God’s People, part 3: Cain & Abel

Read Genesis 4:1-16

“It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed His approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” (Hebrews 11:4 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

cain-and-abelPart 3: Cain & Abel. I could not devote two devotions to Eve and Adam and not follow up with one on Cain and Able. In fact, a lot could be written about these two brothers, for there is more here than meets the eye. It would be easy for me to focus on how Abel was rigtheous and Cain was a murderer; however, I do not think the story is quite that simple. In fact, in Hebrew, there is definitely some nuance going on here.

Let us start with Abel. The English word, “Abel”, is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, הֶבֶל, which is pronounced heh’-bel ( I bet you didn’t see that one coming). It is the same word as the Hebrew word, הֲבֵל, which means emptiness or vanity; something transistory or unsatisfactory, which is often used as an adverb. I am not entirely sure why Abel is given that name, in light of his character of faithfulness in the Bible; however, the ancients did nothing accidentally.

What I love about Abel is that there is room to speculate on him. Perhaps he was given that name because of his unsatisfactorily short life due to being murdered. Perhaps he was given that name because the author wants us to recognize a character flaw in him, which all the more heightens the mysterious grace of God who favors Abel for an act of faithfulness despite his flaws. Those are two possibilities, though I think there is one that is much more likely than those.

I believe it is the author’s way of showing how sin has crept in, even into the family structure. Cain was the first born and, thus, would have all the rights and inheritance afforded to him when his parents died. Abel would only get what was left over. The human system of Patriarchy had begun to take root, and the effects of that would ultimately kill Abel and harm many others like him, as well as women who were not considered to be equal to men.

That, then , leads us to Cain, who was the first born and oldest brother. Because of his privileged position as the eldest brother, Cain expected to be favored over Abel. He felt entitled to that. Cain quickly learned that God doesn’t play favorites off of human-made systems of  oppression. God favored the younger of the two brothers and, in essence, gave the blessing to Abel and not to Cain.

This, of course, enfuriated Cain and, as we all know very well, he plotted to murder Abel and carried it out in a field when no one was looking. Cain’s entitlement left him bitter toward Abel. What’s more, he was jealous of the fact that God favored Abel over him. That jealousy led to the murder of his own brother. Yet, God proved Cain’s jealousy to be unfounded, for God never rejected Cain at all. Even after Cain murdered Abel, God still chose to show mercy and grace. The story doesn’t exactly word it that way, but the grace is certainly there. Cain got to live a full life out, and was ultimately protected by God against anyone seeking vengeance over the death of Abel.

This story is very much relevant to us today. Most of us may not murder our siblings, but we do support and uphold oppressive human systems that bring harm to others. We often do so without even realzing it and, even if we did realize it, we feel justified because our social standards favor us instead of those who are being oppressed. Think of immigration laws, or welfare, or anything that most of us don’t have to deal with, all the while being very judgmental toward those who do. The story of Cain and Abel, should teach us that we are no more worthy of favor than anyone else. God created and loves us all. If we choose to be proud and entitled, we only do so to our own detriment. For God will show favor to the meek.

Those who stand tall have the furthest to fall.

Lord, humble me and teach me to be meek. Amen.

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