And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; 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. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.(Genesis 4:10-15)
The Divine sentence is pronounced upon Cain, and it elicits a heartfelt response from him, in a way that God’s urgings and pleadings before and after the murder didn’t. The import of this sentence deeply hurt Cain. It frightened and exasperated him to the point that he who had previously ignored God’s tender calls to repentance, now openly pled with God .
I have highlighted in the verses above, what I believe the real issue was and why it elicited such an anguished response from the first recorded murderer and will worshipper.
The Divine punishment set upon Cain had to do with his relationship to the earth. Remember that Cain was a farmer. The earth had once yielded her bounty (by God’s blessing) to Cain. But it would no longer do so.
Why wouldn’t the earth bring forth the bounty to Cain ? Because the same earth had “opened her mouth” to receive the shed blood of Abel, Cain’s murdered brother.
In God’s dealing, the earth can be made to be morally sensitive. Centuries later the Israelites were warned that should they defect and follow the abominations of the Canaanites, the Holy Land itself would vomit them out of its boundaries.
Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.(Leviticus 18:24-25)
When Cain complains that God has “driven” him out from the earth, the Hebrew word used here, Geirashti, is the same word used in other places in scripture for divorce. God divorced Cain from the earth as a punishment for murder!
The consequences of this rejection of Cain by the earth itself were immense and far-reaching. No longer would Cain have a settled place to live, nor would he be able by agriculture to provide for himself sustenance.
He was sentenced to be a “fugitive and a vagabond”. He would no longer be “grounded”, in the sense of being able to have permanent settled place. Cain would thus ever be restless, a perpetual exile, and alienated from working the land, thus dependant on others for the sustenance which he himself once derived from the earth.
This was a serious situation in itself, but there was another dimension added to Cain’s pain. The reality that murder was now conceivable to the fallen children of Adam, made the world of Cain’s exile a frightening, threatening place.
Cain knew that his act had destroyed what sense of security existed among the children of Adam. He had done the unthinkable! He had crossed a threshold, when he killed his brother, who knew what forces of hatred vengeance were now released in the hearts of his other fallen brothers and sisters?
Who hasn’t experienced similar in our increasingly darkening modern-day? We once left our doors unlocked at night, and trusted friends and neighbors for the most part. But that was a thousand grisly newspaper stories ago!
Cain has created a new hostile and distrustful world, not only for himself but for everyone. So in self-pity he pleads with the Judge of the earth for a concession…
…it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
In mercy the Lord assures Cain of this protection, a special mark of God, and a warning to he who would violate Cain’s life. God would execute “Sevenfold vengeance” on whoever would kill Cain.
How does anyone suffer seven times as much as the person they murdered? What could be worse than death itself?
What God is doing here is assuring all of humanity that physical death itself is not the end for anyone, and that there are sanctions that go beyond this life into the next.
“Seven fold Vengeance” is another way of saying, “Full and eternal suffering” after death…what we now know of as Hell and the lake of fire, to the one who would dare to slay Cain.
In Luke 12, Jesus alluded to this very contrast between physical and eternal vengeance, when he waned us not to fear him who could only kill the body, but to fear the one who has power to “cast body and soul into hell!”
And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.(Luke 12:4-5)