[NOTE: All scripture quotes are from The Schocken Bible by Everett Fox which transliterates the text to better represent the sound of the Hebrew. Below, Cain and Abel are Kayin and Hevel]
While preparing a bible study on Genesis, I was given new insight about the traditional Cain and Abel story. It prophetically speaks to the relationship between traditionalists and creatives.
Into the Weeds
In Genesis 2:4b-5 we have the creation of the first human:
At the time of YHWH, God’s making earth and heaven,
no bush of the field was yet on earth,
no plant of the field had yet sprung up,
for YHWH, God, had not made it rain upon earth,
and there was no human/adam to till the soil/adama
The text links the first human to the soil, showing both linguistically (adam from adama) and descriptively (“and YHWH, God, formed the human, of dust from the soil”).
The first human, made from the soil is given the work of tilling the soil.
One son, Cain succeeds him in the family business. The other has a different path. Abel “became a shepherd of flocks”. This becomes a problem for Cain when
Now it was, after the passing of days
that Kayin brought, from the fruit of the soil, a gift to YHWH,
and as for Hevel, he too brought—from the firstborn of his flock, from their fat-parts.
YHWH had regard for Hevel and his gift,
for Kayin and his gift he had no regard.
Kayin became exceedingly upset and his face fell.
Of course, Cain can’t handle this seeming disrespect from GOD and, out of jealousy, kills his brother. We are then treated to what comes of Cain for his actions. And shockingly, Abel is replaced with a new son, Seth! And even more shockingly, when Seth has a son, they praise GOD for the first time by name! Holy crap! Move over Moses! Seth gets first dibs on praising GOD by name.
Why this is important
If we think about the arrangement, we have one brother going into the family business, getting pissed, and breaking the rules, which gives us shades of the older brother in the Lost Sons parable. And we have another doing something completely new. When they both bring offerings to GOD, which one gets the praise? The one doing the new thing.
The one doing the old thing, on the other hand, isn’t condemned. He simply isn’t praised for doing the old thing. The old thing is the old thing. It is important. But the other has taken a risk. He is doing a new thing. And not only that, but he has come before GOD and brought the best of the best. What do you think of that, Cain?
We often overlook the nature of Cain’s outrage in much the same way we ignore the motive of murderers in our world. We shake our heads and say, “so sad” and “he was sick” while ignoring the pain of circumstance from which that violence erupts. GOD didn’t disrespect Cain, nor did he give him unwarranted praise. It was Abel that needed the pat on the back for doing well because what he was doing was outside the norm. Cain had his respect already.
In our different organizations, we are filled with Cains. With people that do the jobs they inherited. The jobs they have always done. They are maintaining the structure. They are keeping things going. And they are working hard. They think that deserves praise.
Yet GOD’s praise is reserved for the creatives.
And that fills all of us Cains with righteous indignation. We long to tear down and destroy for doing something new. For what doesn’t fit. What steals the praise we think we deserve.
Praise that was never ours.