Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
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.