Biblical Reflections For Onam



 TEXT- GENESIS 4: 1-16

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for[c] you, but you must rule over it.”8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother.[d] And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.[e] 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.


The narrative of Cain and Abel is placed after the narrative of the breach in communion between God and Man where man and woman were driven out of the Garden of Eden. Even after being driven out , man was to till the Soil(adamah-{Hebrew word}). So even after the break in communion man still was a co-participant in creation as he carried forward his divine vocation of tilling and keeping the soil as seen in Gen. 2:15. Gen. 4:1 starts with the scene of human procreation where Eve after giving birth to Cain says “I have created man with the help of the Lord.” The word “Qanah” in Hebrew is translated as created and the noun form of “Qanah” is Cain. So here we see that Cain embodies creation in his name and also he is the seed of the man, formed out of soil( adamah). Cain becomes the tiller of the soil like his father. So he is called to carry forward the divine commission given to man in Gen. 2: 15 to till and keep the soil. In Gen. 4.3f we see that in the context of Yahweh worship, Abel’s offering as a shepherd is accepted but the produce of the ground of Cain is rejected. The narrative does not explain the ground of rejection but focuses on Cain’s envy caused by God’s favour towards Abel. This envy drives Cain to murder his brother with whom he shared the womb. As seen earlier he was the tiller ( obed) and keeper( shomer) of the soil( adamah), so that means he is the keeper of all that is a product of the soil. Abel, the seed of Adam, is a product of the soil and therefore protecting and keeping Abel was the divine vocation of Cain. So the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper” is a denial of this divine vocation. Cain whose name and vocation embodies creation and life paradoxically symbolizes death and destruction. In denial of his Divine vocation, God’s punishment is a sense of poetic justice. Cain is alienated from the soil that defined his being. If he is not the keeper of his brother, a product of the soil, then he is not the keeper of the soil too. He is cursed that his tilling of the ground will bring no yields. Later narratives and genealogy portray the descendants of Cain as city dwellers who represented a culture alienated from soil, promoting violence and evil. This alienation from the soil and embodiment of violence furthers the narrative logic of Yahweh repenting about his creation that He willed and saw “It was good”. This links this narrative to the flood narratives. Gen. 4:16 says that “Cain went from the presence of the Lord.” While in Gen. 6:9 says “Noah walked with God”. Here we see the portrayal of Noah as the anti-type of Cain as intentional. The name Noah means “Out of the soil that the lord has cursed, this one will bring us relief from our work and toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:29) after Cain was alienated from the soil the next man who established a relationship with soil and celebrated it is Noah, as it is said “Noah, a man of the soil, was first to plant a vineyard” (Gen. 9:20). Noah, whose ark became the symbol of continuity of creation after the destructive flood, was the keeper of every species of bird and animal. He also became the keeper of soil as seen, and he can be seen as an Ecological ideal with whom God makes a covenant, promising the sustenance of life and creation. This celebration of soil and life lead to the fruition of vision of the creative purpose of God and the furtherance of life.

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Community Centre



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