It was all his brother’s fault. Abel, Abel, it was always Abel. First to do whatever their parents asked, first to try new things or bring home new gifts, and now the first in God’s favour. It wasn’t fair! He was the firstborn, he should be the one to come first in everything – the eldest son of the human race. It was only fair that he should have the pre-eminence. But Abel was always there before him, with his quick smile and his kind words. Through many seasons Cain had watched the eyes of his family light up at the sight of his brother in a way that they never did for himself. Once or twice he had stepped forward and said, “I should be doing that!” Abel had simply stepped back with a slightly bewildered smile and let him have his way. Somehow it hadn’t felt much like a victory.
And now Abel had offered a better sacrifice. Of course Cain had offered what he had, from the fruit of his crops, but once again Abel had waltzed in ahead of him, choosing the very best he had, and Cain’s offering had not been acceptable. It was all Abel’s fault, he was the stumbling block to Cain’s success. Even God did not understand, warning him that sin was lying in wait for him. Couldn’t God see that it was Abel who was in the wrong, stealing the love and favour that belonged to his brother? The only possible solution was to get rid of him.
It was all too easy. An invitation to go out into the field, a surprise attack (Abel was always so trusting) and hiding his body away, and it was all done. There was a strange, stomach-lurching moment when he looked down on his brother’s damaged body, as dead as any brute beast, and realised that this was the first time a human being had ever died. But it was done, the stumbling block was removed, and he could be first in everybody’s love.
It surprised him when God Himself questioned him, but he had his prepared answer: “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?” That should have been the end of it, shouldn’t it?
But it wasn’t, and his stomach twisted as he heard the Lord’s reply. Rather than being moved to the front of the line, the favourite of God and man, he had become accursed. The ground he had tilled, the fruitful earth into which his brother’s blood had soaked, would now reject him and no longer yield its bounty to him. Rather than being received into the central place in his family, their joy and their delight, he would be an exiled creature, abandoned and alone.
He cried out in protest, “My punishment is more than I can bear!” God was taking away from him everything he had thought to gain by removing his brother, the stumbling block. And if he was driven from the land, wouldn’t he also be driven from the presence of God altogether? And that would mean away from His protection – and how long would he survive?
But God had made provision for that as well, marking the murderer and outcast with the seal of his protection, and as Cain stumbled, despairing into the darkness that would endure all his days, a terrible possibility gripped his mind. What if the stumbling block to all he had dreamed of had never been Abel? What if it had been himself?