Genesis 4:9, If You Can’t Love Your Brother, How Can You Love Your Brethren?
The LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel, your brother?” He said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
After Cain smote his brother Abel, God begins to interrogate Cain even though He already knew the right answer (I’ve already written about why God would do this here).
It doesn’t surprise me that an all-knowing God asks questions of men, but what does surprise me is all the chatter over how Cain killed Abel. Apparently it’s something inquiring minds want to know, but I think any investigation to uncover the murder weapon is just following a red herring. The truth is, the weapon would’ve been included in the text had it been something we NEED to know. That being said, there is one way we can uncover the lesson here that YHVH, the King of the Universe, wants our puny human minds to grasp.
If we read the text in Hebrew and identify trends in any words used repetitively, we can reduce some of our speculation. It just so happens there is one word here that sticks out like a sore thumb, not just in this highlighted verse (of Genesis 4:9) but throughout the whole chapter. That Hebrew word is “akhi”, the word for “brother”. In the verses concerning Cain and Abel, akhi appears seven times (yes, there “seven” is again). In fact, after YHVH asks, “Where is Abel your brother (akhi)?”, God ONLY refers to Abel as “your brother”.
The simple answer is that God isn’t concerned with us identifying the murder weapon. What He wants us to understand is that Cain targeted his akhi, his flesh and blood.
In response to God’s question (which is literally “Where did Abel your brother go?“), Cain literally responds, “the keeper of my brother is… me?” (If he would have said ‘Am I my brother’s keeper’ as is traditionally translated we’d expect shamartiy or shamartiy-o, as in the literal ‘Do I keep my brother?’). In other words, from my chair it looks like he’s implying “you’re laying this on me!?” I believe this is fitting for Cain, the quintessential narcissist, who responds to adversity by eliminating the competition.
There is a big change from the backstory of Abel’s life once Abel’s sacrifice was looked upon by God. Whereas at first Abel was almost an afterthought, Adam and Eve suddenly changed their minds and began to see the younger Abel as the seed to carry out God’s favor (cf. Gen. 4:25). So when Abel gained this newfound favor by both God and their parents, Cain – as a narcissist – probably assumed that he lost their favor.
Thus Cain’s response “the keeper of my brother is me!?” might be understood with an air of both jealousy and insidiousness. Cain thought everyone else was Abel’s keeper… everyone except himself, that is. Cain’s unspoken narrative here is ‘You, O God, accept him, my parents favor him now… if you all love him so much, why didn’t you all protect him – why are you looking at me?) Yes, I believe this reads like Cain was testing God, to see if YHWH would deliver Abel when Cain attacked him!
Cain failed to understand is that there was no reason to be enraged, as God told him (cf. 4:6). The favor that comes from both God and parents isn’t a competition. Favor is meant to be shared; it’s not an exclusive entitlement! I think this is the parshat (simple) and fundamental message of this early Scripture – a common truth that anyone reading the Bible would hopefully learn right away: If you don’t love and preserve your brothers and sisters, you won’t have a home to come home to. Like Cain, you will be a wanderer in the earth. You will ruin your life, and will set back the lives of your family as well. As we continue to read this story, that’s exactly what we find. Cain ruined his life and set back what his parents were hoping to accomplish.
And now for the prophetic implications of this verse.
The crux of the whole of Scripture, and the crux of what Messiah taught is: you will not receive God’s favor if you are at odds with your greater “brethren”. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ is well known throughout Scripture, but the spiritual implication is: if you can’t love and shomer (keep/watch over/preserve/protect) your mother’s son who is your akhi, how could you love your neighbor who is also your “akhi”? In other words, with the Cain and Abel story, God prepares everyone to love his family that he may grow up to love his neighbors… even the brethren… our fellow believers in the Kingdom of God. In fact, there is one akhi in particular that we are to cherish and keep.
In Psalms 22:22, David foresaw that the Messiah is THE akhi, who says in the Spirit: “I will recount Your Name to my brethren (akhi) in the great congregation.” Of course, the entirety of Psalm 22 depicts Messiah as being surrounded by the wicked, pierced feet and hands, with great thirst – basically, everything that occurred at Yeshua’s final Passover when the great congregation was assembled for a major feast (cf. Exodus 23:17)- we also see this word “akhi” to describe how Messiah viewed Israel as his brethren, his family.
So Messiah Yeshua was an akhi to Israel as Abel was to Cain… and like Abel, the favored One was murdered.
Psalms 22 reads “He trusts in Yahweh; let him deliver him. Let him rescue him, since he delights in him” (vs. 8). In other words, David foresaw that Israel would treat Messiah the same way Cain treated Abel – “I’m not his keeper… why didn’t You, O God, deliver him from my hand?”
And like Cain, Israel was allowed to survive… into a period of wandering, with a declaration that none should harm Israel if they find him, and so forth… a great topic for another time. Ω