by Kristen C. Strocchia
“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. 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.’ 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
Interestingly, the word translated punishment here is used in six other Biblical instances, and in every other instance it is translated to mean iniquity or sin. This is the only time where its is translated as punishment. The word itself can mean iniquity, sin, guilt or punishment.
How does it change the meaning of this lament if Cain actually said, “My sin” or “My guilt” or “My wickedness [aka iniquity]…is more than I can bear“? A lot, right? The translation of punishment makes Cain sound upset that he’s getting punished. He’s whining! But the other translations show that Cain may finally have been repentant. Finally, he understood that he truly was a sinner and that the result of his sin was a literal, physical separation from the place where God came to visit man.
And this bothered Cain. That’s a good sign. Woe is the person who is not concerned with their separation from God or the person who does not recognize the wickedness of sin in their own life.
But Cain also worries that someone will seek revenge. “Who?” you may ask. Weren’t there just his parents and his murdered brother at this point? Apparently not. But God only created one man and one woman, so who else could be on the planet? Well, Genesis 5:5 lets us know that Adam and Eve, “had other sons and daughters.” We know that they later had a son named Seth, but all of their other children–male and female–remain unnamed in scripture. And in just two verses [Genesis 4:17] we learn that Cain had a wife–yes, it was one of his sisters, that wasn’t a problem in the second generation from the Creation…genetically or legally.
So Cain is worried that one of his siblings–maybe one who was really close to Abel, or one who had an extreme sense of justice–was going to exact revenge. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Blood for blood. A legitimate concern.
God sets a precedent here for all of us to understand. Vengeance is the Lord’s [Romans 12:19]. He marks Cain with a sign to let everyone know that human retribution would result in consequences by God’s hand.
Yes, Cain was wrong to get angry. Wrong to ignore God’s counsel and refuse to learn. Wrong to murder his brother when his anger became full-blown. Wrong to lie to God. And wrong to refuse God’s mercies after committing homicide. But God still loved Cain. And if anyone revisited this wrong on him, they would be just as guilty of his sin as he was.
Only God can demand repentance from sin, because only God can forgive those who disobey Him. We–unless appointed judges to uphold earthly law–are not to try to stand in the place of God and judge someone else for the wrong they’ve done.
Is the weight of your sin and guilt too much to bear? Are you hiding from the Lord’s presence? Know that He loves you and wants to forgive your sins, if you will confess them to Him and ask His forgiveness. And in your forgiveness, remember not to judge or exact revenge on others.