Misappropriated Blood: Genesis 4:9–10

Misappropriated Blood (2)

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10) Gen 4:9–10: We return to the fourth scene in the saga of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1–16), the conversation between the Lord and Cain.

Strong parallels exist between this interrogation and Adam’s (Gen 3:9–12).[1]

God first drew attention to Cain and Abel’s familial relationship by asking, “Where is Abel, your brother?”[2]

As in Adam’s case, the Lord already knew the answer.

Cain’s reply belied a heart much harder than those of his parents. Rather than acknowledging his fault, he denied any awareness of Abel’s situation.[3]

He responded by saying, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“Keeper” (shamar) is the same word used as Adam’s job description in Gen 2:15.[4]

In only one generation, people degenerated from tending paradise to disavowing any obligation to one’s family.[5]

Since a “keeper” tended flocks, Cain employed sarcasm here. He essentially asked, “Should I be shepherding the shepherd?”[6]

Not only did Cain imply that God’s question was improper,[7] he exhibited the evasiveness of his parents (Gen 3:11–13).[8]

The Lord never demands that a person watch over a sibling continually.[9] He assumes that responsibility (Num 6:24–25; Ps 121:4–8).[10]

Cain used that fact as an accusation against God.[11] Nevertheless, in times of difficulty, the Lord expects a man’s brother to assist him whenever feasible (Lev 25:47–49).



Ironically, Cain should have acted as the “avenger of blood” in the event of Abel’s murder (Ruth 3:12–13; Num 35:19–21).[12]

People in the Ancient Near East believed that a murderer misappropriated his victim’s blood. That vital fluid could be redeemed and symbolically returned to the relatives of the slain only by the death of the offender.[13]

An 8th century BC Aramaic treaty between two allied kings states:

If it happens that one of my brothers or one of the hou[se of my father or one of my sons or one of my officers or one of my officials or one of the people under my control or one of my enemies seeks my head to kill me and to kill my son and my offspring, if it is me they kill, you must come and avenge my blood from the hand of my enemies.

Your son must come to avenge the blood of my son from his enemies. The son of your son must come to avenge the bl[ood of the s]on of my son. Your offspring must come to avenge the blood of my offspring.

If it is a city, you must slay it with the sword. If it is one of my brothers or one of my slaves or [one] of my officials or one of the people under my control, you must slay him and his offspring, his supporters, and his friends with the sword.

If you do not do so, you will have been false to all the Gods of the treaty in this inscription.[14]



The Lord responded with outrage to Cain’s callousness,[15] switching from interrogation to accusation.

God said, “What have you done? The voice of the blood of your brother is crying out to me from the ground!” (Cf. Job 16:18–19).[16]

Murder without recompense polluted the land. This rendered it unfit for God’s presence, even when the guilty person remained unidentified (Deut 21:1–9).[17]

Israelites considered killing someone by bloodshed particularly heinous. Those seeking to murder another might ease their guilt by not shedding the victim’s blood.

This may explain why Reuben easily persuaded his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit to slowly die (Gen 37:19–24). The blood which David shed in warfare prevented him from building a temple for the Lord (1 Chr 22:7–8).[18]

When Christ returns, all the blood shed upon the earth shall be revealed and avenged (Isa 26:21; Rev 6:9–11).[19]

 Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 4:9–10. How was this conversation like and different from the one in Gen 3:9–13? What made Abel’s murder especially repugnant? Why is it impossible to hide bloodshed from God? What effect does it have upon the earth? How does this affect the way you evaluate justice for murdered people?







Go to A Charge of Hypocrisy (Matt 23:29‒33)

[Related posts include Serving and Keeping (Gen 2:15); A Day of Reckoning (Gen 3:9–13); A Servant of the Ground and a Shepherd of a Flock (Gen 4:2‒5); Sin Lies Stretched Out (Gen 4:6‒7); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); Banished from God’s Presence (Gen 4:15‒16); A Deity Descends (Gen 11:5–7); From Abel to Zechariah (Matt 23:34‒36); Blood Given for You (Matt 26:26‒28); Pleading for Justice (Rev 6:9‒10); The Full Number of Martyrs (Rev 6:11); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Brothers (Genesis 4:1‒16)]


[1] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 106.

[2] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 227.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 106–7.

[4] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “שָׁמַר” (shamar), BDB, 1036, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/1036/mode/2up.

[5] Walton, Genesis, 267.

[6]Matthew R. Schlimm, From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 338–9, Http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/890/D_Schlimm_Matthew_a_200812.pdf?sequence=.

[7] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 230.

[8] Walton, Genesis, 265.

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 106–7.

[10] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 231.

[11] Schlimm, From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Ethics of Anger in Genesis, 339.

[12] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 107.

[13]S. David Sperling, “Blood, Avenger of,” ABD 1:763–4, 764.

[14]Barga’yah, “The Treaty Between Ktk and Arpad” (Sefire III), Pages 559–61 in ANET. Translated by A. J. Dupont-Sommer and J. Starcky, 661, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n691/mode/2up. Italics original.

[15] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 98.

[16] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 231.

[17] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 107.

[18] S. David Sperling, “Blood,” ABD 1:761–3, 763.

[19] Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, 113.