Monday, October 18, 2010

Genesis Chapter 4 - Cain and Abel

Chapter 4 of Genesis is divided into three parts. The first part is the story of Cain and Abel we all have heard. The man and Eve have "relations" and Cain is born. Eve says "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord." Gen 4, 1. A reminder, I guess, that God has a hand in all creation - even procreation. Then Abel is born. Cain farms and Abel raises animals. "In the course of time" each brother beings an offering to God: Cain offers "the fruit of the soil" and Abel brings "one of the best firstlings of his flock." Gen 4, 3-4. God "looks with favor on Abel and his offering" but does not look with favor on Cain and his offering. Cain is pissed off, and God says something somewhat mysterious: "Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master." Gen 4, 6-7.

I'll stop here to give my thoughts on the meaning of all this. I had always thought that Cain had offered less than his best "fruit of the soil," and there are many who believe that, but the Bible says no such thing. Therefore, I read this to be simply an instruction from God that the best offerings are animal sacrifices. One commenter I read said it was because the ground had been cursed by God after the Fall. Plausible, but it probably did not matter to Cain.

My reading of why Cain's offering was rejected informs my interpretation of God's caution to Cain regarding sin. I think God is telling Cain that he should not despair that he did not give the proper sacrifice; that there is no shame in that - presumably because Cain did not know. If he does despair over a lesson from God (animal offering better than vegetable offering), God warns, he will be more likely to sin, because his negative emotion will open the door to the "lurking demon" of sin.

God's warning is not well-taken by Cain and he kills Abel, spilling his blood on the soil. Gos knows this because "Abel's blood cries out to" God. Cain lies to God about what happened and God curses Cain to never be able to successfully till the soil again and banishes him. God also places his mark on Cain so that everyone will know that if someone kills Cain, he shall be "avenged sevenfold." Some have searched for a literal "mark." I prefer to interpret the mark telling us that God is the Judge, not man. Killing the killer is seven times worse than the original death. However, it is just as possible that God is warning others to avoid killing Cain because it would release Cain from God's curse. Some have adopted the mark for a racist ideology, claiming the mark is dark skin. In any event, Cain settles "in the land of Nod, east of Eden." Gen 4, 16. Apparently, the land of Nod is symbolic, as Nod means "the land of nomads," and as Cain cannot till the land successfully, he must travel.

The second part of Chapter 4 reverts to a familiar form of a myth of how different skills came into being on the earth. Cain has "relations" with his wife (more on her in a minute) and we get a short genealogy of five more generations culminating in Lamech. Lamech has two wives and three sons and a daughter. Each of the sons is the forebearer of a human art: Jabal is the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and raise cattle; Jubal is the ancestor of musicians; and Tubalcain (the half-brother of the others) is the ancestor of forgers of bronze and iron. Tubalcain's sister, Naamah, is mentioned only in passing. Then Lamech tells his wives that he has killed a man and a boy for harming him and "if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold." Gen 4, 23-24. Huh? Maybe this is just ego? Or maybe it is a warning that killing one who kills in self-defense such as Lamech is even worse than killing a cold-blooded killer like Cain.

Cain's wife is familiar issue to those of us who question the Bible. Where did she come from? I conjecture that we are learning that God created other humans, but not as blessed as those in Eden. God had given a special place for his most innocent creatures - man and Eve. It would seem logical that the un-blessed human was part of the parade of animals that the man rejected in Chapter 2 before God created Eve. The man must have seen that a flawed human was not suitable. Once the man and Eve are kicked out of Eden, the less blessed humans are fair game for "relations."

Finally, in a temporal twist, Chapter 4 returns to Adam - which the man is called for the first time in my translation. Adam and Eve again have "relations" and Seth is born "in place of Abel." Gen 4, 25. Seth then has a child named Enosh. Then, suddenly, we are told that "[a]t that time men began to invoke the Lord by name." From what I can tell from my little research, this is meant to be when humans began to identify themselves as worshippers of God - perhaps in opposition to those who ignored God; perhaps as opposed to the earlier humans who understood God as a greater being, but not necessarily one to worship.

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