In which the exiles are called to cry out for mercy
And the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? Listen! your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil. And so, cursed shall you be by the soil that gaped with its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it will no longer give you its strength. A restless wanderer shall you be on the earth.” And Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to bear. Now that You have driven me this day from the soil and I must hide from your presence, I shall be a restless wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.” And the LORD said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain shall suffer sevenfold vengeance.” And the LORD set a mark upon Cain so that whoever found him would not slay him.
Job 4:7, 8, 12-21
Recall, pray: what innocent man has died, and where were the upright demolished? As I have seen, those who plough mischief, those who plant wretchedness, reap it.
And to me came a word in secret, and my ear caught a tag end of it, in musings from nighttime’s visions when slumber falls upon men. Fear called to me, and trembling, and all my limbs it gripped with fear. And a spirit passed over my face, made the hair on my flesh stand on end. It halted, its look unfamiliar, an image before my eyes, stillness, and a sound did I hear: Can a mortal be cleared before God, can a man be made pure by his Maker? Why, His servants He does not trust, His agents He charges with blame. All the more so, the clay-house dwellers, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed more quickly than moths. From morning to eve they are shattered, unawares they are lost forever. Should their life thread be broken within them, they die, and without any wisdom.
Chapter 4 introduces a recurring theme in Genesis, that of two brothers who struggle to live peaceably together—Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob—the younger being chosen by God. Here, Abel represents the line of kings, descended from the shepherd David, cut off in violence; and, by association, the blameless (or, purified, made blameless) community carried off into exile. Abel’s offering is acceptable, but this does not preclude the possibility of Cain bringing acceptable offerings. But how is a community to hold on the one hand, a particular sense of calling while acknowledging, on the other, the struggles of their ‘brother’ peoples? Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities wrestle with the same question today, as do nations navigating sovereign place within an international community.
Abel cries out for justice, but also for mercy. In response to Abel’s cry, the LORD places Cain under His protection. Abel is a community of exiles called to intercede on behalf of their masters, pleading the Master, Lord have mercy. May our Advent intercessions reflect this hope.
Biblical texts: Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary
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