In the last installment of Unbiased Bible Study we took a harsh look at the story of original sin. We discussed how it portrays women and human nature in toxic lights. Now we move on to chapter 4; the infamous story of Cain and Abel.
The Keeper of Sheep and the Tiller of Soil
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.Genesis 4:1, 4:2
According to the Bible, Eve gives birth to two sons, first Cain, then Abel. She went through the pain of child birth at least twice, a result of the curse laid upon her by God in the previous chapter. For reasons we’ll get into later in the chapter, we know that within the context of Genesis, Adam and Eve birthed more children than just Cain and Abel. However, it’s clear the Bible wants us to focus on the two brothers.
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.Genesis 4:3, 4:4, 4:5
After being punished for eternity by an all-powerful deity, the humans still seem inclined to worship him. God is somehow still supposed to be worth the offerings of flock and crops even after cursing them in a masterful scheme of his own design.
God appreciates Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. I’ve searched long and hard to find an explanation for this from christian sources. Most say Cain was not true in his devotion to the Lord. Others say that God saw an evil in Cain before anyone else did. The way I see it, Cain is justified in his frustration, if not his violent action.
Cain and his family have been lead around like puppets on a stage since the very beginning of human existence. God has shown his inconsistent, begrudging nature – and now, he shows favor to Cain’s brother in a seemingly unjust move. He’s ungrateful, there’s no other way to put it.
The First Murder in the Bible was Fratricide
And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.Genesis 4:6, 4:7
Cain is the first person in the Bible to feel resentment for God. He’s the first to observe the injustice behind God’s ways and react accordingly. God essentially tells Cain that he must abandon all sense of good or bad, of right and wrong, and instead adhear to the word of God.
If Cain insists on seeing the world through his own standards of what’s acceptable, God promises that sin will swallow him whole. The implication is clear – follow the word of God, unquestioning, and without hesitation. Any other route to truth is the fast track to sin.
God puts Cain in a double bind here. He insists that Cain follow his every command, but also neglects to aknowledge his sacrifice in favor of his brother. Yaweh unrealistically expects Cain to subdue his anger and frustration, even though he’s omniscient and knows exactly how this plays out in the end.
And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?Genesis 4:8, 4:9
God is omnipresent. Does that mean he was there when Cain slew Abel? Did he predict that it would happen, as he’s omniscient? Did God, being all-powerful, not have the power to stop it from happening? If God truly does love Abel, surely now is the time to intervene!
Instead, God arrives at the scene of the crime like a detective with an eyepatch. “Where is thy brother” is a question we would expect Adam or Eve to ask, not the allmighty Lord and creator of the universe.
And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.Genesis 4:10, 4:11, 4:12
So the Lord did know what Cain had done; it was true, after all! God knows all! Although I suppose that brings us back to square one – why oh why did he not intervene? If God created Cain, and God created Abel, if he made the flock of sheep that Abel kept and the crops that Cain had planted, then why is he acting like everything has gone horribly wrong?
Yaweh curses Cain, with what can only be described as blood magic. As Abel’s blood soaks the ground beneath his feet, God damns him to never again till the soil for crops. He takes from Cain his sense of purpose and his livelihood, and then finally casts him out away from his family, from his home, and from his God.
He does everything short of killing him outright, an act regarded by countless christians as merciful. Is it merciful to orchestrate the execution of one man, only to prove a point to another?
The Mark of Cain
And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.Genesis 4:13, 4:14
Clearly, Cain is not a particularly nice guy. He killed his brother in cold blood over a jealous minutia. The fact remains, though, that the Bible tries to portray him as wrong for turning his back on God, not for killing Abel. It’s all about God, you see.
That’s what’s great about this story. It’s a wonderful portrayal on God’s priorities. He hands out ‘justice’ as he sees fit, when any truly fair system would be based on a process of evaluation. Cain’s motives, the undeniable human nature behind his act, and the preexisting burdens put upon him by God aren’t even brought into question. It’s all just about worship and forgiveness.
And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.Genesis 4:15, 4:16
In an act of mercy, rather than smite Cain for murdering his brother in cold blood, he ties to him a ‘mark’ as it’s called, the Mark of Cain. The Mark ensures that anybody who slays Cain will feel Gods retribution sevenfold. It’s implied that everyone around him would instantly be aware of this mark, essentially warding him from harm. Justice?
Oh, and remember when I mentioned that Adam and Eve must have had more kids at this point than just the two brothers? The Bible is strongly inferring that there are at least a handful of other people out there. But, brother killing brother, cousin killing cousin, that’s not that bad…
A God who Sees Nothing Wrong with Incest… Yet
And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.Genesis 4:17
It’s impossible to talk about Genesis without adressing the evidential incest. Cain is the second generation of human beings. That means his wife is either also of the second generation of humans, meaning direct discendants of Adam and Eve (a.k.a his sister) or potentially of an even younger generation. Either way he calls his child, a child of incest, Enoch, and builds and names a city after him.
And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech. And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.Genesis 4:18, 4:19, 4:20
And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.And Zillah, she also bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubalcain was Naamah.Genesis 4:21, 4:22
And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.Genesis 4:23
The next few verses sprawl out the incestious history that proponents of the Bible love to ignore. It’s an attempt to demonstrate that Cain’s children bore the same curse he did. According to the Bible, Lamech killed as well, and presents his story to his two wives so proudly it almost sounds like a threat.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.Genesis 4:24
Lamech here is declaring that Cain’s protection extends to himself, though without God’s endorsement. It’s implied Lamech means that he and his people will deliver the vengeance without God’s help. Caine’s entire bloodline is causing trouble throughout the world that God created. Does he not intend to do something about it?
And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.Genesis 4:25, 4:26
As we jump back in time, back to Adam and Eve, many christian sources draw attention to Eve’s declaration that God had given her a child. This is evidence of nothing other than Eve’s faith in God’s existence, but Eve’s faith is incomparable to the faith expected of christians today. Eve directly experienced God. She watched as he walked through the Garden of Eden. She felt the pain of child birth as a direct result of what God had told her. In the context of the Bible, it’s entirely rational for her to have believed in God. The Lord has yet to meet that standard for billions of humans today.
Seth is born, quite literally to replace Abel, although someone should tell God human lives don’t work like that. Seth has another child of incest with his presumed sister, and so the 130-year old Adam becomes a grandfather. Keep in mind that according to science, the oldest person to ever live only made it to 122.
God will later condemn many forms of incest, and I promise, we’ll get to that. But because that hasn’t happened yet, because God hasn’t declared it bad yet, incest is not immoral. There you see the issue with one’s morality being based on one God’s word.
The Consequences of Sin
Abuse is a vicious cycle. First, you get somebody to fear you. Easy enough if you’re an all-powerful deity. Make them crave your praise, to the extent where they would crack their own brother’s skull out of feeling neglected by you. Then, only then, do you show them mercy and kindness. Bless them with a child. Give them divine protection. This is not a loving God, nor a hateful one. This is a God who doesn’t care whatsoever what happens to his people.
The story of Cain and Abel is about the apparent consequences of sin. It tries to stampen your doubts about Christianity not by providing explanations for inconsistencies but instead by embuing you with an inherent fear to question God or his choices. Cain paid dearly not for his crime, but for his lack of repentence.
But God can not save you, not forgive your crimes. You can learn to forgive yourself, and you can hope that others come to forgive you in time, but there is no divine solution for someone like Cain.