Genesis 4:13-14

13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is too great to bear!
14 "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."

Cain is driven from the 'face of the ground' and against which punishment he even protests as being harsh because to be 'driven/cast away' is a strong term.

Eg Genesis 3:24

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

But Cain still 'wanders' in the 'earth', to imply that the 'face of the ground' and the 'earth' mean differently, even he is spotted later building a city.
How then does 'face of the ground' and 'earth' differ in the verse?


3 Answers 3


The phrase your version translates as "face of the ground" (פְּנֵ֣י הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה in the Masorah) also has the more quotidian meaning of "soil" or simply "ground"; whereas "earth" (אֶרֶץ) means the whole planet. The JPS Tanakh translates 4:14 as

Since You have banished me this day from the soil, and I must avoid Your presence and become a restless wanderer on earth — anyone who meets me may kill me!

Cain's banishment from the soil refers to God's curse of his never again being able to cultivate it:

Genesis 4:12 (Tanakh)

If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth.

In both verses, different Hebrew words are used to denote "soil" and "earth" (אֲדָמָה and אֶרֶץ, respectively, in the Masorah).

  • Thx for that clarification. But doesn't the language in Gen 4:13-14 strike you as disconnected from the gravity of Cain's punishment? There's more to the curse than just being unable to grow turnips or whatever staple it was, which thing I see in what 'face of soil' means relative to the earth. I dont think it helps to drop 'face' and render 'face of soil' simply as 'soil'. These detatils matter. I will vote you up for the additional view point.
    – Witness
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 14:40
  • אֶרֶץ often, perhaps usually, means land, rather than entire planet...
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 14:42
  • @Witness I think what you are saying is that given the gravity of Cain's offense there must be more to God's curse to simply causing the soil not to yield anything when cultivated. This is true. He is also condemned to wander the earth without being able to settle anywhere. A midrash from the Genesis Rabba suggests that Cain's punishment was not more severe because he seemed to show regret to God for what he had done, but Chrysostom and other Church Fathers believe he merely showed acknowledgement and not guilt.
    – user15733
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 15:05
  • @curiousdannii, True, it's rendered as such in many places.
    – Witness
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 15:11
  • @The NonTheologian, ''I think what you are saying is that given the gravity of Cain's offense there must be more to God's curse to simply causing the soil not to yield anything when cultivated''. Precisely! Or simply to wander in the earth, and not to be able to get anything from the field, as a punishment for murder was a massive let-off by any standards. Besides what was he doing building a city if he was to be a 'wanderer' as a punishment?
    – Witness
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 15:19

Jewish midrash provides at least two suggestions for understanding this passage.

First, the medieval Rabbi David Kimhi (“Radak”) suggests that the reference here is to exclusion from the soil near Garden of Eden, where bountiful food may be found.

The nineteenth century Jewish scholar, Samuel David Luzzatto (“Shadal”) makes a similar comment. That is, Cain was banished from the face of the ground in the sense that he would never be able to cultivate the land ever again anywhere. Luzzatto paraphrases Cain, “In the future I will not find food sustenance in any place. Behold, I will be as if I were banished from [going] anywhere.”

  • Thx for the references. However, these all fall short in addressing what a cold murderer expresses as an unbearable punishment in his 'seperation' from that mysterious 'face of the ground.' For one, the whole world Census was only 4 before the murder, 'neglecting' what Cain says in 'every one that finds me will kill me'. That he was so accursed was an aspect but not the whole issue, b'se Cain also would've learnt to keep flocks from his deceased brother. These scenarios could circumvent the curse. To imply there's something more darker and I'll to get to the bottom of it.
    – Witness
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 22:48
  • The rabbis provide a compelling line of thought. Please remember that no one was eating meat at this time. As a vagrant of the earth, he would have become a scavenger, since he was no longer (according to the rabbis) cultivating his own food from the ground. He was "cursed" in the sense that any work to till the ground by him would be in vain (or cursed). Cain was a living cancer, and in this respect, he would provide a tempting target for someone to eliminate such a walking cancer from the face of the earth.
    – Joseph
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 23:06
  • "Please remember that no one was eating meat at this time." Then you have a task in explaining why Abel kept animals in their 'flocks'. The rabbis provide a 'compelling view' granted, but Daniel 12:4 credits us with more knowledge in these things than they had at the time, and which is evident in many respects. 'Scavengers' don't settle down to marry and build cities. There's more to Genesis than majority care to look into.
    – Witness
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 23:17

The New Oxford Annotated Bible translates Gen. 4:14 as "Today you have driven me from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face." If that translation is accurate then the phrase "face of" has no significance.

  • 1
    Well is it accurate? What would be your arguments for saying that it is? Please edit this to tell us more.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 3:04

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