Our story is one of family conflict – 2 brothers in conflict. It is also a story of grace. It’s a simple story – two brothers offer sacrifices to God…God accepts Abel’s and rejects Cain’s. We are not given a reason as to why God responded this way because the point of this story comes in Cain’s response and…ultimately in God’s response. Cain is angry…it is easy to surmise that the anger is due to jealousy…maybe there was rivalry between the two. There are similar rivalry stories in the OT: Abraham and Lot, Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers – just to name a few.
As in the case of Cain and Abel, along with several of these other rivalry stories, when the younger is favored over the older, disputes occur. Birth rights and family inheritance play a major factor in these conflicts. Just a little history here – in biblical Israel, the family unit is the basic unit of society…everything is built on this fundamental idea from clan to tribe to kingdom…family integrity is of most importance. Family structure and stability is essential, therefore, to the stability of society. As such, when conflict arises, and we know it does, the importance of our story is on how the family structure and society is to respond and Cain and Abel aren’t such good role models here.
Even though we aren’t told specifically why, it seems fairly safe to believe that God saw the difference between the brothers because both the individual and the type of sacrifice are mentioned in concert together. But don’t miss the ultimate point of this story which is God’s grace and mercy. Despite what can only be explained as God’s grief when he hears the soil cry out Abel’s murder comes the grace and mercy in protecting Cain. While Cain’s sin continues the curse began in Eden, this new ground is too cursed and Cain is to be banished to the desert, Nod, which means wandering or nomad – it isn’t a specific country…and because Cain is banished from the Lord’s presence, it certainly appears to imply a place ceaseless wandering…with God’s mark protecting him.
We get angry over many things…here’s a thought and a prayer to close out today’s passage – it comes from Hebrews 12 (The Message): “Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.” Blessings and peace to each of you this day…Amen.