The Lion King — Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
It’s extremely difficult to find people these days that haven’t heard of the story of Cain and Abel. The first murder recorded in Biblical history. Considering the story’s fame I don’t think there’s a need to go deep into an exegesis of Genesis 4:1-23, but I wanted to share something that has always bothered me about the story. To sum it up, it’s hard for me to understand how a man could kill his little brother over a rejected offering. How could a moment of rage overrule a lifetime of relationship with your own blood? How can a temporary desire cause you to murder someone you grew up with? The little information we have in the story leads me to conclude that Cain wasn’t really a nice guy to begin with, highlighted poignantly by his response to God when asked where his brother Abel was after killing him in the field.
Genesis 4:9 (ESV)
9Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
There’s a sense of annoyance in Cain’s response to God’s question, and it’s clear Cain felt no sense of responsibility towards Abel at all, not as a brother, and not as a fellow human being.
Who Are My Brothers and Sisters?
After I was born, my older brother John would crawl into my crib with me to hold me, protect me, and when I got old enough to respond, play with me. When I was 6 years old and I tattled on my brother and his friends for stealing candy at the local Pay N’ Pak at Thrasher’s Corner my brother is the one who protected me from his friends who all rightly wanted to beat me to death. When I was 8 and confessed to helping vandalize a local elementary school along with my brother and his friends, once again my brother stepped in to defend me against them. Oddly, they stopped involving me in their shenanigans after that. When I was 21 and my brother went with me to celebrate, and some idiot in the club started harassing me, it was my big brother who took me aside out of earshot and said “I know this type. If he pushes any more, whatever you decide to do I’ll have your back.” When my wife had a miscarriage and we lost our baby, it was my big brother who said “We’ve been through this. I’m here if you want to talk.” My brother has always been my keeper, even on the days we drew each other’s blood quarreling. The bond that siblings have from growing up together reminds me of a verse from the 21 Pilots song Stressed Out:
Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one
It’d be to my brother, ’cause we have the same nose
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered
Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter
Your brothers and sisters are the ones you grow up with, go through trials with, survive tragedy with. I would also suggest that If this kind of bond can be built between complete strangers experiencing trial and tribulation together, how much more should people who grew up together have the same sense of responsibility towards one another? So yes, Cain. The message from God here is that you are your brother’s keeper, and His message to us now is that we are also. You are your brother’s keeper, and you are your sister’s keeper. The bond that exists between siblings extends also into God’s kingdom, and our conduct regarding our spiritual responsibility for each other has impact on everyone around us. We’re all in the same boat when it comes to being in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), and we will sit together, alive in heavenly places with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2). It should be no surprise that when we ignore our personal and private obligation to our brothers and sisters, everyone around us suffers.
In Disney’s The Lion King, driven by a desire to have a kingdom that was not his, Scar plots against and kills his brother. The result is broken relationships within the family, lack of food supply leading to starvation, and the land laid to waste. The story of Jacob and his brother Esau comes to mind (Genesis 25:29-34) , where Jacob in his desire to have his older brother’s birthright managed to get it, but had to flee for his life (Genesis 27:41-44) afterwards. Broken relationships take a whole lot of work to reconcile and repair the damage. The story of Ammon, Tamar, and Absalom from 2 Samuel 13:1-22 resulted in rape and murder, and a kingdom in shambles. God expects us to be keepers of one another. There is no room in the New Testament for a Heaven populated by individuals that aren’t connected.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Now that the larger point has been made, let me bring this back to siblings for a second before I wrap this up. A very good friend of mine grew up in a wonderful household, the youngest of two children. He and his older brother had a good relationship with each other and with their parents all the way into their young adult life. Tragedy struck one day when their parents were out on a drive and were struck and killed by a drunk driver. Each of them dealt with the tragedy in different ways that weren’t always conducive to healthy sibling relationships. Angry, bitter, and devastated, they lost touch and parted ways. 10 years later, my friend gave his life to Jesus and the two of us were in a men’s Bible study, and when Genesis 4:9 was read aloud and Cain rhetorically asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, my friend though he was the youngest of the two brothers decided then and there to reconnect and reconcile with his brother based on the conviction the Spirit placed on him. For years he thought “I’m the youngest, so I’ll just wait until my older brother reaches out to me”, but God reminded him of his own responsibility; that it doesn’t matter who is older, what matters is the relationship. Thanks to Jesus, the two have reconciled and are leaning on each other once again as they deal with the untimely passing of their parents.
Here’s the closing question then: do you have a broken relationship that you need Christ’s help to fix? Isn’t it about time for you to make the first move and seek out your brother (or sister) and be reconciled? Are you thinking maybe that it’s just not possible? There’s too much bad blood, too much history, too much hurt. Well, you’re not alone if you’re thinking along those lines but let me provide you some encouragement once again from Jacob and Esau’s story. After living abroad for a few years, Jacob eventually returned home and knew that he was going to have to face an older brother that previously had wanted to kill him. On the way home, Jacob arranged to send gifts in advance to his brother to sort of soften him up a little bit, maybe hoping that by the time Jacob got home his brother would just give him a beating instead of killing him. Instead, this happened:
Genesis 33:8–11 (ESV)
8Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.”
9But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
10Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.
God is so good, friends. If by His power, grace, and mercy he can fix Jacob and Esau then He is more than worthy of helping you restore your own broken relationships whether they be flesh and blood brothers and sisters, or the ones you’ve developed along the way. You are your brother’s keeper.
Brother, let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call when you’re feeling low
Brother, let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home
-Written by James Boerner