Food in the Bible: Genesis 4:2-12

Genesis 4:2-12 Abel was a shepherd, and Cain was a farmer. 3 Later Cain brought some crops from the land as an offering to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought some choice parts of the firstborn animals from his flock. The LORD approved of Abel and his offering, 5 but he didn’t approve of Cain and his offering. So Cain became very angry and was disappointed. 6 Then the LORD asked Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look disappointed? 7 If you do well, won’t you be accepted? But if you don’t do well, sin is lying outside your door ready to attack. It wants to control you, but you must master it.” 8 Cain talked to his brother Abel. Later, when they were in the fields, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 The LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he answered. “Am I supposed to take care of my brother?” 10 The LORD asked, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the ground, which has received the blood of your brother whom you killed. 12 When you farm the ground, it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a fugitive, a wanderer on the earth.”

And the cycle of violence begins… Is this just a showdown between shepherds and farmers? Livestock and crops? I don’t think so. Abel offers “choice parts” while Cain just offers “some crops.” It’s not explicit, but it seems like Cain is not offering his best. The point of offering your best animals and crops was at least partly to show your loyalty to God, giving him your best. That’s my best guess as to why God was disappointed with Cain’s offering.

Cain’s reaction is normal, anger and disappointment. He fulfilled an obligation after all. Where did God get off giving him a hard time? God then cautions him about where his emotions may lead him. Perhaps God’s words of caution could be said to the agribusiness executives today. They too fulfill an obligation to provide food for people. What’s so wrong with that? Aren’t they doing something good? Why should people be disappointed and critical of them?

God cautions, “If you do well, won’t you be accepted?” You can’t get around doing things well. I don’t know the Hebrew here, but my guess is it is connected to the concept of tsedekah, righteousness or right-living, throughout the Old Testament. If you practice right-living, right-action at the right tim to the right person, you won’t have to worry about being accepted or criticized? This is a good word to agribusiness. Instead of complaining about criticism or trying to defend unethical practices as better than something else, they should practice living in right relationship with the world around them and the rest will, as they say, take care of itself. The temptation to take shortcuts, to grab for power and control is waiting around the corner and has certainly infiltrated our food systems. We must learn to personally master those impulses as we try to hold agribusiness accountable to do the same.

Cain is not able to master his emotions and kills his brother. Likewise agribusiness participates in violence, murder and injustice as it posts record profits while workers face poverty, sexual harassment and violence. Just as Abel’s blood cries out from the ground, we need to tune our hearing to the blood sweat and tears of those who feed us crying out from the ground. Cain’s violence cursed the ground and ruined his production. It may be difficult for agribusiness to see, but it’s system of industrialization often does the same thing.

The question this leaves us with is “What is the ‘right’ thing? How do we know what ‘right’ actions to take and advocate?” Hopefully we will find some answers as we continue reading.

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