The Stories That Shaped The Ten Commandments, Part #2, Genesis 4:1-8: A Ten Commandments’ Tale

the ten commandments just did not just miraculously appear at the top of mt. sinai. as soon as humanity was expelled from the garden of eden, mankind’s faults became ever so apparent. an interaction of the world’s first brothers perhaps inspired two of the ten commandments.

the story of cain and abel is among the torah’s most important stories. the tragedy arguably gave rise to two of the commandments, the prohibitions against both coveting and murder.

the story, in genesis, is as follows: “now the man knew his wife eve, and she conceived and bore cain, and she said, “i have acquired a man with the lord.” and she continued to bear his brother abel, and abel was a shepherd of flocks, and cain was a tiller of the soil. now it came to pass at the end of days, that cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the lord. and abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the lord turned to abel and to his offering. but to cain and to his offering he did not turn, and it annoyed cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell. and the lord said to cain, “why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? if you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.” and cain spoke to abel his brother, and it came to pass when they were in the field, that cain rose up against abel his brother and slew him.”

in this story, there are facts that stand out. cain is the first born while was a valued status in ancient times. the two brothers were placed in a rivalry with one working agriculture and the other livestock. cain failed to offer to god his best produce. this failure, in light of his brother’s more appropriate offering, embarrassed him. this embarrassment apparently led to anger and jealousy. these emotions, which are by-products of coveting, possibly spilled over into rage. it is likely that the combination of these emotions contributed to cain taking abel’s life.

the interplay of the commandments is revealed in this story. lying, stealing, adultery, murder and coveting can all occur during a single event or series of events.

the text of the two versions of the ten commandments for murder and coveting are as follows:

in exodus 20: 13, there is the commandment “you shall not murder.”

in exodus 20: 14, there is the commandment “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house. you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.”

in deuteronomy 5: 17, there is the commandment “you shall not murder.”

in deuteronomy 5: 18 there is the commandment “and you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

one can see, there is little difference between the two versions.

this story arguably goes beyond the need for the two commandments. the cain and abel story was perhaps the impetus for god’s need to codify law. who is responsible for teaching children morality? were adam and eve, capable of doing so? while they both who possessed knowledge of good and evil, did they understand and appreciate the need to act in a moral way. did they understand and appreciate that they needed to teach their children of moral and values? thus,, this episode may have created a small spark in the concept of creating a book of instruction, a torah.

circling back on this issue, the story is not clear as to whether both cain and abel possessed the knowledge of good and evil. assuming that all humans possessed this knowledge post the garden of eden, it illustrates that knowledge of good and evil does not necessarily translate into acting in a just and righteous manner.

in sum, when humans interact with other humans, the commandments are likely to intersect. certainly, with many bible stories, a venn diagram would be a helpful tool,

be well!!

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Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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