My Brother's Keeper

by Dr. R. Dean Davis

When Eve had Cain, she undoubtedly believed she’d given birth to the Messiah; so, obviously, she saw no need for her second son, Abel. His name (hebel in Hebrew) is translated as breath (“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow,” Psalm 144:4) and also vanity or nothingness (“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Abel, the shepherd, sacrifices a lamb according to instructions God gave his parents. However, Cain, the farmer, only offers the Lord the fruit of his fields. This may seem trivial, but it is an act of defiance and a slap at Jesus, whom the lamb represented. He felt no need for a Redeemer. Abel’s sacrifice is accepted, but God has “no regard” for Cain’s offering, and he becomes angry and depressed.

See how the Lord tries to reason with him: “Why are you angry?” He asks, “And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” Genesis 4:6–7. These verses speak of an important principle: Whoever controls the door to the heart, controls who is inside!

Sadly, Cain refuses to accept forgiveness and change; his anger boils over, and he murders his brother!

Investigative Judgment

God comes looking for Cain and asks him, “Where is Abel your brother?”

“I do not know,” Cain lies. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9.

This is the first recorded human lie, and Cain’s disdain for flock-keepers is displayed as he essentially says, “Am I my brother’s shepherd?”

“What have you done?” God continues. “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. ” Genesis 4:10. The word blood here, in Hebrew, is the plural form; by ending Abel’s life, Cain killed off all future generations of his bloodline.

Notice how the Lord conducts an “investigative judgment”—bringing to light all the facts, so everyone can see that He is just. The questions He asks of Cain are the same type as those He asked of his parents. This is a technique ancient Hebrew narrators used; first they told a story, then another, using details and language that recall and comment on the first.

The Mark of Cain

Finding Cain guilty of murder, God now pronounces judgment: “You are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.” Genesis 4:11–12. Since the earth had been forced to swallow his brother’s blood, it would no longer produce crops for this farmer. Ironically, Cain is forced to be a wanderer—like a shepherd—and he complains bitterly! He also greatly fears for his life.

Notice the interesting way God’s compassion is illustrated: In Genesis 1 the Creator is called “God,” Elohim in Hebrewthe God of power. Later, when creating man in Genesis 2, He is called “the Lord God,” Yahweh Elohim—the God of covenant (personal relationship) and power. But as He deals with Cain in Genesis 4, He’s simply called “the Lord” (the loving, personal God). Trying His best to reach His guilty child, the Lord senses his great fear and promises to protect Cain with a mark, or warning. God vows to bring a heavy, seven-fold judgment upon anyone who dares kill him!

While the Bible is silent about this mark, the Hebrew gives us a clue. Most modern translations call it a token, not some strange physical mark or skin pigmentation as some suggest. This is not a mark of condemnation; it’s a mark of protection! What tenderness God shows him—even though he’s unrepentant. Amazing grace indeed! How sad that Cain begins this story drawing near to God, and ends it by leaving His presence.

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