I have two brothers, both older than me. Both of them — to varying intensity — beat on me repeatedly when we were growing up.
(I tried doing the same to them but if you saw a picture of me at 12, you would understand why it wasn’t always successful. Probably still isn’t).
This verse always stuck out to me because right before one of them would power bomb me off the beige sofa in our living room, I would think, “Hey, these guys are supposed to be protecting me.”
What I didn’t know in the moments before the pillow connected with my jaw was just how they protected me. Many years later, when we were all sitting around talking one night, my middle brother mentioned that my oldest had told him to “take care of me” when I got into high school.
My oldest brother is still a super humble guy, so he brushed off that comment and said he didn’t remember saying it. As I think back to those moments in high school where I probably could’ve been bullied, I like to think that it was my middle brother — the resident super jock — that went to bat for me.
Are We Our Brothers’ Keepers?
My relationship with my brothers isn’t too unfamiliar to most of you guys, I would imagine. If you’re fortunate, you had older people in your own life that looked out for you and protected you when times got rough.
Most likely, those people never had to be told to do this either. They did it because it came naturally to them.
Which is what makes Cain’s question in Genesis 4:9 all the more alarming. The fact that he questions his responsibility to Abel is shocking and insulting. Of course you needed to protect your brother. That’s what brothers do!
And even if you wanted to pound his face in from time to time, you certainly shouldn’t have lured him into a trap and actually killed him. That’s the opposite of love — it’s pure cold-blooded murder of the worst kind. His dismissal of God’s question is sickening.
Who are Our Brothers?
The New Testament uses brothers often to describe our relationships with other Christians.
But the Old Testament talks about it as well. When Deuteronomy 15 talks about people in need, it repeatedly uses the phrase “poor brother.” In other words, their fellow Jews were not just other people, but their brethren.
For that reason, “brothers” is more akin to values and actions than it is blood. We “keep” them in the same sense that Cain should’ve kept Abel: Not just by not murdering him, but spiritually and emotionally kept as well.