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.