Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where is Abel???

I was just reading through Genesis 4, and I was really struck once again by the lives of Cain and Abel. When I was reading through it, some ideas came to me. Kinda like, interesting thoughts, even if I can't scripturally prove them. Here's what I noticed.

First, it's really fascinating that in the entire bible, it does not record Abel saying a single thing. Cain speaks several times (although ironically it probably would've been wiser if he hadn't, considering what he did say), but Abel never says anything. Even Abel's name means "nothing". Abel is almost a ghost of a figure; he's not the firstborn (a strong disadvantage in Hebraic culture), since Cain was born first, he never speaks, and his very name labels him as nothing. And yet God is pleased with him. As powerfully, it says in Hebrews 11 that Abel still speaks by faith, which is truly remarkable considering the bible doesn't record him saying anything. Yet he still speaks by faith. Remarkable. So, the question becomes, what is he saying? I don't think I have a complete answer, but I think I have an idea anyway. Abel's life, as recorded in Gen 4, basically consists of: tending flocks, giving the fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, and then going out with his brother to the fields to be murdered. He, in this regard, reminds me of Jesus; he was led silently to the slaughter. He gave the firstborn of his flock, which is a pre-figure for Jesus, and even though Abel wasn't the firstborn son (like Isaac, Jacob, and Ephraim), he lived like a firstborn, if that makes any sense.

Second, I noticed that there's definitely a "fields" thing going on. The curse laid on Adam, as recorded just before in Gen 3, very specifically curses the ground, declaring that it will produce thorns and thistles, and that by "the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat" (Gen 3:19, NLT).
It strikes me as no coincidence that Cain is the one who cultivated the ground. I'm not original in noticing that Abel tended flocks, which correlates with God covering Adam and his wife with animal skins, and Cain cultivated the ground, which correlates not only with the curse, but also with Adam and Eve trying to cover themselves with sewed fig leaves.

But what I hadn't noticed before is that Cain also invited his brother out to the fields before killing him. This is very interesting. Now, the reason he might have done this depends on what theory about the earth's population you follow. It really depends on whether: a) Cain and Abel were the only two sons of Adam at this time, or b) there were many people already alive, or c) somewhere inbetween. The text is, strictly speaking, silent on the matter of how many people were alive right now, other than to later note that Cain already had a wife, which suggests that there were at least some other people around (him having a wife necessitates Adam and Eve having had some other children already).

Anyway, if you believe that there were many other people around, then a possible explanation is that Cain simply wanted to have Abel isolated. Simply put, there aren't very many people around to help you when you're in the country. In the city, you generally have relatives to protect you.

If there weren't any other (or few) people around at the time (and certainly those who would be around would be younger than Cain and Abel), then one might wonder what the difference is between killing Abel in the fields vs. killing him in the camp/city/whatever.

There are many possible connections one could make, and here are some connections I've hypothesized: connection between Cain killing him in the field, which is a symbol for the labor associated with the curse; the field is the place of origination for Cain's insufficient offering, and somehow he thinks that filling it with his brother's blood would increase its produce/productivity. Much more plausible.

Third, there's a wander/settled motif in this passage that plays out powerfully. For starters, Cain is a farmer, which is essentially a settled lifestyle. Abel is a pastoralist, which necessitates frequent travel and few settlements. Now liberal scholars play on this endlessly, claiming that the story made its way into the bible as some sort of parable about the pastoral Hebrews coming in and wiping out the farming natives in the middle east. I'm not well acquanted with the theories, so I'm not going to go into much detail on that side. If you look at it from a spiritual perspective though, you can clearly see somethings up. Like I already said, Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain kills his brother and pours Abel's blood out on his field, which signifies his labor, occupation, and source of food (i.e. provision). Then when God curses him because of what he did (the first human being to be cursed; the curse in Gen 3 is on the land and on the serpent) and since Abel's blood cries out to God from the ground (Abel speaking?), Cain is banished both from the ground and then from God's presence. What he might have thought would increase his produce (many ancient cultures have a belief/practice centered around sacrifices and pouring out blood upon land to increase its productivity, suggesting that Cain may have had similar thoughts), actually results in his banishment from the land, and also the completion of the curse; for Adam, the curse was that he would have to labor for food to come from the ground; for Cain, no amount of labor would bring food out of it now.

Now Cain was sentenced to be a wanderer. What was the first thing Cain did (well, besides complain)? He goes out, has a child, and then builds a city. Now here's irony for you; a city in the land of "wandering." It should be clear to anyone that Cain is trying to rebuild on his own strength what the curse from his sin had taken from him. Sound familiar to anyone?

The fourth and final interesting thing to note that I noticed (there's plenty more that's interesting in there that I haven't mentioned) is the questions of God. I'm always fascinated by the places where God asks people questions. There are several questions from God in this chapter of Genesis, but the one that I really want to close in on is, "Where is your brother? Where is Abel?" Cain responded, "I don't know, am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9, NLT).

There's much one could say about this passage. The obvious part is, we are responsible for our brothers. Cain asks, Am I my brother's keeper? The answer was, Yes! I honestly feel like God is even asking us this question. Where is our brother? Where is Abel, the one who is nothing, the one who doesn't speak, the one who silently follows his brother, even unto death? Where is Abel? And yet, how many people are there today who say, I don't know. Am I responsible for the well-being of my brother? Do I have to actually pay attention to him? Even if you ignore the heightened hypocrisy of the fact that Cain had just killed his brother, Cain was still his brother's keeper, and we are our brothers' keeper today.

God is still asking today where Abel is, and Abel's blood is still speaking today from the ground that swallowed it. This is a question that is still presented to us by the Word of God. Where is Abel? Where is your brother? Where is the quiet one whom nobody seems to know but God? God is intensely concerned about Abel, because Abel's blood is crying out to Him. Cain said he didn't know; why don't we try to correct his sin and find out where Abel is? God isn't asking where Abel is because He needs the information; He's asking because WE need the information.

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