“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” said Jesus. And “you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37, 39-40). Thus, the first table of the Ten Commandments has to do with loving God and the second table has to do with loving your neighbor.
Peter Leithart, drawing on Thomas Brodie’s Genesis as Dialogue, points out that we can see this same distinction in Genesis. In fact, we can see a double fall: The account of Adam and Eve is about violating the love of God. The account of Cain and Abel is about violating the love of neighbor.
“The first crime is primarily vertical, against God,” says Leithart; “the second is more horizontal, against another human being. Furthermore, these two crimes involve two of the most basic pairings in life: man-woman; and brother-brother.”
He then notes some strong parallels between the two narratives, which underscores their connection. Here are a few (Adam & Eve first; Cain & Abel second):
–the beginning: “They. . the man and his wife”; “The man knew. . .his wife”
–Fruit forbidden by God; Fruit not regarded by God.
–After eating: they knew. . .; After the killing: Where is Abel?
–They heard the voice; The voice. . . is crying to me
–I hid; I must hide
–Avoiding responsibility: It was the woman. . . ; Am I my brother’s keeper?
–Cursed is the ground because of you; Now you are cursed from the ground–God’s protective action: He clothes them; He puts a sign on Cain.
There are five more parallels. Read Leithart’s whole discussion.
Brodie’s book is about “diptychs,” the structural device of repetition-with-variation and parallelism. This is a common structural element in Hebrew poetry:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
Can you think of other pairings or parallel passages in the Bible of loving God and loving your neighbor?
Painting, Cain and Abel (1603), by Palma il Giovane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons