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Jealousy Conquers All (Part I of a series based on the story of Cain and Abel)

December 27, 2012

It’s funny how some things happen in your life that you never forget (and other things just slip your mind).  For example, when I was in the 7th grade, I was having lunch with some classmates and for some reason one of the girls in the group said a phrase that has stuck with me to this day.  She said, “Jealousy conquers all.”  Why that would stick in the mind of a 12-year old can only be chalked up to Divine Providence because … I know how God works with me.

Yesterday, I happened upon a National Geographic special about the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis, Chapter 4.

They were asking and seeking answers to some of the same questions that I have always had about this story.  They had access to a great deal more information about world history and myths from that region that I have ever heard.  Since watching the show, it has been heavy on my mind, so I thought I would do my own Bible study to keep God’s Word in the forefront of my “pondering.”

From the National Geographic special, the summary of the story is that “jealousy conquers all” and most specifically, jealousy between or among brothers is at the root of much of the turmoil our world suffers today … and that it dates back to the story of Cain and Abel.

There is much irony in the fact that the three most prominent “world” religions have elements of this same story as part of their philosophy and/or history.  Let’s revisit the story from Genesis 4 (NIV & The Message):


From Genesis 4 (NIV) 


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 But Abel brought 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 master it.”

From Genesis 4 (The Message)

Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.

 6-7 God spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.”

I have often wondered … if Cain was a farmer and Abel was a herdsman by trade, and both brought an offering of their trade to God, then why did God choose Abel’s over Cain’s.   On the surface, it sure doesn’t seem fair.

I recently watched a short film about the survival of the original humans and how introducing protein into the diet helped one tribe become stronger than those who only ate grains.  It was suggested that because the meat was worth more than the grains, this is why God honored Abel’s offering more than Cain’s.

A preacher friend of mine suggested that the answer to my question lie in the wording of the scripture where it says that Abel’s offering was from the “firstborn” of his flock, while Cain only brought “some” of his fruits, suggesting that Cain did not freely give to God as Abel did.  This made more sense to me. 

The National Geographic special also pointed out that as it has always been, farmers and herdsmen have had long battles because while one was toiling the earth to grow food, the other had animals that tended to trample the ground where the food was growing.  Also, working the ground to get food was a much longer process than going out to kill a fatted beast (even though the tools to master that craft were primitive).

I guess it would make good sense too that if Abel was eating meat, and Cain was eating only veggies and grains, then the protein Abel was getting into his body might have made him appear stronger and foster some that  “primal” jealousy.  And, as the National Geographic (and other world religions mention in their version of this story), there was probably a woman in the midst who was the source of the contention as well, and each were trying to win her favor (as well as God’s) with their gifts.

In any event, before Cain killed his brother, according to the account in Genesis, God had a little conversation with Cain about his attitude (Gen.4: 6-7).  God said to him, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”  Basically, he was telling him to check his attitude and “do the right thing” or sin was going to get the best of him. 

God wanted Cain to “master” his attitude and perspective. He wanted him to take responsibility for his actions, his thoughts … his offering.  If Cain had said, “You are right, God.  I am jealous that You like Abel’s offering more than mine.  Show me how to change and find Your favor,” — do you not know that God would have helped him?  But Cain did not have a repentant heart. He could not respond positively to God’s admonition because he was consumed with his jealousy and anger toward his brother.  He could not accept responsibility for his own actions because he wanted to blame someone else for his failure.

So, at the hands of Cain … death came into the human race. 

Again, gleaned from the perspective of National Geographic (and other world religions), Cain probably did not know that his actions would end his brother’s life … simply because no person had ever died.  However, they had obviously seen animals die (though they may not have associated it with each other).  When Cain killed Abel, this also introduced grief to the family as Adam and Eve (and other siblings) had to deal with mourning and deep emotional loss of a brother.  While Adam and Eve had already experienced some shame and guilt as a result of the Garden of Eden incident, out here in the “real world” this sin became more personal for the whole family.

Cain killed his brother!  So, God comes back to him and asked him where he is, to which Cain responds that famous line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

We know that God harshly judges Cain for this sin. He proclaims that:

“from now on you will get nothing but curses from this ground; you will be driven from this ground that opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother.  You will farm this ground, but it will no longer give you its best. You will be a homeless wanderer on Earth.”(Genesis 4:10-12)

Some believe that Cain was repentant then … as he expressed that his punishment was more than he could bear.  He expressed that he was guilt-ridden, unable to face God again and afraid that someone would kill him because of what he had done.  Some believe that God forgave him because of what He said and did next:

“No. Anyone who kills Cain will pay for it seven times over.” God put a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one who met him would kill him (Genesis 4:15)

Here’s where I still have some trouble reconciling all this.  The Bible says that Cain left the presence of God and basically lived as a nomad (no-man’s land).  We know that there have been many nomadic tribes through world history.  But what’s the “mark” that God put on Cain?   A long, long time ago, I remember hearing someone say that He made him “black.”  But that doesn’t make sense to me because obviously everyone in that area of the world (Eden … Iran) is dark-skinned.   From the National Geographic special, some believe that the mark of Cain … makes him and his line, Jewish.  I’ve even heard that the mark is what characterizes the Asian race (because he wandered “east of Eden”). But if you ask me, it seems like “Caucasian” is the race that seems more different than all the rest of the world and those that “could not stand the heat” of living near the equator, “wandered” away from the area … and the farther away … the lighter the skin. 

Unfortunately, as the National Geographic team did point out, those who have believed that the “mark of Cain” runs through the Jewish line are historically and most prevalently responsible for the persecution and attempted genocides of the Jewish people.  But as God promised Cain, “anyone who kills Cain, will pay for it seven times over,” He never meant for His mark to be a source of persecution.  One should think twice before adopting such a perspective.

As I read this account, I have other questions that pop up in my head. For example … if it was just Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel and whatever other brothers/sisters that might have been produced, and Cain was leaving the clan … who was he afraid of that would find and kill him?

And, it says, he took his wife (a sister), moved East of Eden. He had a son, Enoch, and built a city and named it after his son.

And as far as I can tell … Cain is not mentioned again in the lineage.  But here’s something that I find very odd and intriguing. I encourage you to go read it.

At the end of Genesis 4, it tells the “begats” of Cain … all the way to Lamech, where he says, “I have killed a man who wounded me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then for Lamech it is seventy-seven.”

Then the story goes back to Adam and Eve, where they have Seth … to replace Abel. BUT, oddly enough, the names in the lineage of Seth are eerily similar to those in the lineage of Cain.  If you go on to read Genesis 5, you will see this.

Cain Seth
Enoch Enosh
Irad Kenan
Mehujael Mahalale
Methushael Jared
Lamech Enoch
(Jabel and Jubal) and (Tubal-Cain and Naamah, sister) Methuselah
  (Shem, Hem and Japheth)

Now we have similar names in our family … you know how someone is always named after a grandfather or uncle or such. But Seth didn’t know Cain (supposedly), and even though Eve would have missed her son and daughter, because of the dysfunctional situation, do you think they would have tried to think up different sounding names?  Or maybe it really was just the beginnings of language evolution.

Makes me wonder … since Moses wrote these books hundreds — even thousands — of years after this had taken place  and if perhaps these stories got tangled up around the campfires as they were passed down from generation to generation. This is especially intriguing since these stories are a part of the histories of all three major world religions.  AND, especially since the one person who links all these world religions is Abraham … who is descended from Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech. 

I’m not doubting anything that’s in the Bible … I’m just wondering … how it all ties together.

In any event, a great deal of human dynamics was introduced to the family and society through this story of Cain and Abel.  Suddenly, in a world without death, there is murder … fratacide.  The emotions of deep sorrow and grief were introduced to the world … perhaps even the first tears of a mother mourning her son.  Oh, there may have been tears when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden.  These would have been tears of disappointment, maybe even fear. When Eve bore her children, there may have been a few tears shed from fear and/or pain (travail), which were quickly forgotten.  But until the moment of losing her son (and sons), she had never felt the deep, heart-wrenching sorrow of loss through death.

Then, I am led to wonder … “Could any of this have been prevented?”  Plus, there is that always prevalent question in times of great loss and sorrow, “Where was God?  Why did He not intervene and stop Cain from killing his brother?”  With only a handful of people on the earth at that time, it’s not like He was off in another corner of the world tending to another brother battle.

I do not ask that question with any intent to disrespect or dishonor God.   With all my heart, I believe in and trust His plan and His Sovereignty.  But, since we are prone to ask that question today, we might as well pose it in the situation between the “Adamsons.”   Today, more than ever, the story and the message of Cain and Abel beg our attention and discernment.

Too often today, (as it may have been with Cain), this is purely offered as a rhetorical question:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

We expect God to intervene and prevent bad things from happening to us, all the while we shun Him from having any control over us in matters that we “want” to control.  It IS man’s intent (nature) to be the controller of his own destiny.  We can’t say it’s not so ……….. because it is the truest of all truths that we claim to know.

When Eve, and then Adam, took that first bite of independence, a new reality for us all set in.  God has a plan — but we have another one.  It is our choice which one we follow.

So, while we are asking, “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” — we should also be asking, “Where am I?” 

Do people have obligations to prevent tragedies instead of solely relying on God’s intervention? 

Am I my brother’s keeper???

It is my notion that God knows we cannot fully handle that responsibility.  After all, one of the greatest ironies of this story is that in a literal and a spiritual sense, since this first brotherly battle we have been trying to extinguish each other out of the same jealousy and favored positioning that Cain and Abel were going through. 

We should be more enlightened by this day and age … but we’re not.  Cain and Abel — their story is highly significant in the world today.  If we could just stop and think critically about their situation and our own, we must surely recognize (as the Bible indicates over and over and over again) that WE ARE ALL BOUND TO ONE ANOTHER.  We must also recognize the role that pure and simple jealousy lies at the crux of all the ill-will, greed, back-biting, family dysfunction, church splits, corporate demise and random acts of violence that plagues our world today.

Jealousy, in some respect, conquers all.

While Cain (and his mark) set out to establish other civilizations, where there would be future clashes and diverse developments of dialogues and demographics, the story doesn’t change.  The question still remains, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

AND from there, we proceed to Part II.

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