Summary: Sibling rivalry starts with one person feeling they've been slighted. They deserved to be treated better. And expect this kind of rivalry in children - it's when we become adults that this desire to "be the star" can destroy families, churches and relationships.
OPEN: Video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVI2fX-1uPU
That clip was from a popular TV series called “This Is Us” where a couple of the main actors (brothers Kevin and Randall) get into a fight. The scene is an excellent example of a common conflict most families experience called “sibling rivalry”. According to Merriam-Webster - Sibling rivalry is the “competition between siblings especially for the attention, affection, and approval of their parents.” According to observational studies by Judith Dunn, children as young as one year old are sensitive to differences in how their parents treat them.
[Jane Mersky Leder (January 1, 1993). "Adult Sibling Rivalry". Psychology Today. Retrieved 15 May 2018.]
ILLUS: Now, I’ve read that over time most family rivalries tend to disappear… at least until the parents die, and then the kids usually end up in court fighting for their share of the inheritance. So sibling rivalry is REAL. And because the Bible is based in reality… sibling rivalry is referred to a lot in Scripture:
There was the conflict between Jacob and Esau – they’d fought ever since they’d been born. Then there was Joseph and his brothers. His brothers were so jealous of him that they threw him in a pit and then sold him into slavery. And in the book of Numbers we’re told of the resentment Miriam had toward her brother Moses because she felt she’d been left out of things.
But the most famous story of sibling rivalry is the story of Cain and Abel. This morning, I’m going to tell you my take on this story. I’m going to give you my OPINION about what happened in that conflict. But bear in mind – this is my opinion. I could be wrong!!! (I’m probably not, but I like to hedge my bets). There are certain hints in this tale that make me think that what I’m going to tell you is on target.
But now, here’s what I see. In the Bible, names often had specific meanings. For example: “Adam” means “earth” and God so named him that because God formed him from the dirt of the ground. And “Eve” means “Life”, because she was “the mother of all living”.
But when we get to Cain and Abel… the meaning of THEIR names is intriguing. For example, “Cain” means “acquired”. And Eve explains why she named him this by saying: “I have gotten (or acquired) a man from the LORD.” But why on earth would she call Cain, “Cain”?
Well, you have to go back to the previous chapter. Adam and Eve have sinned against God and lost their home in the Garden. They’ve lost all the blessings they’d once had from their close relationship with the Father. But at the end of the 3rd chapter, God makes a promise. God tells Satan “I will put enmity (hatred) between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he (this “boy” child) shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Genesis 3:15
Now… Eve has an offspring. She has a “boy” child. And I can visualize Eve thinking: Cain is the boy-child that’s going to fix what she’s broken, and (because of Cain) she’ll get back everything she’s lost.
But then Abel is born. According to one source: the verb (habal), means to act emptily or become vain, and the noun (hebel) means vapor, breath, in the negative sense of having no substance and being something very close to nothing. (http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Abel.html#.W6FnTuj2670)
(PAUSE) Really? Abel meant emptiness, and nothingness? Why on earth would Eve name Abel… Abel????
Well, here’s my take: I think Eve thought: I’ve got Cain… what do I need Abel for. Cain’s my ticket back to the garden. Abel is just chump change. And if I’m right - CAIN became the golden child. He can’t do anything wrong. All he has to do is “show up” and he gets the “participation trophy.”
But now… ABEL is a different kid. He has to try twice as hard to get half the attention Cain gets, and so, he’s used to giving his best 100% of the time. And Cain likes it that way.
Now, fast forward to Genesis 4 and the sacrifice that these 2 boys offer to God. Cain does what he’s always done. “Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground.” (Genesis 4:3) He just brings in some stuff from out in the field and he didn’t give it much thought. It’s just some grain that was close at hand.
BUT “Abel … brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” (Genesis 4:4). “Firstborn and “Fat portions” are code words in Scripture for the best he had. And Abel brought the best he had because that’s what he’s always had to do. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice… but rejected Cain’s.