Wise counsellors tell us that ‘toughening up’ in times of trouble can leave us hardened in our relationships where it is important to remain tender. Don’t let pain leave you… ‘raising Cain’☺️.
The Pleading of the Lamb
“And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.””
Genesis 4:3-7 NKJV
There is so much left for the imagination to fill in, of what the daily life of the first family may have looked like. As the first two off-spring of Adam and Eve grew, they must have followed their dad, Adam, around like all sons are prone to do. The curse of the Fall involved the loss of Adam’s once delightful gardening occupation: Shut out from Eden, he now had to till the soil, coaxing food from it to feed the growing family. This Cain observed and in firstborn fashion followed his father’s new laborious toil.
Abel, perhaps, observed something else in his dad— his love for the animals. Livestock, which he had domesticated, likely reminded Adam of happier days in the garden, naming, taming and playing with the animals. Did he have personal favorites? Perhaps the dog…But for usefulness, surely the sheep were his choice, perhaps having observed the utility of the skin which God had showed them how to use. That was on that terrible day, when the first animal ever was killed to cover their new-found nakedness, shame and guilt, and to shield from the vulnerability that life outside Eden would present.
Each time Adam killed an animal for clothing, covering and shelter, he likely relived that moment and used it to thank God and to remind Him of this interim arrangement and the promise of the ultimate remedy that would one day come, somehow, through Eve’s Seed. Abel perhaps watched and decided that that was the job he wanted— to help raise those animals for covering and to keep the hope of the new day alive. He knew it was his father’s hope: that day, when reconciled with God, his whole family could have those amazing times of fellowship again with God in the Garden, in the cool of the day.
Was that the first time that Cain had felt the flush of envy wash over him like a stinging bath? The day when God ‘respected’ Abel’s gift and not his? Had he observed the tenderness Abel and Adam shared as they cared for the lambs and the ewes together? And their union in grief as they selected the sheep to be offered for the next covering, as more babies came, and more tents were needed? Did he scowl and seethe each time he dragged in tired from the field? Did he feel that Abel was not spending enough time working there, not doing his share? It was the family’s stable source of food. The berries, wild rices and pods that Abel and his dad foraged could scarcely keep the whole family alive. He knew his work was important so why did God not seem to value it as He did Abel’s stupid lambs?
Envy bubbled up into resentment, hardening into hatred, as he fell asleep that night. In the morning, he was still tired from the tossing that had marked the night watches. Angrily he cast off the sheepskin cover, and groped his way in the semi-darkness, stumbling at the door of his tent. After relieving himself, he sauatted to splash water on his face from the nearby stream. The undisturbed pool dammed up by his father for the family’s use, reflected his darkened countenance in the greying morning. As he stared at himself, a gentle breeze tussled his hair and a Voice sweeter than the tune of his father’s reed music, filled his mind, and caused the early morning songbirds to hush their singing. It called his name.
“Cain, why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
It was the Lord! He knew it! A million times he had heard His father speak of that Voice and presence that would greet and fellowship with them in the cool of Eden’s days. At last he dared to look up, as the leaves of the overhanging trees finally ceased their trembling, and the birds resumed their song with greater gusto. The moment had passed.
As he dropped his head again, he locked eyes with himself in the pool. “Why now? Why here, where no one else can see? Why not speak to me yesterday when the whole family was looking on, and saw the heavenly fire consume Abel’s sacrifice?” As the shadow returned to his brow, his hands gripped the bank’s soft mud. Not bothering to wash them, he rose and left the place of cleansing. Spying a basket holding the previous day’s foraging, he seized a handful of berries and a couple of eggs, muddying the whole batch. Washing the berries down with the eggs slurped raw from their shells he grabbed his heavy stone tools, and headed to his field.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the distant primeval hills when he arrived on the outskirts of his cultivated area. That’s why he thought he was imagining things when he saw something crouching near the center.“A wild animal”, he quickly assessed and headed stealthily towards it, his rustic mattock in hand, eager to make a kill to release his pent up anger. He was almost close enough to strike a stunning blow with the thrown mattock, when the sun broke over the ridge and the creature rose up to full height, revealing itself to be his younger brother with a lamb in hand.
“Why you fool!”, he yelled, gripping the mattock furtively. “I could have killed you for a wild beast!”
Abel laughed light-heartedly, “Oh, I heard this lamb bleating before sunrise and came to find it before the wolves did! How he got out of the fold I don’t know.” He laughed again as the lamb wriggled free and ran off among the cultivated crop.
Still grimacing in anger, Cain yelled, “How many times have I told you to keep those filthy creatures out of my fields?!”
Bending down to retrieve his shepherd’s staff, Abel quipped, “Well, clearly the Lord doesn’t think they are filthy. He received my sacrifice completely yesterday, if you recall…” Having straightened up and turned to follow the fleeing lamb, Abel did not even see the mattock raise nor feel the air displaced by the swift death-dealing blow.
The sun’s rays were now a glaring spotlight on the scene, as Abel’s body slumped and his blood pumped profusely on the cultivated ground of Cain’s anger. He had missed his moment by the stream, an offer of mentorship by the Divine Paraclete: What if he had paused to accept and receive by asking,
“Lord, what does it mean for a cultivator to ‘do well?’ Teach me how to offer the sacrifice that You choose, that You respect, and how to rule over the sin that ‘desires to have me’?”
As he backed away from the scene, in denial of having committed the first murder, his ears still missed the pleading of the Lamb.