The Breakup of the “First Family”

Most of the following narrative is based on the recording of scriptures in the Masoretic Text located in Genesis 4.  These observations examine patterns of relationships between family members and their God, Yahweh.  The basic thesis is that these observable relational disconnects are the earliest record of familial dysfunction…from the very beginning.


As a result of Eve and Adam eating from the only exempted tree in the garden of Eden, Yahweh pronounced some judgments resulting from the disobedience of the “first couple” in addition to asking them questions, calling into account their errant behavior.  Here are just a few points that will be cogent to the discussion of the family breakup.

  • “What is this this thou hast done?”  (Yahweh questioning Eve.)
  • “…and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed…”  (Part of Yahweh’s judgment on the serpent.)
  • “…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”  (Part of Yahweh’s judgment on Adam.)

Naming Children & Choosing Careers

Adam “knew” his wife, Eve, resulting in a pregnancy and delivery of the “second man”, Cain.  As in much of the bible narrative, things are not always arranged in chronological order because the power of the story seems to be the goal more so than establishing sequential historic or scientifically verifiable data.  This leaves me with an uncertainty regarding the timing of the initial act of copulation between man and wife.  Could the inclination to cover their private parts after eating of the forbidden tree have anything to do with this?  It seemed to be a true statement when the serpent predicted, “…then your eyes shall be opened…”  At any rate, Eve conceived and bore Cain.  Why did this first couple name their first-born son, Cain?  Naming children, particularly historically, generally had some reasoning involved, or perhaps a sense of the child’s destiny was at hand in the name.  “Cain” comes from the idea of a spear, which relates back to the idea of a dirge or lament which seems to be predictive of him bemoaning that the Lord’s punishment was more than he could bear (Gen. 4:13).  Cain followed in his father’s footsteps as a farmer as a tiller of the ground and consequently brought some fruit of the ground to the Lord as an offering.  It was not characterized as being the first or the best, but just a portion of his harvest.  Yahweh did not respect Cain’s offering which angered Cain.

Then Eve bore the “third man” whom they named Abel, which is the Hebrew word hebel.  This word means “vapor, breath” – figuratively speaking, it is something that is temporaryor transitory, which may be predictive of his early, untimely death – making him the first of the Adamic family to die.  Abel was a shepherd, tending the sheep who also brought an offering to the Lord, but his offering was said to be the “firstlings” and the “fat” thereof.  It seems that Abel brought the best that he had.  Yahweh respected (Heb. “shaah”) that offering, meaning that Yahweh gazed at it.  It caught his attention in a way that Cain’s offering did not.  Somehow, that difference of Yahweh’s regard for each offering was communicated in an obvious way which resulted in Cain becoming very angry (with God?) demonstrated by Cain’s fallen countenance.  In Cain’s anger, he turned his face away from Yahweh. While his older brother tilled for a living, Able tended for a living.  Their father, Adam, was created, presumably, outside of the garden, then was placed there by God to dress and keep it (Gen. 2:15 Heb: abad).    This causes me to wonder if Adam ever “tilled” in the garden, being that he didn’t plant the garden.  The word abad can mean to till, cultivate, work, service or be enslaved.  Even earlier, the scriptures (Gen. 2:5) indicate Yahweh’s intention to connect man and the ground (earth) in an inextricable way.  The earth was created, but there were no shrubs, herbs, trees in the fields because of two reasons: 1)the Lord had not yet caused it to rain, 2)there was not a man to till the ground.  It sounds like God’s plan to place vegetation on the earth must be accompanied by one who would take care of that vegetation.  Yahweh had a purpose for man from before the beginning.  Man was called to be a “share-taker” in the rest of what God placed on earth.  Note that (Gen. 2:6-7) that Yahweh did not form Adam from the dust of the ground until after He watered the whole face of the ground.  Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that mankind’s bodily composition is 60% water.  Nevertheless, Adam was formed in mother earth and given life by the Father’s blast of breath into his nostrils.  The theme of the importance of the land/earth is carried on throughout the scriptures by incidents like the Lord telling Moses and Joshua that they were standing on holy ground, necessitating them to remove their sandals that buffered them from their own connection with the ground.  This theme is also seen in Yahweh’s insistence that the ground have a sabbath year from being tilled.

Being Accountable to the Creator

Even after expulsion from the garden, Yahweh continued to interface with Adam, Eve and their children.  They all knew God.  He talked with them.  He confronted Cain about his anger with a series of questions, trying to get the second man to reflect on his emotions and subsequent behavior.  Yahweh asked Cain, “Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen?”  It is time for personal responsibility to be exacted.  This was followed by Yahweh’s counseling session with Cain which explained clear consequences and offered a way off the path of a bad choice.  “If thou doest well, shall it (Cain’s countenance?) not be lifted up”?  What was this “doing well”?  Evidently, it was a “doing” – an action – to which Yahweh was calling Cain.  Was it meaning that he should bring a better offering, or just to turn his face back toward the Lord rather than away from Him?  Either way, Cain must have known what Yahweh was suggesting which would have led to the restoration of his dignity in bearing the image of Yahweh.  There was an alternate reaction that Cain could employ.  Yahweh said that Cain could decide to “doest not well”; however, his choice would have some negative consequences attached to it.  Sin was at the threshold[1] of Cain’s heart wanting to rule over him.  The Lord’s admonition and encouragement was that Cain “mayest rule over it” (temptation).  It seems that Cain doubled-down on his anger toward God and took it out on his brother.  This problem and reaction is still prevalent with us today in our own vertical and horizontal relations.  Cain killed Abel.

The Judgment

Yahweh must have sought Cain out with a question that resonates from the garden following Adam’s sin, “Where art thou?”  Following Cain’s sin came the amended question, “Where is Abel thy brother?”  Cain’s father had been a bit more forthcoming with his answer than was Cain, who outright lied to the Lord.  Now came the same question to Cain that God posed to Eve after her sin, “What hast thou done?”  Like Adam and Eve, Cain had upset the whole equilibrium of the earth with his sin.  He had condemned Abel, the first man to be sent to the soil with his blood crying out to Yahweh.  The Lord had told their father that the ultimately his earthly body would be to “return to the ground”.  Cain’s action determined that return for Abel instead of the Lord.  Thus, the desire to be accepted by God on our own terms will lead to destruction of others.  Eve’s desire to acquire the knowledge of evil led to her first son acting on evil impulse to become the first murderer.  It also resulted in her grieving over the loss of her son (Abel) which is out of natural order.  Most parents do not want to see their children expire prior to their own death.  This perpetration of sin advanced the agenda of the nachash (serpent) to not only rule over mankind, but to kill mankind.  Now the evil one had converted his first human into his plan to kill the ones that Yahweh had declared to be the possessors and stewards of earth who were to be fruitful and multiply.  Was this not the first act of enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed?  Abel, the younger brother, was identified as Eve’s seed that was replaced by Seth (fourth man) who was “appointed” by God (Genesis 4:25).  Later in history, the theme of the younger brother being Eve’s seed was carried in the story of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau.   

There is too much to consider in this article to be written here, but one last point that connects with my initial three considerations is evident.  Yahweh’s punishment included separating Cain from the fruitfulness of the ground – his livelihood, his career.  Though he and Adam tilled the ground with toil, the earth had still been their sustenance outside the boundaries of the garden.  While the ground had been cursed because of Adam’s sin “…cursed art thou (Cain) from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand…it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength…”  Just as Cain had turned his face from Yahweh, Cain was driven out from the “face of the land” AND from the face of Yahweh.  This is reminiscent of “whatsoever your sow shall be reaped”.)  This punishment, Cain said, was more than he could bear.  Was the Lord saying to him that he was longer able to “bear the name of Yahweh” but would bear the seal of Yahweh’s punishment for all to see?

The broken “first family” was dislocated from their Edenic home, scraped out a living by the sweat of their brow, birthed children with extreme pain, grieved over the death of a child, were separated from another son via a penal adjudication…so it began.  While the constant breakups of the families of today are rooted in the events at the beginning, can anything be done to ameliorate these same outcomes?  Unarrested sin grows.  [ex. Lamech, a descendent of Cain, killed a young man who “bruised” him (Gen. 4:23) and expected to get away with it.]  We all occupy the “Cainaic” liminal space of decision-making where our choices determine outcomes with which we must reckon.  Even thousands of years later, the prophet Isaiah wrote of this same dilemma of Yahweh’s children rebelling against Him by forsaking, blaming and turning away from the Lord (Isaiah 1:2-4).  Yahweh lamented, “My people doth not consider.”  In our liminal spaces of choice, shall we decide as Cain or shall we really consider WHOM is our master?

[1] Carmen Joy Imes, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, 16-17, Her discussion on the word, liminality, needs to be applied in order to better understand the spatial connection between Cain and sin.  Yahweh told Cain that “sin coucheth at the door” (Gen. 4:7).  This is liminal space as Imes explains to be “in the doorway, neither in nor out of the room.”  It seems that sin is occupying that space while Yahweh is making it clear that Cain has the choice to turn toward that door, answer it and allow sin into “his room” or Cain can lift his countenance by turning his face back toward Yahweh for restored relationship with his God.

Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

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