There a lot of speculation and struggling with Qayin’s (Cain’s) punishment – or lack thereof – as some seem to think that Qayin should’ve lost his own life after murdering his brother Hevel (Abel). On the flip side is Christian flag-waving, showing God’s grace extended to Qayin, a proof that Jesus was always the God of the Old Testament.
While both extremes may not be incorrect, I suggest they’re not accurate to the curious case of Qayin. The crux of the matter is that one half struggles with the perceived inconsistency between what God says in the Torah (Law) about premeditated murder, while the other half rejoices that Qayin was allowed to keep his life. But this is neither an inconsistency, nor is it “grace”.
First of all, nothing in the Torah was applicable until Yis’rael made it a covenant with God at the foot of Sinai (cf. Exod. 24:7). With respect to how God banished Qayin, comparisons to Torah are irrelevant.
Indeed, there are many instances of grace in the Tanakh, but we can’t include Qayin’s judgment among them. Grace entails forgiveness and restoration of the soul, but that is not observed in the text.
So this leaves two questions: why was Qayin’s life spared and if it’s not grace, what is it?
I say the answer is in plain sight.
First, let’s clear up an assumption that many of us may have.
Where is Abel, your brother? And Cain answered, “I don’t know! The keeper of my brother… is me?” (Genesis 4:9)
When we read this dialogue, we always presume that God and Qayin were alone. But the text suggests that there were witnesses. For example, by the time she had Seth, Havah (Eve) knew of the fate of Hevel (cf. Gen. 4:25), and was hostile to Qayin. Therefore, I suggest that the following dialogue makes much more sense… in the presence of witnesses.
“What have you made? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” (vs. 10)
Even in death, God hears a righteous person more than the wicked who remains alive. Thus a dead righteous man has more power than a living sinner. I suppose that’s because YHVH is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:32). Selah.
By listening to the voice of Hevel, God is advocating for the victim. Thus everything hereafter appears to be God honoring what the blood of Hevel spoke.
And now, you have been cursed from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand, because you would work the ground. No longer will it yield its produce to you… (vs. 11-12)
Qayin knowingly buried his brother in the same grounds that he worked. In doing so, God judged those grounds to now be Hevel’s resting place, instead a cultivated field, which Qayin farmed for produce (the Heb. koach can mean “strength” but when its used with soil it should be understood as “produce”). Thus God obviously judged in favor of Hevel.
A vagrant and a wanderer will you become in the earth.” (vs. 12)
“Fugitive and vagabond” is a seriously unhappy translation of two words that are almost the same, found in the obviously poetic Hebrew na wa nad. In fact, this is the only time that “fugitive” and “vagabond” are used for each word, respectively. Since there is no consistency in how each of these words are translated, the interpretation of na wa nad is open to suggestion.
I say that this term, used to describe Qayin’s future, should be compared with what he experienced in the past. Previously, he was “the man”, and was stable, grounded, and secure. Now, his future is the exact opposite. Instead of the stability he experienced with Mom and Dad’s blessing, he will now be unstable. Instead of being grounded in one spot with an impending inheritance, he would now become an aimless wanderer. I think as long as we understand that it’s the exact opposite of him being “the man” with his parents, we understand the intent of Qayin becoming a “na wa nad.”
Then Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to endure.” (vs. 13)
The real reason Qayin lived is given right here.
God – who I believe was merely listening to the blood of Hevel for judgment – understood that Qayin would’ve preferred death, because he was a coward who didn’t want any part of adversity. Thus I think Hevel knew his brother quite well. Qayin couldn’t handle Hevel being favored more than him, so he eliminated the competition. Now, when faced with a life in adverse conditions… Qayin can’t handle that, either! Notice through his response below how adversity is at the forefront of his thoughts:
“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 smite me.” (vs. 14)
Ironically, Qayin would’ve lived a lot like someone else in the story, wandering to and fro, fearful of prey, away from the cultivated fields… that sort of reminds me of how a shepherd lives, is it not? It seems to me that Qayin’s judgment has an air of becoming like Hevel, the one whose blood was now crying to God. Poetic justice.
Notice that the Almighty never said anything about killing Qayin; that was purely Qayin’s invention. Again, if we assume this exchange had witnesses, it makes more sense. I say Qayin was inviting anyone – a witness – to find him and kill him, to alleviate the one thing Qayin couldn’t bear: adversity. His death would be the “easy way”.
Which is why the Almighty ensured Qayin would live:
But the LORD said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” And the LORD set a sign on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. (vs. 15)
The mysterious mark/sign of Qayin only makes sense if witnesses overheard this word. It’s my opinion that this declaration of forbiddance is the mark of Qayin. True, this is a protection of Qayin’s life, but this was not for Qayin’s benefit – it was done for Hevel. I believe Hevel – as a righteous man – had compassion on his brother and murderer.
This doesn’t mean he wanted his brother excused! You see, death would not enable Qayin to learn any remorse for his sin. Let’s keep in mind, not once do we see Qayin lamenting his murderous act! He only laments the punishment! As Qayin was in his early life, he remained proudful, defensive, selfish, narcissistic, and cowardly, until he was cast out from the presence of YHVH (reminds you of something, don’t it?)
So I think Hevel wanted Qayin to learn humility, and guilt for what he did, which YHVH honored. Thus Qayin was allowed to live.
There are many prophetic lessons to this story, which will reappear throughout Scripture. That will be the crown jewel of the ‘Cain and Abel’ tragedy. Ω