1 The man Adam knew his wife Eve intimately. She became pregnant and gave birth to Cain, and said, “I have given life to a man with the LORD’s help.” 2 She gave birth a second time to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel cared for the flocks, and Cain farmed the fertile land.
3 Some time later, Cain presented an offering to the LORD from the land’s crops 4 while Abel presented his flock’s oldest offspring with their fat. The LORD looked favorably on Abel and his sacrifice 5 but didn’t look favorably on Cain and his sacrifice. Cain became very angry and looked resentful. 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? 7 If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be waiting at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
Cain said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”
10 The LORD said, “What did you do? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”
Once sin came into the world, the primeval story said, things went downhill rapidly. Eve had two sons, but all too soon, one of them lay dead, and the other had his brother’s blood on his hands. Devotion to God and devotion to God’s people were central values during this period. We sometimes get stuck asking “why” God looked favorably on Abel’s sacrifice. The author(s) of Genesis did not say. Their focus was on Cain’s rebellious response to the Creator.
God, help me hear your call to look out for my brothers and sisters. Keep me growing into a healing force in this world. Amen.
I’ve long been a fan of the murder mystery genre, like those written by Agatha Christie. I enjoy trying to decipher the clues, avoiding the red herrings, and attempting to guess the culprit’s identity before the “big reveal.” Since the list of potential suspects for today’s homicide is rather limited, it doesn’t offer much of a “Whodunit” type of challenge. (Suffice to say, Cain & Abel wouldn’t offer the best testimonials for Ancestry.com.) So, let’s critique today’s murder mystery.
Why do Cain & Abel bring an offering to God? Were they instructed to do so or did they feel compelled to do so as a natural response to God’s blessing? The Scripture doesn’t tell us. The prologue to our mystery is definitely lacking.
Cain offers God some of his first fruits. Abel brings the fat portions of some of his flock. Absent any of God’s instructions, both seem to be appropriate sacrifices. We know of many Old Testament celebrations that included harvest offerings & the offerings at the Temple included blood sacrifices. Yet, God looks favorably on Abel’s offering, but does not approve Cain’s offering. Why? The Scripture doesn’t tell us. Not much plot development
Aside: An old preacher was rather sympathetic of Cain, saying it wasn’t Cain’s fault that he couldn’t give a good offering – Cain just wasn’t Abel.
Cain is angry that his sacrifice wasn’t approved. This is puzzling to us (and even to God.) We could understand some disappointment or frustration, but not anger. To the armchair detective, this reaction seems contrived.
God seems to generously offer Cain a 2nd chance. If the sacrificial ritual was such a sacred/solemn occasion, it seems a bit odd that God would be so flexible & give Cain a “do-over.” An attentive reader would be justified in thinking that a rejection that could be so easily rectified couldn’t be much of a motive for the crime to come.
Cain apparently does not take this 2nd chance offered by God. Why not? It is clear he knows he did something wrong & God graciously offers him an opportunity to correct it. Yet, Cain has no interest in trying again. The plot now makes little sense.
Cain’s reaction to this rejection is to murder his younger brother, Abel. Huh? If a mystery writer would include this plot twist, the reader would think it was a bit of overkill. (Sigh - Editor.) Cain’s problem was with God, not Abel. What was Cain’s motivation? Jealousy? Perhaps. But, the Scripture doesn’t say so. The reader is left scrambling to understand why this happened.
Aside: A young boy in Sunday School, noting the rivalry between Cain & Abel, suggested that God should have just given them separate bedrooms – "after all, it worked with my brother."
So, what are we to make of this frustrating mystery? Instead of focusing on the culprit, perhaps we should consider Abel, whom Jesus, Himself, described as being “righteous” (Matthew 23:35). Abel’s sacrificial offering was heartfelt & meaningful. He seemed interested in genuinely communing with God
Perhaps, then, this Murder in Mesopotamia needn’t be a wasted act of Evil Under the Sun. Maybe we, too, could be a Witness for the Prosecution & as we go to worship this weekend, try to avoid the Mousetrap of our worldly thoughts & actions and instead seek to worship God with a heart like Abel – a heart eager to hearing His word, to accepting His blessings, & to seeking to do His will. Case closed.
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