Brothers of the Bible Essay

This essay has a total of 1647 words and 7 pages.

Brothers of the Bible

Brothers of the Bible

The Old Testament sibling rivalries between Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, and Joseph and
his brothers were similar in some ways and different in others, but they all hold lessons
for us today, for brothers today still face many of the same problems in life that
challenged brothers thousands of years ago.

Cain and Abel were in a situation much more unique than Esau and Jacob, and Joseph and his
brothers faced, for the society they lived in was extremely small, and they each had a
direct relationship with God. As the book of Genesis tells us, Cain was the first born son
of Adam and Eve. Their next son was a boy whom they named Abel. As Cain and Abel grew up
both took responsibilities for making a living. Abel took care of the sheep and Cain
became a farmer. (Genesis 4:7)

Both brothers in the space of time began to offer sacrifices unto God. Cain, being a
farmer, offered the produce of his fields, and Abel offered the first-born sheep with its
fat. God had respect for the offering of Abel but rejected the offering of Cain. It thus
comes as something of a surprise that God accepts Abel's offering but not Cain's. Two
puzzles emerge: (1) We are not told how Cain discovered that neither he nor his offering
was accepted. Given God's way of responding in the story, Cain may have told directly. (2)
No rationale is given, hence God's action appears arbitrary (Abingdon, 373). The biblical
text gives no explicit reason for God's preference for Abel's offering. This has given
rise to speculation. (Doubleday) And envious of his brother so angered Cain that he killed
him. Cain's response - the downcast face - reveals more the idea of dejection, feelings
associated with rejection, than anger. Cain must care about what God thinks of him and his
sacrifice. But the basic issue becomes not that Cain acts in a dejected fashion, but how
he responds to God's interaction with him about his dejection. That God responds at all
reveals a divine concern for Cain. (Abingdon, 373)

When God confronted Cain with what he had done and asked, "Where is Abel your brother?"
Cain replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:15) The answer is yes, and relates to
Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, and to us today, for we are all our brother's
keeper. We live our lives in close relation to our family, neighbors, friends, and even
people we only casually meet. We are responsible for how we treat them, and should act
towards them as though they were our brothers or sisters. Cain takes the road of denial
rather than hiding from God; even more, he turns the question back to God implying
impropriety in God's question. "Keeping" is not something human beings do to one another
in the Old testament; only God keeps human beings; hence God should know the answer to the
question. (Abingdon, 373)

Another unique element of the Cain and Abel rivalry and its tragic aftermath is that God
personally punished Cain for the murder of Abel, and sent him into exile. But God also
showed some mercy to Cain which protected him from harm at the hands of others by putting
a mark upon him. The narrator leaves him as one who has been placed under the very special
care of God. Hence, the story ought not to be interpreted in basically negative terms, but
rather as the activity of one who lives under divine protection and care. (Abingdon, 375)

The sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau didn't result from envy due to God's reaction
to their sacrifices, but from envy over parental favoritism. In addition to this, the
rivalry also involved a number of other factors and began even before they were born. As
God explained to Rebekah when the twins were still in her womb, "the two children inside
you will become the fathers of two nations. Just like the two are fighting with each other
now, the two nations will struggle with each other. One will be stronger than the other.
and the older will serve the younger." (Genesis 33) God explains to her the reason for the
painful pregnancy and interprets this as a sign of the future relationship between them
and their descendants; the struggle itself does not result from divine action. (Abingdon,

As noted briefly above, the rivalry was heightened even more because their father Isaac
liked Esau better than Jacob for the wild game Esau brought home from hunting, while their
mother Rebekah liked Jacob better because he learned to cook and to do other things to
help her around their home.

The simmering rivalry came to a head when Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright, and
then tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing he'd intended to give Esau. Enraged, Esau
Continues for 4 more pages >>