Interpretive Essay Example

Genesis 4: 1-6 recounts the story of the offerings made by Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain brought "the fruit of the ground", and Abel sacrificed "the firstlings of his flock and the fat pieces thereof." As readers are told further, Abel and his offering were accepted by Yahweh, but Cain and his offering were not.

Here the reader encounters the question, namely, what was the basis of the acceptance and rejection of the brothers" gifts? Apparently, the answer lies in the character of the two brothers, the nature of their gifts, or in both these factors.

Different interpretations of the issue were provided by the Holy Scripture commentators. M. Luther, the founder of the protestant church, believed that it was Abel"s personality rather than his gifts that was important and acceptable to God. Cain"s disposition, on the contrary, was unpleasant and disagreeable in the eyes of Yahweh, and that was the reason of the rejection (Luther, 1958). According to Keil and Delitzsch, the conservative German Lutheran theologians, Abel"s offering was accepted because he sacrificed the very best, "the firstlings of his flock and the fat pieces thereof," thus recognizing God as his Master to whom the first and the best should be given. Cain, on the other hand, presented just a portion of fruit, not the first and best of his harvest, and in such a way he demonstrated his indifferent and irreverent attitude to his God (Keil & Delitzsch, 1951). The American Baptist leader and theologian H.H. Hobbs (Hobbs, 1986) claimed that Cain"s offering was rejected because it was not a blood sacrifice, while Abel realized the necessity of sacrificing a living creature for the atonement of his faults, since "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22).

In my opinion, the key to understanding the reason of God"s acceptance and rejection of the brother"s sacrifices lies in the combination and interdependence of all the factors mentioned above. The state of heart and the quality of faith of Cain and Abel, on my mind, predetermined their obedience to the God"s will as well as their homage, which were reflected in the respective offerings, and led to the known consequences.

Genesis 32: 22-32 features Jacob"s wrestling with some mysterious "man" on his way to his brother Esau, which resulted in the renaming of the patriarch into Israel.

The thing which presents a moot point for the Holy Scripture readers and commentators is the identity of Jacob"s opponent. Throughout the passage this character is ambiguously represented first as a "man" (Gen 32:24) and then as "God" (Gen 32:28-30). Traditional interpretation defines him as an Angel referring to the facts of his sudden appearance from nowhere and the same departure, the dislocating of Jacob"s thigh with a mere touch, and his recognition as divine by Jacob.

This traditional approach is uphold by the nineteenth-century English pastors and Biblical commentators A.R Fausset, D. Brown and R. Jamieson (Jamieson, Fausset & Fausset, 1997), who considered the Jacob"s opponent to be "the angel of covenant" sent to patriarch in order to support him in his fear of the coming meeting with Esau. A prominent French theologian and founder of Calvinism J. Calvin (Calvin, 1847) believed that it was God himself who wrestled with Jacob. For the fact of calling this being also a "man" the commentator had a ready explanation: "That Moses here calls him a man whom a little after he declares to have been God, is a sufficiently usual form of speech. For since God appeared under the form of a man, the name is thence assumed; just as, because of the visible symbol, the Spirit is called a dove; and, in turn, the name of the Spirit is transferred to the dove" (p.153). A brand-new approach was championed by Mormon Steven Molen (Molen, 1993) who claimed that the struggle at the Jabbok was just "a dramatic reenactment of Jacob"s memory," the obscure opponent was "a fusion of separate personalities" i.e. of God and Esau (p.17), and the purpose of the whole episode was to demonstrate to a reader Jacob"s relationship with both his brother and his God.

Personally I am most inclined to consider the wrestling episode as some special spiritual experience of the patriarch through which he was tried by God and gained a victory in this inner struggle. I do not think that the "man" was an angel, since, in the previous encounters of Jacob with the heavenly creatures, they were clearly and unequivocally defined as such (Gen. 32: 1-2). I find the Molen"s theory of "man" being Esau and God at the same time rather interesting, however, in my opinion, it does not meet sufficient support of evidence in the Holy Scripture.

In Genesis 49 a reader finds the prophesy of Jacob about the future of his sons. Particular attention is paid to the fate of his fourth son, Judah.

The tenth verse contains an ambiguous term "Shiloh". It is a proper name and, despite different variants of translation, it is generally accepted both in Jewish and Christian cultures that the word refers to the anticipated Messiah.

E.H. Merrill, an American Old Testament scholar (Merrill, 1975), believes that the word "Shiloh" refers not to the biblical city with the same name (the theory does not stand up to criticism from grammatical as well as logical points of view), but to "a person who would arise in the tribe of Judah and bring peace to the world, namely, Messiah" (p.74), and has to be translated as "whose it is" or "to whom it belongs" rather than being transliterated. Some other scholars, including the British scholar and writer G. Wenham claim that the correct translation of the word is "until tribute is brought to him" (Wenham, 1994, p.478). A.R Fausset, D. Brown and R. Jamieson talking about various variants of interpretation ("the sent", "the seed", "the peaceable one") also attribute "Shiloh" to the Messiah, i.e. Jesus Christ (Jamieson, Fausset & Fausset, 1997).

Whatever the interpretation is adopted, I agree with the prevailing theory which accepts "Shiloh" in a given context as the Messiah in the Christian conception of this word, i.e. Jesus Christ.


  1. Calvin, J. (1996) Commentary on Genesis – Volume 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  2. Hobbs, H.H. (1986). Was Cain's Offering Rejected by God because it was not a Blood Sacrifice: yes. R. Youngblood (ed.), The Genesis Debate, Nashville, 130-147
  3. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, D. (1997) A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  4. Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1958). Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  5. Luther, M. (1958). Lectures on Genesis: Luther's Works. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 246-259
  6. Merrill, E.H. (1975). Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis. Westminster Theological Journal 38:74-75.
  7. Molen, S. (1993). The Identity of Jacob's Opponent: Wrestling with Ambiguity in Gen. 32:22-32. Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 11(2), 16-29
  8. Wenham, G. J. (1994). Genesis 15—50. Word Biblical Commentary series. Waco: Word Books