Adam’s Sons

Adam labored. Eve went into labor. And sons were born.

The first 2 statements above were signs of the fall from grace that sin brought into the world. The third statement reflects the bright light of the 1st parents’ dismal existance. How do I know? Eve’s exclamation at the birth of her 1st son: “I have gotten a man from the Lord!”

But the physical world was not the only arena that was corrupted by the Fall. Relational realities were also affected. The proof of this is in the way Cain and Abel’s story ended. There are so many pieces to try and put together about what happened between the birth of these brothers and the tragedy of their end, but let’s look at what is stated in the Bible and what we can draw from the text.

Cain means “possession.” Eve claimed Cain as a possession from the Lord. Abel, however, means “breath,” which indicates a releasing act, taking in and letting out. The difference between these two boys is shown not only in their names, but also on their choice of occupations. Cain, the possession, claimed a plot on which to grow produce from the earth. He raised plants that had no choice but to take root where they were planted and grow upward in order to put on buds, blooms, and fruit. This probably kept Cain close to home, likely only a short walk to where his labor occurred. It is what his father did to provide a living. And it was convenient for his mother to look out and gaze upon her possession from the Lord.

Abel tended sheep, roaming range animals that took their keeper away from home and to the place with the best grazing. This stands out to me in a couple of ways. First, similar to young David, Abel seems to have experienced a little bit of isolation away from home. But, unlike sheep in the time of David, there is no biblical evidence that livestock were kept for food at this time (Gen. 9:3 is the first command to eat animals). They would have been primarily used as sacrifices to God; secondarily as raw material for clothing and other uses (Gen. 3:21, 4:4). It seems as if Abel may have chosen (or been thrust into) a “higher calling,” ranging far afield with the sacrificial sheep, while Cain stayed home and tended the family business. I imagine a dynamic where the dutiful first-born, the responsible one, looks on his younger brother with a mix of envy and scorn, as he breezes away to parts unknown with the flock.

But Cain and Abel probably were not the only ones culpable in this building tension. If we can draw from the scripture in other places in Genesis, and from general knowledge of family dynamics, there is another layer to this story. More to come…

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