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And Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is too great to bear. Now that You have driven me this day from the soil I must hide from Your presence, I shall be a restless wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me." And the Lord said to him, "Therefore whoever kills Cain shall suffer sevenfold vengeance." (Genesis 4:13-16)

Why was Cain worried about this? According to the biblical narrative, there were no other people alive at this point other than him and his parents!

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According to the biblical narrative, there were no other people alive at this point other than him and his parents!

That is a poor implication to read from the text.

Because Eve names her son Seth in memory of Abel (Gen 4:25), we can conclude that the birth of Seth, when Adam and Eve were 130 (Gen 5:3), was shortly after the death of Abel. We also know that Adam and Eve had many other children (Gen 5:4).

So the simplest interpretation is that in the almost 130 years between the births of Cain and Seth, Adam and Eve had many other children, who grew into adults, began families, and started spreading throughout the earth. The people Cain was afraid of were his parents, his siblings, his nephews and nieces, and perhaps even grand-nephews and grand-nieces.

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  • Or else why would they care enough to kill him over it. Jan 12 at 19:26
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Luzzatto suggests that this refers to animals killing him if he would wander in the wild.

DZ Hoffman identifies this opinion with Josephus, and (Hoffman) rejects it in favor of Heidenheim's suggestion that this refers to those who will be born, which I would consider to be the "simple" reading of this passage.

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    Isn't the implication that people would kill him because he killed Abel? Future people wouldn't know about the murder unless Adam or Eve ratted him out.
    – Alex
    Jun 5, 2018 at 22:47
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It really is an interesting question and not easy to reply, due to the structure of the text and to the very general meaning of the words used both in the Hebrew & Greek. Now if we take the text as a face value (considering it was read just like this during the past centuries, both in Judaism in Christianity), it would sound like:

Genesis 4:14

כָל־מֹצְאִ֖ייַֽהַרְגֵֽנִי׃ ... (BHS)

... καὶ ἔσται πᾶς ὁ εὑρίσκων με ἀποκτενεῖ με (LXX)

The so broad meaning of the words:

  • כֹּל - is just "each, every, all, everything, the whole, entire".
  • πᾶς - same as above.

Now most of the commentators of Genesis 4:14 would rather stress on Cain's reaction to God's punishment:

  • Cain’s reflexions run on the thought of his suffering and not of his sin. His attention is directed more on what he is going to get, whereas he should be rather looking towards the results of the wage of his sin. He is concerned about the lawless state of things in the desert, where any one’s life may be taken without impunity. (see J. Skinner, J. A critical and exegetical commentary on Genesis, Scribner, New York, 1910, p. 109)
  • some would argue that Genesis 4:14 is not about a diffusion of the human race, yet in the best case scenario, it is all about Cain's fear that he can no longer receive God’s providential care. (see The JPS Torah commentary, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1989, p. 34)

But what I think would really answer your question, is this comment of Philo:

Philo of Alexandria:

(I.74) ... it may be that he [Cain - nn] said this, because he was apprehensive of injury from beasts, and reptiles; for nature has brought forth these animals with the express object of their being instruments of vengeance on the wicked. In the third place, some people may imagine that he is speaking with reference to his parents, on whom he had inflicted an unprecedented sorrow, and the first evil which had happened to them, before they knew what death was. See Philo of Alexandria, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON GENESIS, I.74 (ed. Yonge)

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Linguist here and someone who has studied the Bible my whole life through the lens of Christian faith. How is it that no one is bringing up the fact that Cain said, “whoever” finds me and kills me. As a Linguist, I take this part very seriously. In most languages, animals and people are not denoted the same. An animal is usually an “it” and a person is usually a “who”. More accurately, if he was referring to animals, he would have said “whatever” finds me and kills me. I am no expert on Greek or Hebrew so please correct me on this if I am wrong. But I think it should be at least brought up!

Also, Cain is scared to enter a land -outside- of Eden. Outside of Gods sovereign land. God implies that his automatic protection, almost like the natural law of the land of Eden, would in fact me leaving Cain and that is why he needed a “special” mark to protect him. The passage implies he is entering foreign land outside of this Eden blessing. Further more, if he already had a wife before leaving for Nod, (which was not metaphorical considering it said it was specifically EAST of Edan), why would he not say, “Whoever finds US will kill US” i.e. him and his wife. Cain is clearly super alone, and even more scared that he will not have God too. And in my experience, you don’t call your own flesh and blood “whoever”. The Bible makes no mistakes when denoting people. I’m certain Cain would have said, “My parents will kill me”.

Lastly, I don’t like the idea of extrapolating theoretical nieces and nephews and siblings just so we feel like our religious text can be held together cohesively. There are massive amounts of evidence of older civilizations, beyond the 7,000 year mark and the Bible DOES NOT say how long God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Nor does it say that Eden was a human realm with linear time. I’d guess, since the trees of Life and Good and Evil were in Eden, Eden wasn’t a fleshly dimension at all.

Anyway much to ponder! But if we’re going to have this discussion, can we please add ALL parts of Genesis 4 to our discussion. Thanks!

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    "Cain is scared to enter a land -outside- of Eden" Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden (Gen 3:23,24) then Cain was born.
    – agarza
    Mar 13, 2021 at 1:47
  • Hi Kayla Briones, welcome. Interesting contribution (note that I don't know Hebrew though). (+1) Mar 13, 2021 at 6:36
  • Hi @agarza, Eden was an entire “country” or land mass. The garden, as described in Genesis, was located in the East of Eden. The land of Nod was not only outside the garden, but outside the land of Eden as well. Also, just to suggest as food for thought, there is scriptural evidence that the earth was either still Pangea at this time or had not fully separated into what the ancient world geographically looked like, so many believe that Eden was either part of Africa or all of it, the garden potentially the Middle East- connect to Africa before the split. Reference “In the time of Peleg”. Mar 14, 2021 at 2:15
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6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10)

I think this is very important in light of this verse:

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. (Genesis 4:13-15)

This is one of those moments in the Old Testament where it seems that the more ancient the time period, the more knowledge that men seemed to intuitively possess about the Whole of Creation (heaven and earth, and not just the latter side of the assumed Hebraism).

Cain says that he would be "hidden from YHWH's presence", and seems to know that this means that his life would be one of almost totally unrestrained evil, as the Spirit of YHWHW (the Holy Spirit/Spirit of Christ/etc) has a major role in restraining wickedness in this world, which is a quite unimaginable mode of living. Outside of the presence of YHWH, and thus the presence of the Spirit, this kind of curse would make you something like a person stranded in the vastness of the ocean - particularly in the absence of a ship. It would be Hell, before actually being in Hell.

So it seems to me that the mark/sign/warning/omen is given as an act of grace, a stand-in for the Spirit as Restrainer that is specifically geared towards one category of wickedness as opposed to sin-in-general. It also, ironically, and YHWH does seem to display a very sharp sense of irony quite often, prevents Cain from having an easy out from the curse. So it's justice and justice (grace) and justice. And that's why the mark was both given and necessary. Not really to prevent a revenge killing, but to provide a morsel of the common grace, if you want to call it that, which prevents life of Earth from being a total living Hell. Because that is what Cain's life would have been otherwise.

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  • Welcome to the BH site. It is interesting indeed what you are saying about Cain from a rather general, say theological in a large sense point of view. However, it is not answering the initial question. Please take this tour in order to find out how this site is different from others and then consider editing your answer accordingly. Otherwise people could downvote it Jul 12, 2018 at 13:34
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Firstly one ought to establish that according to Biblical understanding the earth was freshly created from day one. These events with Cain and Abel were decades after day one.

There might be speculations of a gap theory but it does not have strong support based off of one passage and one word ‘void’ which has been stretched to mean a pre-Adamic race and world. Bible speaks of two or three witnesses and this theory has only one.

The Hebrew כל denotes any or all and the LXX Greek πας also denotes any or all. The question then becomes who was Cain mostly concerned would find him and slay him?

List of potential slayers

Parents

Would his parents kill Cain and would Cain legitimately believe they would? This is unlikely. God in the Mosaic law demanded eye for an eye but here Cain is allowed to go free, it’s unlikely that Adam and Eve would have been expected to apply such judgment if God Himself doesn’t. A possibility but unlikely.

Siblings

He is the eldest, chances are he had sisters and evidently one was his wife G4:17. Would Cain be afraid of his siblings born or to be born? Unlikely again as it was Abel that Cain had a problem with and this due to God’s favor over Abel. Chances are he got along with the other siblings. Though this too is a possibility though unlikely.

Wildlife

God would give Cain a sign to protect him from being killed

“Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭4:15‬

The mark has to be self-evident and those who saw it had to know a seven-fold vengeance would follow.

Animals are not respecters of signs. If Cain had met a bear or a lion he would have had to fight it off. The sign was obviously for higher intelligent life and not animals. A much smaller and unlikely possibility.

Heavenly hosts on earth

This is the most likely fear Cain had. Cain probably was able to see Eden and it being guarded by an army of heavenly hosts

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:24‬

But even if Cain did not see the cherubim (plural) he is aware of their existence.

Numerous times God would send an ‘angel’ to enact justice on behalf of the divine council.

In future occasions we read for example

“but David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord.” ‭‭1 Chronicles‬ ‭21:30‬ ‭

Or

“And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” ‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭19:35

There was an understanding that God could send an ‘angel’ to exact judgment. By giving Cain a sign from God Himself, no heavenly host would overlook that sign and exact death on Cain without also coming under severe judgment from God.

In Job for example the Accuser was allowed to exact judgment only within the confines established in the divine council meeting. But this did not prevent him from killing Job’s children and employees.

In conclusion

Another human seeing the sign Cain bore, could very easily have ignored the sign and slain Cain. Firstly he would have had to have known what the sign was. But Cain could also have had a good chance of defending himself against another human.

What Cain was most likely thinking was God’s judgment coming down in the form of a cherub with a flaming sword. Cain was satisfied with a sign knowing no heavenly host would override God’s commandment.

Worth noting is that Adam was banished to the east of Eden

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:24‬

And Cain went to live East of Eden

“Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭4:16‬

There’s no reason to believe that Cain was afraid of his own parents or siblings. Chances are he continued to interact with them even after Abel’s death. Text says Cain went away from the Lord’s presence not his own family’s presence. Text also says that God told Cain he would be a fugitive, Cain didn’t seem to want to become a fugitive, and being away from God’s face meant he was no longer under God’s protection. He wanted to be assured that he would be protected from being killed once he left God’s presence, (protected from God and His angels)

“When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭4:12-13‬

Eve clearly states that Cain killed Abel. Either God told Eve, or Cain did. Because if Cain never saw his parents again then they would have concluded they lost both sons.

“And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭4:25

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  • Interesting as it was,you seem to have overlooked, ‘ no one who found him would kill him.’ Gen 4:15 this is a stretch to think ‘no one’ could be an angel, and ‘found’ also seems to be very human centric.
    – Steve
    Jan 15, 2021 at 5:47
  • @user48152 Cain lived close to 1,000 years, meaning nephews, great nephews and great great nephews ... and so on, were potential threats to him seeking righteous justice for their uncle Abel they never had a chance to meet who died innocently at the hands of Cain? Does that work better? Clearly with a world population of four humans, Cain was willing to murder 1/4 of the population, it was not unthinkable to Cain therefore that one of the relative nephews would seek to avenge Abel. (I might add this to my answer). Jan 15, 2021 at 10:36

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