And Cain talked with his brother Abel, and as they were in a field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Genesis 4:8
Killed – Do you know the story of Cain and Abel? Well, maybe you do. But Genesis is often a much deeper account than we imagine and what happens in its narrative often hides more insights. Let’s take a look and see if you really know this story.
Two factors govern our deep study of Scripture. The first is the recognition that there are no incidental words (or letters). Every word tells a story (with apologies to Rod Stewart). The second factor is the pictographic background of the Hebrew consonants. The words are made up of pictures. Understanding the pictures often reveals something important about the words. Now, let’s examine this text.
First, Cain in Hebrew is Qayin. The text of Genesis 4:1 draws on a similarity with the verb qana. The verb means “to acquire.” Qayin is “acquired” from the Lord (that text is difficult in itself). On top of this, the picture of Qayin (Qof-Yod-Nun) is “the last to make life.” If we read this on the lips of Havvah, we can see that her name for this son is really the next man making life. Qayin comes after Adam. He is Havvah’s substitute for her lost man (she calls him an ish – a man – not a child). Adam departs the scene. Qayin takes over. He is the next man – at the time of his birth, the last to make life.
This “last to make life” man talks with his brother “as they were in a field.” This description contains the verb “to be” (hayah) connected to the noun “field” (sadeh). Field is the pictograph “what comes from the door to consuming.” In an agrarian society, the field is the place where we find life sustenance. So, the last to make life talks with his brother in the place of life. They exist in the place where life is nourished.
But something happens that destroys all these pictures. Qayin “rose up” against his brother. The verb stem is qwm. It paints the picture of “the last to secure chaos.” The last to make life now becomes the last to secure chaos. Life and chaos are opposites. Qayin becomes the vehicle of destruction. He opens the door that allows chaos back into the ordered world. He kills his brother.
Two pictures emerge from this statement of fratricide. First, the verb is harag. The picture is “what comes from a person of pride” or “what comes from lifting up the head.” Pride kills Abel. Qayin is its instrument. It’s important to note that the very word qayin has a homophone, a word that is spelled the same and sounds the same but has a different meaning. You can find the homophone in 2 Samuel 21:16. It is the word for a weapon! Pride uses the weapon qayin to kill Abel. The second picture is the word “brother.” This word (ach from the consonants Aleph-Tau) means “the strong fence.” A brother is a strong protector. In a field, the last man to make life lifts up pride and becomes a weapon that tears down the strong fence of protection. The last man to make life becomes the first man to take it and the weapon he uses is his pride.
When God comes to Qayin, he asks, “Where is your brother Abel?” The Hebrew word for “where” is ay, a word of surprise, not of location. In other words, God asks why this brother is not with the other brother. Why are the strong protectors not together as they should be? Qayin replies that he is not his brother’s ha-shamar (guardian). He is not “the person who destroys chaos.” Qayin is correct. He is the man who makes chaos, not the man who eliminates it.
Now do you know the story?
Topical Index: Cain, Abel, Genesis 4:8