Moving on - the consequences of "the fall" are inescapable when we look at the history of "civilized" man. The story of Cain and Abel reveals to us the broader consequences of man's fall as they extend beyond the lives of the perpetrators into the lives of their children (all of us). Cain and Abel represent two ancient modes of life - the shepherd's and the farmer's. Both are already in the practice of relating to God through the giving of gifts, offerings or sacrifices. Why this mode of relating to the creator is adopted is not explained. It is simply assumed.

The two first children of "the woman" are Cain and Abel, a tiller of the ground (now cursed) and a tender of sheep (4:2). We see them here offering the work of their hands to the Lord. Cain gives offerings from his labors - fruit of the soil, and Abel from his labors, "the first-born of his flock" (4:4). We are not told, nor is Cain why his offerings are found less pleasing (4:6). Perhaps God favors offerings that are "living" over those from the soil and the wits of men. Perhaps it is because the soil is weighed down with the curse He placed on it in Gen. 3:17. God will favor shepherds throughout His story and also will favor the "younger" sibling over the older. But we may also perhaps assume that there is something awry in the heart of Cain, something only God can discern but which makes all the difference between them. God's displeasure with Cain enrages Cain and the jealousy he feels leads directly to his act of violence against his brother. The soil--cursed along with Adam--is Cain's medium. He will further debase it by pouring his brother's blood out on it. We see in his violence and violation of family love the furthest consequences of the alienation which Adam and Eve initiated.

God's words to Cain - ". . . is not sin at the door like a crouching beast?" - are, I think true of all men in the fall. But God tells Cain he must "master" it (4:8), and so must we. We can do this. The warning comes before Cain's act. There are some fascinating details in this story when God confronts Cain with what he has done: God tells him his brother's blood calls out to Him (4:10). God does not kill Cain (no capital punishment here - yet) but bans Cain from the soil, which is what he takes his living from, and forces him to be a wanderer, thus deepening the alienation and exile imposed by the first fall. Whereas the soil for Adam was cursed, for Cain it will yield nothing. He is exiled from it completely and must live from his "technologies" alone. He will be a fugitive and a wanderer, belonging to no real community, yet still alive. This is the completion of that spiritual death begun by his parents. Cain will be the founder of a "city". This adds a sociological dimension to the fall narrative. Then the text traces the descent from Cain and goes on to tell of the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve, a boy that will take the place of Abel in the family. 

The sin of Cain ramps up the tension in the narrative, a tension that was introduced by the fall. For George Fox, the key wisdom to be taken from the narrative was to see the "state" of Cain as a "state" we too must struggle with (Journal 30). But other details of the story intrigue me as well.


Views: 153

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 28, 2011 at 11:56am
Has Cain been "cursed"? Or has Cain just become the founder of the ruling predator, kleptocratic class that plagues us to this day? And is membership in this class a sort of unrecognized, seemingly-benign 'curse'-- alienating people from the rest of humanity, 'protecting' them from seeing their need to rely on God?
Comment by Rickey D. Whetstone on 4th mo. 28, 2011 at 9:02pm
I agree with Forest.  God does not curse anyone or anything.  God is warning Cain about the road he is walking on.
Comment by Tom Smith on 4th mo. 28, 2011 at 10:48pm
The question God asks is, for me, the crux of the story. "Where is your brother?" As with the question asked of Adam and Eve "Where are you?" it seems obvious that it was believed that God knew the answer but was making a point. The parallel with Jesus' answer to which is the greatest commandment echoes these two great questions. We are to know where we are with relation to God, "Love the Lord thy God," and where we are with regard to our "brother" "Love thy neighbor." The relationship to God in knowing what is "the knowledge of Good and Evil" and knowing what the Lord requires with respect to our own toil is based in sacrifice in the Old Testament and Love in the New.
Comment by jp on 5th mo. 6, 2011 at 10:04am
Does God truly curse people/things? There is a trilogy of books by Sholem Asch, a Jewish author/dramatist), where the author brings his perspective to the life of Jesus, mother Mary, and Apostle Paul. In the first he includes a scene from Jesus's boyhood, where he is out in the fields with his father, Joseph; they are laboring to remove a big stump whose wood can be used in the carpentry shop. After hours of work under a hot sun, they wrest the stump out of the soil and rest for a few minutes. Young Jesus laughs with success, and says to Joseph something about how wonderful is the blessing that God gave Man, to work by the sweat of his brow. Joseph corrects his son, reminding him that this was a "curse." Young Jesus replies something to the effect that God, the best of Fathers, could never REALLY curse his children, but always hid a blessing instead.

I don't know if that is true, but it captured my imagination all those years ago and I still ponder the possibility. And I love the idea.

Any ideas what "east" symbolizes? When Adam and Eve are driven out of the garden, they are pushed out to the East, and that angel with the "flaming sword" (a term used by George Fox) guarded the entrance. After Cain received his mark (any idea what that was? I sure know what is ISN'T ...) he begins his city "east of Eden."

Mastering sin: what a key idea! This could, in fact, be the theme of the entire Scriptures, from Hebrew bible through the Christian books. Paul will argue that all the centuries of Judaic ritual we never and could be never enough to stop sin; the writer of Hebrews will argue that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. The Christian claim is that Jesus came to break the power of sin once and for all, and I think this is also what George Fox and the early Quakers insist -- and that it isn't accomplished by ritual or right theology, and it will require going up through a flaming sword.

And I feel like I am treading on holy ground, not sure whereof I speak (well,"write," anyway). I am not sinless. But my deep desire is to, as Tom reminds me, love God and love my neighbor; to tell God, "Here I am," and "my brother and sister are safe with me."
Comment by Irene Lape on 5th mo. 7, 2011 at 5:40am
I don't think I meant in my post that God cursed Cain or Abel but rather "the ground." But there is a penalty for everyone in the story. The woman suffers the pains of childbirth, she is tied in an unequal yoke with her husband. She will yearn for that unity promised with man, but he will "lord it over her." Man is burdened with the difficulties of eking an existence our of the soil yet his labors will be fill with a sense of futility, for "you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return" (3:19). Everything seems surrounded by a frustrating sense that our human lives are not "up to what they were meant to be." I don't really see any reference to any particular class of men, but certainly the city dwellers among us, the ones who rely on their human "wits" to create a living seem to be less favored in the narrative.
Comment by Tom Smith on 5th mo. 7, 2011 at 8:32am

In speculating on "east," it might seem reasonable to set this in context with the Abrahamic covenant that the "writers" would be very cognizant of. Abraham basically went west from the area often alluded to and thus Cain would have been "driven" in the opposite direction?

Maybe it was just a foreshadowing of the classic "East of Eden?" (TIC-tongue in cheek)


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