Genesis 4:1-4:26 O Brother, Where Are Thou?

Standard
… why Cain’s offering was unacceptable… he wanted God’s approval for selfish reasons, rather than out of a genuine desire for relationship with God… Cain sees the whole world in terms of what it does for — or to — him… seek God for Himself, not for the gifts and protection he provides… The sacrifice you desire, and will not despise, is a humble, dependent heart… Teach me to call on your name, and to know you as you are, not as I want you to be…

Genesis 4:1 – 4:26

And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect

I must admit, I don’t think I ever understood this part. I mean, I know the standard answer — that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness“, presumably reflected in the fact that God used animal skins rather than fig leaves. Thus, the flock (tso’n) of Abel (Hebel) was more worthy than the fruit (p@iry) of Cain (Qayin). But is that all that’s going on? Certainly grain offerings will be explicitly acceptable later, at least for some purposes. Is there anything in their names? Qayin is a play on qanah, acquisition, while Hebel is hebel, breath or vapour. Maybe, but I can’t see it.

Perhaps this is just an example of the inscrutableness of God. Or perhaps the story is more about their responses after the fact, which may in fact have been why Cain’s offering was unacceptable.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee [shall be] his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

Perhaps it wasn’t the sacrifice per se, but Cain’s attitude. Why did they bring things to God? What were they seeking from God? Why was Cain so ticked off? Clearly the offering (minchah) was more than ritual, since God’s approval obviously meant a great deal to Cain. But then why did he disregard God’s warning?

Maybe he wanted God’s approval for selfish reasons, rather than out of a genuine desire for relationship with God. He was trying to buy God’s favor for doing what he wanted. Certainly his response to God’s judgment is remarkable for its selfish concern, not to say whininess:

My punishment [is] greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, [that] every one that findeth me shall slay me.

I mean, c’mon: you just killed a guy, and you’re whining that someone else might kill you? One does get the feeling that Cain sees the whole world in terms of what it does for — or to — him. He doesn’t realize that everything that’s been given him is with the responsibility to use it bless others. And that the failure to love others will rebound against you.

This makes God’s curse very suggestive:

And now [art] thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength

God appears to deliberately weaken Cain at the point of his deepest pride — his ability to till the earth. Yet for some reason He also ministers to his deepest fear:

And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

I wonder if Cain learned anything from this. On the one hand, he seems to have led a productive life, raising a family and a city (‘iyr). His descendants were certainly creative, with metalworking and music. Yet, Lamech at least sounds like he learned the wrong lesson:

Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.

It certainly sounds like he’s interpreting God’s mercy to Cain as condoning his behavior, and thus Lamech boasts about following in his ancestor’s footsteps. But if that’s the wrong lesson, what’s the right one?

then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.

qara’ shem Y@hovah. To call God’s name. To seek God’s face. To seek God for Himself, not for the gifts and protection he provides. To offer out of gratitude for past gifts, not as a bribe for future ones. To value the work of our hands for the blessing it brings others, not because we think it will make us acceptable to God.

Hmm.

Prayer

God, I acknowledge I am my brother’s keeper, and yet often his killer. I affirm that your name is good, and that you are worthy of my offerings. But that my offerings are not in themselves worthy of you. The sacrifice you desire, and will not despise, is a humble, dependent heart. Lord, I know that sin lieth at my door, and that whenever I take my eyes off you I am at risk of placing my faith in the works of my own hands, and using you for my ends. Forgive me for my folly and pride. Teach me to call on your name, and to know you as you are, not as I want you to be. Amen.

Note: Personal Observations

In case it isn’t obvious, I should admit that this isn’t really being composed for an audience. This is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness monologue written for myself, which I’m publishing as a public blog in order to motivate myself consistently study the Bible. So, I’m likely to ramble, pursue dead-end questions, or otherwise commit all sorts of literary sins. Yet, I still hope there’s enough wheat among the chaff that at least some of these may prove valuable to the casual reader. And once I finish, I do try to go back and do minor edits and explanatory hyperlinking to ease the reader’s burden. If anyone ever does read this, please let me know if you find it helpful, or have suggestions for ways to make it more approachable.

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