Through Abel, the character attributes of faith and righteousness are introduced into the story of Man and established as working principles of the Way.
Cain plants his crop. After planting, Cain seems intent on waiting for God to make it rain. “…he first contrived to plow the ground,” Josephus tells us, Ant. bk. 1, ch. 2. “Contrived” is interpreted by many scholars that Cain intends to gain benefit in the easiest manner possible. This contrivance to farm is Cain’s idea, Cain is possessed of his own ideas.
There seems to be a wave of anger and defiance relative to Cain’s choice of livelihood, and in his nature and behavior as he “forces the ground,” as Josephus writes. This ‘forcing’ lends to the thought that Cain may not have been much of a farmer. Everything Cain does is struggle and frustration. Cain is, after a fashion, forcing God to accept Cain’s choices, and what Cain wants to do, as this contriving and forcing indicates a misdirection. Cain will later attempt to force God to accept his sacrifice as well.
Such struggles can lead to a demand for acceptance, which can lead to a strong insertion of Self. In simple terms, that which does not agree with Cain’s viewpoint offends Cain. Cain takes offense as his sacrifice is refused, with Abel the reminder of the offense, and jealousy that Abel is so honored and that he, Cain, is dismissed. Cain issues harsh words intended to persecute, and death will follow (Gn. 4.8). Although scholars have made much about the conflicts that may have arisen between Cain the farmer and Abel the herder, the crux of this story lies with Cain’s inner man.
Now the story moves quickly forward. “Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil; and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock.” In contrast to Cain, we will first discuss Abel and the intent of his sacrifice. Abel stands faithful in heart and mind and is pictured as he who loves righteousness for its own sake. He sees goodness in the world and sees God in all things. He receives God and he receives God’s bounty. His intent is gratitude, which is an important concept concerning the Way.
Abel would be recognized as enlightened unto God. He may not be able to see the spirit as it moves like the wind but he knows its source. Abel is sourced toward God. Thus, Abel associates himself with the best, the choicest. Abel recognizes God’s goodness, demonstrating a fundamental faith in this relationship. Abel’s sacrifice is the first faith attribution we observe in the biblical story of man. Faith and graditude are closely linked.
The Hebrew and Christian Bibles emphasize faith throughout. Even if understood outside of a spiritual format, faith is needed if anything is to be accomplished. Faith is embedded and intrinsic within all biblical narratives—faith in giving, faith in receiving, and the consequences of the lack of faith. Just as in Jesus’ times, Belief-Faith now becomes the first initiated step into the relationship and knowledge (knowing) of God. Faith underpins the whole of Jesus’ ministry.
Abel demonstrates dedication (faith) with his offering.
Cain’s sacrifice is casual toward God.
He gathers whatever grain is handy.
Cain’s offering, however, is the first indication of a problem concerning Cain. In contrast to Abel’s efforts, Cain seems to gather whatever grain is handy, and indicates an already building problem in his relationship with God. He makes no special or committed effort (actions*) as a part of his attribution toward God. Faith, by good intentions, would open the pathway to God, but there is no mention or indication of Cain’s good intent.
Cain seems only interested in ‘getting’, this ‘forcing of the ground’, not giving attribution. Cain might not be the most productive of farmers, perhaps that is his issue, but he did choose an occupation that God gave partial censure, the curse mentioned in Gn. 3.17. He, indeed, works by the sweat of his brow, but by his choice. Within his work, his attitudes and motives may not be conducive to the will of the spirit. Many have trodden Cain’s path.
Regardless, he cannot remove himself from his issues long enough to give an appropriate offering. Even with this one act, he might have corrected all. However, he remains resentful and brooding. Cain initiates a strained and difficult set of works but also then believes his works must justify him before God. He is essentially forcing his works upon God and demanding equal justification with others, namely Abel. When, in fact, God is more interested in your heart and a truer communion with you, which reflects Abel, not Cain.
This archetype of ‘pride of personal works before God’ is set by Cain and will plague mankind throughout the ages. He is not thoughtful toward God but is possessed and focused on himself and his struggles. Cain represents the working mind in the negative case; there is no room for the spirit of God in Cain. Cain represents ‘the laws of men brought before God’, the commandments of men (Mk. 7.7)*.
*Mk. 7.6-7, ” ‘This People honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (7) Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” Also, Isaiah 29.13-15, to which Jesus refers; also, Matt. 7.18-23, of man’s contrived service, “Lord, Lord.” Jesus reply, “…I never knew you.”
Cain is associated with the earth, dust, mortal, or earthbound man. He lacks a true vision of a relationship with God. Likened to a man who makes a fist to hold onto his own, Cain cannot let go and thus receive further illumination. For those who walk in the Way the lesson of letting go is straightforward, indicating a forgiving nature, a turn toward better things. As the story progresses, Cain cannot let go of himself. Cain holds grudges.
For his part, Abel tends the flock and would feel blessed by every newborn lamb and kid, and recognize every animal he oversees. Shepherds have times of great activity but also times of rest, even quiescence. Abel stares at the clouds as he oversees the pasturing of his flocks, perhaps musing with many different thoughts. Within the biblical narrative, he is innocent within his person but also represents innocence itself. He represents an open soul, both as a person and before God.
Much as faith is intrinsic to the Way, openness before God becomes a fundamental principle, what is often referred to today as transparency. Abel recognizes the goodness of God. This infers that goodness must also reside in Abel. Cain and Abel both speak to God, but Abel believes in God’s goodness and begins the pathway of knowing Him. Cain, not so much so. Abel sacrifices out of gratitude.
Abel is righteous because he has received righteousness from God.
Cain wills not to receive God, while Abel is eager. Abel has received God and has an increasingly personal and intimate relationship with God. Abel personifies the nature of God in man.
*For the traditional Christian interpretation, Abel becomes the first messianic figure. Being righteous and innocent, Abel reflects Messiah (Righteous Abel P. 2).
In Genesis 3.20, God makes Adam and Eve more appropriate clothing, providing skins for them as a covering. This requires the shedding of blood, to take an animal’s life and skin it. The accepted traditional argument goes that Cain’s offering is not a blood offering, the blood representing life, and therefore Cain’s offering is not worthy.
“Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof,” Gn. 4.3.
“Fat thereof”, requires rendering the lamb to be adequately prepared. Effort, or commitment, is required.
The counterargument focuses on Cain naturally bringing ‘his part’, from that which he had labored. It is not the fruits of his labor that are the problem, it is that Cain comes to God of himself, naturally. That is, he sees only his earthly efforts and works under his perception of labor, the law of his struggle, and what he thinks is appropriate, thus what he perceives from his labor as good enough for God. The sacrifice is a ‘thanksgiving’ offering, which does not require a blood offering. However, Cain comes with his sacrifice carrying a grudge, the above-mentioned labor.*
*Jesus addresses this issue in Mt. 6.7, mentioning vain repetitions and performing by rote. Cain’s fundamental error in perception and behavior, contrasted to Abel’s, will lead to jealousy and wrath.
There is no biblical notation or indication that Cain took any particular measures to assure the quality of his sacrifice. Cain is removed from any attribution to God. He comes in his natural self, not obeisant, nor righteously. Symbolically, Cain gives birth to the personal worldview as a standard, and God’s view is left wanting. He attributes himself first, or at least his efforts. So the argument that Cain does not make a blood offering, inspiring God’s disdain, may not be the reason Cain’s sacrifice was not honored.
Cain brings the product of his labor, just as we all must. But, as the story progresses, the soul-nature and intent of Cain become more and more the issue. ‘I worked hard for this grain,’ Cain says to himself. ‘I give a fair share,’ he analyzes. Does Cain give his first or best fruit? The problem is that Cain’s approach to God is divisive and possessive, he separates himself from God. God is not first, Cain’s choices and efforts are first. Cain’s values are in confrontation with God’s values, and as we shall see, Cain holds on to his values dearly.
In the teaching of the Way, Jesus emphasizes the viewpoint of oneness or remaining whole with God, regardless of circumstances. Cain’s divisiveness, or a lack of oneness, here represented as a lack of faithfulness, becomes a repeated theme throughout scripture. For example, the prodigal son’s return to his family occurs after separation, then facing consequences, then resolving the situation by returning to his roots (representing God) and essentially repenting (showing gratitude, and wholeness).
No one needs to be religious to understand attributes such as gratitude toward another. When we were little we said, ‘Thanks, Mom,” and went about eating dinner; now that we are older we recognize there is a bit more to it. Expressing gratitude and thanks connects each person to the unseen world of God, the spirit that moves as the wind but that we cannot see. We may have very little to be thankful for as a person might judge it, but rising above to embrace God through gratitude is often the first door entered, beginning renewal by His spirit.
The root problems (separation) of man from God are represented in these brief moments with Cain: lack of faith and faithfulness, lack of gratitude, lack of relationship, lack of unity and oneness with God, insistence on one’s values, with Cain’s case revealing the values of a crude initiate. Cain gives according to the laws and standards he has set up for himself, the law of Cain. He is all about his inner law, vanity, and how he perceives conditions. He is not about the grace and goodness of God, nor his relationship to Him. Cain represents the mortal world.
The story of Cain and Abel illustrates many valued principles of the Way. Through the attributes of faith and gratitude*, Abel lays the groundwork for man’s future revelation into the spirit of God. By contrast, Cain falls under subjugation to the laws of the deceived Self. It is the ‘I’ which commands him. As we will later discover, Cain continues along this bent, as Cain’s generations will reveal. Concerning the individual, this is in part why enlightened teachings prescribe ‘ending the Self’. ‘Brokenness’ is another term often used, or ‘giving yourself away’, New Testament references to the ‘old man’, who cannot change, are contrasted to the ‘new man’ who can.
*Ruth 2.10-12, “…recompense thy work, …full reward be given thee, …under Whose (God’s) wings,” are traditional references to gratitude; also considered ‘covenant attributes’, essential attributes for communion or relationship.
This principle of “not my will, but thine” (Mt. 26.39) will later become fundamental to the teaching of the Way and is the epitome of Jesus’s teaching relative to our attractions, desires, and actions. The inner voice from the kingdom becomes more integral to the pathway experience the farther one walks. Cain would have difficulties with this pathway outlook, and the spirit-voice he would resent. Essentially, Cain has put himself into subjugation and has no cognizance he has done so.
Cain’s nature begins to devour him. His jealousy, so often mentioned, extends from a divergent nature. Cain and Abel are fundamentally different. Cain is often viewed as from Satan’s seed, Abel from the seed of Adam. Whether these two sources for Cain and Abel are understood as literal or allegorical, each sibling’s actions concern motive and attitude, and for each person must be inspected.
Nothing in Cain indicates gratitude; he may already despise Abel. “The Lord paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed.”
Cain stands in the way of his relationship with God. He wants blessing from God and acceptance. Yet, both his casual attribution in character and his offering are mediocre, even lackluster.
In this biblical story, God focuses on the good and dismisses that which is in lack (“He paid no heed”). “Cain was much distressed and his face fell.” Cain is shocked. He has no idea how far he has fallen away.
The daily intercourse of life grinds and now begins to reveal Cain. Cain’s absence of conscience proves Cain’s lack of acquaintance with the board in his eye. In a certain way, Cain is unconscious. No active witness operates within him. Underneath, he remains completely asleep.
Cain perceives himself psychologically but does not perceive himself spiritually, being asleep. He knows he is a spiritual being of some type, but other than that has no spiritual cognizance. Fully engaged with his earthly duties, Cain binds himself to his earthly urges, including a self-centered nature that accounts for little outside himself. He broods, he is conflicted, nor does he understand his bondage. Nor does he seem to have any bulwark of love or sensitivity as a counterbalance. He is in no discernible way disciplined into God. At the moment of sacrifice, Cain is revealed. Utter conviction now sits upon him. Cain’s unhealthy loose nature has led him to his slipshod offering.
Even so, God offers to assist Cain. Gen. 4.6, “Why are you distressed, and why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, there is an uplift. But if you do not do right sin crouches at the door.” In the world today, sin will stand nearby. Cain’s sin consists of Cain doing whatever Cain wants in whatever manner suits him, including his attributions unto God. “Its urge is toward you,” God tells him, “yet you can be its master.” Much as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God’s hand remains outstretched.
Does God recognize Cain’s urge to kill? It would seem so. The Hebrew Bible tells in 4.8, “Kayin had words with his brother Hevel.” What words were these? Words like, ‘So you think you are better than me?’ ‘You think God loves you more?’ Cain lashes out with his words, and the persecutions will lead to actions. Cain follows his word and seems insensitive to any other voice. How many of us have performed in like manner?
Elements of Cain’s character become revealed. Jealousy rears its head, and Cain’s false pride now surfaces. His false pride will not let him seek God, nor can he release his angst. He has invested far too much in himself. His efforts are not honored; Cain cannot admit error; Cain becomes a tortured being. Just as when Jesus confronted the scribes and the Pharisees, they believed that the Messiah would confirm them, not convict them. Yet, in the end, false pride and perceived status betray the Pharisees, just as with Cain. Trapped within himself, Cain becomes the prisoner of his false pride.
In the story of Cain and Abel, the groundwork for many lessons stands out within the enlightened teaching of the Way. Cain’s resentment, jealousy, angry words, false pride, and feelings of humiliation overwhelm him. Cain is now at a point where he seeks to resolve his inner demons at the expense of the outside world. He is incapable of looking into his heart to resolve the issue. Cain will not let go of himself, for himself is what he has gained, just as ‘to gain’ is his namesake. Symbolically, he is the clenched fist, not the open palm. At this point, the desire to kill Abel unleashes.
“Come,” says Cain to his brother, “let us go into the field.”