Barry Newman's Blog

July 23, 2011

Science and Genesis 4: 1 – 26 (part V)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 9:37 pm

Cain’s act

With whom was Cain angry?  He was not angry with himself.  Surely we would expect him to be angry with Yahweh, unless he was somehow aware that he and his offering were not worthy of Yahweh’s favour.  Even then we might still expect him to be angry with Yahweh.  After all Yahweh was the one who was somehow or other acting more positively towards Abel than Cain, for whatever reason.  But how does Cain give vent to such anger.  He cannot expect to gain some advantage over Yahweh, at least not directly.  So his anger his directed towards his brother with jealousy of his brother also coming to the fore.

The NIV indicates that Cain talked to his brother about going out to the field, (the countryside?).  Though we are probably meant to understand that that is what happened, the text simply says that Cain talked to his brother, after which they went out to the field.  Certainly we are meant to see Cain taking the initiative and executing a plan he had in mind.  The significance of the locality might be that Cain takes Abel onto his own turf, his farmland, but the term for “field” is too general to be positive about that assumption.  We have already come across the term many times in chapters 2 and 3. It is more likely, given what follows, that Cain’s intention is carry out his plan away from prying eyes.  He is interested in deception.  And why the need for deception?  Because we are automatically to assume that what he is about to do is wrong, heinous and utterly appalling.  He attacks his brother and kills him.  “Murder” now follows upon anger.  Cain has failed to take the advice of Yahweh.

Yahweh’s judgement

Just as God had previously asked the whereabouts of the man, now he asks the same of Abel but the question is directed to Cain.  This is the third time in this chapter that Abel has been defined as brother to Cain and maybe we are meant to react to what is going on with the understanding that brothers are meant to be close. “Where is your brother Abel?” is not only met by a lie – “I don’t know” when of course he knows but a type of denial of his responsibility towards his brother.  I think we are supposed to be horrified with Cain’s response.  He is his brother’s keeper!  Abel is his brother!  The reverse of course has happened.  Rather than protect his brother he has himself slaughtered him.  If anyone or anything were to threaten Abel’s life, Cain’s responsibility as Abel’s brother would be to safe guard him – to preserve his life.  Instead, he took it.

God’s exclamation is very similar to that made to the woman in 3: 3.  In this case, it is simply, “What have you done?”  The woman made a circuitous response but Cain is not even given the chance to respond.  There is no “Listen!” in the Hebrew.  However the description of the blood of Abel crying out from the ground (adamah), the ground from which the man had been made, the ground now soaked with the life blood of another man, is graphic. It shouts to God.  This has been a most horrible occurrence – the death of a man, the first death.  And not the death of old age, the death of a human being brought about because there was no access to the tree of life, but death savagely achieved by another human being, a life cut off well before any normal expectation.  And God hears the voice; he did not need Cain to tell him where Abel was or what had happened to him.  And surely we do not err in seeing God himself responding with great heightened emotion. The voice that cries out inexorably results in God uttering his judgement upon Cain.

Neither the man nor the woman, who ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were directly subject to a curse from God, though the serpent was. In his judgment on the man, God placed the ground under a curse.  Now in the case of Cain, he himself is cursed and his curse is somehow associated with that very ground, which in graphic terms, opened its mouth to receive his brother’s blood brought about by his own hand. The imagery is that the mouth that received the blood is the mouth from which the voice came.  The ground already cursed will now be even more difficult for that farmer who once worked the ground with some difficulty, because he himself is now cursed.  There is even a suggestion that the text could be read to say, “You are cursed more than the ground has been cursed.”  Significantly, the curse that Cain is now under involves the interaction between Cain and the ground.  He will work the ground but no more will it give up its potential (literally its “strength”?) to you. (The NIV, reading into the text, refers to “crops” instead of “strength”.)  It is as though the ground itself, having been forced to take to itself the blood of Abel, has been greatly offended.  As a consequence it would never yield to Cain’s efforts again.

Not being able to exist by working his “farm” he will not be able to have permanent ties to any one area and will be forced to be move from place to place, never having a fixed abode.  The two Hebrew words, translated, “restless wanderer” begin with the same sounds and in meaning play off against one another. Each has an underlying sense of “change”. Perhaps we are meant to understand that if he cannot remain in the one place he will be seen to be a threat to others when he moves into their area and so will continually have to be on the move – a wanderer who can never settle down anywhere on the earth (erez), because others become a threat to him.  Perhaps this idea comes to the fore in Cain’s response (but see below).

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