Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tale of Two Brothers

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Knowing the incident that highlights this character, like Judas Iscariot, we are predisposed to the impression that Cain had always been a black sheep, and his younger brother, a gentle, saintly, quiet-as-a-lamb, skinny little nipper. Notwithstanding his being the Bible's first murderer, the value judgment we pass on his reputation has been stretched quite too far.

Nowhere in the Bible does it designate Cain being a rebellious son from the beginning. As a matter of fact, he, as his young brother Abel, was raised in the strictest obedience to Adam's Godly tradition. This is manifest in his deliberate adherence to the pre-mandated ritual sacrifice of their firstfruits. Here is where the controversy started to simmer.

There is a popular notion that Cain actually offered up the rotten portions of his farm produce. This is downright impossible on the account that the sacrificial rite needed to take place at a time shortly after harvest time, if not at the onset of harvest itself, to ensure freshness of the yield. There is no known problem the Bible makes mention prior to the sacrifice that would connect Cain into committing the unprecedented first murder. Cain was, in fact, the unlikeliest person to fall precipitously from the grace of God. Being the firstborn of the earth's first man, it is all so possible that Cain felt great responsibility in taking Adam's culture of worship beyond his father's lifetime. It is almost doubtless that Adam instilled to his firstborn the solemnity of his call. Cain was seriously aware that his title as the firstborn male of God's firstborn male lay beyond the concept of privilege. Yet if this sentiment brought him to believe that it was up to himself to prove his worth, to do something to match his father's credit, his life then lay in harm's way. If this ever was the case, then it is here where Cain's downfall takes root, not in the day of the sacrifice.

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Cain was a hard worker; and he delighted in the sacrifice he always gave. He surrendered to God what was due God, and every time he did, he did it with a hilarious heart. It is not difficult for us to surmise this, for God, according to the Bible, "does not change" (James 1:17, also in Malachi 3:6, New International Version). The writer of the Book of Hebrews, in asserting Jesus Christ's equality with the Father, claims in effect that God "is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:6). When it comes to sacrificially giving to Him, therefore, such an act would not be complete if it were not given by a "cheerful giver" (II Corinthians 9:7, New International Version). Note that this blessed joviality was the first thing to vanish when God one day looked with favor at the younger sibling Abel's immolated lamb, and not at the rich crops freshly picked from Cain's arduously plowed farmland. Cain was a farmer. It was no doubt that hard work was the only kind of work he knew. Giving his best and his physical and intellectual fullest became a lifestyle for him. As far as he was concerned, he toiled harder than Abel, who was mostly seen merely standing among the flock or sitting rested under the spreading canopy of a tree in the heat of the day. Back then, predatory beasts were unknown or unheard of for both man and animal lived under a heavenly mandate that limited food consumption to only vegetables and fruits (Genesis 1:29–30). Slaying flesh-bound beings for food was called bloodshed, a practice that later dragged all creation into corruption.

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Abel’s Sacrifice

What was it then about Abel's sacrifice that caught God's attention and not to afford any affection for the firstborn's? The concept of the younger brother's offering can be traced back to the Garden of Eden on the day God delivered unto Adam, Eve, and the serpent the judgment of the Fall. Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the forbidden tree to corrupt all creation with the sin of disobedience. To restore all that was lost, God promised the arrival of a Deliverer, a Messiah. Genesis 3:15 contains this promise, including the specific measure the Christ would take to consummate the re-purifying task: a sacrifice of earthly death.

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (New King James Version).

The sight, therefore, of a slain lamb being offered in holy sacrifice gripped the Creator's heart, since it vivified the idea of His very prophecy. And the only spectator to behold this ritualized interpretation of the Christ's sacrifice was God. It was to Him a unique, creative, and unexpected realization of His promise carved by a flesh-bound child of finite days. The typology was perfect. He took the "firstlings of his flock" (Genesis 4:3 NIV), a concept that established the lamb as the everlasting symbol of the Christ. Three instances in the Book of the Revelation (5:6, 12, and 13:8) was Jesus Christ pictured as a "Lamb, looking as if it had been slain" (NIV). In John 1:29 and 36, John the Baptist called Him "the Lamb of God." At that point, Abel was able to accomplish for the first time since the expulsion from Eden what Adam, Eve, and Cain had endeavored: to capture the heart of God. It was the beginning of the blood sacrifice, adopted much later into the Mosaic worship pattern for sin offering. It was also the beginning of Cain's spiritual downfall.

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As far as Cain was concerned, touching the heart of God was his privilege as firstborn, after all, being such not only entitled him to grip the torch of worship leadership after his father but also to raise it to even further heights. By the younger's sacrifice, however, that dream was apparently washed away from "rightful" hands to one so unsuspectingly least. There was a new form of worship born into the Adamic house, approved by God, and Cain had nothing to do with it.

Did Cain feel his authority and privilege slipping from him to his young brother? He will continue to be firstborn, yes; but in the ensuing event, only as one in the order of birth. The substance of Cain's life-long envy, as felt at the very moment he watched God savour the bloody sacrifice, will be that his birthright will be transferred to Abel. For this not to happen there must be no Abel to receive this blessing. It was a plan Cain thoroughly laid out, totally drenched with the spirit of bitterness.

Significance of the Brothers’ Conflict:

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The Old Testament is no stranger to sibling rivalry gone lethal, that of Cain and Abel merely being one of them. We are all so familiar with the story of Joseph in Genesis who was hated by his brothers (Genesis 37:6) because of a vision for his life shown to him by God. Some commentators criticize Joseph for impulsively verbally spilling his secret to antagonists. Yet down does one expect of a seventeen-year-old boy (verse 2), the least in a family of over a dozen brothers, who was given a vision from the God loved and feared by all? In this story, the spectre of death did hover over young Joseph’s life. In verse 18, his brothers “plotted to kill him.” In the verse that follows, it was almost agreed by the seething brothers that this young and harmless “dreamer” be killed and thrown into a cistern. Fortunately for Joseph, the plan took on a different course: Reuben, the firstborn, discouraged any bloodshed; dropping the boy into the cistern alive, however, was concurred.

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Before the story of Joseph, his father Jacob also had a life-and-death situation with his brother Esau, also involving the destiny of a birthright. The futures of Jacob and Esau had been discernible from their time in their mother Rebekah’s womb. In Genesis 25:32, it says that “the babies jostled each other within her.” Distressed, Isaac inquired of the LORD in behalf of his wife as to the significance of this turmoil.

“The LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger’” (verse 23).

How this was accomplished almost destroyed the family. Esau became his father Isaac’s favorite. It is suggested that Esau became a hunter, “a man of the open country” (verse 27), a sportsman.  With an image that could be arrayed with the likes on an Orion, he was physically the stuff that a hero was made of. Adorned with a six-gun and a lasso, he would look no different from the cowboy of western legend. He was the best candidate to establish a “stronger people.” Probably every time he came home, he had a gift of wild game for his daddy, who had a taste for it (verse 28). He was everything his father was not, and therefore became the latter’s favorite.

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Jacob, the twin, on the other hand was everything his brother was not. He was smooth of skin while his brother was hairy (27:11). He loved to cook (26:29). He was “quiet…staying among the tents” (verse 27).

The story of the brothers’ fate is so rich with significance that many of us have given up exploring what has yet been unravelled. And among these is the typology drawn of the relationship between the Christian church and Judaism.

Throughout the Bible, a curious trend sweeps its stories, and is eventually explained by Jesus Christ to be a principle to God's chosen nation and the church: the first will be last, and the last will be first. And it begins with Cain and Abel. Did the brother's offerings reflect the death of the old form of worship, embodied by Cain, to give way to the new, as typified by Abel? In most instances, we cling to the more obvious lesson of the fallen brothers: carnality versus spirituality. Never have we seen the principle of a worship cycle's rise, ebb, and rebirth depicted by Cain and Abel. What is more chilling is that Cain's murderous reaction to the new trend pictures, in fact, a disposition that resides in the heart of any God-worshiper. It lies dormant and hidden until the opportune time, when God's attention is drawn to "another favorite."

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Evangelical Bible scholars speak of the periods and stages of church revivals in history as "moves of God." And in every "move of God," there has been displayed a hostile welcome by the very body that birthed it. Christianity, for instance, faced several attacks by its mother, Judaism, until achieving independence by enrooting its membership in Europe's gentile population. At this time, St. Paul, in his epistles, vehemently taught and instructed various churches to reject the doctrine of certain "Judaisers": infiltrators and "false brothers" (Galatians 2:4 New International Version) who came to spy on and convince the Christians in fellowship regarding the importance of the circumcision rite in order to ensure spiritual salvation. In essence, what the Judaisers wanted was for Christian’s gentile members to adopt Jewish religious customs, beginning with the vital rite of circumcision: the first Jewish rite established by Abraham. This was one of the three decisions made by the Apostle Paul to distance Christianity from Judaism.

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Since its inception, it seemed in the least that Christianity had always longed for the acceptance of Judaism, as a child yearning for its mother's smile and embrace. Almost none, however, was afforded the new spin-off faith. What it received instead was the death of its greatest teacher and unrelenting persecution. In its defense, survival, nourishment, and right to growth, Christianity's greatest and most unexpected convert, St. Paul, decided on three major factors that spelled independence from Judaism's standard: extending its membership to the pagans, or "Gentiles"; the abandoning of the customary Jewish dietary laws and the indispensable rite of circumcision; and the replacement of the Torah for Jesus Christ as the most vital link between man and the Father.

What If Abel Survived?

At this point, we cannot resist supposing what would have been if Abel survived at all. Would have he retaliated? Again, the Bible presents instances of warring kin where the chosen of God neither dies nor raises a finger against the aggressor.

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One is seen in Genesis 28:2–3 where an aged Isaac charges Jacob to flee to Padam Aram to escape the murderous wrath of his brother Esau. Another is in the First Book of Samuel where David, newly anointed to be the second king, is relentlessly pursued all over the Palestinian by a bloodthirsty and incumbent King Saul. David could have waged a counterattack against the King but chooses to flee believing that Saul was “the LORD’s anointed” (I Samuel 24:6 New International Version). Twice, David resists the opportunity of slaying the King, once in a cave where the latter to relieve himself (I Samuel 24:3) and another at the King’s very camp (I Samuel 26:7). It is amazing that these two instances had been prearranged by God, as expressed by David in 24:10 and by the Bible itself in 26:12, wherein it says that it was the LORD that had put Saul and his men “into a deep sleep,” so David and Abishai could sneak into the camp unnoticed and steal away the spear and water jug near Saul’s head.

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Therefore, instead of standing his ground in defense, David opts to seek asylum among Israel’s archenemy, the Philistines (I Samuel 27:1–28:2). And as if David’s running days were not over, in II Samuel 15:14, he—already crowned the King of Israel, the champion of many battles—decides to flee Jerusalem instead of suppressing the coup d’√©tat launched by his son Absalom. This usurping son and King Saul met the same gory fate, but not by David’s hands or through any of his clandestine directive. Absalom was killed by David’s commander Joab because of a swollen personal grudge, and Saul in a war against the Philistines, where twice he attempted suicide and finally orders a complying armor-bearer to kill him.

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In the New Testament, Jesus declined in a number of instances to prove his Godhood, from His temptation in the desert to His death on the cross. St. Paul enumerated some life-threatening sufferings he faced from his enemies: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; in journeys often …in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils among false brethren” (II Corinthians 11:24–26 New King James Version). Fighting back was never in their list of options.

Only a few people in the world know what it's like to be at the ugliest end of persecution. Among them are the Christians. And the Jews.

Finally, in the driving the examples closer to home, the Jewish people also chose to run—worse, to run and hide—first from their homeland in Palestine, then from almost every country they have sought refuge in. In the last two thousand years until May 14, 1948, a Friday at 4:00 P.M., the Jewish people had been adopted and then spewed from Western to Eastern Europe, then back to the West where they ran into the holocaust. The amazing thing was that they never fought back. Throughout two thousand years after the Roman siege of Masada, the Jewish diaspora was characterized with peaceful co-existence in an alien land and compliance to its laws, including edicts of banishment. Instead of putting up a fight, a Jewish enclave would almost immediately pack up and leave in choosing the best possible alternative to promote peace. Yet even before the Romans, the Jewish captive life under the Egyptians, Romans, Babylonians, and Persians prioritized peaceful co-existence and cooperation without being assimilated to the majority’s culture and gene pool.

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Being a typology of the Christ, Abel would not have retaliated at all. Rather, it must have been he who became “a restless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:14 New International Version), and not Cain. Abel would have been the one to found the first city mentioned in the Bible, and it certainly would not have been named Nod. And, again, being a typology of the Christ, there must have been no Cainite culture replacing the God-oriented Adamic. Instead, the latter would have been reinforced and taken into new heights of glory than being later debased by Cain’s line. Abel’s calling would have been sooner fulfilled in that he becomes the new generation priest of God to lead the world into a renewed and improved worship of the One True Creator.

But what of the Cainite culture? Though we may be primarily geared to believe that it would have gone better for the world without this decadent generation taking over the aging dominant Adamic culture, the suggestions given by our alternate scenario unfortunately bring something no less foreboding. The continued existence of Cain might have meant a successful turnover of leadership from his father, and this fault might have dealt an ignominious blow to Adam’s righteous house in the course of time. Again, this view can be justified by the example of King Solomon.

Who would have thought that the wisest and most-loved King in Israel was able to develop adversaries? I Kings 11:14 is clear that it was “the LORD who “raised up an adversary against Solomon” by the name of Hadad the Edomite; then Rezon the son of Eliadah in verse23; and Jeroboam, whose story is told throughout verses 26 to 40. With Jeroboam, not only did God raise him up, but through a prophet he was told: “Behold, I will tear the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give the ten tribes to you” (verse 31).

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Being a leader of a society and of a culture, Adam was in effect a king, Cain a prince. And should have Adam successfully bestowed his authority to Cain, God would have surely disapproved and most certainly did something about it, during the course of Cain’s reign if not before the actual bestowal. Yet there may have been a twist to this: what if Cain truly repented of his act and searched for Abel for forgiveness?

Such a situation will truly warrant forgiveness, knowing the character of the God they served, being of everlasting mercy (Psalm 100:5). Being the king of the Adamics, however, remains a different matter. Let us remember that, back during the momentous sacrifice, God had made the decision in favor of Abel.

This final matter on forgiveness is a basic matter fondly pondered by every believer of the Bible: what if he actually asked for forgiveness? It is a noble thought, credit given. But did Cain truly ask for forgiveness?

"Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9 New International Version)

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