Cain and Abel: The Sentence
God has found Cain guilty for the murder of Abel and now he awaits his sentence.
This is the end of this tragic tale. It is a warning to all of us to not follow in the steps of Cain but to repent of our sin before we are consumed by it.
Through this story, we are given the choice today to walk in the steps of Cain or walk as Abel did.
This is the last in the series on the story of Cain and Abel. If you missed the previous articles, I urge you to go back and read those to fully understand what is happening in this conclusion. You may be surprised to learn a few things that you may not have been taught in the Sunday school class you may have first heard the story.
Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:11-12)
Adam had received the curse that he would have to work very hard all his life to make the land produce food. Now, Cain is further cursed that no matter how hard he works, the land will not produce for him.
Cain would become a fugitive and an outcast. He would wander all over the earth but would never be able to return home. He became a subject of derision. People would pity him, wag their heads at him, and consider him a lamentable person. Everyone on earth knew who he was and what he had done. He could not escape.
Cain had killed their father, their uncle, their husband, their son. This was not a random person or a random family. It wasn’t like he could move to another town, to a people who had never known him and start over. Everywhere he would go, the inhabitants would hate him.
Cain was no longer a successful farmer but a lamentable murderer. In fact, he is still regarded with derision. Even those outside of Christendom know of Cain’s sin and regard him as a deplorable person
However, even in this curse, God showed Cain mercy and allowed him to live. He gave him time to recognize his sin and repent.
“Two things we expect from the earth, and by this curse both are denied to Cain and taken from him: sustenance and settlement…This was the sentence passed upon Cain; and even in this there was mercy mixed, inasmuch as he was not immediately cut off, but had space given him to repent; for God is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him. (Genesis 4:13-15)
Cain, in response to the sentence God placed on him, begs for mercy. Notice, he still does not confess and repent from his sin. Rather, Cain whines about the punishment being too great. He had taken his own brother’s life, yet, God allowed him to live. God showed him mercy and did not demand the full punishment for his crime. Still, Cain thought it was too harsh and unfair.
“Cain responds with self-pity instead of repenting for his sin against God and man. He fears physical and social exposure but not the God who made him.” ~ Reformation Study Bible Notes (Gen 4:13)3
The word for “vagrant” means to shake like leaves on a tree, to stagger like a drunk, to toss in you sleep, to wander and waver. The word for “wanderer” to wander aimlessly, to take flight, to be a fugitive, to move to and fro. Cain would never be able to return home, he would never find a place of rest.
“Impenitent unhumbled hearts are therefore not reclaimed by God’s rebukes because they think themselves wronged by them; and it is an evidence of great hardness to be more concerned about our sufferings than about our sins.” ~ Matthew Henry2
We know that apart from God, there is no peace to be found in this life or the next. Cain was right in that he would wander aimlessly from one disappointing promise of peace and joy to the next. True peace and joy are only found in God and this is what Cain had been separated from.
“For in addition to that curse upon his body he suffered excommunication from his family, separation from the sight of his parents and from the society of his brothers and sisters, who remained with their parents, or in the fellowship of the Church.” ~ Martin Luther1
Even those who unregenerate are blessed by association with those who are the children of God. One way they are blessed is through the mercy, charity, and kind treatment by Christians. However, Cain was now cast out of that fellowship. This was the first time church discipline was performed.
This had to have been an incredibly painful experience for both Adam and Eve. The son they saw as part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to them in the garden, had not only offered an unacceptable offering to God, murdered another son out of jealousy, and refused to repent, but he was now cast out of their presence and protection. They had, in a sense, lost two sons.
“Cain is bidden at once to be a fugitive upon the face of the earth. The pain of the parents was doubled in consequence. They see one of their sons slain, and the other excommunicated by the judgment of God and cut off forever from the fellowship of his brethren.” ~ Martin Luther1
Even while Cain was complaining that his punishment was too great and blaming the consequences of his sin on God, God still took pity on him and showed him even more mercy. God promised not to protect Cain but to mete out vengeance on anyone who would harm him.
“For even Cain’s life is not promised him absolutely. Nothing more is said than a threat pronounced against those who should slay him…It is worthy of observation that the original verb used above is harag, which signifies “to kill.” But the verb here found is nakah, which means “to strike.” God, therefore, here gives to Cain security, not only from death, but also from the danger of death. This security, however, as we have observed, is a legal security only; for it merely commands that no one shall slay Cain, threatening a sevenfold punishment upon the person who should do so. But God does not promise that all men will obey his command. It was far better for Cain, however, to have this legal promise made him, than to be without any promise at all.” ~ Martin Luther1
We often do not understand why God allows such deplorable, evil men to not only escape deserved punishment but also seem to flourish, prosper, and even continue in their sinful rebellion to God. However, God has His reasons and we are not justified in questioning His wisdom in such matters. We know that eternal judgment will be just and fair so we must put our trust and hope in that truth.
“God has wise and holy ends in protecting and prolonging the lives even of very wicked men.” ~ Matthew Henry2
Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16)
What tragedy! Cain had every opportunity to confess his sin, repent from it, turn to God, and worship God properly. However, he did not. He accepts his fate and we see him forsaking his family for the wilderness. Rather than humbling himself and admitting his sin, he chose to be cut off from all who loved him and attempt to build a life in the danger of the wilderness.
We picture in our minds Cain and his wife slowly walking out into the distance and not looking back. While Adam and Eve and all their children weep inconsolably as Cain departs. It breaks your heart to think of such a scene.
“Moses leaves it to the thoughtful reader to reflect how miserable and how full of tears this departure of Cain from his father’s house must have been. His godly parents had already lost their son Abel; and now, at the command of God, the other son departs from them into banishment, loaded with the divine curses, on account of his sin — the very son whom his parents had hoped to be the only heir of the promise, and whom they therefore had devotedly loved from his cradle. Adam and Eve, nevertheless, obey the command of God, and in conformity therewith they cast out their son.” ~ Martin Luther1
Also consider Cain’s wife. She was most likely either his sister. Not only did this family loose the eldest son that day but they also lost a daughter and sister.
It is also interesting to note that his wife chose to follow him. While this is typically an admirable quality in a Christian woman, in this case, it was not. She chose her husband over the presence of God. She chose to follow him into a life of sin rather than following God in a life of obedience. This is reminiscent of Adam following Eve into sin rather than leading her into a life of obedience to God.
Cain’s wife gave up her God-given role as his “ezer.” She was designed to shield and protect her husband from sinning. Her role was to beg him to repent and to turn back to God. However, she ignored her duty and followed him in abandoning God.
Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son. Now to Enoch was born Irad, and Irad became the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael became the father of Methushael, and Methushael became the father of Lamech. Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. As for Zillah, she also gave birth to Tubal-cain, the forger of all implements of bronze and iron; and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. (Genesis 4:17-22)
In the earlier verses, we saw Cain in utter despair over his fate. He complained to God that his punishment was too harsh and that he would forever be a wanderer and a vagrant. He thought he was destined to never have a place to call his “home.” However, we find in these verses that he is the first person attributed to having built a city. So it seems he did have at least an earthly place to call “home” and build a life.
However, this was a testament that he had no desire to ever repent and return to the presence of God’s grace and fellowship. While we can see this as a small mercy of God for giving him a place to call “home,” we also see it as a reminder of the judgment he was under for his pride and rejection of God.
“…he built a city, in token of a fixed separation from the church of God, to which he had no thoughts of ever returning. This city was to be the head-quarters of the apostasy.” ~ Matthew Henry2
The people who came of this city were not God worshipers. They were apostates and God-haters. As Exodus 20:5 reminds us, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.” The sin of which Cain and his wife had become slaves to was passed down to their following generations. They did not teach their children to worship the One, True God but rather to live for self.
This is an example of why proper church discipline is necessary for the protection of the church. If God had allowed Cain to stay in fellowship with the rest of his family, his false teachings would have begun to influence the others. As Galatians 5:9 says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” If Cain had been allowed to stay in fellowship with his family, his sin would have infected the whole family.
“His son was Enoch, of the same name, but not of the same character, with that holy man that walked with God, Gen. 5:22. Good men and bad may bear the same names: but God can distinguish between Judas Iscariot and Judas not Iscariot, John 14:22.” ~ Matthew Henry2
God showed Cain even more mercy in that he provided him with a family. Not only a family but one gifted with ingenuity and talent. His descendants are credited for where metal workers and musicians arose.
Sadly, these children were not God-worshipers. As Matthew Henry stated above, Cain’s son, Enoch, is not the same Enoch that was a devout man of God.
This passage goes on to name more descendants of Cain but we learn very little about them. Although Cain was cut off from his family, it isn’t illogical to expect that his later generations did have interaction with the rest of the generations of Adam and Eve. It is likely that they traded among each other. This is also quite possibly how idol worship and rejection of God began to infect humanity at an even greater pace. Eventually, all humans except Noah would turn from the worship of God and, as a result, God would send the flood to judge them. The flood would be the end of Cain’s line.
“The names of more of his posterity are mentioned, and but just mentioned; not as those of the holy seed (Gen. 5:1-32), where we have three verses concerning each, whereas here we have three or four in one verse. They are numbered in haste, as not valued or delighted in, in comparison with God’s chosen.” ~ Matthew Henry2
The story of Cain and Abel is a tragic one but it is also one that reveals many of God’s attributes. We find God is wrathful but He is also long-suffering, merciful, gracious, loving, and will exact justice. God was so patient with Cain and gave him opportunity and time to repent and turn to a true worship of God. He showed him great mercy and grace but Cain was full of pride and did not see his sin as being so serious.
In this passage, we see the promise of mercy and grace shown to those who repent. We are also reminded of the continual struggle between the “seed of the serpent” and the “seed of Eve.”
This story is meant to break our hearts. Its purpose is to show us how serious sin is and to warn us not to choose the life of Cain. Humble yourself, repent from your sin, turn to God, and worship Him as He has instructed us to in His Word.
If you are struggling with sin or feel you are being unjustly punished by God, repent and turn to Him. He is full of mercy, grace, peace, hope, and love. Your temporal situation may not improve and, in some cases, it may get worse, but true peace, joy, and hope is only found in the arms of the Lord.
1. Luther, Martin. 2017. “Genesis 4 – John Calvin’S Bible Commentary – Bible Commentary”. Christianity.Com. http://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=clvn&b=1&c=4.
2. Matthew, Henry. 2017. “Chapter 4 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. biblegateway.Com. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.4.1-Gen.4.26.
3. The Reformation Study Bible. 2015. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing.