Why did Cain murder Abel?

RublevRublev Shipmate
edited March 23 in Kerygmania
genesis4:1-8

Cain and Abel were the participants in the first murder in the Bible.

But why did God reject Cain's offering in the first place?

And why did Cain murder Abel?
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Comments

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Territory.
  • It's a funny story. Like Adam thinking he can hide from God (who for some reason has to call out to him to find him, perhaps for dramatic effect) Cain thinks he can lie to God.
    It seems that Cain murdered his brother out of anger at God's response to their offerings.

    Perhaps it's an early story with a theme that is repeated in the Oklahoma musical song The Farmer and The Cowman.

    What is more significant to me is that the punishment by God is less than we might imagine and that to kill (execute) Cain will return sevenfold vengeance, whatever that might be. And we may see an allusion to this in Peter's suggestion that we forgive someone who sins seven times.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I have now got Oklahoma on the brain. That song would be a really creative way to discuss this text in a sermon. And afterwards the congregation could all join in with the chorus.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Exactly it LatchKeyKid: "The author Daniel Quinn, first in his book "Ishmael" and later in "The Story of B", proposes that the story of Cain and Abel is an account of early Semitic herdsmen observing the beginnings of what he calls totalitarian agriculture, with Cain representing the first 'modern' agriculturists and Abel the pastoralists.".
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    The account in Genesis says that Abel brought the best of the proceeds of his work. Cain brought some of the proceeds of his work. God was pleased with the best, but not with "some".
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Moo wrote: »
    The account in Genesis says that Abel brought the best of the proceeds of his work. Cain brought some of the proceeds of his work. God was pleased with the best, but not with "some".
    AIUI, the text said that Abel brought the first of the proceeds of his work. It is not clear to me at least that that is equivalent to the best. We like the idea that we can reduce God's responses to a formula (indeed, much of religion is built on that rock), but it is not clear to me that God is that predictable.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Do you think this story is an example of the mystery of God's election - 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy' ?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    Moo wrote: »
    The account in Genesis says that Abel brought the best of the proceeds of his work. Cain brought some of the proceeds of his work. God was pleased with the best, but not with "some".
    AIUI, the text said that Abel brought the first of the proceeds of his work. It is not clear to me at least that that is equivalent to the best. We like the idea that we can reduce God's responses to a formula (indeed, much of religion is built on that rock), but it is not clear to me that God is that predictable.

    But 'He' is. That is consistent throughout the Bible. 'He' claims all firstborn one way or the other. Refuse Him and He kills them. One way or another. The parenthesis is not about maleness, it's about the fact that this is how we make Him up.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Do you think this story is an example of the mystery of God's election - 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy' ?
    While I am personally an Arminian, this passage -- like a depressingly large number of passages of scripture -- reads most naturally as something very much along those lines, at least to my ears.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    Do you think this story is an example of the mystery of God's election - 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy' ?

    No.

    It's about having no restraint in worshipping, honouring, sacrificing for God.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    They are both very good answers to the question. Can they both be theologically reconciled?

    I have read interpretations of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel which suggest that Abel gave of his best indicating his passion in worship whereas Cain gave an ordinary gift reflecting his indifference to worship. That's one side of the coin.

    The other is the rather horrible doctrine of election which does seem to crop up in the Bible. There is also the parallel story of Esau and Jacob. But there is also the indication that Esau had contempt for the true value of his birthright.

    Perhaps Cain and Esau were both lacking in a sense of true spiritual priorities and that explains why they forfeited their favoured position as the firstborn to their younger brothers who showed a greater sense of understanding about what it is that the Lord truly values.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    There is no need for theological reconciliation.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    You can embrace the meaning of theological paradox? Then you are far advanced in the mysteries of faith. I am just working out my salvation one question at a time. And trying to scoop up the ocean with a spoon.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    Giving the first proceeds is a lot riskier than giving some of your proceeds. Imagine if you go to a new job and you gave your first paycheck to the Lord. Basically, in giving your first proceeds you acknowledge the whole harvest is God's; when you give some of your proceeds then it means you see God as your landlord to whom you owe rent.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Yes, I think that God is attracted to those who radically risk themselves in faith. Abel's wholehearted sacrifice is like the declaration of Ruth. God cannot resist it.

    The early church saw the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek as being the OT precursors of Holy Communion. In the C6th Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna you see both scenes in mosaics on the wall of the chancel.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Exactly it LatchKeyKid: "The author Daniel Quinn, first in his book "Ishmael" and later in "The Story of B", proposes that the story of Cain and Abel is an account of early Semitic herdsmen observing the beginnings of what he calls totalitarian agriculture, with Cain representing the first 'modern' agriculturists and Abel the pastoralists.".

    Bertrand Russell in one of his books says more or less the same thing, ie. the story is supposed to exemplify the superiority of pastoralism over agriculture. Though as usual with Russell's commentary on anything besides technical philosophy, I suspect he just popularizing someone else's theory.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Superiority in what evolutionary or any other regard?
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    The ancient Israelites were first and foremost herdsmen. That God prefers herdsmen to farmers is perhaps a little bit of chauvinism -- we're better than they are, and here's our story about God to prove it.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited March 23
    mousethief wrote: »
    The ancient Israelites were first and foremost herdsmen. That God prefers herdsmen to farmers is perhaps a little bit of chauvinism -- we're better than they are, and here's our story about God to prove it.

    That's probably about it. And to set the stage for the sacrificial system which is high in lambs and doves and low in kale and leeks.

    Of course it also illustrates that one is meant to love one's brother but Cain wasn't Abel...

    It's OK, I can see which coat's mine...
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    KarlLB wrote: »
    That's probably about it. And to set the stage for the sacrificial system which is high in lambs and doves and low in kale and leeks.

    Well there are offerings of wheat, and oil, and I think wine. The "shewbread" wasn't sweetbreads.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    You can embrace the meaning of theological paradox? Then you are far advanced in the mysteries of faith. I am just working out my salvation one question at a time. And trying to scoop up the ocean with a spoon.

    There's no theology going on. Well there is. Purely human constructs. The ways of God are another matter entirely.
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    edited March 24
    For what it's worth, you might consider that it was the ground and its fruit that was cursed after the fall, and that from that point on, agriculture plays a role symbolizing human effort (unlike the birth of young lambs, goats, etc. which we can observe and shepherd, but have a much less active role in).

    In a system that is emphasizing God's grace over human works, an offering that symbolizes human work is going to get much shorter shrift than one that symbolizes God's gracious provision.

    I say this as a gardener, so you know I don't have a down on agriculturalists!
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Interesting, Lamb Chopped. The perspective I was thinking of is that killing animals for food is something that came after the Fall; it is not even mentioned until the Noahic Covenant. We're told that in the Paradise to come, the animals will be vegans, and because of that it's likely we will too. They shall not hurt or harm in all my holy mountain, etc.

    It seems like eating animals is a temporary provision that is not what is best in God's eyes.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    The ancient Israelites were first and foremost herdsmen. That God prefers herdsmen to farmers is perhaps a little bit of chauvinism -- we're better than they are, and here's our story about God to prove it.

    Indeed, here it's still an insult to call someone who has a sheep or cattle property a farmer rather than a grazier.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Superiority in what evolutionary or any other regard?

    I'm tempted to reply that the writer's worldview was in no way influenced by the idea of evolution as we commonly use the term today, but then I suspect you'll come back with some other gnomic utterance meant to imply a question like "But what does evolution really mean?", or some such, and I'll be no further ahead in my explanation.

    Anyway, as to what other "regard" it could mean, I'm not an anthropologist, and I have no special insight into why why Old Testament pastoralists would have regarded sheep-herding as superior to farming. I'd guess probably just for the same reasons that people often prefer their own way-of-life over an upstart rival eg. old-school corporate types think that being a lifelong company man is preferable to being a member of the millenials' "gig economy", and vice versa.

    Other than that, some enlightenment may possibly be found in the posts following the one of yours that I am replying to.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    It would seem that Russell, like the Israelites, was harking back to a mythical golden age of pastoralism as other moderns do to yet prior hunter gathering. I would submit that agriculture is more evolved than nomad transhumance.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    It would seem that Russell, like the Israelites, was harking back to a mythical golden age of pastoralism as other moderns do to yet prior hunter gathering. I would submit that agriculture is more evolved than nomad transhumance.

    Russell, as far as I recall, was not expressing his own views on pastoralism vs. agriculture. He was explicating the worldview of the author of Genesis.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Thank you. Then my apologies to Russell and I'm sure he was right.
  • TwilightTwilight Shipmate
    John Steinbeck's, "East of Eden," is based on Cain and Abel. I think it's a wonderful novel grappling with several theological questions. In it the two sons of a big successful farmer compete for their (step) father's love and Caleb always feels that the Aron is the favorite. The father, Adam Trask, does see Aron as his good son (which he is) and finds Caleb harder to love, or at least harder to understand.

    During WWI Caleb thinks he's found the way to earn his father's approval, by growing lots of beans to feed the army and making a huge amount of money. He brings this to his father who is furious because to honorable Mr. Adam Trask, this is taking advantage of the country at war and a despicable thing to do. Caleb runs off ashamed and heartbroken.

    ( Just one writer's interpretation.)
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    They don't give Nobels fer nuthin.
  • TwilightTwilight Shipmate
    Oh, I didn't know it won that, Martin! It's been at least 30 years since I read it and now I want to read it again. It would make a good Ship of Fools discussion, I'll bet.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    ^ Just for the record, but "it" didn't win anything, since Nobel Prizes for Literature are given to people, not to any particular work per se. Though obviously certain works of a writer are going to be more influential than others in determining if he gets the prize.

    I think Churchill did get it basically just for that one series of history books he wrote, but the prize was still given in his name, not that of the books.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    One of the meanings of qayin is smith, or metalworker - no doubt peripatetic workers whose craft was seen as semi-magical and who lived and worked outside the tribal system.

    No wonder there was a taboo on molesting them, which is presumably what the mark of Cain is really about.
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate
    The Biblical text gives no explicit explanation as to why Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s not. I think that this non-explanation is the key to the story. God is absolutely sovereign and is thus not obligated to accept any offerings, nor is he obligated to give an explanation for acceptance or rejection. It is the essence of heathenism that offerings are a means of gaining influence or control over a god or over the forces of nature: “If I give you something, you owe me one.” The God of Israel cannot be bribed, manipulated or put under any obligation. His acceptance of Abel’s offering was pure grace. Cain cannot accept grace as the defining principle of life and reacts by feeling victimized, by spinning out a dark conspiracy theory in his head and by lashing out with violence. This is the story of mankind: people who resort to violence almost invariably believe that they are victims and that others are to blame for their problems. This blame game started with Adam and Eve after they were caught eating forbidden fruit: “This woman whom you gave me...” “The serpent led me astray...” Every terrorist, racist or populist extremist regards himself/herself as a victim. The story of Cain and Abel seems to convey the message: every human being is utterly dependent upon the grace of God, thus there is never any justification for feeling victimized or for blaming others when life seems to be unfair.
  • Having a brother myself....
    Is it possible that after long days of work, ancient Israelites sat around the campfire just like we mighty today in the summer? Have any of you held sticks in the fire, waving them around. The adults talk, and eventually the kids ask to be told a story. The adults tell semi-truthful stories, stories to make points about life, families, history, all sorts of things. The kids, bloodthirsty little wretches, almost criminal in their conduct, enjoy some of the stories more than others. The kids then retell the stories, and there are various embellishments and changes over time.
    Thus: I suspect there were brothers and they, like my brother and myself, competed with each other, and one my have killed the other, or wished he could have. Retelling and retelling, it becomes accepted as fact. But it probably isn't fact as we consider fact, rather possibly useful to consider as a historical story that might tell us something useful today.
  • bigjonbigjon Shipmate
    According to Hebrews 11:4, "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did." A rough definition of faith being 'Taking God at God's word' therefore according to Hebrews 11:1 "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see". Dick Lucas has speculated that Abel was responding to God's prior revelation of what sacrifice was required, but that can't be derived directly from the Genesis passage.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    Agreed. That, perhaps unusually for Dick Lucas, is at best speculation or eisegesis. In any event the focus of the passage is much more on Cain’s response than on what was or not good about his sacrifice.

    The only indication that we get on why Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted is God’s, ‘If you do well, will you not be accepted?’ Even that IMO is forward focussed, rather than on ‘why the past?’.
  • There are however hints in the text, I am using NRSVA

    Cain' offering is described as
    some of the fruits of the soil

    While Abel's are described as
    fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock

    There is a subtle difference in how they are described. Choosing the first whether it is fruit or born is an acknowledgement of God's claim on the whole of which you are only giving a part; the first becomes symbolically representative of the whole. In the Jewish system as in this country until the 19th Century, the thanksgiving for harvest happened when the first sheaf was brought in, not as current practice when the last sheaf. The fat of the animal seems also to have played an important role in the Jewish Sacrificial system.

    Exactly how these should be interpreted is a matter of eisegesis. Is it because Abel's offering was right by the sacrificial system? Is it about the fact that this indicated higher esteem for the Lord? Is it the acknowledgement of God's mercy? Is it the triumph of herder overcrop growers?
  • Forgive me for being simple-minded about this. It's a lot easier to select the best animal and than the best fruit, grains, vegetables: is there a point to be made about this? There's also sibling rivalry going on in the C & A story. Might such a story be also told by wandering Israelites because they were making points about that? Might also stories be told repeatedly because pre-tech and reading, people told stories when sitting around campfires at night, and the points being those which subsequent tellers of stories wanted to emphasize?
  • Yes but it does not say 'best' but 'first'. It is easy to select either of these. 'First Fruits' are simply the first that ripen, firstborn is simply the eldest.
  • Martin--
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Exactly it LatchKeyKid: "The author Daniel Quinn, first in his book "Ishmael" and later in "The Story of B", proposes that the story of Cain and Abel is an account of early Semitic herdsmen observing the beginnings of what he calls totalitarian agriculture, with Cain representing the first 'modern' agriculturists and Abel the pastoralists.".

    IIRC, agriculturalists = "Takers", and pastoralists = "Leavers". (I.e. Takers take whatever they want, with no real concern for consequences; and Leavers live close to the land, and only take what they need.)

    Good book, and I've read at least one of the sequels. (The one with the girl.)

    Do you remember if there was any mention of Seth, the third brother, born after Abel's death? I was thinking he could be an interesting way to explore some sort of middle ground. I did a search, but couldn't find any references to him in reviews, etc.

    Thx.



  • I've put my own fictional spin on this.

    Cain and Abel were identical twins and when an identical twin dies it becomes trapped between this world and the next because it cannot break the psychic bond with the surviving twin and enter the afterlife. This bond then acts as a conduit granting the surviving twin the power of second sight and the ability to work magic.

    If a twin dies before its born (vanishing twin syndrome) then the survivor will not acquire these powers until it reaches puberty. The same applies if a twin dies in childhood: the survivor has to wait until it reaches puberty. Specifically that point is the menarche in girls and ejaculation in boys.

    In rare cases one twin will deliberately murder the other in order to acquire the gifts of second sight and that's what happened with Cain and Abel. In fact, The Mark of Cain is an explicit reference to Cain's new-won abilities.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    genesis4:1-8

    Cain and Abel were the participants in the first murder in the Bible.

    But why did God reject Cain's offering in the first place?
    Can't answer that - ask God.
    And why did Cain murder Abel?

    Do you have siblings? Or have you ever had a relationship with anyone where jealousy reared its head?

    In a nutshell, God didn't seem to acknowledge Cain's offering, which made Cain cross: you can bet that when Cain was asking God why, Abel was smirking at least a bit, and that is likely to have more more cross. And after that, who knows.

    The Bible only gives us one view of the story, which is written from the perspective that the dead brother was perfect (see - his gift was acceptable to God, his brother's wasn't !) and Cain isn't given a voice to defend himself. It all goes to point up that there is a lot in the Bible that isn't real, it is just a morality tale (of its time) and needs to be read with that in mind.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Yes, it is quite likely to be a moral fable. But even they have a meaning and a reason to be in the Bible. The question it seems to be answering is what represents an acceptable sacrificial offering to the Lord.

    A: an animal sacrifice.

    How do we record this tradition? By telling a story: There were once two brothers...
  • Rublev wrote: »
    genesis4:1-8

    Cain and Abel were the participants in the first murder in the Bible.

    But why did God reject Cain's offering in the first place?
    Can't answer that - ask God.

    Are not such stories meant to be instructive? If they're that opaque, then we can safely ignore them, no? We can learn nothing from them except the inscrutability of God. Which path leads to despair.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Rublev wrote: »
    genesis4:1-8

    Cain and Abel were the participants in the first murder in the Bible.

    But why did God reject Cain's offering in the first place?
    Can't answer that - ask God.

    Are not such stories meant to be instructive? If they're that opaque, then we can safely ignore them, no? We can learn nothing from them except the inscrutability of God. Which path leads to despair.

    We can ignore that aspect on the basis that it refers to something we don't know nor ever can. But the rest remains.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    This is the value of applying the historical - critical method to the texts of the Bible. It helps us to identify different genres and understand their meaning, to recognise cultural contextualisations and to enter into the mindset and worldview of the people of faith who write the books of the Bible. The Bible contains the story of God, the history of the Hebrew people and the development of the Jewish and Christian faiths against a backdrop of rising and falling empires. There are a lot of different intertwined narrative strands that you can follow depending on what interests you.

    Genesis contains a number of cultural myths which are all explaining important questions of faith to a nomadic people: the story of creation and how the world was made, the story of Eden and how people become separated from God, the story of Cain and Abel and how to make sacrifices to God, the story of the Flood and why the rainbow is a sign of the covenant, the story of Abraham and why Hebrews do not offer human sacrifices to God unlike pagan peoples, the story of Jacob and why the Hebrew people are composed of twelve tribes. The Bible shows us how humans like to understand themselves, their world and their God through stories. And we still do today.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    You can embrace the meaning of theological paradox? Then you are far advanced in the mysteries of faith. I am just working out my salvation one question at a time. And trying to scoop up the ocean with a spoon.

    What theological paradox?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    Yes but it does not say 'best' but 'first'. It is easy to select either of these. 'First Fruits' are simply the first that ripen, firstborn is simply the eldest.

    And firstborn are more sacrificial as they have been more invested in, more cared for by time, are the largest, fattest and you will have a greater relationship with them.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    There are quite a number of theological paradoxes. The one you will probably like the most is the paradox of how the transcendent God became immanent and particular in the Incarnation.

    As Barth explains it: 'Christ is God's self revelation in history, the Word became flesh, God Himself became historical and empirical.'
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