The Psalmist is expressing deep anguish here. Other human beings are perceived as a potential threat. And bad things happen every day. Just watch the news! “What can mere people do to me?” the Psalmist asks. People can cause each other a lot of grief. The Bible records a major root cause for bad behavior – and it hits close to home: sibling rivalry.
If you are a parent and have more than one child then you know about sibling rivalry, although this phenomenon is also common in the animal kingdom. The first-hatched chick of a black eagle mother pecks the younger one to death within the first few days. Thankfully, this kind of behavior is not acted out among all animal species. Wolves for example are known to help and guard their younger siblings. Unfortunately, this cannot always be said of human families. Early on, humans have cases of severe sibling rivalry starting with the first brothers ever. In Genesis, chapter 4 we read: “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”
Cain worked the soil while his brother Abel tended the sheep. So far, so good! Cain – the Firstborn Eve so proudly presented to Adam the day he was born – probably enjoyed his firstborn status a little too much taking the parental attention and approval entirely for granted. He was used to be the Number One in the family. But then came the day when he ran into God who knows no favoritism. Abel gave God the best of his herd while Cain brought some fruit – not the first fruit, not the top of the crop, just that – some fruit; and he expected the same approval he always received, because after all, he’s the Firstborn, right? Wrong! His rude awakening immediately kindled his anger. Like most spoiled children, instead of mending his ways he insisted on having his way – ultimately at the cost of his brother’s life. And so the killing began.
The first human death ever occurring was initiated by murder; at the same time Abel’s death became solid proof to Adam and Eve that the Snake’s preposterous words: “You will not certainly die,” were in fact a lie. It had happened at last. Before their very eyes one of their children lay dead on the ground. A bloody ground no less! Abel suffered a violent death. Imagine their grief. Imagine their rage. And Cain is acutely aware of his family’s emotions when he says to the Lord: “whoever finds me will kill me.” But the last word had not been spoken yet. You would think based on this incident God would nip it in the bud and had Cain killed for murdering Abel. That would have been just, wouldn’t it? And yet: if justice had Cain killed for his offense, unfortunately, that would not have brought his brother Abel back to life. About the letter of the law Paul would write centuries later in his correspondence to the Greeks: “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6).”
So, God does not kill Cain even though justice demands it. Instead He sends him away unharmed. God’s response in this situation teaches all generations to come an important lesson: Mercy rules! If justice ruled we would all be dead by now. Instead God gave us the right to exist. Although before our time we used to not exist, still God decided after calling us into being that we would not cease to exist. He gave us the right to live, and He does not take that right away from us – even if our existence becomes a curse.
However, in order to protect Cain from certain death, God had to separate him from his avengers. Separation, in the grand scheme of things, is a necessary step to lay the groundwork for reconciliation. Before reconciliation there is separation. God overcame separation with reconciliation when mercy left us alive but separated from one another and from God. God’s grace ultimately bridged separation when His Son Jesus sacrificed Himself and was resurrected to conquer death and defy the aftermath of the Snake’s lie. We see abundant grace at work here. God’s amazing grace!