BIBLE STUDY LESSON:

THE STORY OF CAIN AND ABLE

CPOYRIGHT © 2000 BY The Eclectic Church

(Genesis 4:1-16)

 

Prayer

Father, open our minds and hearts so that we might reach a fuller understanding of the practical advice, You, have seen fit to reveal to us.  Let us never be so presumptuous as to proclaim our words and our wills as yours…………………Amen!

 

“Cain Killing Abel”

By: Tintoretto

 

 

SOME HISTORY

 

 

 

 

We mentioned the origins of the creation accounts in the Story of Creation, including the two dates relevant to their beginnings.  The Entire Book of Genesis, taken from the Greek word kosmou, meaning, “origin or the cosmos”--- actually has a five hundred year history from about the 10th century before Christ until the 5th century before Jesus.  Overall, the book is a story of the Origins of life and the establishment of the Hebrew nation.  There are probably many sources for the stories contained in this first book of the Bible as also demonstrated.

Reference Source: Encarta Encyclopedia by Microsoft

 

 

     The story of Cain and Abel is a very short story and actually part of the creation account, considering Adam and Eve are mentioned by name it is probably a continuation of the Garden of Eden tale contained in the 2nd account.

     Before looking at the story for its symbolism, it might be interesting to point out the observations of an Archeologist and his take on it.  The following quote is taken from “TESTAMENT” by John Romer, and this is a excellent and objective study of the origins of scripture free from criticisms or religious manipulation.  It is a scholarly work, yet reverent and easy to read holding your interest.  It would make a wonderful addition to any serious Bible Student, and there is also a companion TV documentary series by the same name that was shown by PBS a few years ago.  We highly recommend it.

      Quoting Professor Romer here:

 

    “This subtle dialectic of natural force and civilization appears in Genesis in the stories of Adam’s family.  Eve’s two children are the founders of pastoral and urban society; Abel, the herdsman and hunter, lives in the West; Cain, the farmer, to the East of Eden with the sunrise and renewal.  And both of them live in the Mesopotamian landscape of Tiamat.  Cain, the first man to live apart from God, has his offering rejected by Jehovah.  But it is Cain who builds the first city and, when he murders his blameless brother, Jehovah does not punish him but marks him so that all will see that he is Divinely protected.  Cain’s killing of Abel is a sacrifice that Jehovah accepts.  Cain the murderer, the founder of cities, is the founder of civilization.”

(John Romer, TESTAMENT, ©1998,  Henry Holt And Company, p38)

 

      Another factor should always be kept in mind by the serious Bible student looking for inspiration from these sacred text, particularly in dealing with the Old Testament.  These books are not Christian in origin, and were not written for Christians, although Christians can see the sacred messages in them.  These books were written by Jews, and for Jews, and intertwine in the inspirations their history, cultural experiences, and spiritual relationships with their God.   While the message of these sacred stories can speak to us today, one cannot overlook this fact in trying to extract their message. 

 

PRACTICAL INTERPRETATIONS

     

 

 

     In traditional religious interpretations, the story of Cain and Abel is interpreted as the entrance of death into the world.  And while one could look at it that way, it tends to distract from so much more the story can offer.

    Very often, when we look to a Bible story we find sound psychological advice, advice for good mental health --- this, from an age where they had no psychology – or even a conception of it.  The authors of these tales were in a sense the first psychologist, in that, their inspirations often dealt with the observations of human behavior. 

    One of the things that the authors of Genesis seen clearly is that human beings love to project fault and blame, or, measure one’s self, by looking to someone else to compare themselves to.   The tale of Adam and Eve showed the dangers of blaming someone or something else for our errors.  In doing so, we often blind ourselves to the paradise we are in; in other words, we fail to learn and evolve from our own mistakes.

    Cain and Abel does a different take on projection, that being, looking to the good fortune of someone else, which can often lead to jealousy and envy.  Too often, people compare themselves to someone else, and like with projection of blame, they get lost as to how they might improve their own lives.  When we are always looking at the other guy we tend to loose sight of ourselves.

    Cain becomes the classic example of this.  Instead of examining why God might have rejected his sacrifice, and then working to make that sacrifice acceptable; he choose to focus on God accepting his brother’s sacrifice.  He ultimately became excessively jealous, leading him to an unthinkable act.

    How often in our own daily lives do we find ourselves saying: Why does so and so have all the good luck, I deserve it more than them!   Yet, in reality, we often have no idea of the effort that individual might have put forth in producing his or her own good fortune.  And in a sense, we all have our share of good and bad things happen in the course of our lives, but here again projection often comes into play, because we seldom see our neighbors’ ill fates as more serious than ours.

    Like many things in scripture, this idea of projection is a constant theme in many of the tales it contains.  Jesus brings us to the root of the metaphor when he proclaims:  ‘Why do you point out the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, when you have a plank in your own?’

     God clearly instructs Cain to look within himself for the answer to the rejection when He/She says:  Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  IF YOU DO WHAT IS RIGHT, will you not be accepted?”.   Clearly God is telling him that the fault of the rejection of his sacrifice lies within his own actions.  But instead of taking God’s advice, he chooses to let that jealously and anger fester into an obsessive rage where he kills Abel, simply out of envy.

    The madness to such logic is also self-evident.  Killing Abel doesn’t undue what Cain perceived to be injustice, nor does it make his own sacrifice acceptable to God.  His act simply makes mattes worse, and there lies the psychological advice of the tale   ---  envy and jealously are dangerous emotions which can lead to obsessive and compulsive behavior.  Envy and jealously are casued when we look too much outside ourselves.

 

INSPIRATION 1

 

Look within ourselves to find the answers for our failures and shortcomings.

 

     Romer makes a point worth touching upon here.  He points out that God does not really punish Abel for his brutal act.  First off , we should keep in mind, that the literary time line of this tale makes any injunction against killing null and void, as God has not yet delivered his law.  In a sense that gives us another metaphor that we may draw upon.  Killing is wrong, even before there was a law against it.  The killing of his brother brought shame and consequences upon Cain’s head, yet not really punishment.

     God puts His/Her mark upon Cain --- protecting him!  In that metaphor we might see that God’s justice differs from human justice.  Very often we question the good fortune of someone we consider to have less than good character.  The story of Cain and Abel can remind us of another concept that Jesus reduced to its root: ‘God makes it rain on the good and bad alike’. 

    Perhaps, there is even more food for reflection here.  The Bible is often cited to support capital punishment, a form of punishment that really offers little but revenge!  But Cain commits a capital offense and goes on to be the founder of cities, without the ‘eye for an eye’ the Bible gives us later.  Something to ponder and think about.

 

          The cultural influence on the story of Cain and Abel is clear.  Cain is a farmer while Abel is a herdsman.  But whether intended or not, this clear distinction can offer us yet more insight.

     We human beings in our projections are often comparing apples and oranges.  Cain offered fruit, Abel offered livestock.  Cain the farmer, Abel the shepherd!  The two men are distinctly different.  The folly of Cain’s act can once again be clearly seen when examined objectively, for how can he compare himself to his brother in the first place?  What makes Abel’s sacrifice to God acceptable has nothing to do with Cain’s lifestyle or offering.  They are completely different. 

 

         And there is also something that the literalist should ponder in this wonderful tale.  If Cain and Abel were the first born of the first humans, who was out there who might kill Cain for his act?  Why was it necessary for God to mark him and protect him?

      

     This brief story in Genesis is full of metaphor.  It clearly illustrates the dangers of projection, jealously, envy, and a sense of pride where we feel we deserve better without ever looking to see if we have earned it.  It is a tale that is applicable today, in a world where we are encouraged to compare ourselves to others, where we are programmed to keep up with the Jones’s, in a world where the pot often calls the kettle black. 

    This is a story that demonstrates the extremes to which jealously can lead. A story where God’s own words tell us to “do what is right”,  but by the implication of their differences what is right is often not the same for different people.  We need to examine our own state of affairs to achieve our acceptability before God.

 

 

Wishing upon you the Blessings of God

May you come to recognize the Presence of God in your fellow man and in all the Creation!

 

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