It’s a familiar scene. Younger brother runs in crying. “Dave hit me in the back!” And the rejoinder from Dave, “But he started it!” And back and forth it goes until finally a parent steps in and sorts out the details. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A question that has been asked by every big brother in a variety of ways from the beginning of time…or at least from the time of the first big brother-little brother episode in the Bible. Abel’s a keeper of flocks while Cain is a tiller of the soil. Two brothers. Both bring an offering to the LORD. The older brings an offering of fruit – he’s a farmer. The younger brings an offering from the flock – he’s a shepherd. So far the story is pretty straight forward. But then the unexpected happens. Cain’s offering is rejected. And worse yet, Abel’s is accepted. And still worse yet, God says, “Hey Cain, why so glum? If you do what’s right, then you will be accepted. But beware if you don’t, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you”, which Cain interprets as, “Why can’t you just be like your younger brother? If you were more like him, then we would all be happy.” Talk about salt in a wound. So Cain visits his brother Abel in the field and then, another shocking twist, Cain rises up and kills Abel. Cain is quickly found out when God shows up and says, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain lies and responds as if he doesn’t know, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” totally expecting a negative response. But God has different expectations and confronts him, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground…” And then God pronounces sentence; however, in a move similar to Genesis 3, God shows mercy in the midst of judgment.
On the surface it sure looks like Cain may have gotten a bad rap. How was he to know what kind of sacrifice to bring? He brought what he had. Shouldn’t that have been enough? Maybe, if the story started in Genesis 4.1. But the story begins in Genesis 1.1. And in Genesis 3.15, God revealed that the innocent Seed of the Woman would give His life crushing the head of the serpent to deliver folks from death, and that there would be constant enmity/warfare between those who follow God (seed of the woman) and those who follow the enemy (seed of the serpent). The animal skins provided by God to cover Adam and his wife after the fall illustrate the former, while the story of Cain and Abel illustrate the latter.
Now to the offerings. The two offerings reflect two different approaches to God. Cain brought fruit…his parents covered themselves with fig leaves. In both cases the respondents were coming to God on their terms. They did what was right in their own eyes. But then God corrects the parents through Genesis 3.15 and provided for their covering through an animal sacrifice. The blood of the innocent to cover the sin of the guilty. Now of course, the blood of animals cannot take away sin. But the picture of the death of the innocent was a reminder that the wages of sin is death. It was faith in God’s promise in Genesis 3.15 that took away sin and restored the relationship with God. Abel got it. He offered a blood sacrifice. He exhibited faith in God’s promise by employing the same picture that God had used to illustrate Genesis 3.15.
And going forward…you shall love your neighbor as yourself is the second highest commandment behind loving God with all that you are. So I guess we are our brother’s keeper.
Until next time…stay salty.