Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 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.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” – The muttered cry was drowned By Abel’s life-blood shouting In silence from the ground For no man is an island Divided from the main, The bell which tolled for Abel Tolled equally for Cain.
John Ferguson (R&S 609)
I have often said that the Old Testament legends are not to be treated as history but to tell us about God, our relationship with God and with each other. However the story of Cain and Abel, in the form we have it, does not fit in with this interpretation as we are not told why God had no regard for Cain’s offering but seems to be capricious in a way that does not complement other records of God’s actions. Perhaps Cain’s offering was not from the best of his crops but what our local supermarket labels as “wonky” – we do not know.
But it is clear that Cain was incensed and picked a fight with his brother; Abel’s death may not have been intended but was the unintended consequence of impetuous and ill-considered sibling rivalry. This story certainly tells us about our relationships with others, and not just those in our immediate family. Helpfully and pertinently John Ferguson melds John Donne’s verse with his own.
It is all too easy to react rashly when we feel aggrieved or provoked and say or do something which makes a difficult situation worse, sometimes with dreadful consequences.
Yet each man kills the thing he loves, By each let this be heard, Some do it with a bitter look, Some with a flattering word, The coward does it with a kiss, The brave man with a sword!
Oscar Wilde (The Ballad of Reading Gaol)
Gracious God: we pray for protection and strength so that when we are upset, angry or provoked we may be able to think clearly, speak wisely and act in ways that build up and repair rather than break down and shatter our relationships with others.
Seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit we pray in the name of Jesus: Amen
The Rev’d Julian Macro, Retired Minister, Member Verwood United Reformed Church
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