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)
Qayin (Cain) smites his brother Hevel (Abel), and then God interrogates Qayin with questions to which He certainly already knows the answer (I’ve already written about why God would do this here).
There is also much Internet clutter about how Qayin killed Hevel. Apparently it’s something our inquiring minds want to know, but I think any investigation to uncover the murder weapon is following a red herring. The truth is, it would’ve been included had it been something we NEED to know. Though there is one process we can use to uncover lessons that YHVH, the King of the Universe, wants our little human minds to grasp.
If we read the text in Hebrew and identify what words are used in repitition we can identify trends and reduce speculation. It just so happens there is one word that sticks out like a sore thumb, not just in this highlighted verse but throughout the whole chapter. That Hebrew word is “akhi”, the word for “brother”. In the verses concerning Qayin and Hevel, akhi appears seven times (yes, there “seven” is again). In fact, after YHVH asks, “Where is Hevel your brother (akhi)?” He ONLY refers to Hevel as “your brother”.
The simple answer is that God isn’t concerned with us identifying the murder weapon. What He appears to want us to understand is that Qayin targeted his akhi… his brother, his own flesh and blood.
In response to God’s question (which is literally “Where did Hevel your brother go?“), Qayin 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 to see 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?” This is how I interpret it based on my understanding that Qayin was the epitome of a narcissist… who responds to adversity by eliminating “competition”.
Once his brother Hevel’s sacrifice was looked upon by God, Hevel – suddenly – became favored by his parents, too. There is a big change in the backstory from the beginning of Hevel’s life to how he was perceived after his murder, as Adam and Havah (Eve) appear to view Hevel as the seed to carry out God’s favor after they were gone (cf. Gen. 4:25). (Note: I will expand on why that was so important to them when the time comes.)
But when Hevel gained so much favor by his parents, Qayin – as a narcissist – probably assumed that he lost their favor. Since the Bible hints at Adam and Havah beginning to think more highly of Hevel – as they should have all along – Qayin’s response might be understood with an underscore of jealousy and insidiousness. The bottom line is that Qayin’s response indicates that he thought everyone else was Hevel’s keeper… everyone except Qayin, that is: “the keeper of my brother… is me!?” (with the unspoken narrative of ‘You, O God, accept him, my parents favor him now… if they and You love him so much, why didn’t you all keep him, why are you looking at me?’)
What Qayin failed to understand is that there was no reason to be enraged, as God spoke to him (cf. 4:6). The favor that comes from both God and parents isn’t a competition. Favor was meant to be a shared joy of the community, not an exclusive entitlement! And that’s what I think is the parshat (simple) and foundational message of this early part of Scripture – a common truth that anyone who would read the Bible would see (and hopefully learn) right away. If you don’t grow up with your brothers and sisters loving them – and preserving them – you won’t have a home to come home to. You too will be like a wanderer in the earth. You will ruin your life, and set back the lives of your family as well. As we continue to read this story, that’s exactly what we find. Qayin 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 implications is this: 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 Qayin and Hevel story, God is preparing everyone to love his family that he may grow up to love his neighbors… even the brethren… who are our fellow believers in the Kingdom of God.
And we also come to yet another prophecy of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). In the Scriptures, the Messiah is also associated to the word akhi (brother) as David suggested that Messiah will come as One of Yisrael “in the great congregation” (meaning on one of the three major feasts when all Israel was to assemble at Jerusalem, cf. ). In Psalm 22, when Messiah is depicted as declaring the greatness of YHVH at the major feasts, being surrounded by the wicked, with pierced feet and hands, and with great thirst – you know, everything that occurred at Yeshua’s final Passover – we also see this word “akhi” to describe how Messiah would view the rest of Israel.
He was their akhi as the Scriptures say (cf. Psalm 22:22).
And like Qayin, remarkably, Israel was allowed to survive… into a period of wandering, without actually answering the question “Where did your akhi go?”
Which I suppose makes a great topic for another time. Ω