There seems to be a lot of speculation and struggling with Qayin’s (Cain’s) punishment – or lack thereof – as some believe that Qayin should’ve lost his own life after murdering his brother Hevel (Abel), based on comments from skeptics and even some believers in Internet Land. On the flip side is Christian flag-waving of the “Grace” extended to Qayin; according to Christians, this is one proof that Jesus was always the ‘God of the Old Testament’.
The way I see it, the problem is that both sides of the debate perceive an inconsistency between how God views premeditated murder in other parts of the Bible (i.e. the Torah or “Law”), versus how God allows Qayin to keep his life after such a blatant example of… premeditated murder! However, I suggest both views are missing key points of information in what I call ‘The Curious Case of Qayin’.
First of all, nothing in the Law and its punishments for murder were applicable until Yis’rael made a covenant with God at Horev (cf. Exod. 24:7). With respect to how God banished Qayin thousands of years earlier, comparisons to other parts of the Bible would be irrelevant, except that it does raise questions about the eternal nature of God, and how we’d expect His judgments to be uniform throughout time. That’s an important question, and I will answer it shortly.
As for this being “Grace”, indeed there are many instances of grace in the Tanakh, but I can’t include Qayin’s judgment among them. Grace entails complete forgiveness and a restoration of the soul, but that is not what I see in Qayin.
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)
We read this dialogue and always assume that God and Qayin were alone. But the text suggests there were witnesses. For example, by the time she had Seth, Havah (Eve) knew Hevel’s fate , and seemed to be a bit hostile to Qayin (cf. Gen. 4:25). If Qayin was banished immediately, how could Havah know this information? Therefore, I suggest that the following dialogue makes much more sense… in the presence of witnesses, likely other “sons and daughters” birthed by Havah (cf. Gen. 5:4).
“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, because “YHVH is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32). By listening to the voice of Hevel, God is advocating for the victim. Thus everything hereafter should be understood as 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 final resting place – instead of a cultivated field. If the sinister Qayin remained, he would disrupt Hevel’s resting place for the sake of “produce” (the Heb. koach can mean “strength” but when used with soil it should be understood as “produce”) – even with his brother secretly buried beneath it! Thus God obviously judged in favor of Hevel and dismissed Qayin from those lands.
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 poetically Hebrew ‘na wa nad’. In fact, this is the only place where “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, obviously used to describe Qayin’s future, should be compared with his past. Previously, he was “the man” and was stable, grounded, and secure. Now, his future would be the exact opposite – unstable! As long as we understand that it’s the exact opposite of him being “the man” alongside his parents, we understand the intent of Qayin becoming “na wa nad” – living life alone without the stability always provided for him.
Then Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to endure.” (vs. 13)
The real reason Qayin was allowed to live jumps right off the page… right here.
God – Who I think was deferring to the blood of Hevel for judgment – knew that Qayin would’ve preferred a coward’s death to facing a life filled with adversity. In this respect I think Hevel knew his brother quite well! Notice how much that fear of adversity is evident in Qayin’s response below:
“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, living away from the cultivated fields… that sort of reminds me of how a shepherd would live, is it not? It seems to me that Qayin’s judgment has an air of becoming like his brother Hevel was in life – who coincidentally is now crying out to God through his blood. It’s nothing short of poetic justice that Qayin has to live as Hevel was. I believe that Hevel wanted his brother Qayin to see life as he’d seen it.
Notice how the Almighty never said anything about killing Qayin, and how that was purely Qayin’s invention? Again, if we assume this exchange had witnesses, it makes more sense. I say Qayin was subtlely inviting anyone – a witness per say – to find him and kill him, to alleviate the one thing Qayin couldn’t bear: adversity. I think Qayin was so fearful of real life that he wanted to be ‘offed’.
Which is then 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 these words. It’s my opinion that this declaration 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 murderer.
This doesn’t mean he wanted his brother excused! Up to this point, Qayin never laments his murderous act – he only laments its consequences! Therefore, Qayin would not learn any remorse through death. Thus Qayin was allowed to live to learn remorse, and perhaps humility for what he did. This is the poetic justice the blood of Hevel wanted, which God honored.
So, Qayin was neither offered Grace, nor was he given murder. Qayin was given the punishment that fit Qayin – which was exactly what he deserved. If anything, this is one indication that we all will get what we deserve. The question is, do we want God to listen to us, even in death? Or do we want God to set His face and dismiss us from His presence? Ω