In Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, we see how destructive sin can be. It was at first against God, but now it has spread out horizontally, and we see for the first time that sin has horrible implications on human relationships. Cain sheds the innocent blood of his own brother, and murder becomes a precedent in human life. God confronts Cain with another question to which he knows the answer. Cain lies, and then in bold-faced arrogance, answers God’s question with another question. His question has now become famous and has found its way into the literature of nearly every civilization. Genesis 4:9 says, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel, your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” Cain told a bald-faced lie to God. He either did not understand or rejected the idea of God’s omniscience and omnipresence. He thought he could hide his sin from God.

This question is bubbling over with emotion. It might be worded, “Why? Do you think I’m here just to look after my brother?” Barry observes, “When God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin, they readily confessed (3:11–13). Here, Cain lies to God outright, denying any knowledge of his brother’s whereabouts. Cain not only denies knowing anything about Abel’s fate but also defiantly objects to the implication that he should be responsible for his brother in any way.”[1] There is an apparent escalation of evil here. Adam and Eve sin but admit their sin. Cain sins but denies it. In Chapter Five, we’ll see another murder and a bold stand justifying it. Finally, the violence that saw its first light of day with Cain will become so bad that God will destroy the earth with the flood. When Jesus deals with the Commandment against murder in Matthew 5:21-22, it appears he might even have the murder of Abel in mind. He knew the struggle against evil was an internal one, and he said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Furthermore, the second most important command, according to Jesus, is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Therefore, the answer is, “Yes!” I am my brother’s keeper.

During the summer of 2020 and 2021, crowds stood by and watched an Asian woman being beaten up and robbed in the middle of New York City. James Boice acknowledged this trend years ago when he wrote in 1998, “Do I hear the voice of modern man in Cain’s cruel question? I think I do. A woman is murdered in New York while more than thirty neighbors hear her screams and ignore her cries for help. In Oklahoma City, a woman gives birth to a baby on the sidewalk while similarly calloused people ignore her cries and merely gaze at her plight from the window of a cozy corner tavern. These stories could be multiplied indefinitely.”[2] It appears that over 20 years later, the situation is worse.

[1] Barry, John D., Douglas Mangum, Derek R. Brown, Michael S. Heiser, Miles Custis, Elliot Ritzema, Matthew M. Whitehead, Michael R. Grigoni, and David Bomar. 2012, 2016. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Boice, James Montgomery. 1998. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.