adventures in biblical Hebrew: shamar

his name is Samuel. we call him Sam.
his name means “God has heard”
someday he will ask why Cain killed Abel
and what does it mean to be my brother’s keeper

God made the ground
then God made little groundlings. we call them humans.
and God apparently did not make the ground for the groundlings.
God made the groundlings for the ground, to work it, to care for it, to keep it.
Cain knew this.

to keep is not about possession
and neither does it have anything at all
to do with authority, submission, dominion
or the alltoocloselyrelated domination

it has everything to do
with the relationship of flesh and dust, bone and rock, blood and soil
one in the same, swirling spiral of earth giving life giving earth life.
Cain did not know this.

jump, and you will come back to the ground.
for the time being, you cannot escape it.
we came out of the ground
and someday, back into the ground we will go.

from dust we came; to dust we shall return.
from earth came life; for earth is life.

Cain was a farmer. and a terribly lonely farmer he must have been
to have forgotten where he had been
where he was
where he would always inevitably be.

Cain killed Abel because he had forgotten where he had been,
where he was,
where he would go.
Cain knew to keep the ground; he did not know to keep the groundlings.
Now we know to keep the groundlings; we often forget to keep the ground.

to love God is to love that which is made in God’s image,
that is, humans,
and to love humans is to love the earth from which we came,
on which we live,
to which we will return.

the way you treat the earth
is the way you treat your neighbor
and your children
and your grandchildren
and all you hold dear

the life of the earth is the life of humans.
the death of earth is the death of humans.

the blood cries out from the ground.
we have harmed the earth.
we have harmed each other.
God has heard.


To my nephew Sam, who loves to run around on the ground with the people he loves.
Inspired by Scott Cairns’ series Adventures in New Testament Greek.

Shamar means “to keep, guard, or preserve.” Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.

Cain’s responsibilities to care for the earth and care for his brother, Abel, are inseparable in origin, function, and purpose. See, for example, Kristin M. Swenson, “Care and Keeping East of Eden: Gen 4:1-16 in Light of Gen 2-3,” Interpretation 60, no. 4 (October 1, 2006): 378.

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