Monday, February 15, 2010

Am I my brothers keeper?

Yesterday, I heard a helpful and challenging talk on the account of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). A few points I learnt from Leigh Trevaskis, Lecturer in Old Testament at Queensland Theological College, include:

Interpretation of this passage tends to be influenced by Hebrews 11:4 which says that Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. But, this relies on commentary imbedded in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). The Genesis text gives no indication that Abel's sacrifice was superior.

Cain cannot handle God's choice. He is the jilted older brother; the first of many: Jacob and Esau, Reuben and Judah, ...
Cain is unable to cope with God's ruling of the world. His response is anger; in particular murderous anger (the Hebrew used for anger here usually precedes murder).

The word "brother" occurs seven times in the text, pointing to its central role in the story.

Cain is destined for more frustrated "gardening" (interaction with Gods creation), just like his parents were when they made the wrong choice. Similarily, there is parallel in the use of "keep". Adam and Eve were commanded to "keep" the garden (Genesis 2:15), i.e., care for and nourish God's creation. Cain refused to "keep" his brother.

The best anti-dote to resentment and anger towards our "brother" is to care for them and appreciate and affirm their gifts. This is particularly true for theological students and faculty.

How is this to be read in the light of the New Testament? Hebrews 12:22-24 is relevant:

But you have come to ..... Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

In passing, the cutting relevance of anger and jealousy in academic contexts was brought home when I read last night a Christian Science Monitor report:
A neuroscience professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville has been charged with capital murder for killing three people after opening fire at a faculty hearing. Dr. Amy Bishop reportedly had learned that her request for tenure had been denied for a second time.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Ross

    I am busy preparing a sermon for a Scottisch congregation in the Highlands and came across your excellent commentary on Gen 4. Thanks it is very helpful. I am a South African minister of religion working here with no library. If you have more good stuff on Gen 4 please send it on: Kind regards. God bless. Kobus Smit (Tongue, Scotland)