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!


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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    That is quite a strange leap in logic. In ch4 when this episode takes place there were two sons, one is killed the other worried. You insert material from ch5 temporally into the narrative of 4 without giving reason for doing so. – LаngLаngС Mar 14 '18 at 12:13
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    @LangLangC Genesis is structured with alternating narratives and genealogies, so there's no actual narrative being taken out of order. And the reason is simple: Gen 5:3 says how old Adam was when Seth was born, and Gen 4:25 says Seth was named in memory of Abel. I'm not sure how that could be confusing. – curiousdannii Mar 14 '18 at 12:16
  • The stranger leap in logic would be to say that because the non-narrative genealogy comes after the narrative in the text, we should conclude that Adam and Eve had two sons shortly after leaving the Garden of Eden, then waited close to 130 years with no additional children, then had a third son, and then had many more sons and daughters. – curiousdannii Mar 14 '18 at 12:18
  • This (now first comment of yours) interpretation on the structure has to be part of the answer! A naive reading of the two chapters will be that it is a conventional narrative, which precludes your interpretation. (Notice that I do not say your wrong on this, just short on the explanation) – LаngLаngС Mar 14 '18 at 12:20
  • @LangLangC No, I dispute that it is necessary. Gen 5:1-2 clearly indicates that it does not follow sequentially from 4:26. Adding an explanation of genres would unnecessarily complicate a very simple answer. – curiousdannii Mar 14 '18 at 12:26

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 '18 at 22:47

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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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 – Constantin Jinga Jul 12 '18 at 13:34

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