am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” 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.”

Yahweh’s instructions for Cain to master the lurking sin at his door are ignored.  Cain leads his younger brother out into a field. This is no abrupt explosion of rage resulting in murder – in the field where he can neither be seen nor heard a pre-meditated murder takes place.  A life is taken, deliberately.  The fractures of the fall result in coldly personal violence, where brother turns against brother.  Throughout the incident Abel is spoken of in terms of his relationship to Cain – his brother Abel, your brother Abel, your brother. Not just Abel, an unrelated character, but one who is intimately linked to Cain.  He is Cain’s brother.
In an echo of Yahweh’s call to Adam ‘where are you?’, the creator now calls to Cain, ‘where is your brother?’  Yahweh confronts Cain – implying an accountability of relationship, a knowledge of what Cain has done, calling him to confess, to tell the truth.
But Cain will not confess. Where Adam muttered a shame-faced answer, if a limited one, Cain lies.  ‘I don’t know,’ he claims, professing ignorance.  And then he adds that immortal line: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’  You can almost feel the scathing, dismissive tone.  Using exaggeration to emphasise his scorn,  like we often do when dismissing each other. But Cain is talking to God!
What have you done?’  The seriousness of Cain’s crime cannot be overstated.  Throughout the bible, blood has heavy significance.  It symbolises life. It is described in animated terms here, crying out to Yahweh from the ground.  Abel cannot be silenced, his blood speaks for him, screaming from the ground that it has polluted.*
The ground from which mankind was made.  The ground mankind was supposed to work.  The ground which was painful labour as a result of Adam’s eating of the wrong fruit.  The ground which now again holds curse – for Cain, it will not yield a thing.  The ground which was his job description, grower of crops, tilling the land.  Now, it rejects him.

* In Hebrews 12 we hear a reference to the blood of Abel: ‘You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.’  Jesus’ blood also cries out, but on our behalf.

2 thoughts on “am I my brother’s keeper?

  1. Anita Mathias says:

    Hi Lucy, I like the slow measured pace at which you are proceeding. I attempted Genesis 2 chapters or so at a time, so it was a wild gallop which did not do justice to the text. I am attempting Matthew more slowly, episode by episode.Thanks for the blogroll add. You're on mine too. Are you going to proceed beyond Genesis?


  2. Lucy Mills says:

    Hi Anita – thanks! Slow and measured suits me nicely, although occasionally I know this will mean I am unable to gloss over more tricky or perplexing passages – probably a good thing! I have resolved to be honest and when I am baffled, to say so quite clearly.I don't know what I'll do when and if I reach the end of Genesis. Originally when I started up a few years back I began going through Luke (just as slowly) – I may pick that up again. Or, at the end of Lent, I may mix and match a little. We'll see! I'm not proposing to blog the whole bible – my pace is a little too gentle for that…but hopefully it will be a good way to record and share my thoughts in various ways, in my own time.


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