (brother # 11 but first born son of Jacob’s second wife) threatens the family hierarchy, so Joseph’s brothers try to kill him.

The other tension in this story shows that it was actually written much later in history that it appears, and that is the huge tension between farmers and semi-nomads (shepherds). These two occupations represent two very different ways of life and two different “nations” of people who were each hated by the other.

The story has the two sons of Adam and Eve representing the two conflicting occupations. Cain, the oldest son, was a farmer. Abel the younger brother was a shepherd. As was tradition each brought an offering to God. Cain brought the best of his fields. Abel brought one of the finest of the firstborn of his flock. The next part of the story is not the wisest decision God ever makes, but, as the story goes, “God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s offering.” Want to guess which “profession” the author of this story favors?

Now comes the horrible part:

Cain was filled with rage and despair. Our God asked Cain, “Why are you filled with rage? Why are you downcast? If you intended good, you can hold up your head; if you don’t intend good, then sin is a demon haunting your doorway and it wants you – but you can conquer it.”

Cain said to Abel, “Let’s go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain turned on his brother Abel and killed him.

God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

Cain answered, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

In the larger scheme of this story, the issue presented is, as God’s people on earth, how do we live with each other, especially when there is great disagreement about the birth order, birth place and value of each other?

There is no better example of the message of this story than the immigration debate happening today in our country. “Illegal vs. legal” is the same thing as “famer vs. shepherd” in this story. Cain says, “It’s not my problem! Am I my brother or sister’s keeper? Send them home, even if they get killed!”

There is a rabbinic story that sheds some light on the meaning of this text.

A rabbi once asked his students how one knows when night has ended and the day has come.

One student said, “Is it when you can tell a palm tree from a fig tree?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

Another ventured, “Could it be when you can tell a sheep from a goat?”

“No,” replied the rabbi.

A third student said, It’s when you can tell a rabbit from a dog?

“No,” said the rabbi.

The students were confused and demanded an answer.

So the rabbi said, “It is daylight when you can look into the face of another human being and recognize that he or she is your brother or sister. Until then,” he said, “it is night.”

God Bless!

Dan

 

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Genesis 4:1-16

Adam and Eve knew each other, and Eve conceived and gave birth to Cain. “With the help of Our God,” she said “I have gotten a child.” She also gave birth to a second child, his brother Abel.

Now Abel became a shepherd, and kept flocks, but Cain tilled the soil. In the course of time Cain brought an offering to our God from the fruit of the soil, while Abel, for his part, brought one of the finest of the firstborn of his flock. Our God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s offering.

At this, Cain was filled with rage and despair. Our God asked Cain, “Why are you filled with rage? Why are you downcast? If you intended good, you can hold up your head; if you don’t intend good, then sin is a demon haunting your doorway and it wants you – but you can conquer it.”

Cain said to Abel, “Let’s go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain turned on his brother Abel and killed him.

God asked Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”

Cain answered, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God said to Cain, “What have you done? Listen! I hear Abel’s blood crying to me from the earth! You will be cursed by the earth, which opened its mouth to receive Abel’s blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it will no longer give you its produce. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain answered, “This punishment is too great to bear! Since you have banished me from the soil – since I must leave your presence to be a restless wanderer on the earth – anyone I encounter can kill me!”

“No!” said our God. “Whoever kills Cain will face sevenfold vengeance!” Then our God put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came across him would kill him. Cain left God’s presence, and settled in the land of Nod – “wandering” – which is east of Eden.

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