“Wherefore Lamech, being angry, slew [Irad], not like unto Cain, his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the oath’s sake. For, from the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark, and they knew every man his brother.” (Moses 5:50-51).
This murder is best understood in the context of Cain. Cain was one of the sons of Adam and Eve. He was the older brother of Abel. By the time Cain and Abel were born there were many people on the earth – many children and descendants of Adam and Eve – but by this point many were wicked. It does not take people long to fall away from the truth and to become wicked, even degenerate. Here is the story as found in the book of Moses:
“And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish. And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commanded them that they should repent; And as many as believed in the Son, and repented of their sins, should be saved; and as many as believed not and repented not, should be damned; and the words went forth out of the mouth of God in a firm decree; wherefore they must be fulfilled. And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God. And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain, and said: I have gotten a man from the Lord; wherefore he may not reject his words. But behold, Cain hearkened not, saying: Who is the Lord that I should know him? And she again conceived and bare his brother Abel. And Abel hearkened unto the voice of the Lord. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” (Moses 5:12-17).
It is clear that many of Adam and Eve’s children followed Satan. They had more children, hoping that they would follow their counsels and teachings. Many did not. Cain was not the first of the wicked children but he became one of the most wicked. Cain was a farmer, his brother Abel was a shepherd. Abel followed after the statutes and commandments of God. He was a righteous man who performed his sacrifices with exactness and honor.
Continuing with the story:
“18 And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;
24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent.
26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.
27 And Adam and his wife mourned before the Lord, because of Cain and his brethren.” (Moses 5:18-27).
The commandment and covenant Adam and Eve and their children had received was to offer up animal sacrifices in the similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of God. It was a blood sacrifice in expectation of the Atonement of the Son of God. Abel offered up a blood sacrifice, Cain did not. Cain listened to Satan and tried to offer up the fruit of the ground – whatever he farmed – instead of offering up an animal sacrifice. He offered a sacrifice but not the sacrifice the Lord required; Cain offered up the sacrifice Satan wanted him to. Satan knew the sacrifice would be rejected. Satan knew how Cain would react – he knew he would be upset and curse God. He was and he did.
Then Cain started off the deep end – he made a pact with Satan; it was a pact of secrets and murder for gain. “And it came to pass that Cain took one of his brothers’ daughters to wife, and they loved Satan more than God. And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands. And Satan sware unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret. And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain. Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.” (Moses 5:28-31).
Cain dealt with Satan in secrecy. Cain became Perdition – a destroyer (Latin: perdere – to destroy) of truth; one who gave away his covenants for new ones with the devil. Cain was promised that he would rule over Satan – Cain had at least kept his first estate whereas Lucifer did not. From God Cain received the title Perdition, from himself (and possibly from Satan) he received the title of Mahan, which is of unclear meaning but based on context probably means something close to “master [owner, holder, keeper] of [a] secret.” (This interpretation agrees with what Hugh Nibley believed the title meant. See Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, p.12. In this document Dr. Nibley suggests that the word Master is not the English word master, but derives from Arabic word Mustirr (“keeper of secret”) and Mahan is related to the Sanskrit word maha (“great”); source). Cain’s covenant with Satan included a penalty of death for those who revealed it (this was a covenant that Cain’s friends, some of his brothers and sisters and their families, made too). Satan promised to deliver Abel into the hands of Cain. Cain would also reap the riches of his brother – his flocks.
“32 And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him.
33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.
34 And the Lord said unto Cain: Where is Abel, thy brother? And he said: I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?
35 And the Lord said: What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto me from the ground.
36 And now thou shalt be cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.
37 When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
38 And Cain said unto the Lord: Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks. And I was wroth also; for his offering thou didst accept and not mine; my punishment is greater than I can bear.” (Moses 5:32-38).
This was not a crime of passion, it was calculated murder. Cain’s purpose in seeking out his brother Abel was to kill him, to deprive Able of his life. In his post-murder phase Cain gloried in his power. He had power over life – like God. He could take Abel’s flocks and be rich. Then the Lord came to Cain asking him where his brother was. Cain’s reply? “I don’t know. Am I supposed to baby sit him? Am I his shepherd? Am I his keeper? I am a keeper of secrets, not my brother.” Then when the Lord exposes Cain for what he is, a murderer, Cain starts blaming Satan, the temptation of riches, and anger. “Satan made me do it. I was blinded by the rich, white coats of my brother’s sheep. I wasn’t myself, I was in a fit of rage.” These are all common excuses people still give when they get in trouble. It’s always someone (or something) else’s fault. Cain did murder for money but for a number of years before this he had loved Satan more than God. He did not just see Abel’s flocks one day and decide to kill him, Cain was wicked already, had covenants with Satan, and already had a plan to kill Abel.
What I want to focus on though is Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain was not simply answering in annoyance – “I don’t know where my brother is!” – he was revealing his callousness towards his family and other people. Cain revealed his self-centeredness and his selfishness. He was Satan’s protege and as the protege he adopted some of Satan’s characteristics, most predominantly, pride. Cain thought he could hide his sin from the Lord – that was a manifestation of his pride. He thought that he was not responsible for his brother, especially because Abel’s sacrifices were accepted but Cain’s were not; Cain felt offended by the Lord and by Abel. Cain took every opportunity of aggrandizement. He sought power and glory and riches (sound familiar? Satan sought the same things in heaven) at the expense of all else. No one would stand in Cain’s way, especially not his brother, who was the favored son.
In some ways this sounds much like the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers. His brothers were jealous of Joseph’s favored status (which was based in part on his righteousness); they wanted to kill Joseph but were convinced not to by Reuben, the oldest son. Maybe the brothers hoped to gain Jacob’s favored status; maybe they just wanted to kill Joseph because they were evil people and not necessarily just to get gain. In any case, there are repetitions of themes throughout the scriptures – wickedness and righteousness are found in cycles in the Book of Mormon and Bible. Cain was only the first of many murderers. But because he was the first he became Perdition and (future) lord over Satan.
Note: Image by Tintoretto circ. 1552. In public domain: http://www.wikiart.org/en/tintoretto/the-murder-of-abel-1552