Monday, April 26, 2010

Genesis 4:9-16's CSI and Law & Order

In Genesis 4:9, God responds to Cain’s murder of Abel with a rhetorical question. (Of course, ironically, Abel was with God!) Again, the Bible points to the power of questions (vs. e.g., here, an accusation)—which among other things, allows for a confession and a last chance at repentance of a sort (3:9). As Matthew Henry observes: "Those who would be justified before God must accuse themselves."

Cain's response?

First, “I don’t know”—a blatant lie (Jn 8:44) and at least ironically, a semi-truth since Cain didn’t know what happened beyond death!

Second, Cain plays defense with a now-famous question of his own: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Kass: “To keep the inquisitive voice [of God] from forcing him to fully confront the meaning of his deed, he answers the question with a question”

Here, Cain follows up deliberate murder with (supposedly) callous indifference. As Kass observes, this is to be expected: “turns out to be the maxim of the would-be murderer…tacitly to profess indifference to his fate”.

In terms of style, one imagines that it was probably meant as sarcasm and tinged with indignation if not mocking: “Aren’t you his keeper? What kind of keeper are you? Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”

In any case, this question ends up as the seed of social ethics: we are to keep our brothers—broadly defined (Phil 2:4; see also: the parable of Good Samaritan on one’s “neighbor”). Cain questions "who's in charge here?" Again, given free will—in a sense, we are...

In Genesis 4:10-12, God replies. First, consider what God didn’t say: there is no direct answer to Cain’s question. God's response could have been "uhh, not exactly"! As Dorris notes: “Talk about giving God an opening! But...God doesn’t reply. The question is left hanging, a plumb line right thru history.” In fact, implicitly, we receive this question every day—and frequently fail to answer Cain’s question well. In any case, God implicitly rejects Cain’s false and frivolous reply—in essence saying “I’m in control here; I’m the one asking the questions!”

God works to get Cain’s attention with a more pointed question—quite sobering answer after Cain’s flippancy. Then, the pointed/direct “listen”—whether pointing to God or Abel's blood crying out.

In Genesis 4:11-12, God moves to a “curse”: no more crops and a new identity—“restless wanderer”. As such, Cain is the first human to be cursed (vs. ground and snake in Gen 3). The ground had been active for Abel's blood; it would not be so for Cain's future efforts.

Why “restless”? Others will not welcome him; his conscience will (hopefully) haunt him; and he knows (by experience) that life hangs by a thread (4:14b’s fear).

It’s also worth noting that God chose not to kill him immediately (in contrast to instant deaths elsewhere and by the Law later). In a sense, time is a harsher punishment, a just/appropriate punishment (vs. impulsiveness), and Cain serves as a living testimony to others. It also allows time for repentance—and if not, it would be Hell on earth. Interestingly, it’s not God so much as the ground that will be the avenger.

In Genesis 4:13-14, we read Cain’s response. In verse 13, there’s still no remorse or repentance—only fear, despair and self-pity. (Note the use of first-person throughout—except 14a’s blame-shift). First, he complained about God's judgment, now God's justice (Lam 3:39). His “punishment is more than [he] can bear”; but his sin wasn’t more than God or Abel should bear?

In verse 14a, he turns to blame-shifting ("you are driving me…") vs. taking responsibility. This is reminiscent of (our concerns for) people who choose Hell.

The passage continues with exaggerated and ironic fears: killed by whom? Why should a murderer fear? He didn’t seem to worry about being away from God previously!

In Gen 4:15, God responds with clarification: promised vengeance (from God) and an (unidentified) “mark on Cain”. And in Gen 4:16's Cain "went out" (voluntarily) vs. Gen 3:24's God drove Adam out.

As we wrap up this story, a few thoughts on Adam and Eve.

1.) Their intro to the knowledge of good and evil gives birth to one of each!

2.) Adam's initial sin reaches its first peak here (just one generation later). As Michael Dorris notes: “This apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” The first person with an umbilical cord was a murderer; Cain and Abel are the first two wholly human beings—and one kills the other. One generation after A&E's sin and shame, Cain now adds flippancy and hardness of heart (no fear, even to the point of talking smack to God). Sin nature steps up, from Gen 3’s supporting role to Gen 4’s starring role

3.) As with his parents, Cain goes to blame-shifting vs. introspection and repentance.

4.) Finally, where are Adam and Eve leading up to this and within all this? We’re given a picture of more silence (a la Gen 3:6—and a pattern repeated by the patriarchs).


At April 26, 2010 at 8:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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