Word Study: Where Is Your Brother Abel



Genesis 4:9-10, “And the LORD said unto Cain, Where [is] Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: [Am] I my brother’s keeper? What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”

I don’t know about you but when God asked Cain where his brother was, I had a number of questions come to my mind. Why ask Cain? God knows full well where Abel was. Secondly, it is really possible that this was the very first human death. What was Abel to think upon seeing death for the first time. Finally, what did he mean by asking if he was his brother’s keeper, that sounds very imprudent of Abel towards God.

First, Jewish tradition teaches this was not an imprudent answer, but a defense. Even today our courts and juries look very closely at the motive behind a murder. It may be a proven fact that a person took another person’s life, but a trial is still held to determine the motive behind the killing as that will determine the punishment. Even in combat there are degrees of killing. A soldier may be held for murder if he kills a prisoner of war who has surrendered and is no longer a threat, or if a kills a civilian during time of war. All this is to say that not all killing is a capital crime.

God did not execute Cain for the murder of his brother, should He have not done this? This may not have been a cold blooded premeditated murder which warranted a capital punishment. When Cain was asked, “Where is your brother, “ this appears to be a rather senseless question, everyone knows he is dead. God knows it, Cain knows it, why ask? The answer might be found in verse 10, “the voice of your brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” The word blood in Hebrew is demi which is in a plural form. The ancient sages taught that this is in a plural form because it was the blood of all the future descendants of Cain that were crying out. Cain died before it was God’s ordered time, before Cain was to fulfill his purpose in this life. Cain did not just kill his brother, he killed all his future generations. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” He was asking where is the work that your brother was to complete on this earth, where are his children and their children’s children. Cain said that he did not know, that he was not his brother’s keeper.

That is an unfortunate rendering today as it sounds like he is supposed to be like a zoo keeper, taking care of his kid brother like a pet or animal. If that were the case then this would have been a pretty saucy response. The word for keeper in Hebrew is shomer which means a guardian. In Exodus 22:10-13 we have the responsibility of a shomer or guardian laid out. If someone is given the responsibility of care for a living creature and it is torn to pieces (tarof yitaref) by a wild animal, the man is not responsible for the loss. Joseph’s brothers knew they would be held responsible for their brother’s alleged death by their father as they were his shomer or guardians. In ancient times an elder brother was held responsible for the wellbeing of a younger brother. In order to relieve themselves of any guilt they presented evidence that Joseph was torn to pieces (tarof yitaref) by a wild animal. Jacob, upon being given the evidence of the blood on Joseph’s coat declared his brother’s innocence by saying, “surely he has been tarof yitaref (torn to pieces).” Cain gave as his defense by asking if he was his brother’s shomer. He was not responsible for the work that his brother was to perform, he was not responsible for the future generations of his brother, which was God’s job and responsibility. Then God said that his brother’s bloods crieth out. The rendering of this word for crieth out does not go far enough. It is the word tso’ekim which is not just crying out but crying out in grief, sorrow and pain. It is for this reason that Cain was found guilty, he was guilty of inflicting sorrow, grief and pain and for that he would be punished. Perhaps this was not first degree murder for which he deserved a capital punishment and be put to death, perhaps it was manslaughter. Perhaps he did not know what death was. However, he was given a mark to be protected so there must have been more relatives out there that would avenge his brother and possibly some of them may have died. Scripture is silent on that issue, but it is highly possible he did not intend to kill his brother, he did not intend to inflict pain on his brother, but in his passion and anger that is what he did and for that he was punished, not as severally as a premeditated murder, but punished nonetheless.

Not too long ago I felt God calling me to pray for a man who committed adultery. As a result he lost everything including his children and was now in dire circumstances. I rebelled, I cried out to God, “No, I will not pray for this person, he has brought grief and pain to his wife and his children and he is getting what he deserves. How can you ask me to pray for his restoration, how can you weep over him, you should weep for his children and his wife. No I will not weep for him.” All I could sense was Jesus saying, “I am his shomer the guardian of his heart, I know why he did what he did and I weep for his loneliness, his pain and his desperation to be loved.”

Sin is sin, and God must punish us for our sins, for He is also a just God, but He also knows our hearts, he is a shomer, the guardian of our hearts. He does understand why we sin, He understands our fears, our need to be loved, our need for security, our longing to have what others have. He knows why we sin and he weeps for our suffering. Note verse seven in this chapter where God explains why he cannot receive Cain’s offering, “ If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” The word well in Hebrew is tov which means to be in harmony with God. If Cain would do what was in harmony with God he would be accepted, if he does not do what is in harmony with God, it does not mean it is sin, but that sin lies at the door. The word door is patach in Hebrew which means a portal. The word for lay is rovets which is a resting place for precious stones. In other words if we do not do what is in harmony with God sin will rest at the portal to God’s presence offering precious stones, or offering something to entice us away from something even more precious, His presence and love.

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