Proper 25 • Genesis 4:1–16 • October 24, 2010
by Henry Rowold
Razing Cain and Raising Cains
Chapter 4 of Genesis is best seen as a continuation, an extension (and polyphonic echo) of the dynamic unleashed in chapter 3. Not only was child bearing painful, but so was child rearing—for those first children “gotten … with the help of the Lord.” Tragically, that first family lost both sons, one via fratricide. Adam and Eve’s attempt to hide from the Lord became expulsion, and now the next generation was removed from the presence of the Lord.
Like his parents, Cain took what was not his to take, namely control of his own life, which resulted ultimately in his taking also the life of his brother—something that also was not his to take and which he could not replace. The consequence was also reminiscent of chapter 3—Cain lives under a curse and is expelled both from his land and, more ominously, from the Lord’s presence (v. 11). As close as Cain came to Immanuel was the “mark” the Lord gave him, which marked him both as a sinner without home and a sinner under protection.
As tempting as it is to suggest greater value in Abel’s occupation or specific reason why the Lord “did not look with favor” on Cain and his offering, the text does not focus there, but rather on the confrontations between Cain and the Lord. In the first (vv. 6–7), the Lord warns Cain to “rule over” the sin crouching at his door—an ominous anticipation of Peter’s description of the devil (1 Pt 5:8). In the second, the Lord confronts Cain about the murder of his brother. Reminiscent of Genesis 3, the Lord first asks the “where” question; though, this “where” is not focused on Cain but on Abel. Taken by itself, Cain’s initial answer, “I don’t know,” could be taken as bewilderment at a lifeless body. Linked with his second word, however, we see that ignorance is not the problem. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Hebrew word for “keep” is שׁמר, used often of the Lord’s gracious care reflected in the Aaronic benediction (Nm 6:24) and in assurances like that of Psalm 121:5: “The Lord is your keeper.” Again reminiscent of Genesis 3, especially of Adam’s taunt that he ate the fruit only because “the woman whom you gave to be with me…gave me fruit of the tree and I ate,” Cain throws the onus back on the Lord. Where were you? Clearly, Cain refused to be both keeper and brother to Abel, as well as child to the Lord. The anger Cain could not master mastered him, and anger kills (cf. also Mt 5:21–22)—as it does to this day: marriages, families, peoples and nations, even churches.
The answer? Another son of Adam, sent from heaven, to be brother to not just Abel but to Cain! And to all the Cains that populate the world, ourselves included. Incredibly, the same thing happened to him as to Abel, and he knew it was coming. The difference is that when his blood cries out to heaven, it cries not to seek vengeance but for forgiveness and mercy, to make of us children of Cain children of the Father and, therefore sisters and brothers again—razing Cain in order to raise Cain and the children of Cain. As God touched Cain with a “mark,” so we are marked with the mark of the cross (on forehead and breast and our entire life). Divinely marked, we are sent into a Cainic world to bring what he has given us: love, grace, and reconciliation.