Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Christian MölkFriend of Strangers Leave a Comment

If we in the last chapter could see that we humans are created in the image of God, I want to show in this chapter that we are also created to be each other’s fellow human beings. Since human beings were originally created by God, all human beings have a common origin and are fellow human beings with each other, and a sin against fellow human beings is a very serious sin. If Adam and Eve’s sin was a sin against God, they did not listen to the Word of God and had to leave the garden as a consequence,[i] then Cain’s sin was a sin against his fellow man, he killed his brother,[ii] and had to leave the field as a consequence.[iii]

The story of Cain and Abel begins with each of them bringing an offering to the Lord from their respective work:

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.”

(Ge 4:3-5)

God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. However, this is not because Abel’s animal sacrifice was better than Cain’s fruit sacrifice, but because Abel offered his sacrifice “in faith”[iv] , which Cain did not. God does not accept religious sacrifices without faith just because they are religious. On the other hand, God accepts sacrifices in faith, whether they are performed in a proper religious manner or not.

Cain’s sacrifice of crops certainly looked more beautiful than Abel’s sloppy and bloody animal fat. But God is not interested in an empty and contentless religion, however beautiful and glorious it may be. God wants to receive the faith and genuine worship of our hearts. The difference between Cain and Abel’s sacrifice is the universal difference between the faith of the heart and empty religious rites. As Jesus said; it is better to worship God in spirit and truth[v] in your private room,[vi] than to perform religious rites without faith in a beautiful church in a splendid robe.

Cain was jealous of his little brother when God accepted Abel’s offering but not his. Cain could not accept that God considered Abel more righteous, and sin began to grow in his heart. But God did not reject Cain, but instead lovingly tries to speak to him. God warns Cain that the anger he still holds inside could quickly lead to violence if he does not repent:

6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.””

(Ge 4:6-7)

But despite God’s warning, Cain completed the sin that he had allowed to grow in his heart. Cain lures his little brother out into the field and kills him. This was neither an accident nor a spur of the moment, it was a planned and premeditated murder:

8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?””

(Ge 4:8-9)

When God asks Cain where Abel is, he of course knew where Abel was, he didn’t need directions. But by asking, God gives Cain a chance to repent and be forgiven for his sin.

Cain’s answer reveals the selfishness and disinterest of a worldly man in his fellow man. Literally, Genesis 4:9 says, “Am I my brother’s shamar?”

“Shamar” is a wonderful Hebrew word that can be translated as “take care of”, “keep”, “observe”, “careful”, “preserve”, “guard”, “guardian”. The word is used, among other things, when God tells Adam to “watch over” the Garden of Eden.[vii] Or when God commands Abraham to “keep” the covenant[viii] and “keep” the way of the Lord.[ix] God makes a promise to the patriarch Jacob to “watch over” him wherever he goes,[x] and Jacob in turn makes a promise to God that if God is the “shamar” of Jacob, then the Lord will be the God of Jacob.[xi]

So yes, implicitly Cain is supposed to be his brother’s “shamar”. God wants us humans to “take care” of each other. That we preserve each other, watch over each other, guard against dangers and protect each other. That we are each other’s “fellow man” in simple terms. God expects that of us.

As I said, God knew the answer to his question, but he wanted to give Cain a chance to confess his sin. But as if Cain’s murder wasn’t enough, Cain hardens his heart further by lying to God in answer to the question. Once you start sinning, you are caught in its grip until you confess your sin and are helped by God to find a way out through forgiveness and restoration.

When Cain does not confess, God reveals Cain’s sin and says that he hears Abel’s blood crying out from the ground, the same ground in which Cain tragically grew his crops earlier:

10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14Behold, 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.” 15Then 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. 16Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

(Ge 4:10-16)

God’s punishment will be linked to the sin Cain committed, he killed Abel on his farmland, and he will therefore no longer be able to cultivate the land. The curse on Cain is an amplification of the curse on Adam when he sinned.[xii] While Adam would be allowed to work the land “by the sweat of his brow” and live “of painful labor”, Cain would not even be able to work the land at all. While Adam was driven from Eden, Cain would find no home at all on earth.

But Cain was more distressed by the punishment God was about to give him than by the harm he had done to his brother. Of course, it would have been better if Cain had been more despairing about his sin than about God’s punishment, because then God would have been able to forgive him and restore him.

Cain’s sin in its entirety consisted of carrying out empty religious acts without faith, becoming jealous of a true believer, which led to the murder of a fellow human being, and finally lying before God. This sin is called “the way of Cain” in Jude verse 11. Paul describes it as having a holding to the form of Godliness but denying its power“.[xiii] Being religious without faith risks leading to jealousy and persecution of true believers.

But even though Cain’s sin was very great, God did not want Cain to suffer the same terrible fate that Cain had inflicted on Abel. After all, God cares about Cain and gives him a promise that no one will be able to murder him.

In conclusion, we can see from the creation story that man’s sin consisted in Adam and Eve not listening to God and Cain killing his brother and fellow man. God created us humans in his image and as fellow human beings, but in the fall we stopped caring about God and each other. As a response and contrast to this twofold original sin of humanity, the core summary of the Bible emerges: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.[xiv]

This book is mainly about the second part of man’s sin, that is, hating your fellow man by transforming your brother into a stranger and enemy. In this book I will go through how God, through the history of Israel and the church, shows his heart for the stranger, makes reconciliation on the cross, and slowly but surely helps man to move from xenophobe to xenophile, to begin to love his enemy and through the power of the Holy Spirit transform a hated stranger into a beloved brother and sister in the Lord.

You have read a free chapter of my book Friend of Strangers. If you like this book, please consider purchasing the ebook through Amazon. Since English is not my native language, there may be some linguistic inaccuracies. Please contact me if you find any.

Read the next chapter: Lest We Be Scattered

Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Ge 3:6

[ii] In both the Old and New Testaments, the word “brother”, in Hebrew “ach” and in Greek “adelphos”, is used to describe a male sibling or a male relative . In a broader sense, the word can also mean a friend , a peer or a member of the religious community . So although the Bible often uses the masculine term “brother”, we understand that the meaning is the more neutral “fellow human being” or “sibling”.

[iii] Ge 4:8–9

[iv] Heb 11:4

[v] Jn 4:23

[vi] Mt 6:6

[vii] Ge 2:15

[viii] Ge 17:10

[ix] Ge 18:19

[x] Ge 28:15

[xi] Ge 28:20–21

[xii] Ge 3:17–19

[xiii] 2Ti 3:5

[xiv] Lk 10:27

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