Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Barmy Bible Study: Cain and Abel - A Story of Unexpected Consequences































It's that time again!  Wednesday night Barmy Bible Study!  Due to a rare organizational lapse, tonight's story is out of sequence with the two earlier Bible Study classes (Noah and Abraham), but these things happen so I don't want to hear any grousing about it.

Our text for tonight is from Genesis (NIV):  the story of Cain and Abel:

(Note: Atheists and other haters of GOD'S HOLY WORD scroll down past the blue text)

Cain and Abel (Genesis 4: 1-2.6)

    1 Adam[a] made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.[b] She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth[c] a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

   Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

   6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

   8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

   9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

   “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

   10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

   13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

   15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so[e]; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.  

  17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

   19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of[c] bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

Cain goes to the land of Nod - gains
 a wife and child and builds a city
and-- wait, where the hell did all
 these people come from?
   23 Lamech said to his wives,

   “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; 
   wives of Lamech, hear my words. 
I have killed a man for wounding me, 
   a young man for injuring me. 
24 If Cain is avenged seven times, 
   then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

   25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth,[d] saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

   At that time people began to call on[e] the name of the LORD.

This wonderful story of God's amazing fatherly wisdom is always a crowd-pleaser among the Sunday School set. Little sisters and brothers listen raptly to the story of the Heavenly Father who inexplicably favored one earthly son over another and the resulting jealous rage in which the spurned son murdered his hapless brother.

The first family: from
Eve we have all sprung!
Study Questions for Cain and Abel:

1. How did Cain and Abel demonstrate their devotion to God?

2. How did God react to their efforts? How does Cain respond to God's reaction?

3. What happens to Cain and what does the Bible teach us with this story?

Cain and Abel were the very first natural born children on earth. They were the children of the very first people on earth, Adam and Eve, whom Yahweh had created out of dirt (well, Adam was created out of dirt; Eve was just cloned from Adam's rib). Perhaps God was planning to create children for Adam and Eve out of dirt, too, but after Adam and Eve were thrown out of Eden for being tricked into disobedience, they had sex and started a family the icky human way. First Cain was born and later, Abel. They were the first four people on earth.

When Cain and Abel grew up, they learned about God - including how fond He was of being worshipped with shows of devotion and obedience - especially obedience. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd, so naturally the two boys brought offerings to Yahweh from their own labours.  Cain offered some of his crops while Abel offered a fat lamb from his flock.

Oh Cain, you're so lame!
God looked with favor upon Abel's offering, but he was unimpressed by Cain's offering of the fruits of his toil in the crop fields. The Bible does not tell us why Yahweh favored one of the brothers over the other. Maybe the story is a reflection of the antipathy that early hunter-gatherers felt toward settled agrarians who were beating them out in the competition for resources, but that would be silly because there were no other people except Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel on earth at the beginning of Creation! The text does seem to make it look like God just arbitrarily chose one of his children over the other, but of course Bible-believing Christians know that this is not the full story.

Everyone knows that God loved the smell of blood and burning flesh. Unless worshippers were prepared to extinguish a life and offer the bloody corpse up for for the deity's pleasure, they just were not doing it right. It is clear to any good Christian that Cain failed abysmally in showing proper devotion to his All-loving Father. Cain brought only the paltry products of months of his own hard physical labour - a few measly fruits and vegetables or maybe a bushel of wheat or something - while Abel presented Yahweh with the bloody carcass of a lamb, which he no doubt proceeded to burn as a sacrifice, so that the deity could breathe in the sweet smell of the burning flesh of a recently living creature. Nothing says love like blood!  Later in the Bible, we learn that the smell of burning flesh is the thing that pleased Yahweh the most so, although Cain had no way of knowing this, he should have had the dumb luck to just naturally be inclined to slaughter and burn a living thing like Abel did. It is really no wonder that Yahweh was displeased with Cain.

Cain and his wife and child and a few
other people wan-- wait, where did
all those other people come from?
In addition to being too stupid to read the mind of God, Cain was evidently a very poor loser, too. He reacted to Yahweh's arbitrary and inexplicable rejection of him by luring his divinely-favored* brother Abel out to the fields and murdering him. Yahweh, who is all-seeing and all-knowing, came looking for Abel and asked Cain where he was. Cain pretended not to know, saying "Am I my brother's keeper?" at which time God figured out that something was amiss.  A student of natural justice and logical consequences would think that God would then have smote Cain for the murder of his brother - especially in light of the Biblical stories of murder and genocide for merely failing to believe in the correct god - but that student would be wrong.

Yahweh merely chastised Cain and banished him from Eden. Interestingly, the Bible does not explain how Cain could be banished from Eden when, according to earlier verses in Genesis, he could never have been in Eden in the first place because God had banished his parents from there before Cain was even born. But never mind all that - who are we to question the mysterious ways of the Almighty? - Cain was banished. Not smited. In fact, God marked Cain with the mark of Cain to protect him from murder as he served out his sentence which was (at first) to be doomed to wander the earth. It quickly (the very next verse!) became apparent that God actually had big plans for Cain. Maybe it was Cain's boldness and daring that appealed to the deity. Certainly, Cain displayed a level of sociopathic self-interest that must have impressed Yahweh! By destroying his only rival for favor with God, Cain anticipated later Biblical figures who enjoyed God's full favor and indeed who obeyed God's orders to commit murder, rape and pillaging to win or keep His favor.  Best of all, Cain had corrected his error of failing to slaughter a living thing for Yahweh, and how!
Wait - what?

So, Cain was condemned to wander the earth, a lonely wretched outcast. But, hang on there! In the very next verse of Genesis, the Bible tells us that Cain went to a place east of Eden called Nod, where  - astonishingly - he suddenly had a wife, who then produced a child, Enoch. Cain never wandered, but built a city (!) instead which he named after his son. Who knows where these other people came from, since the Bible clearly tells us that Adam and Eve and their two sons were the first and only people on earth from whom all humankind descended. Perhaps the other people outside Eden were created by a rival god - several other gods are mentioned in the Old Testament, after all - but no, the Bible says that there is only one god (except when it mentions the other gods) and He is the Creator god.

Anyway, what does it matter? The Bible does not need to make sense. We must read it with faith because it is a work of revelation. God works in mysterious ways and the Bible never lies or contradicts itself. Now, let's move on.

They may have been centenarians, but
Adam and Eve managed to produce Seth
 and many more sons and daughters!
So, Cain went east of Eden with his wife (?) had a son, built a city, and may or may not have been the great-great-great-great-great-(x 50 generations) grandfather of Jesus.  Horrified that Jesus and all of humankind may be believed to be descended from Cain, the early Biblical scribes tucked in a reference to Adam and Eve having sex again 100 years after they had Cain and Abel, producing Seth who we know, to our great relief, is the true father of us all. That was totally not made up  and makes perfect sense. If you doubt that this makes sense, please note that later verses in the Bible make it clear that people back then lived for hundreds of years, so God could easily dot later generations with new children of ancestors. Sure, He never has done it in recorded history or any time when humans could verify the truth of the claim, but the Bible says it, we believe it and that settles it.

We can take away so many wonderful lessons from this story. We learned that a mere man can never know the mind of God and that even when someone earnestly tries to honor the deity with the fruits of his labour, the deity may capriciously reject it in favor of the randomly chosen offerings of another person. We learned that we can never understand the mysteries of God's behavior. Except when we do - absolutely! - understand what God hates and what He forbids when other people do it.

Red-haired Cain?
Stop messing with scripture!
We learned that the first humans in Creation were actually not the first humans, or maybe just not the only humans. Perhaps Yahweh was busy creating an alternate universe at the same time that he was creating Eden out of nothing, and He simply forgot to hand down those stories to the inspired recorders of scripture. It may seem like this makes no sense but it really does. The Biblical god is an awesome god and he works in mysterious ways.

Some people say that Cain was a red-headed spawn of Satan, but we know the Bible says no such thing. We don't know what color Cain's hair really was. People need to stop making things up that the Bible clearly never said. The Bible is God's perfect, inerrant Holy WORD. Nothing is omitted, nothing can ever be changed, nothing can be added.

Some people also say that Cain had a bad attitude and that he offered God inferior crops from his field. Although the Bible says nothing of the sort, we can make this stuff up when it suits us infer these things because our human sense of justice demands that there be a real reason why Cain deserved God's rejection, apart from capricious cruelty from the context of the Biblical passage. If you find the story of Cain to be confusing or if you are disturbed by its contradictions, then I am sorry to say that you lack the deep, blind faith necessary for sincere Bible study. I recommend that you beg for forgiveness for your sinful doubt. A week or ten days of prayer ought to fix you up.

And don't come out until you're right with God, sinner!
Class dismissed.

* With "divine-favor" like this, who needs "divine-disfavor"?

5 comments:

  1. I enjoyed that very much and will now proceed to read the series from the beginning.
    I'm learning a lot!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the feedback, Don! I plan to resume the series this month, so more to come!

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  3. Come on Nifty! We want to read more content!

    ReplyDelete
  4. LOL All good things come to those who wait..patiently! Watch for a new fun post on March 2!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Crap...that was supposed to be March 4. My apologies. Back to your regularly scheduled programming....

    ReplyDelete