The Envy of Cain



This week Mr. Romney met with the Prime Minister of Israel at the end of the fast of Tisha B Av. This solemn day marks the anniversary of the destruction of the Hebrew temple in Israel - twice. The first occasion was in 582 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar and the second was in 70 AD by the Romans. To remember these events, Jews all over the world read from the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah.

I was reading a commentary by Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, on the Isaiah passage and was struck by his insight that prophecy is not destiny - it is a warning. If the recipients change their ways, the prophecy becomes void.

With that in mind, consider Isaiah 1.21-23:

   How the faithful city
              has become a whore,
              she who was full of justice!
         Righteousness lodged in her
              but now murderers.
    Your silver has become dross,
              your best wine mixed with water.
    Your princes are rebels
              and companions of thieves.
         Everyone loves a bribe
              and runs after gifts.
         They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
              and the widow's cause does not come to them.

This is the list of offenses for which God would eventually exile Israel. Silver becoming dross describes a debased currency and wine mixed with water represents adulteration (watering down) of goods sold in the market. Princes being 'companions of thieves' is government corruption. Not bringing justice to the fatherless and the widow bespeaks a corrupt court system.

To understand the accusation that Jerusalem was full of murderers, I was led to Genesis 4 where the first Biblical murder takes place. Cain and his brother, Abel, came before God with offerings; Cain was rejected and killed his brother in a fit of envy. The precise wording is key:

"And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard."

The problem here was not so much with the offering as with Cain himself*. We see this same phenomenon in Isaiah 1.10-17 where God told Israel that their offerings disgusted Him because Israel had become disgusting:

   Hear the word of the LORD,
              you rulers of Sodom!
         Give ear to the teaching of our God,
              you people of Gomorrah!
    "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
              says the LORD;
         I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
              and the fat of well-fed beasts;
         I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
              or of lambs, or of goats.
    "When you come to appear before me,
              who has required of you
              this trampling of my courts?
    Bring no more vain offerings;
              incense is an abomination to me.
         New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-
              I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
    Your new moons and your appointed feasts
              my soul hates;
         they have become a burden to me;
              I am weary of bearing them.
    When you spread out your hands,
              I will hide my eyes from you;
         even though you make many prayers,
              I will not listen;
              your hands are full of blood.
    Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
              remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
         cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
         seek justice,
              correct oppression;
         bring justice to the fatherless,
              plead the widow's cause.


Since neither God nor his standards change, we can infer that His rebuke of Cain stems from the same factors as His rebuke of Israel. Cain's envious murder of his brother confirms it.

God tells us how to live and how to prosper, but there are always those who don't want to do it God's way. They cut corners; they don't give honest value; they don't deal justly with their neighbors. That was Cain's character and that became the character of Israel just before God destroyed their cities and sent them into exile.

Consider now the United States. People who work hard and become successful are the targets of the envy of Cain. While there's plenty of blame to go around, this political season the Democrats have made envy the centerpiece of their campaign. Mr. Obama can't make a speech without accusing the successful of 'not paying their fair share.' His entire strategy revolves around making more and more people comfortable with being unproductive and living at someone else's expense. The rationalization that the successful are undeserving and that the unsuccessful are right to demand the government redistribute their wealth is nothing more than the sin of Cain.

Cain's curse from God was to become an unfruitful wanderer.

Gen 4.11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth."

Look at the United States today - high unemployment, decaying cities, drought over the land, declining GDP. We are becoming unfruitful.

The average lifespan of world empires has historically been 250 years and the United States is approaching that mark. As Rabbi Sacks says, prophecy is not destiny and we do have a choice in what direction we will go as a people. If we reject the politics of Cain, we can return to God's blessing. If not, we will become unfruitful and perish - just like Cain.

* I know that many Christian teachers believe that the problem was that Cain did not bring a blood sacrifice, but that does not bear scrutiny. God admonished Cain and gave him a chance to repent. If the problem had just been the nature of the sacrifice, Cain could have traded some vegetables to his brother for a lamb.