Where is Abel your brother? Doesn’t God Know?

Cain And Abel #9

Verse 9 is a conversation between God and Cain. God asks Cain about the whereabouts of his brother, Abel. Cain responds that he does not know. But what is the conversation really about? Why does God need to ask, doesn’t he know? Why is Cain lying? Doesn’t he know that God knows?

The first commandment. Table which shows the English translation of Genesis 4:9, next to the original Hebrew Bible text 9. "And God said to Cain, where is Abel your brother? And he said, I do not know. Am I the guard of my brother?

Discussion

The words God is using in his three-words question are impossible to mistake. Where is Abel your brother? But why is God asking? Surely, He knows where Abel is.

Like times before, we first have to admit that we do not know – the Bible does not tell us. But let’s explore some possible interpretations.

Is it a genuine question to see if Cain knows where his brother is?

We know that Cain knows about death of animals, but does he know that people die the same way? After all, not only was it the first killing of a person, but it also was the very first death of a human. Does Cain know that Abel can never move again?

Is it a question to see if Cain understands that murder is wrong? After all, it is the very first murder. Some scholars believe that Cain understanding was that his offering had been declined because no blood had been sacrificed. Those who follow this line of thinking believe that Cain killed Abel as a second offering, mistakenly thinking that this was what God wants.

But does he understand now that killing is wrong? After all, innocent killing, like that of a child, is judged differently than a killing when you know it is wrong. Personally, I feel that after Adam and Eve had eaten from the forbidden tree, Cain should be able to tell good from evil. Yet, could this be the reason for God’s question?

But this question might have been a rhetorical question: God offers Cain a chance to repent, because even a killer deserves this chance.  

Cain answer, I do not know.

At this stage, we still cannot tell, if it is a genuine answer. Can he still think that Abel will come back? Does he understand that his brother is in the very place he left him? But Cain’s answer has a second part. He knows where his brother is, and he knows that killing him was wrong.

Am I the protector of my brother?

There are two points I wish to make about this answer:

First is the use of the word שֹׁמֵר.  Most English translations translate this word as a keeper, am I my brother’s keeper. But this is not what the Hebrew says. Keeper is someone entrusted with looking after something or someone else. שֹׁמֵר,  on the other hand, is a guard, a protector, someone whose job is to protect against harm. As we can see, for example, in Psalms 121:4

הִנֵּה לֹא-יָנוּם, וְלֹא יִישָׁן שׁוֹמֵר, יִשְׂרָאֵל
He who protects Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps

Does the distinction between these two words, keeper or guard, make a difference to the way we understand the text?

I believe it does. As we will see later in verse 14, Cain believes that God is his protector; it is God who protects him from harm. Is it possible that Cain is not simply lying, but that he is defiant? He is challenging God while insinuating: it is you who is the guard of my brother. Where were you when you needed to protect him?

Whether Cain lied to God, or openly defied him, once again we see that there is a special relationship between them. We partially discussed it in this post

But this is not all. Whatever their relationship might be, we must not forget, that killing Abel, lying to God or challenging Him, Cain still receives God’s special protection, a protection that no other man in the Bible, receives.  

You can choose whether or not you agree with my interpretation. Regardless, the question remains. Why does God forgive Cain for all his doing? What is so special about Cain?

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Eleonora
Eleonora
9 months ago

Your post shows extraordinary well that there has been a special relationship between God and Cain. And I can imagine that Cain tried to please his real father by sacrificing Abel, not recognizing he would do something horrible and totally wrong. But on the other hand as you mentioned, eating… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Eleonora
9 months ago

I believe that God not only can look into the future, but that past and future do not exist for God at all. But this is my view. Why did not God stop the killing? This is what Cain asked (by this interpretation). I do not know the mind of… Read more »

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9 months ago

[…] in which Cain is aware that God has been his protector, sheds new light on verse 9, as we discussed previously, when he says, Am I the guard of my brother. Now that we know that Cain is aware of the role God […]