Thursday, May 26, 2011

Probing the story of Cain in Moses 5:12-27

There are several things that the Moses 5 account adds that are not in the Genesis version. In Genesis there is no mention of Adam and Eve having any children before Cain. But in Moses 5, we find Adam and Eve had many sons and daughters before Cain and Abel came on the scene, and those sons and daughters had begun to pair off and have children of their own. We find Adam and Eve striving to make all things known to their children, but their children chose not to believe and chose to love Satan more than God. (That phrase about loving Satan more than God is repeated three times in this chapter, which should draw our attention, and I will examine it more closely a little later.)

Poor Adam and Eve! They must have felt like they had failed as parents with all their children going wrong. It is in this context that we get verse 16:
And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God. And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain, and said: I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words. But behold, Cain hearkened not, saying: Who is the Lord that I should know him?
Adam and Eve prayed unceasingly (probably for their wayward children) and the result of all this praying seems to be that Cain was conceived and born. Eve must have considered Cain an answer to her prayers, since she says, “I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words.” Clearly she hoped that he would give humanity a new start in righteousness or that he would teach and convert his other siblings. What a disappointment it must have been to her when Cain began to resist the duty and worship that he owed to God. Was he going the way of her other unbelieving children or could he yet be saved?

Cain’s words were “Who is the Lord that I should know him?” (There are two other people in scripture who asked this question—the Pharaoh who would not let the Israelites go out of bondage and King Noah in the Book of Mormon—and we know what happened to them, so clearly this isn’t a spiritually healthy question to ask…) But when I translate these into a more modern construction, I come up with “What’s the point of knowing the Lord?” or “Why should I care about knowing the Lord?” or “Why should I care what the Lord thinks?” There were some points in my life when I would ask questions similar to this, but it was before I gained my own testimony and it wasn’t necessarily with the attitude of rejecting the Lord, but more out of the puzzlement of “Why is it important to know the Lord? How can it benefit me?” I heard others testifying to the blessings they had received and I didn’t yet know for myself. At bottom I had a wish to know the Lord as others did. Perhaps Cain's question held a certain amount of contempt with pride at the bottom of it, an attitude of "Why do I need the Lord when I'm doing just fine?"

But back to the story.. After this disappointment with Cain, Eve then bore Abel, with little or no scriptural fanfare.
And she again conceived and bare his brother Abel. And Abel hearkened unto the voice of the Lord.
Abel actually listened to the Lord! I can’t help but wonder if Cain was under such high expectations that he felt he couldn’t deliver on them so he bucked them. And maybe Abel wasn’t under any pressure at all, so he wanted prove better than expected. That’s just me speculating though. We don't know enough about Eve's parenting style to give her the credit she fully deserves as the mother of all living.

It is interesting that the difference between Cain and Abel starts at whether they hearken to the Lord or not. It makes me ponder whether I am someone who hearkens to the Lord or not. I hear the voice of the Lord, but do I hearken? (Ponder, ponder, ponder..) Probably not as much as I should..

Then we are told that Cain loved Satan more than God. That is interesting because it shows that in some ways Cain did love God. Yet he also loved Satan...more. This sets up the tragedy of Cain’s fall as a case of divided loyalties. Cain's love of Satan more than God makes me think of one of those balance scales. From my heart I can say that God weighs more with me than the world, but I still have a liking for the praise of the world and money; that adds some weight to Satan’s side of my heart's scale and sometimes that prevents me from whole-heartedly serving the Lord. (Gotta work on that.) In Cain’s case, his love of the carnal, sensual, and devilish weighed more in his heart than his love of the holy, good, and virtuous. (Kind of makes you ponder about how much God weighs in your heart versus Satan, huh?)

Then we come to a peculiar twist in the story.
18 …And Satan commanded him [Cain], saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. (Moses 5:18-21)
Satan commanded Cain to make an offering to the Lord. This is particularly puzzling because it seems like Satan is changing sides. However, we see what Satan’s motive was in verse 20-21. Satan meant for Cain to do what would eventually alienate him from God and break the tenuous ties that still held him to goodness. (We see here that just as God isn’t satisfied with only a part of our loyalty, neither is Satan satisfied with a part of our loyalty. It’s an all-or-nothing struggle on both sides.) How did Satan mean for an offering to alienate Cain from God rather than reconcile to God? By inciting Cain to give an offering in a way contrary to that which had been divinely appointed. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
Cain offered of the fruit of the ground, and was not accepted, because he could not do it in faith, he could have no faith, or could not exercise faith contrary to the plan of heaven. It must be shedding the blood of the Only Begotten to atone for man; for this was the plan of redemption; and without the shedding of blood was no remission; and as the sacrifice was instituted for a type, by which man was to discern the great Sacrifice which God had prepared; to offer a sacrifice contrary to that, no faith could be exercised, because redemption was not purchased in that way, nor the power of atonement instituted after that order; consequently Cain could have no faith; and whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith as quoted by The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, p17)
God would not respect an offering that he had not appointed. Cain offered a sacrifice of plants rather than of flock firstlings and that was not in the similitude of Christ’s sacrifice, so it would not be confirmed by the presence of the Holy Ghost. I keep wondering why Cain didn't think of trading some of his crops for a proper sacrificial animal from Abel. Perhaps Cain had the pride and presumption to think that his offering would be accepted even though not given in due form (as he had been taught).

It is interesting that he had the spiritual perception to know the Lord had not accepted his offering. But instead of repenting, he chose to be angry, which is what Satan wanted.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;
24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent. (Moses 5:22-25)
Then we see the great mercy of God in attempting to warn Cain. It is amazing to me that we have this record of the Lord talking to Cain. Even though Cain loves Satan more than God, even though his offering was wrong, even though he is angry, God still talks to him. It shows the love God has for His children and how He tries to reclaim them and warn them when they go astray. It makes me wonder in what manner God spoke to Cain. Was it face to face? Was it through the Holy Ghost? Whatever way it was, Cain heard the voice of the Lord, even if he chose not to respond.

Verse 23 has a very powerful and simple principle. If we do well, we will be accepted. If we do not well, sin lies at the door and Satan wants to have us. Yet I’m not sure I quite understand exactly what it means to “do well.” Does it mean to do what the Lord wants, or does it mean to do one’s best, or is it a combination of those two? If it means to do what the Lord wants, then how would not doing well mean that sin lies at the door? I would think that not doing what the Lord wants would be sin, rather than the next thing to it. But it can’t mean merely to do one’s best because Saul/Paul did his best and yet was persecuting Christ and His church. So it seems doing well means to do what the Lord wants and doing our best.

Some clarification comes in the rest of verse 23: “except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire.” So as long as Cain would listen and do the commandments, Satan would never have his way with him, but if he rebelled, then the Lord would deliver Cain into Satan’s power. “And it shall be said in time to come--…he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God” (v25) This then is the background event that eventually led to Cain embracing murder and secret combinations. He rejected the greater counsel of God (divinely mandated sacrifice), so he was left to himself and fell into darkness and abominations. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
Cain had the great honor of being Adam’s son, and he, too, was privileged with the same blessings as his father. What a mighty man he could have been! How his name might have stood out with excellent luster as that of one of the valiant sons of God! How he might have been honored to the latest generation! But he would have none of it!

Cain’s great sin was not committed in ignorance. We have every reason to believe that he had the privilege of standing in the presence of messengers from heaven. In fact the scriptures infer that he was blessed by communication with the Father and was instructed by messengers from his presence. No doubt he held the Priesthood; otherwise his sin could not make him Perdition. He sinned against the light. And this he did, so we are told, because he loved Satan more than he loved God.” (Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, as quoted by The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, p17)
This story shows the true seriousness of rejecting the truth. When the truth is rejected, one has nothing left but to fritter away their time and fall into lies and sin. It also shows how important it is to make our offerings in the divinely appointed way. Any other way leads not to at-one-ment with God, but to alienation from God, and it pleases Satan. We also see that God reaches out in mercy to those making unauthorized offerings and tries to help them learn to do it the right way. And too, our view of Cain becomes more complex. He wasn't totally bad all the way through, at least not in the beginning. Rather, he was a mix of good and evil. He heard the voice of the Lord (good), but he didn't listen. He loved God (good), but he loved Satan more. He offered a sacrifice (good) but it was the wrong kind and contrary to divine commandments. He sensed that his offering was rejected (good), but he chose to get angry about it. This makes the story of Cain into a greater warning for us, as it is a story about the first person to corrupt holy ordinances. He had the greater counsel from God (to sacrifice in similitude of the Only Begotten and to do well in the priesthood) and then he rejected it.

Abel is a contrast to Cain in this story. While Cain refuses to hearken to the Lord, Abel chooses to hearken. While Cain tills the soil, Abel tends the flocks. While Cain offers a wrong sacrifice, Abel offers a correct sacrifice. While Cain’s sacrifice is rejected, Abel’s is accepted. While Cain was angry at the rejection of his sacrifice, though the scripture doesn’t say, undoubtedly Abel was filled with joy and the Holy Ghost at the acceptance of his sacrifice. While Cain refused to hearken any more to the voice of the Lord (or his brother Abel), Abel walked in holiness (and seems to have attempted to teach Cain and perhaps his other siblings). Abel, though the younger brother, was an excellent example. Cain could not fail to notice this, and perhaps his envy led him to covet Abel’s flocks.

After studying the story of Cain and the background in Moses 4-5, I can see from looking at Genesis 3-4 the major holes that existed that Joseph Smith was filling in through revelation.

For instance, in Genesis 4:3-4, it says Cain and Abel both brought offerings to the Lord but it is the first mention in the Bible of any ordinance of that kind. This must have puzzled Joseph Smith and he asked for revelation. Then it was revealed to him that if Cain and Abel knew to offer sacrifices to the Lord, their father Adam had to have been commanded and taught to offer sacrifices as well. And further, Adam had to learn the meaning of those sacrifices. And again, Adam and Eve had to have been blessed with the witness of the Holy Ghost for their obedience. Thus, Adam would teach his children the same things he was taught and this could only be the way for Cain to rebel, if he previously knew the right way, was tempted, and decided to go against the right way.

I recommend a careful comparison between Genesis 4 and Moses 5 to fully appreciate the great gift that Moses 5 is to us.

Image 1:
Image 2: Wikipedia, "Cain and Abel,"