“What Have You Done…”

“The murderer rises at dusk to kill the poor and needy, and in the night is like a thief.”

Job 24:14 (NRSV)

“Sure,” Abel had said, surprised and eager he’d warrented any attention at all from Cain. From a small, delicate boy, he’d grown into a thin, well-proportioned young man, maybe not strong like his brother, but certainly able, anyway, to herd sheep and goats. Often away in the fields, Abel was usually all but forgotten by his family, left out of the inside jokes. But this evening, their work done, Cain had made a special effort to include Abel, and had even suggested spending some time together.

“Come on,” he’d said, “You’ll see how the barley is doing, I think it’s the best field I’ve sown yet.” Abel had always enjoyed the barley loaves Cain made, from his harvests, and though Abel was no farmer, he appreciated his brother’s skill in drawing out sustenance from the unyielding and resistant earth.

I picture them both, strolling together, the larger, bulkier Cain, leaning down a little to listen as Abel spoke, both admiring the sun setting over the swaying grain. Perhaps Cain seemed somewhat preoccupied as he looked around, searching for the right spot, away from people, from witnesses. Maybe it was with a nonchalant movement Cain reached down for the stone. “I have to keep up with it,” he might have said to Abel, “I’m always clearing stones from my fields.” But this stone, this stone had a dark purpose.

And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.[1]

Cain had developed such a habit of self‑centered thinking that he had failed to recognize God’s kindness and love towards him, he had failed to heed God’s warning about his own pride and sin. His is a cautionary tale for us today. Often enough, you and I can also be quick to believe what is not true, quick to listen to voices and messages that are not from God. We will have dark thoughts about who God is, what God wants, God’s motives and God’s activity in our lives; dark thoughts about people and experiences that cause discomfort, and dark thought patterns, dark strategies and methods that immediately kick in under certain conditions – this is what the Bible calls strongholds.

Our God-given capacity to feel, emotions that enhance our knowledge and experience of Him and each other, cover the whole spectrum of life, from ecstasy to horror, from rapture to envy, from sorrow to elation, grief to bliss, serenity to rage. Cain’s smoldering resentment, anger, hurt pride, jealousy, and envy, which he brooded over and nurtured, covered a dark spectrum that drained away his joy and delight.

You and I might think such thoughts are no big deal, look at all the awful things we never actually said, and we never actually did; no one is affected by those thoughts, right? But thoughts are powerful, they are how we see the world, how we interpret life, they provide the meaning to everything we observe and experience, they become labels and biases, trends and motivations. Unminded thoughts still create a perspective, and a framework, from which hang our feelings, and our worldview.

Cain’s worldview, and self view, became ever more warped and darkened, until his smoldering anger made the unthinkable reality.

The apostle John, who as a young man had such an anger problem he was called a son of thunder, wrote at the end of his life that, as far as God is concerned, if you and I hate our brother we have murdered him in God’s sight, just like Cain murdered his brother. In fact, the apostle wrote, “We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

The word John used for ‘murder’ means ‘violent death,’ the same word used for when the priests would slaughter an animal at the altar, slitting its throat while it was wide-eyed with terror, and pouring the blood out; but, instead of a lamb, the victim was Abel, and instead of a sacrifice, it was a murder. Even ‘murder’ is not strong enough a translation, it should be more like ‘brutally butchered.’  There is no middle ground between evil and righteousness, or between light and darkness. You and I must choose one side or the other. We cannot remain a little bit jealous, or a little bit resentful, or a little bit selfish and self-centered. Terrible fruit will grow from the trees rooted from even a little bit of that dark seed.

Cain must have felt his hair stand on end when God’s disembodied voice spoke to him, there alone in the field, as the thirsty dirt soaked up his brother’s blood. “Where is Abel, Cain? Where is your brother?” The insolence of Cain’s reply would have been shocking, had Cain not already established himself as self-involved, self-absorbed, self-serving, self-protective, and self-promoting. He lied to God, and there is a hint of sarcasm, a play on words, to the effect of, “I don’t know where Abel is. What?!  You expect me, a farmer, to shepherd the shepherd?!”

How you ‘hear’ what God said in reply, will depend on how you hear God’s voice in your own heart. Did the Lord cry out in anguish? Or was God angry? Is this the voice of a heart-broken father, or the righteous wrath of a just God?

“What have you done?”

Does it not remind you of the conversation God had with Cain’s own father, many years before? “Where are you?” Like father, like son, for as Adam had brought death into the world, so now his son Cain had brought murder. “The sins of the fathers…”

“Listen,” God said. And, I imagine, there was silence for a while. Cain would have begun to notice the sound of the breeze, as it rustled through the grasses and grain, in the field where Cain was standing. He might have heard the tiny, secret sounds of little creatures, scrabbling among the stalks. He might have heard the sound of a distant hawk as it called to its young. And then, closer to hand, the sound of insect wings, whirring, of flies, buzzing over the fresh blood seeping around Cain’s feet, and over the splatters of blood on his arms and the bits of hair and brain on his face.

“Listen.”

God continued, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” Did a sudden vision of Abel’s wide, gaping mouth suddenly flash before Cain’s view, Abel’s eyes bulging in terror, choked death rattling in Abel’s throat?

Cain thought he had acted in secret, but God had seen it all. The author of Hebrews wrote “the blood of Jesus speaks of better things than the blood of Abel.” The blood of Jesus cried out before God for forgiveness, and continues to cry constantly for mercy, for grace to all who come under it. But the blood of Abel was crying out to God for justice.

[1] Genesis 4:8 (NRSV)

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

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