Was Cain let off too lightly for murder? Not at all, if Cain knew what his life would followed, he would rather ask for death before he went out from the presence of the Lord.
Warning from the Lord. (Genesis 4:7 NIV)
7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
The Lord implied Satan was crouching to have Cain.
Penalty clause. (Genesis 4:11-12 NIV)
11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Who was the law enforcer? The ground. The metaphor of this is, though everyone has sinned, everyone is given a chance to repent from the trial the Lord is given. The penalty stated the ground would not yield the crops enough for Cain, but as long as Cain kept wandering, he could still survive to find new crops.
Bargaining with the Lord. (Genesis 4:13-15 NIV)
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 (or "Very Well"; 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.
At this moment, Satan and Cain were tangled as one. When Cain was driving out from the presence of the Lord, So as Satan. Being a heavenly Spirit, this punishment was more than Satan could bear.
Here comes an interesting question. Why would Cain afraid of being killed? or Satan afraid of being killed? Two possible answers;
- He assumed there were other men in other places would kill him.
- He foresaw his next generations would kill him.
No matter the answer in his mind, one thing for sure, that "revenge" and "killing" never left his mind. Cain was making a most foolish request for not being killed. Did the Lord ensure him not being killed? Not quite! I explain it later. Would a killer afraid of vengeance? Consider when Cain killed Abel, had he ever thought about vengeance from God? If Cain thought dead was the ultimate vengeance, how would a person die seven times?
To answer his plead, the Lord began with "Very Well".
Genesis 4:17-24 was mysterious. I chose to use the English translation from Sefaria (www.sefaria.org) to illustrate;
Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he then founded a city, and named the city after his son Enoch.
To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael* begot Methusael, and Methusael begot Lamech.
Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other was Zillah.
Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds.
And the name of his brother was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe.
As for Zillah, she bore Tubal-cain, who forged all implements of copper and iron. And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
And Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
O wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech.
I have slain a person for wounding me,
And a lad for bruising me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
Observation from Genesis 4:17-24
- Cain left with a sister as his wife
- Seven generation from Cain was listed. 1st Cain; 2nd Enoch; 3rd Irad; 4th Mehujael; 5th Methushael; 6th Lamech; 7th Tubal-Cain
- Cain built a city and he named it after his son Enoch. Cain was supposed to wander on earth according to his curse. He built a city to settle, meant he was feeding by his son Enoch. He broke the penalty demanded by the Lord.
- The detail of Cain's descendants recorded in Bible was very unusual, as eventually all of them were wiped out by the great flood, their achievement or personnel had no influence to the latter generations.
- Two sons of Lamech were given a name of Jabal and Jubal, but the third son was given a compound name called Tubal-Cain
- Tubal-Cain was described forging all kinds of tools from copper and iron, including weapon for killing for sure.
- Lamech knew the curse of Cain, that Cain should have enforced his curse to be read from generation to generation as his protection. In fact, Cain should still live at time of Tubal-Cain, consider the average age from Adam to Noah was over 900.
- The most mysterious part; verse 23: who was the man and the lad Lamech killed? and what involved his two wives?
- Verse 24: Did Lamech kill someone closer than his brother? Like Cain to Abel, that the curse needed to be seventy times of Cain?
I have the following extracted from Wikipedia
According to Rashi, Tubal-cain's name literally means "Cain's-Spices", with the Hebrew word Tū́ḇal (תובל) deriving from the word Tū́ḇlin (תבלין) meaning spices. Rashi states that he was named this, because he "seasoned and improved the work of Cain". In other words, because he was a blacksmith, who helped to make weapons which could be used to kill more efficiently, he invokes his ancestor Cain's sin of murder. Furthermore according to Tanhuma bar Abba, one day, Tubal-cain and his father, Lamech, were hunting together with Tubal-cain serving as an aid for his blind father. In the distance is Cain who Lamech believes to be an animal. He checks with Tubal-cain to see if it is an animal, but Tubal-cain deceives his father, and lets him shoot and kill his forefather Cain, possibly because of Tubal-cain's blood lust. When Lamech realizes what he has done, he throws his hands up in a fit of mourning, accidentally killing his son Tubal-cain. However Genesis Rabbah disagrees with this narrative.
This seems perfectly explain the mystery of verse 23 and 24, that the man was Cain, the lad was his son Tubal. Since Lamech killed his ancestor, a sin even greater than Cain killed his brother. It also explained verse 15b, for the blind Lamech couldn't see Cain, and therefore he could kill him.
Though a perfect story is not an essential in our faith. I believe the Bible provided these details, wanted us to know about these, and may be more;
- The warning from verse 7 : If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. (NIV)
- In His mercy, a sinner will be given a chance to repent. Jesus died only once on the cross, and it is our only chance.
- Those who did not repent will live a miserable life of his own course. As in Cain example, he lived seven generations in fear, and still eventually been killed. Would he better off died at the last time with God?
- The seventy-seven of Lamech, vs the seven of Cain, staging the regret of the Lord who made human beings, seeing "how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth" (Genesis 6:5 NIV)
To answer the OP's questions
- Was Cain let off too lightly? Not really. For he had suffered his long life with fear.
- What biblical reasons might there be for God not striking Cain dead? Cain killed Abel, apparently due to envy. So God in His mercy, had given him a chance to repent in his life, which Cain failed to comply. However, if Rashi's story was near the truth, Tubal-Cain asked his blind father to kill Cain was a sly and deceiving, that Tubal-Cain was killed immediately.
- And when God decrees a curse, what does that curse fully entail? A curse from God will happen exactly it literally says, in a way our wisdom can never be higher than the wisdom of the Lord.
- Why did Cain claim that the punishment given would be greater than he could bear? It was claimed by Satan, who possessed Cain at that time.