Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:15–16

Genesis 4:15–16
15 But the LORD said to him, “All right then, if anyone kills Cain, Cain will be avenged seven times as much.” Then the LORD put a special mark on Cain so that no one who found him would strike him down. 16 So Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
 (NET Bible)

Cain Finds Mercy

Those who play with fire suffer burns. Cain failed to deal with the sin that threatened to devour his life (Gen. 4:7), and the eventual result was banishment from God’s presence. Why was Cain unable to turn from his sin? John tells us, “Cain . . . was of the evil one and brutally murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12). Victor Hamilton says, “His murder of Abel was an external manifestation of the grip that Satan had on his life.”[1]

How do we underestimate the power of sin? What keeps us from repenting of our sin? What can be done to end the separation of the sinner from God?

“All right then” — the NET Bible’s translation of the opening word from God (Gen. 4:15) — is a bit trendy for a divine statement. God acknowledges the rightness of Cain’s fear of retaliatory death. The meaning of the original word is important in showing God’s attitude toward Cain’s request for relief from his punishment. This request from Cain is the very first cry for rescue from sin’s consequences in human history. If God is willing to listen to the requests of a murderer, then he will listen to ours as well!

God is willing only to give Cain special protection from the very kind of violence that Cain inflicted on Abel. Anyone who kills Cain will be avenged seven times as much as Abel. Wenham is probably right in saying, “Most probably it is a poetic turn of speech meaning full divine retribution.”[2] But there is no protection for Cain from anything short of killing him.

Cain is the original “marked man,” but we do not know the manner of the sign that set him apart from others. Gordon Wenham cleverly observes, “As the clothing given to Adam and Eve after the fall (3:21) served to remind them of their sin and God’s mercy, so does the mark placed on Cain.”[3] You might say that no one who encounters God comes away unchanged. Further, living around God is not safe if you live a life of disobedience.

Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain suffers exclusion from fellowship with the Lord (Gen. 4:16). Cain demonstrates the theme of degradation in his exclusion from humanity. Recall that Cain has been condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). The land of Nod is a place whose name is a variant of the word for “wanderer.” Hamilton says, “The wanderer ends up in the land of wandering.”[4] Perhaps the naming of Nod after the punishment of Cain gives us a clue as to how widely people knew that God condemned Cain’s sin.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 244.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 109.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 110.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 235.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:13–14

Genesis 4:13–14
13 Then Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to endure!  14 Look! You are driving me off the land today, and I must hide from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth; whoever finds me will kill me.”
 (NET Bible)

The Effects of Sin

Sin creates alienation on every side. It even produces alienation within the one who commits sin as he or she realizes the damage done. In our biblical text today, Cain is not entirely wrong; we cannot endure the punishment for sin. But Cain is unwilling to move toward God to find the solution for sin and its cost.

What have you done to deal with the existence of sin in your life? What approach have you made to God to seek his solution for sin? Apart from God, what solution for sin is possible?

It is ironic that the man who had nothing to say when God warned him about the danger of sin (Gen. 4:7) now has a lot to say when his terrible sin leads to punishment. There is not a trace of repentance in Cain’s words.[1] Instead, he says what many a guilty child has said to their parent: “My punishment is too great to endure!”

Cain’s first complaint is that God is driving him off the land. The verb is the very same one used when God forcibly drove Adam and Eve out of Eden. Secondly, Cain expresses his alienation from God, yet he makes no effort to repent and call upon God’s mercy. Cain next expresses his outcast status as a homeless wanderer. Finally, Cain fears for his life.

In relation to Cain’s fear of being killed, Victor Hamilton says:

This last statement is ironic! He who killed his own brother now frets lest someone kill him. This statement suggests that at this point there are people in the world besides Adam, Eve and Cain. . . . We may suggest that Cain, Abel, and Seth are the only children of Adam and Eve specifically mentioned and named. Cain’s wife [4:17] would be his sister, and those who might kill Cain—assuming a family proliferation that spreads over centuries—would be Cain’s siblings.[2]

Readers should keep in mind that Genesis is a theological history. A careful study of the genealogies in Genesis will demonstrate that the family lines which have no bearing on the main line of descent (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) end abruptly without further mention or extension. The author focuses on his own purposes, guided by the Holy Spirit, and he makes no effort to give a comprehensive answer to all reasonable questions. All history is selective, not exhaustive.

Those who have never experienced expulsion from a community may not appreciate the impact of Cain’s punishment. It is heightened by the fact that he is condemned to remain outside of any permanent community. We should see in this the severity of murder and the corresponding value of human life before God. A great deal of contemporary media desensitizes us to God’s view of these matters. Our sensitivity to the value of every human life before God has been degraded.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 160, agrees.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 233.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:9–12

Genesis 4:9–12
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?”  10 But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!  11 So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
(NET Bible)

Crime and God’s Punishment

In the Bible one often sees that the punishment fits the crime. Paul said: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). Jesus said, “The measure you use will be the measure you receive” (Matt. 7:2b).

If we care for no one except ourselves, then who will care for us? On the other hand, what will be the result of a life characterized by love and generosity? How will God intervene to see that this measure-for-measure approach is maintained?

Just as Adam and his wife were not free from God’s knowledge of their actions (Genesis 3:9–13), so Cain is forced to deal with God’s sudden arrival and penetrating question (Gen. 3:9, ESV): “Where is Abel your brother?”

Gordon Wenham offers insight into Cain’s defiant reply:

When Adam was challenged, he at least told the truth if not the whole truth (3:10), but Cain tells a bare-faced lie, “I do not know,” and follows it with an impertinent witticism, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Since Abel kept sheep and [“keeper”] is a term for shepherds (cf. Exod. 22:6, 9; 1 Sam. 17:20), Cain’s reply could be paraphrased “Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”[1]

What can we say about Cain’s response to God’s question? It is clearly self-justifying. The response has the shameless audacity that characterizes those who have no grasp of the difference between an all-powerful God and a mortal man. Cain’s attitude can be found in many people throughout the pages of the Bible and in contemporary society. For this reason Jesus said, “If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). For Cain the pit comes swiftly.

Genesis 4:10  But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

In saying “What have you done?” Victor Hamilton says, “God is making an accusation, not seeking information.”[2] The blood defiles the God-created ground, and the blood figuratively cries out to God for relief.

Genesis 4:10 contains a world of implicit theology: God monitors all human activity; God judges human actions; human acts have consequences; human life is sacred; bloodguilt cannot be ignored.

Genesis 4:11–12  So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Just as sin had waited to devour Cain, the ground swallowed Abel’s blood. The striking series of questions and statements, each two words long in Hebrew, tells a simple story:

Genesis 4:9          “Where is Abel” (literal translation)

Genesis 4:10        “What have you done” (literal translation)

Genesis 4:11        “Cursed are you” (literal translation)

Hamilton clarifies the idea of being banished or banned from the soil by saying that it “obviously means not that he is barred from contact with the soil but from enjoyment of its productivity.”[3]

Wenham says, “In Gen. 3 man is not cursed, only the ground and the serpent, so cursing Cain is a serious development.”[4]

The text of Genesis 4:12 is hard to translate. While NET says the land “will no longer yield its best,” the ESV says “it shall no longer yield to you its strength,” and the NIV 1984 and 2011 say “it will no longer yield its crops” (emphasis added in all cases). There is a big difference between the land yielding its best and yielding any crops at all! The NIV is more likely correct because Cain is condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12, NET), a condition that prevents cultivation of crops, and he soon complains of being driven off the land (Gen. 4:14).

So, if Cain cannot enjoy the productivity of the soil, how will he live? The irony is that this man who killed his brother and denied any responsibility to care for him will now have to depend on his brothers for sustenance. Will they treat him with the selfishness of Cain or the generosity of dead Abel?

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 106.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 231.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 232.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 107.