CAIN AND ABEL
WHAT COULD THE MOTIVE
By John Baker
We spend much time seeking to understand the violence of the Old Testament. We have a hard time convincing ourselves that the God of the Old Testament is a loving Father and not a wrathful, vengeful God who would rather mete out justice than grant mercy.
Perhaps if we tried to seek understanding by walking a mile in their shoes…?
Today was the day. The first sacrifice to be offered to God by the twins. Cain and Abel would today be officially recognized as priests in their own right, no longer dependent on Adam, their father, to secure their relationship with God. After today, they would be men full grown.
They had not known about this for long. Adam had come to them only a few weeks before and told them the time had come. He had taken them on a journey of many days walk. As they walked he had said nothing to them about where they were going or why, other than demand that they follow him. They asked the first few days and he told them nothing. They had become more insistent and he told them they would just have to wait. By the end of the twelfth day they were beginning to talk about turning around, this was getting to be too strange. They had long since passed the furthest point either had been from the warm well watered valley they called home, and the terrain was increasingly overgrown with tangled vines, towering trees, and huge ferns. They could rarely even see the sky and wondered if their father knew where he was going. The question in their minds as the days passed became how he knew where he was going even more than if he knew.
The terrain had begun to open up more three days before and their curiosity had been aroused when they had seen a faint glow in the sky seeming to emanate from beyond the horizon in the direction they were traveling.. Each night it had become more pronounced.
The morning of the last full day of their journey Adam told them that they would see the reason for themselves the next morning. They would just have to be patient a little longer because nothing he said could possibly explain until they had seen it for themselves. They grumbled but went along with him on the condition that one more day was it! They were up early the next morning. Adam seemed anxious and even nervous. They had never seen him this way. As they walked he began to open up to them. He seemed to suddenly be willing for them to know why. He spoke rapidly telling them the story of what had happened to their mother and himself; how God had exiled them from Eden because of his sin; how God had covered their nakedness by sacrifice, and how it was now necessary to give sacrifice to God to atone for their sin, as heads of their own families they would each be responsible to present the necessary sacrifice to God for the sin of his own family.
They were taking this all in with a great amount of unbelief. They had never seen their father act this way and thought there was something really wrong with him. They were at the point of not just turning around and walking home, but running. Their fear growing as they watched and listened to a man they didn’t know anymore.
The terrain had opened more, giving way to large grassy meadows with small groves scattered across a broad expanse. They had been climbing a very long ridge. In the near distance to their side was the Euphrates valley, with its lush green growth of wild grain and smaller groves of trees. It was so clear that as they topped the rise and saw the flickering, flaming swords flashing through the air in an endless dance that made a seamless wall they could not help it, they jumped back as if the flames would singe them. But they were still hundreds of yards from them. They looked again in curious unbelief. Behind the flashing blades they could see a lush inviting garden in the center of which stood two great trees. Taking in the view they were beginning to see that their father was not out of his mind; that all he had told them at least had some basis in truth because it stood right here before them!
Then suddenly their eyes were drawn away from the great trees, and the garden, and the swords, up, high above, to the gaze of those who were wielding them. Their countenance instilled fear, yes. But far worse was the feeling deep down of shame, of a rottenness in their bones; a sense of uncleanness they could not face. They fell backward and turned and ran as if driven. Adam had told them the story, indeed he was telling them of Eden when they topped the rise; but no words could describe the effects of being face to face with beings who lived in eternity before the very face of God. They didn’t believe until they saw. Just as their father knew they would not, could not!
Centuries later, the Israelites would get a small sample of the reflected Glory of the living God when Moses came down from the mountain. They told him he must veil his face else they could not stand in his presence. These beings reflected not just the glory of His rearward parts, but of His full presence; and no man on earth could stand in even the reflected Glory of God without seeing and sensing his own failure; his own shortcoming in the eyes of The Perfect Judge: he could see his own sin as GOD sees it.
Cain and Abel knew they would never come back to this place. If God wanted sacrifice, they would give it! That was certain! Adam alone knew the paradise that lay guarded against all who would seek to have it on their own terms or have it by their own hand; but he could not share it. His sons would have to seek their own path. From this day forward, he would not come here again either.
The journey home was made in silence, barely stopping for rest or food; each man dealing with the experience in his own way. Words were useless so each chose his course in silence and introspection. Yes, God would have their sacrifice that much was certain. The days after their return had passed quickly as each made his preparation for the coming of age; for his first step as priest leader of his own household.
And now the time had come. Upon their return, they had taken wives and they would have to take on the responsibility for themselves as heads of their own households.
On this Day of Atonement they would be responsible to God for their own sacrifice. And so they had gone about making sure they would have the best of the first fruits of their increase ready to give to God through burnt offering.
Now Cain was a farmer and he had the finest grain grown. He was proud of the fact that there were no tares in his field to pollute the crop and he was certain that when the time came to offer it up, God would be very pleased with his effort and conscientiousness in keeping it pure. Abel, on the other hand, was a shepherd. He cared for his flock and did his best to make sure that the most perfect lamb was ready to be offered up to God on that day, but he also realized that God was the one who decided the qualities of his flock. To Abel, the perfect sacrificial lamb was one provided by God Himself even if it was out of the flock he was tending.
There were other details concerning the altar and words of the ritual they felt they must have memorized, songs of praise to be written and sung, so that God would be pleased with their atonement and insure a smooth, orderly, beautiful service. Adam had left all the details to them. The time had flown by. Since the experience at Eden they both had looked forward to establishing their own relationship with God with much fear and trembling. Today would bring it.