On a number of occasions, our current U.S. president, Barack Obama, in his push for “social justice” has declared, “It’s like the Bible says, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’” Really?
I can read in the Bible that as believers we are to be kind and compassionate and forgiving one toward another, esteeming others better than ourselves. We are to weep with them that weep and rejoice with them that rejoice. The Apostle Paul commended certain churches for giving unto his necessity. Jesus spoke of feeding the poor and giving drink to the thirsty (though I hardly think he had a gargantuan government program in mind to do so). We are to pray for one another and take care to not offend the weak. There are many things we are told to do in our relations with one another, but where does this “brothers keeper” phraseology come from and what does it mean?
Galatians tells us to bear one another’s burdens.
Galatians 6: 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
But the record goes on to say that every man shall bear his own burden.
Galatians 6:4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
5 For every man shall bear his own burden.
[The answer to this apparent conflict lies partly in the fact that there are two different Greek words translated “burden’ in these verses. The burden of verse 5 is one that can be borne. The Greek word is used of the lading of a ship. The Greek word for “burden in verse 2 is related to a word that means depth, or the deep. The mind picture is of a burden that would cause a ship to sink into the deep.]
We are each to bear our own burden, but if something comes up that we can’t handle, then other believers should help. “Brother’s keeper,” however, would seem to indicate involvement beyond this.
What does “brother’s keeper” mean? A zookeeper cares for the inhabitants of the zoo. He provides for all their needs, bringing them food and water and providing a suitable habitat. He also regulates their activities. He keeps them from harming one another or the zoo visitors. He also determines when the males and females are to be brought together for breeding. He controls nearly every aspect of their lives. If this is along the lines of what our president has in mind by “brother’s keeper,” I would like to opt out. I don’t want anyone else to be my keeper, and I don’t want the responsibility of being anyone else’s keeper. Still, if that’s what the Bible says, I’ll do it; but does it?
The term, “brother’s keeper” appears only once in the Bible. It is in Cain’s sarcastic response to God when God confronted him regarding the whereabouts of his brother (whom Cain had just killed).
Genesis 4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
If President Obama had known the context of the only occurrence in the Bible of “brother’s keeper”, he surely would not have used the term in his speeches. And the record is NOT an admonition to be “my brother’s keeper”. That any one given individual would not know the context of the only occurrence in the Bible of “brother’s keeper” is understandable, even if that person happens to be the president of The United States of America. Claiming, however that the Bible tells each of us to be his brother’s keeper is an unconscionable and ignorant attempt to use the Scriptures to promote one’s own agenda.
Perhaps even more deplorable was the response (or lack of it) from his listeners. He had plenty of speechwriters, advisers, and aids who would not have wanted the president to appear ignorant. They would surely have corrected him after the first time he made the statement had they known any better themselves. Apparently, none did. There were perhaps those in the news media who caught the error but did not want to mention it and present the president in a negative light. There were plenty of others in the media, however, (primarily in talk radio) who would have relished the opportunity had they known any better themselves. Apparently, none did. How many hundreds or thousands of people didn’t know any better or did and let it slide. Unfortunately, this says something about the times in which we live here in the USA.