Skip to content

First Murder

Share

The story of the first murder found in Genesis 4:1-16 has got to be one of the oddest murder stories in history. Here’s a quick recap in case you’ve forgotten it.

Cain and Abel were the two oldest boys born to Eve after she and Adam were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Cain grew up to become a farmer, and Abel grew up to become a herdsman. Cain brought produce from his farm and presented it to the Lord. Likewise, Abel also brought animals from his herds and presented them to the Lord. The Lord looked with favor upon the offerings Abel brought but not on the offerings Cain brought. Because of this, Cain grew angry and frowned. God said to Cain, “Why are you angry and frowning? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if not, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out into the field.” Once they were in the field, Cain attacked Abel and killed him.

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Wandering, east of Eden.

Let’s start with Cain’s motive for murder. It appears to be jealousy or envy of his brother. Yet it is not envy of his brother’s success or of a woman they both love. No, it is envy of God’s favor. Cain resents the fact that God accepted Abel, but didn’t accept him. Of course, the story is sparse. We know nothing of their possible sibling rivalry, nothing of the resentment Cain may have felt at seeing a younger brother preferred over the first born. We don’t know how God showed his favor, whether he appeared as a man as he sometimes does in Genesis, or whether his favor took the form of blessings on Abel’s endeavors. The events related could refer to a single instance or to an ongoing pattern of preferential treatment for Abel. What we do know is that God places responsibility for this state of affairs squarely on Cain himself: “If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted?” Both brought offerings to the Lord, but Cain’s was rejected because he was not doing right.

God also warns Cain that if he continues going his own way, then his life is in danger from a croucher at the entryway to sin. God tells Cain he must subdue or master the croucher. The language recalls God’s words to Eve when he pronounced punishment for eating the forbidden fruit. “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Like Adam and Eve, Cain goes on to sin despite God’s warnings. When God pronounces judgment on him, though he bemoans his fate, he does not repent.

Later on when God provides civic laws for the Israelites to follow, he institutes the death penalty for murder (cf. Numbers 35: 16-21). Clearly, if God were determined to be just and teach the new human race a lesson in justice, he would have put Cain to death. Instead he sentences him to banishment. Cain complains that once his crime is known, anyone who finds him may kill him. Instead of saying, “Too bad. That’s what you deserve,” God does something extraordinary. He puts a mark on Cain to prevent anyone from killing him. The mark of Cain, far from being a sign of sin’s shame and God’s displeasure, is a sign of God’s grace and protection. God goes even further, threatening a sevenfold vengeance on anyone who dares kill Cain. Consider, therefore, the amazing mercy God shows toward the first murderer before insisting that God favors the death penalty for murder.

In both Genesis 3 and 4, though God threatens those who sin with death, the actual punishment is banishment from his presence. Life is in the presence of God, and death is exclusion from his presence.

Share

Early Memories – Part 1

Share

Much of my earliest childhood memories form a mosaic of images and places unconnected by any narrative or larger meaning. There are some that have no distinct chronology at all, more like snapshots found in a shoebox, jumbled and confused.

My dad was a Marine. I don’t remember ever seeing him in dress uniform, but I recall being on base at least once and seeing tanks which I believe he worked on. Before I was born, he shipped out to Japan with Korea as his ultimate destination. It must have been 1953. He never made it to Korea. His orders were changed, and he spent his entire tour in Japan. His tour included support for at least one nuclear test on a south Pacific island. He had photographs of the mushroom cloud formed by the explosion. He also had a black-and-white photo of my mother colorized by a Japanese artist. That photo, treasured by my mom, hung in the great room at Walcutt Road. My dad was an accomplished marksman and had several awards from Marine Corp competitions. He always said that never drinking alcoholic beverages gave him an edge because he could hold his gun steady and take aim without any tremors. All his Marine Corp paraphernalia and photos were lost in the fire that destroyed our Walcutt Road home.

I remember being small enough that when my mom was folding laundry and put one of my dad’s undershirts on me, it hung down to my ankles. My dad was my hero.

Because my dad was in the Marines, we moved so often that I can’t even count the number of places we lived. I know that we lived in several places in California, at least one place in North Carolina, and at least one in Hawaii. My only memory of Hawaii is an indistinct impression of the Honolulu Zoo. They had crocodiles (or maybe alligators) in a big open pit. I’m told I ate the large garden snails that could be found in our yard. Perhaps “ate” is not quite the right word since my mom managed to get them out of my mouth before I swallowed them. Two of my sisters, Lani and Kathy, were born in Hawaii. Lani’s name is Hawaiian and means heaven or sky.

I have a few distinct memories of North Carolina. We lived in a house on stilts on the beach. While we lived there, a hurricane came ashore and we had to evacuate to a nearby city. The only thing I remember about it was seeing house roofs sticking up out of the water. It struck me as highly unusual. In advance of the hurricane, there were public service announcements on the radio advising people to put valuables and linens on the highest shelves to be out of reach of flood waters. My mom dutifully did just that. Our house did not flood despite being so near the sea, but the gale-force winds drove rain under the eaves. Everything she put up high to keep dry got soaked.

Due to a pay mix-up, my dad didn’t get paid for several weeks when we moved to North Carolina. A buddy of his who worked in the mess hall would leave a sack of potatoes and cartons of milk outside the back door for my dad. We ate a lot of potato soup. I still love potato soup to this day. But it was also in North Carolina that I acquired a distaste for fish. I don’t remember the details, just that we had fish sandwiches that tasted very fishy indeed. After that I could not eat fish for many years.

Another incident from North Carolina was told and retold in our family so often that it became family legend. Once when we were sitting down to eat, my mom sent me and my sister, Marsha, to wash our hands. I washed my hands, but I saw something move in the shower, so when I returned to the table, I announced, “There’s a bug in the shower.” Marsha came back a few minutes later and dissented. “It’s not a bug,” she said; “It’s a worm.” My dad went to have a look and found a rattlesnake! Our shower drain emptied out on the sand underneath the house. The snake had slithered up the drain and into our shower. My dad drove it out of the house with hot water, then crawled under the house and killed it. Did I mention that my dad was my hero?

Share

Violence and Meekness

Share

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” –Matthew 5:5

Who can believe this? How can the meek get anything? You have to be aggressive. You have to be bold and assertive. You can’t wait for anybody to give you anything. What was Jesus thinking, telling people that being gentle and mild, being meek will get you anything? We know that the rich—those who really inherit the earth—don’t get it without being decisive, seizing the opportunity, making their own opportunity, and taking what they want. You can’t be soft. You can’t let feelings get in your way. You’ve got to be hard; the world isn’t for sissies.

Of course, you don’t want to be cruel. You want to be kind. But when others use violence, you have to be prepared to respond with force. You won’t strike the first blow, but when you do strike, it will be to end it. You have a right to protect yourself, your home, your family, your property. You have a right to defend yourself against violence. Get a gun, and learn how to use it. If anyone tries to cause you pain, you’ll bring the pain to them.

Of course, sometimes you have to strike first. If you wait for them to make the first move, you could be dead. If they threaten you, they had better be prepared for what you will do. If they so much as glance at your daughter, they won’t get a chance for a second look. If they come through your door, they had better already be shooting. Otherwise you will take them out.


Jesus commends the gentle, calls them blessed—lucky to have soft answers for the wrath of others, favored by God with a mild temper that forbears to injure anyone. He says that they and not the aggressive go-getters will inherit the earth. The world will become the possession of mild-mannered men and women, those who value peace and love and simple happiness. “Be happy,” he says. “Consider yourself lucky if you’re the type of person who abhors violence, who wants to live and let live, who looks for ways to de-escalate tense situations. The world of the future will be yours.”

It is not only the world that does not believe Jesus; it is Christians. How do I know? Because we praise strength when it is a willingness to use violence rather than a readiness to endure it. Search for images of meekness on Google, and you will find a lot of memes proclaiming, “Meekness is not weakness. It is strength under control.” Notice that the virtue being touted is not gentleness or patient endurance. It is control. You harness your violence and make it do your bidding. You keep the threat of force in check and only use it when necessary. The trouble is, it will always eventually become necessary.

This is a lesson taught and reinforced again and again by our media and the stories we love to tell. The good guy knows how to use violence as well as the bad guy, but he uses it judiciously: in self-defense, or the defense of others. He does not use it wantonly like the bad guys who care nothing for others and kill or destroy to advance some evil agenda. The good guy’s violence is under control, made to serve good purposes or at least some end that is less bad than the bad guy’s aim. The good guy’s violence is for justice. It is for vengeance and retaliation. He may train for violence, but he does not originate it. When the bad guys offer violence, he retaliates.

This lesson feels good and right to us, in part because it helps us believe that our wars are just, that our police are upright, that our laws and their enforcement are humane. But this is not a lesson Jesus taught. Until the night of his arrest, whenever the authorities sought to detain him, Jesus always evaded them. He ran away. He avoided confrontation. He didn’t stand his ground. He didn’t put up a fight. During his arrest, when one of his followers tried to defend him, he rebuked him and told him, “Put away your sword. Everyone who draws a sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:50-52). In his own actions and in the teaching he gave his followers, Jesus was relentlessly non-violent. If we consider ourselves his followers, then he taught us to endure violence. He taught us not to retaliate, not to seek retribution, and to leave justice to the Father. We can plead for God’s vengeance, but we are explicitly told not to take matters into our own hands. Those who have sought to emulate Jesus’ teaching of non-violence have had better success in changing the hearts and minds of their oppressors than all the warriors and agitators in history. The future belongs to the gentle. The meek will inherit the earth.

Share