BEMA 3: Master the Beast
20 Mar 22 — Initial public release
7 Mar 22 — Transcript approved for release
Master the Beast
Brent Billings: Welcome to The BEMA Podcast with Marty Solomon. I’m his co-host Brent Billings, and today we’re talking about Cain and Abel, Cain and Avel, and the idea of how fear and shame ruined the story. Tell me what fear and shame do, Marty. How does it ruin the story?
Marty Solomon: We’re going to jump into Genesis 4. Adam lay with his wife Eva and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Avel, Cain ends up being the firstborn here, Hebrew, we call that being the bechor, and then Avel is the second born. This can be read one of two ways.
You can read this as if she is angry at Adam and naming Cain in spite of her husband because he’s kind of missing from that equation. It’s almost like you can read it — I don’t really like reading it this way, but it is possible. You can read this like: “Well, forget Adam! With the help of the Lord I brought forth a man,” Then later she gave birth to Avel, you can read it like this: “Look what I’ve done without my husband, me and the Lord, we’ve done this thing.” You can read it as there’s this rift — of course, we’ve got some broken relationships and I can’t imagine, being married myself, that having your first response to God like “what’s happened?” and you blame your wife.
I can’t imagine that went very well. There’s probably some broken relationships here, I would imagine on some level, but I think there might be a hint here — and again, I’m going to go back to Fohrman. We’re going to recommend one of those books here later. I've mentioned him now in the last podcast and this one, I’m going to go back to something that Fohrman taught here in the Hebrew. She calls him Cain; now Cain means “acquired.”
It’s a weird phrase to use when talking about the fact that she has given birth to a son, especially if she is trying to say, “Me and God have done this without Adam.” You wouldn’t name him ‘acquired.’ You can use the word in such a way to mean brought forth, but the word in its truest form simply means ‘to acquire.’ Now acquire is a weird word to use because acquired means — well, tell me what you hear when I say “acquired.” What does acquired mean to you, Brent?
Brent: Acquired is like you go to the store and you pick it up. Is that what you’re getting at?
Marty: I don’t know. Would you use the word acquired if you did that? I went to the store and…
Brent: If I was being a smart-aleck, maybe.
Marty: When would you use the word acquired normally?
Brent: Ugh. I don’t really use that very often. I would use acquired if it was like some kind of inheritance or something that I got from someone else.
Marty: This idea of acquired is — you don’t use the word ‘acquired’ if you just get something or if you’ve gotten something on your own; you use the word ‘acquired’ when you’ve gotten it because of somebody else’s assistance. Either somebody gave you something or an inheritance or whatever: “Because of this other person I have acquired this item...”
Brent: Perhaps something that you wouldn’t have been able to get on your own in the first place.
Marty: I know in Rabbi Fohrman’s teaching, he talked about Thomas Edison creating the light bulb. Did I get that right? Edison created the light bulb?
Marty: I think I’ve screwed that up in every past year’s teaching.
Brent: No, it’s true it is Edison.
Brent: We’re talking about a lot of things that we don’t really know anything about... We’re talking about Copernicus!
We’re talking about Da Vinci! We’re talking about Edison.
Marty: No kidding.
Brent: You’re testing my schooling.
Marty: I’m a Bible scholar; I don’t have all the other details. But hey, imagine Edison making the light bulb and he finally comes up with this finished product and “I have made the light bulb.” Well, in a sense, Edison’s acquired the light bulb because he wasn’t the guy who did the glass bulb. Edison was the guy who put the filament in the bulb and got the electricity to work just right and made the light bulb work, but what about the guy that made the glass bulb itself?
In order to actually be talking about the bulb itself, that was something that Edison acquired. That was the illustration that Rabbi Fohrman used and helped me understand what I think Eve is saying. I don’t think she’s saying this in spite of Adam, I think Eve is saying this because she says, “Only because of God’s help have I been able to acquire.”
Now here’s the thing about Hebrew names. When Eve gives Cain this name, Hebrews in the biblical world have this understanding that your name isn't just a name like in our world. We pick names because we think they sound cool. Or I don’t know, we pick names for really odd reasons.
Brent: The initials work well.
Marty: I’m not speaking against that because there’s probably a bunch of people listening to this podcast that did that with their kids. I don’t mean to talk bad about that, but what I do mean to say is that in the biblical world, names meant so much more than that. Your name was your essence, your name was your destiny in a sense, and you were either going to live out your name…
Your name was something that was given to you by your parents through this prayerful — if they put the time in anyway — this prayerful seeking of God. God worked through the process of your parents giving you your name to mark your legacy. You are either going to live out your name in a positive sense, or you are going to live out your name in a negative sense. Now it appears that Eve names Cain more out of her experience, but his name is going to define who he is for the better or for the worse.
Now his name means “acquired.” Now, this story moves on and tells us about this offering that they give to God, now Avel kept flocks, he’s a shepherd, and Cain worked the soil, and then in the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord, but Ave brought the fat portions from some firstborn of his flock, and the Lord looked with favor on Avel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, he did not look with favor, so Cain was very angry and his face was downcast.
Now, we are not told in this paragraph why God liked Abel’s offering and not Cain’s, there’s a discussion that sometimes hovers around this about “Well, Abel offered the best portions, that phrase in the Hebrew — the “fat portions” — it can mean the best portions and maybe there’s an insinuation here, but we’re not told that Cain doesn’t offer the best of his crops.
Maybe we might expect to say first fruits, but the text certainly doesn’t need to say that, there is no directly stated reason for why God likes Abel’s. It just says he does like Abel’s and he doesn’t like Cain’s. Now, immediately I’m back to one of those problems. If you remember the first two stories, we said to ask the question, “what are the problems we have with the story?” I immediately have a problem with this story.
Brent: How does Cain know what he’s supposed to bring?
Marty: How does Cain know what he’s supposed to bring? That’s a good question, I have a question and a problem with the character and the nature of God again. And again this is something we have to get used to because we haven’t been taught to think about the Bible this way. Who are we to bring up questions about the character of God? But that seems to be, in Genesis 1 through 11, the very thing the author keeps doing.
The author keeps bringing up questions about what kind of God is this, who is the God that we’re dealing with? Yet the stories keep telling us that this God is a God of love, but it all begins because I’m raising questions about what his character is like in the first place. When I read this story especially as a father, what kind of dad? Let’s go back to your question Brent because has God asked for sacrifices?
Brent: Not at all.
Marty: There’s no request from God that he brings sacrifices. These sacrifices and they might be coming from some fallen sense of humanity that wants to appease an angry God system, but these gifts are coming from the heart of the worshiper. They’re not coming in response to a command. What kind of a dad, when your two kids bring you these presents, these two drawings that they made at school — the one kid’s drawing is like, “Oh man, my daughter Abigail, she’s going to be an artist that’s pretty brilliant.” Then there's Zeke's picture and it’s like, “Oh well, don’t quit your day job.” You’re like, what kind of dad is this?
Brent: Well, and especially because Cain’s the older son, right?
Marty: Well sure.
Brent: He’s older, maybe more responsible, more experienced and it’s like, “My younger son, he’s a protégé.”
Marty: What kind of dad would do that? I know you don’t have kids yet Brent, but tell me what any good father does for two kids that bring you — one’s really good quality, one’s a little questionable. What do you do?
Brent: You love it all.
Marty: You love it all, you put both of them up on the refrigerator. You go, “Oh man.”
Brent: You shower them with praise.
Marty: “Oh, this is great. “ This is part of being a dad. What kind of a God is like, “Abel’s sacrifice. I like that, Cain’s not so much, try again next time”? So it just raises — like, this story has to be about something else. We’re not given the details. It’s just even more confusing. Then the Lord said to Cain, why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted, but if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire — there’s that word again — its desire is to have you, but you must master it. Cain is in this crucial moment and I wonder if his name doesn’t give us some insight into the story because what does this name mean? Acquired.
Okay. Cain’s whole legacy is about acquiring. Acquiring is not a bad thing. If he sees it as maybe his mom saw when she gave him the name. Cain could be a guy that always remembers where his gifts come from. They always come from God. Everything I have, I acquired.
Brent: Like the fruit that he’s harvesting, he didn’t get that himself. The Lord made it grow, he acquired from the Lord.
Marty: What’s going to happen if this gets spun a bad way, Brent?
Brent: It’s all about what he does.
Marty: Okay, but if his name means acquired, it won’t be about what he does, because his name means acquired. How could this get spun very negatively? What happens if fear enters the equation of acquiring things with the help of the Lord?
Brent: Well, if it’s about fear, then you worry, is this enough?
Marty: Right. Now, let’s say you’ve got a brother. And this brother is bringing some gifts that are really impressing dad, and you know that the only thing that you have going for you is that your dad helps you get what you need. You need dad’s help. Tell me that a farmer came who works in the soil and the crops and he knows that he’s dependent on what kind of elements.
Brent: The weather, the rain, and the soil conditions.
Marty: Does he control any of those things?
Brent: Completely out of his control.
Marty: Completely. He doesn’t control when the sun rises, and yet he knows he needs the sun. He doesn’t control whether or not it rains and yet he knows he needs the rain. He understands fundamentally that he is dependent upon this God to acquire anything. Now he could sit back if he trusts the story, as we’ve been talking about. He’s always going to remember where these gifts come from, as they continually and routinely come into his life but the fear gets in the way, He has a brother that’s really winning the admiration of dad.
Now, what’s going to happen?
Brent: He doesn’t feel accepted.
Marty: He sees his brother as this major threat to his success.
Brent: Something’s got to change, or he’s not going to be loved.
Marty: See, fear is going to end up being the antithesis of trust, and we know that, but this is one of those places where we run into in the story. When fear enters the story, it paralyzes us in our ability to trust the story. Cain now finds himself at a crossroads, because his whole identity is about “what does it mean to acquire.” Instead of trusting the story and celebrating God’s provision, he now feels threatened, that if he’s not good enough, if he can’t produce something that’s going, and now we’re back to the same two stories we’ve looked at Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and 3. He’s afraid about his production.
If he can’t produce something that gets the admiration of God, and God comes to him in this critical moment because Cain is angry, and his face is downcast. God comes in at this critical moment and says, “Why are you angry, and why is your face downcast?” Pick up on verse eight.
Now Cain said to his brother, let’s go out to the field. While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know.” He replied, “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 up 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.”
And you get this curse that sounds very, very, very similar to the curse of Adam in Genesis 3 but everything in this story hinges around this idea: “Cain, why is your face downcast? Why are you angry?”
One of the things that strikes me about this story is, if our Christian theology is right, God’s question is nonsense. Because, I’ll tell you why he’s angry, I’ll tell you why his face is downcast. His mom sinned, and now humanity has fallen, and he’s hopeless. He’s angry because he hasn’t pleased God and there’s lots of reasons why he’s angry. Yet what I find so striking about the story of Cain and Abel — and it’s one of my favorite stories, one of my favorite stories because it tells me, it proves to me God’s position on humanity hasn’t changed but humanity’s position on themselves has.
If you remember, we ended the last podcast talking about their shame, and how God meets them where they’re at and gives them clothes. God’s position hasn’t changed. There’s a whole lot of this Christian theology that gets in the middle of this and says, “No, no, wait a minute. After the garden, they were banished from the garden and separated from God.” Okay, wait a minute, says who? The story never told us they were separated from God. The story tells they were banished from the garden of delight but the story doesn’t tell us that they’re separated from God.
The story doesn’t tell us that the nature of humanity has changed at all. It’s really critical here to realize the story has not told us that sin has entered humanity as a thing, that the nature of humanity has changed but what we have been told, crystal clear, is that humanity’s position on themselves has changed. They now have shame. They now are downcast. They now are angry. God’s position with Cain is, “Cain, you can do everything you need to do right now. Don’t let your anger, don’t let your downcastness get in the way of who you can be.”
Apparently, God thinks Cain can still be the person He created him to be. Otherwise, that question is nonsense.
Brent: I think this plays off of the whole Eastern versus the Western concept of sin. Sin is not the thing. Sin is something that you do, which is why God says if you do what is right, will you not be accepted. It’s not a matter of getting rid of anything. It’s just okay, don’t be upset. Don’t be angry. If you do what is right, you’ll be accepted.
Marty: I love what you just brought up because I love what God says. He says, “If you do what’s right, you will be commended but if you don’t do what’s right…” God doesn’t say “If you do what’s right, it’d be commended but if you do what’s wrong...” God simply is focused on doing what’s right. “Cain, my position with you hasn’t changed. You’re still as loved and as accepted. I don’t love Abel more. I liked his sacrifice. I don’t love Abel more, because I liked his sacrifice and I didn’t like yours today. Here’s all you got to do Cain, do what’s right. Just give me a good sacrifice tomorrow, give me a good sacrifice now. You don’t have to worry about what happened yesterday, my position with you hasn’t changed, you’re still as loved, you’re still as valued, you’re still as accepted as you were before.”
“You don’t have to be angry. You don’t have to — if you do what’s right, once, you’ll be accepted. Your position, Cain, has not changed. If you do what’s right, you’re going to be accepted, but if you don’t do what’s right, if you don’t do what I’ve created you to do…” and notice again, what God’s really asking him… well, it’s a statement He made, He said, “Sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you but you must master it.”
Again, there’s this idea we ran into in Genesis 2 and 3, you can — Cain, you are not a beast. You have a desire, you have a fear, you have an anxiety, you have an insecurity right now that is trying to win the day, but you can master that. You can not be a beast, you can say enough. I’m going to let my insecurity die right here, and I’m going to trust the story. I’m going to let my anger and my downcast attitude die right here. I’m going to move on, I’m going to trust the story, I’m going to trust that I’m fine. I’m going to trust that God loves me just as much now as he did before.
I made my mistake, or before he didn’t like my sacrifice as much as my brother. I’m going to stay right here. I’m just going to trust. That’s the invitation we keep seeing over and over again. Yet again, the story is going to end in tragedy. We’re going to watch people give in to their desires, give in to their insecurities, and instead of trusting, instead of stopping, instead of saying, enough, these characters are going to give in to their desires. Let their fear get the best of them, and the story is going to end in a horrible tragedy. It just becomes this —
I just love the story. It’s one of the most defining stories for me when it comes to making mistakes when it comes to my sin, when it comes to my scripts because there’s no doubt that I’m not trying to say in Genesis 1, 2, and 3 that we’re not sinful. Of course, we’re sinful. We all know that. We all know what it’s like to screw up. We all know that we’ve got garbage. What I love about the story of Cain and Abel is God comes and says, “Why are you angry and why is your face downcast? Why are you letting this get you down, because your love and acceptance has not changed. You’re still as loved and accepted. You’re still as valuable as you were before. All you have to do is let this pass and do the right thing next.” Man, it’s just —
Brent: It’s so freeing.
Marty: It is.
Brent: It’s not this whole thing that you have to get rid of just so you can make the next step. Tomorrow you make the next step. Just make the right step tomorrow. You’re still in the midst of all of this crazy stuff, but you make one decision every day and God takes you to a whole new place.
Marty: Absolutely. Yes, it is. It’s just one of my favorite stories. I absolutely love it.
Brent: Now I was looking up something as you were talking here, we talked about in the last episode, the word where. There’s two different words for where. God said to Adam, “Where are you?” Knowing fully well where they are, but he says, “Hey, I put you here and you’re not here. Where are you?” Same word here. When the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
Marty: Absolutely. One of the things that Fohrman is going to do is to continue to draw parallel after parallel after parallel between this story and the Adam and Eve story. They’re numerous, it’s almost like a replay. It’s a very cyclical retelling of a very similar tragedy based on very, very similar principles. Both are stories about mastering, your desire. Both are stories about it’s — just, yes, there are lots of these similarities, but you’re absolutely correct.
Brent: Let that be a challenge to the listener to find more similarities in the stories.
Marty: This might behoove us, is that right? Is that the phrase I’m looking for? Behoove us. Yes, we might be behooved to do such things. I like that.
Brent: Also speaking of Fohrman, I think you have a book recommendation, right?
Marty: Last two weeks we’ve been using a lot of his stuff on Genesis. I listened to a bunch of lectures that you can’t find online anymore. I don’t know if they’re floating around in cyberspace somewhere, but they just blew my mind five, six years ago. They’re unbelievable. Just influenced my understanding of Genesis. Fohrman’s not a believer. He’s not a follower of Jesus. He’s an Orthodox Rabbi, but just has some phenomenal teachings on Torah.
He has a book that has a lot of the stuff I originally heard in a lecture series called “Serpents of Desire.” Which was a famous lecture series that I believe they’ve pulled offline. What you can find it in is a book that’s been published more recently called The Beast that Crouches at the Door. It’s going to go into a lot more depth than what we did here. It’s just a great read. It’s an incredible study. He’s just going to go into so many places that we didn’t even dip into, but The Beast that Crouches at the Door, by Rabbi David Fohrman. It’s a good book.
Brent: I haven’t read the book, but I’ve definitely watched some of his material in it. It will blow your mind.
Marty: Yes, it’s really good.
Brent: We also have a whole bunch of genealogies coming up here in Genesis. Do you want to dig into that?
Marty: Yes, I’m going to skip the genealogies on our podcast for now. I’m sure it’s going to come up in discussion. That’s fine. We’ll deal with some of it in discussion, but I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves in content. I want to come back to the genealogies later, so we need a few more pieces of content in Genesis 1 through 11. Then we’re going to come back and here’s why: I don’t want to get lost in the weeds of genealogy.
We are not, in the Western world, used to reading and understanding and appreciating genealogy. If you were to ask — here’s another difference between Eastern and Western — if you were to ask an Easterner what their favorite parts of the Bible is, a Hebrew reader very likely, you’re going to get the response, “the genealogies!” Now, if you were to ask a Westerner, what’s their least favorite part of the Bible. They’re going to tell you, “Oh, those stupid genealogies.”
I just had to go through this again with people who were trying to read Matthew, “Oh, why does Matthew have to start genealogy? Can I just skip it?” There is so much in a genealogy, but it is so foreign to us in the Western world. Instead of trying to learn genealogy and get lost in the weeds and then get back in the narrative, I want to look at Genesis 1 through 11 and the stories that are contained there and have an appreciation and understanding of what’s going on in Genesis 1 through 11.
Then we’re going to be able to go back and see how the genealogies just completely reinforce and make all that stuff even better. So we’ll talk genealogies more later, maybe in the podcast, we’ll definitely do it in discussion groups. and we’ll go from there. They’re going to be good questions coming out of that, but, well, I’ll hold you to it because there is a lot of good stuff in the genealogies.
Brent: Yes, there is. So we can’t just skip it. No, but we’ll, we’ll come back to it.
Marty: We will come back.
Brent: All right. I think that does it for this episode. If you live on the Palouse join us for our discussion groups in Moscow on Tuesday or in Pullman on Wednesday. If you want to get a hold of Marty, you can find him on Twitter at @martysolomon and you can find me on Twitter at @eibcb. You can find more details about the show at bemadiscipleship.com. And thanks for joining us on the BEMA Podcast. We’ll talk to you again soon.