Read: Genesis 4:1-16
And the LORD put a mark on Cain. (v. 15)
If this were solely a story about murder, we could read it and move on. After all, we already know murder is wrong. Instead, the story is more complex with deep layers of meaning.
Cain and Abel are the first of many biblical brothers who have trouble with each other, foreshadowing Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and the prodigal son and elder brother. I take “brother” here in its widest sense: from the beginning, the Bible is saying that how we relate to each other is a major issue. One unusual factor is that Cain and Abel’s relationship was complicated by God! The story doesn’t tell us why God liked Abel’s offering more than Cain’s. But to Cain, it seemed unfair and there are plenty of us who can relate—one sibling is more gifted than another, or moves through life with ease while the other struggles.
After the offering incident, Cain directed his anger at God toward his brother. Here’s where the story shatters expectations. What’s the just punishment for murder? Surely Cain should be struck down. Instead, he is driven into the wilderness and simultaneously punished and protected. When the murderer expresses his fear of being murdered, God places a mark on him that is both a sign of guilt and grace. Yes, this story is certainly about crime and punishment, but even more it’s about the deep mysteries of God’s favor, the pain of disappointment with God, and the unfathomable nature of grace. —Jeff Munroe
As you pray, thank God for mystery.
About the Author
Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal and, in addition to being the author of the best-selling book Reading Buechner: Exploring the Work of a Master Memoirist, Novelist, Theologian, and Preacher, is also a poet, blogger, and essayist. His work has appeared in Christianity Today, The Christian Century, US Catholic, and The Reformed Journal.