Genesis 4:12
When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
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4:8-15 Malice in the heart ends in murder by the hands. Cain slew Abel, his own brother, his own mother's son, whom he ought to have loved; his younger brother, whom he ought to have protected; a good brother, who had never done him any wrong. What fatal effects were these of our first parents' sin, and how must their hearts have been filled with anguish! Observe the pride, unbelief, and impenitence of Cain. He denies the crime, as if he could conceal it from God. He tries to cover a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie. Murder is a crying sin. Blood calls for blood, the blood of the murdered for the blood of the murderer. Who knows the extent and weight of a Divine curse, how far it reaches, how deep it pierces? Only in Christ are believers saved from it, and inherit the blessing. Cain was cursed from the earth. He found his punishment there where he chose his portion, and set his heart. Every creature is to us what God makes it, a comfort or a cross, a blessing or a curse. The wickedness of the wicked brings a curse upon all they do, and all they have. Cain complains not of his sin, but of his punishment. It shows great hardness of heart to be more concerned about our sufferings than our sins. God has wise and holy ends in prolonging the lives even of very wicked men. It is in vain to inquire what was the mark set upon Cain. It was doubtless known, both as a brand of infamy on Cain, and a token from God that they should not kill him. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh. He tells the heinous guilt of murder, and warns us to stifle the first risings of wrath, and teaches us that persecution must be expected by the righteous. Also, that there is a future state, and an eternal recompence to be enjoyed, through faith in Christ and his atoning sacrifice. And he tells us the excellency of faith in the atoning sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God. Cain slew his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous, 1Jo 3:12. In consequence of the enmity put between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, the war broke out, which has been waged ever since. In this war we are all concerned, none are neuter; our Captain has declared, He that is not with me is against me. Let us decidedly, yet in meekness, support the cause of truth and righteousness against Satan.The curse (Genesis 9:25, note) which now fell on Cain was in some sense retributive, as it sprang from the soil which had received his brother's blood. The particulars of it are the withdrawal of the full strength or fruitfulness of the soil from him, and the degradation from the state of a settled dweller in the presence of God to that of a vagabond in the earth. He was to be banished to a less productive part of the earth, removed from the presence of God and the society of his father and mother, and abandoned to a life of wandering and uncertainty. The sentence of death had been already pronounced upon man.12. a fugitive—condemned to perpetual exile; a degraded outcast; the miserable victim of an accusing conscience. Or, that ground, which doth or shall fall to thy share, besides the first and general curse inflicted upon the whole earth, shall have this peculiar curse added to it,

it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength, i.e. its virtue and fruit, in such proportion as it hath hitherto done.

A vagabond shalt thou be, banished from thy own land and kindred, and father’s house, and from the whole society of the faithful, and wandering hither and thither. Others render the words mourning and trembling; or, trembling and wandering. These two words note both the unquietness and horror of his mind and conscience, and the unsettledness of his habitation and condition, and, as some add, the trembling of his body.

When thou tillest the ground,.... Which was the business he was brought up in and followed, Genesis 4:2.

it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; the earth had been cursed for Adam's sin, and was not so fruitful as in its original state; and now it was cursed again for Cain's sin; not the whole earth, but that part which belonged to Cain, and was cultivated by him; and so it must be supposed to be cursed, not only in the spot where he had been settled, but in every other place where he should come and occupy, and which through this additional curse became so barren that it did not yield such good fruits, and such an increase of it as before; it lost its native and vital juice, by which seed cast into it became not so fruitful, and did not increase; but instead of this, though much pains were taken to manure it, and much was sown, yet it brought forth little, at least but little to Cain, whatever it did to others; and therefore it is said, "shall not yield unto thee"; it would not turn much to his account, or yield much profit and increase to him, or bring forth much fruit; see Job 31:38.

a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth; being obliged to quit his former habitation, and remove to a place at some distance from the house of his father Adam, which was near the garden of Eden, as Aben Ezra observes; and to wander about from place to place, having no quiet settlement in anyone place: the Septuagint render it "groaning and trembling"; the guilt of his sin lay heavy on his conscience, and filled him with such horror and terror that he was continually sighing and groaning, and was seized with such a tremor that he shook in all his limbs; so the Arabic writers (t) say, that he was trembling and quivering, and had a shaking in his head all the days of his life; and Aben Ezra observes, that there are some that say that the first of these words signifies to moan and lament; but it may be, it was not so much his sin, at least the evil of it, that he lamented, as the mischief that came by it, or the calamities and misfortunes it brought upon him.

(t) Patricides, apud Hottinger. Smegma Oriental. l. 1. c. 8. p. 223.

When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a {l} fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

(l) You will never have rest for your heart will be in continual fear and worry.

12. when thou tillest, &c.] The meaning is, that when, or if, after this curse, Cain continues to till the ground, the ground will refuse to give a return for his labour. Therefore, he will not be able to live on the cultivated ground. He must leave it and wander forth.

her strength] That is, “her fruits.” So the Vulg. “fructus suos.” The word “strength” is used in this sense for the produce of the soil in Job 31:39, “If I have eaten the fruits (marg. Heb. strength) thereof (i.e. of the land) without money.”

a fugitive and a wanderer] The alliteration of the two words in the original (n‘â vâ-nâd) is difficult to reproduce in English. The word for “a fugitive” means “one who staggers, or reels,” from weakness, faintness, or weariness.

“Weary and wandering,” or “staggering and straying” would be attempts at reproducing the original. The LXX στένων καὶ τρέμως = “groaning and trembling,” is more of a comment than a translation; and the Lat. “vagus et profugus,” like the English version, is inexact.

Two points are to be noticed in this sentence upon Cain:

(1) He is sent forth from the cultivated soil: in other words, he is banished into the desert. He is to lead the life, neither of the shepherd, nor of the tiller of the soil, but of the roaming Bedouin of the desert.

(2) His wandering is not the result of a guilty conscience, but of a Divine sentence. It is his penalty to lead the nomad life of the desert, homeless and insecure and restless. Whereas Adam was banished from the garden to till the soil (Genesis 3:17), now that soil is to refuse its fruits to Cain, and he must fly into the desert.

Genesis 4:12"And now (sc., because thou hast done this) be cursed from the earth." From: i.e., either away from the earth, driven forth so that it shall no longer afford a quiet resting-place (Gerlach, Delitzsch, etc.), or out of the earth, through its withdrawing its strength, and thus securing the fulfilment of perpetual wandering (Baumgarten, etc.). It is difficult to choose between the two; but the clause, "which hath opened her mouth," etc. seems rather to favour the latter. Because the earth has been compelled to drink innocent blood, it rebels against the murderer, and when he tills it, withdraws its strength, so that the soil yields no produce; just as the land of Canaan is said to have spued out the Canaanites, on account of their abominations (Leviticus 18:28). In any case, the idea that "the soil, through drinking innocent blood, became an accomplice in the sin of murder," has no biblical support, and is not confirmed by Isaiah 26:21 or Numbers 35:33. The suffering of irrational creatures through the sin of man is very different from their participating in his sin. "A fugitive and vagabond (ונד נע, i.e., banished and homeless) shalt thou be in the earth." Cain is so affected by this curse, that his obduracy is turned into despair, "My sin," he says in Genesis 4:13, "is greater than can be borne." עון נשׁא signifies to take away and bear sin or guilt, and is used with reference both to God and man. God takes guilt away by forgiving it (Exodus 34:7); man carries it away and bears it, by enduring its punishment (cf. Numbers 5:31). Luther, following the ancient versions, has adopted the first meaning; but the context sustains the second: for Cain afterwards complains, not of the greatness of the sin, but only of the severity of the punishment. "Behold, Thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth, and from Thy face shall I be hid;...and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me." The adamah, from the face of which the curse of Jehovah had driven Cain, was Eden (cf. Genesis 4:16), where he had carried on his agricultural pursuits, and where God had revealed His face, i.e., His presence, to the men after their expulsion from the garden; so that henceforth Cain had to wander about upon the wide world, homeless and far from the presence of God, and was afraid lest any one who found him might slay him. By "every one that findeth me" we are not to understand omnis creatura, as though Cain had excited the hostility of all creatures, but every man; not in the sense, however, of such as existed apart from the family of Adam, but such as were aware of his crime, and knew him to be a murderer. For Cain is evidently afraid of revenge on the part of relatives of the slain, that is to say, of descendants of Adam, who were either already in existence, or yet to be born. Though Adam might not at this time have had "many grandsons and great-grandson," yet according to Genesis 4:17 and Genesis 5:4, he had undoubtedly other children, who might increase in number, and sooner or later might avenge Abel's death. For, that blood shed demands blood in return, "is a principle of equity written in the heart of every man; and that Cain should see that earth full of avengers is just like a murderer, who sees avenging spirits (Ἐρινύες) ready to torture him on every hand."
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