Genesis 4:15
And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
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(15) The Lord said unto him, Therefore.—Most of the versions have Not so, which requires only a slight and probable change of the Hebrew text.

Sevenfold.—Cain’s punishment was severe, because his crime was the result of bad and violent passions, but his life was not taken because the act was not premeditated. Murder was more than he had meant. But as any one killing him would mean murder, therefore the vengeance would be sevenfold: that is, complete, seven being the number of perfection. Others, however, consider that Cain’s life was under a religious safeguard, seven being the sacred number of creation. In this we have the germ of the merciful law which set cities of refuge apart for the involuntary manslayer.

The Lord set a mark upon Cain.—This rendering suggests an utterly false idea. Cain was not branded nor marked in any way. What the Hebrew says is, “And Jehovah set,” that is, appointed, “unto Cain a sign, that no one finding him should slay him.” In a similar manner God appointed the rainbow as a sign unto Noah that mankind should never again be destroyed by a flood. Probably the sign here was also some natural phenomenon, the regular recurrence of which would assure Cain of his security, and so pacify his excited feelings.

Genesis 4:15. Whosoever slayeth Cain, &c. — God having said, in Cain’s case, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, it had been a daring usurpation for any man to take the sword out of God’s hand. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain — To distinguish him from the rest of mankind. What the mark was, God has not told us: therefore the conjectures of men are vain.

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 reply of the Lord is suited to quell the troubled breast of Cain. "Therefore." Because thy fears of what thou deservest go beyond what it is my purpose to permit, I give thee assurance of freedom from personal violence. "To be avenged seven-fold" is to be avenged fully. Cain will no doubt receive even-handed justice from the Almighty. The assurance given to Cain is a sign, the nature of which is not further specified.

This passage unfolds to us a mode of dealing with the first murderer which is at first sight somewhat difficult to be understood. But we are to bear in mind that the sentence of death had been already pronounced upon man, and therefore stood over Adam and all his posterity, Cain among the rest. To pronounce the same sentence therefore upon him for a new crime, would have been weak and unmeaning. Besides, the great crime of crimes was disobedience to the divine will; and any particular form of crime added to that was comparatively unimportant. Wrong done to a creature, even of the deepest dye, was not to be compared in point of guilt with wrong done to the Creator. The grave element in the criminality of every social wrong is its practical disregard of the authority of the Most High. Moreover, every other sin to the end of time is but the development of that first act of disobedience to the mandate of heaven by which man fell; and accordingly every penalty is summed up in that death which is the judicial consequence of the first act of rebellion against heaven.

We are also to bear in mind that God still held the sword of justice in his own immediate hands, and had not delegated his authority to any human tribunal. No man was therefore clothed with any right from heaven to call Cain to account for the crime he had committed. To fall upon him with the high hand in a willful act of private revenge, would be taking the law into one's own hands, and therefore a misdemeanor against the majesty of heaven, which the Judge of all could not allow to pass unpunished. It is plain that no man has an inherent right to inflict the sanction of a broken law on the transgressor. This right originally belongs to the Creator, and derivatively only to those whom he has intrusted with the dispensation of civil government according to established laws.

Cain's offences were great and aggravated. But let us not exaggerate them. He was first of all defective in the character of his faith and the form of his sacrifice. His carnal mind came out still more in the wrath and vexation he felt when his defective offering was not accepted. Though the Almighty condescends now to plead with him and warn him against persisting in impenitent silence and discontent, lest he should thereby only become more deeply involved in sin, does not retreat, but, on the contrary, proceeds to slay his brother, in a fit of jealousy; and, lastly, he rudely and falsely denies all knowledge of him, and all obligation to be his protector. Notwithstanding all this, it is still to be remembered that the sentence of death from heaven already hung over him. This was in the merciful order of things comparatively slow of execution in its full extent, but at the same time absolutely certain in the end. The aggravation of the first crime of man by the sins of self-will, sullenness, envy, fratricide, and defiant falsehood, was but the natural fruit of that beginning of disobedience. It is accordingly visited by additional tokens of the divine displeasure, which manifest themselves in this life, and are mercifully calculated to warn Cain still further to repent.

Cain's guilt seems now to have been brought home in some measure to his conscience; and he not only stands aghast at the sentence of banishment from the divine presence, but instinctively trembles, lest, upon the principle of retributive justice, whoever meets him may smite him to the death, as he had done his brother. The longsuffering of God, however, interferes to prevent such a catastrophe, and even takes steps to relieve the trembling culprit from the apprehension of a violent death. This leads us to understand that God, having formed a purpose of mercy toward the human family, was sedulously bent upon exercising it even toward the murderer of a brother. Hence, he does not punish his repeated crimes by "immediate death," which would have defeated his design of giving him a long day of grace and opportunity to reflect, repent, return to God, and even yet offer in faith a typical atonement by blood for his sin. Thus, the prohibition to slay him is sanctioned by a seven-fold, that is, an ample and complete vengeance, and a sign of protection mercifully vouchsafed to him. The whole dealing of the Almighty was calculated to have a softening, conscience-awakening, and hope-inspiring effect on the murderer's heart.

15. whosoever slayeth Cain—By a special act of divine forbearance, the life of Cain was to be spared in the then small state of the human race.

set a mark—not any visible mark or brand on his forehead, but some sign or token of assurance that his life would be preserved. This sign is thought by the best writers to have been a wild ferocity of aspect that rendered him an object of universal horror and avoidance.

Therefore; or, assuredly, as the word signifies, Jeremiah 2:32, Jeremiah 5:2, Zechariah 11:17; that thou mayst see how I hate murder, and how impartially I shall punish all murderers; and that thou mayst be unhappily free from this fear, that thou mayst live for an example to mankind, for a terror to thyself and others.

Sevenfold, i.e. abundantly; he shall be plagued with many and grievous punishments, as the phrase is used, Leviticus 26:28 Psalm 12:7, Psalm 79:12, and in many other places.

A mark upon Cain. What this was, whether a trembling of his body, or a ghastliness of his countenance, or what other visible token of the Divine displeasure, God hath not revealed, nor doth it concern us to know.

And the Lord said unto him,.... In order to satisfy him, and make him easy in this respect, that: he need not fear an immediate or bodily death, which was showing him great clemency and lenity; or in answer to his begging for death, "therefore", or as some render the word, taking them for two, "not so" (y); it shall not be that whoever finds thee shall slay thee, thou needest not be afraid of that; nor shall thy request be granted, that thou mightest be slain by the first man that meets thee: it was the will of God, that though Cain deserved to die, yet that he should not die immediately, but live a long miserable life, that it might be a terror to others not to commit the like crime; though rather the particle should be rendered "verily, surely, of a truth" (z); so it will certainly be, it may be depended on:

whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold; seven times more than on Cain; that is, he shall be exceedingly punished; vengeance shall be taken on him in a very visible manner, to a very great degree; the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan are"unto or through seven generations;''the meaning of which is, that the slayer of Cain should not only be punished in his own person, but in his posterity, even unto seven generations; and not as Jarchi and Aben Ezra interpret it, that God deferred his vengeance on Cain unto seven generations, and at the end of them took vengeance on him by Lamech, one of his own posterity, by whom he is supposed by that Jewish writer to be slain:

and the Lord set a mark upon Cain; about which there is a variety of sentiments (a): some say it was a horn in his forehead: others, a leprosy in his face; others, a wild ghastly look; others, a shaking and trembling in all his limbs; and others, that there was an earthquake wherever he stepped: and others will have it, that the dog which guarded Abel's flock was given him to accompany him in his travels, by which sign it might be known that he was not to be attacked, or to direct him from taking any dangerous road: some say it was a letter imprinted on his forehead, either taken out of the great and glorious name of God, as the Targum of Jonathan, or out of his own name, as Jarchi; others the mark or sign of the covenant of circumcision (b): but as the word is often used for a sign or miracle, perhaps the better rendering and sense of the words may be, "and the Lord put", or "gave a sign" (c); that is, he wrought a miracle before him to assure him, that "whoever found him should not kill him": so that this was not a mark or sign to others, to direct or point out to them that they should not kill him, or to deter them from it; but was a sign or miracle confirming him in this, that no one should kill him; agreeably to which is the note of Aben Ezra,"it is right in my eyes that God made a sign (or wrought a miracle) for him, until he believed;''by which he was assured that his life would be secure, go where he would; even that no one should "strike" (d) him, as the word is, much less kill him.

(y) "quasi" , Sept. "nequaquam ita fiet", V. L. (z) "In veritate, certe", Vatablus; "profecto, utique", De Dieu. (a) See Bayle's General Diet. art. "Cain". (b) Tikkune Zohar, correct. 69. fol. 115. 1. & 117. 1. 2. (c) , "sed et posuit Kaino miraculum (in confirmationem) quod non caesurus esset ipsum quisque", &c, Schmidt. (d) , "ne percuteret eum", Pagninus; "ad non percutiendum eum", Montanus.

And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, {n} vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a {o} mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

(n) Not for the love he had for Cain, but to suppress murder.

(o) Which was some visible sign of God's judgment, that others should fear by it.

15. Therefore] i.e. on account of Cain’s entreaty, Jehovah’s mercy is shewn to the first murderer. Cain has no friend: Jehovah, by an act of benevolence and authority, will protect him, and undertake his cause even in the desert.

A slight variation in text accounts for LXX οὐχ οὕτως, Lat. Nequa-quam ita fiet.

vengeance … sevenfold] i.e. if Cain were killed, seven deaths would be exacted in retaliation; the murderer and six of his family would forfeit their lives, cf. 2 Samuel 21:8. The words of Jehovah are noticeable, because (1) they emphasize the corporate responsibility of family life, which so often meets us in the O.T.; and (2) they recognize, but regulate, blood-revenge, as a disciplinary primaeval custom of Semitic life. This Oriental custom, while recognized in the O.T. as part of Israelite institutions, is continually being restricted by the operation of the spirit of love, gradually revealed by prophet and by law, in the religion of Jehovah.

the Lord appointed a sign for Cain] The popular expression “the brand of Cain,” in the sense of “the sign of a murderer,” arises from a complete misunderstanding of this passage. The object of the sign was to protect Cain. It was a warning that should prevent the avenger of blood from slaying him. Even in the desert Jehovah would be Cain’s champion. We have no means of knowing what the sign was. The words imply that some visible mark, or badge, was set upon Cain’s person. If so, it may have some analogy to the totem mark of savage tribes. “There seems little doubt, that the sign which Jahveh gave to Cain … was a tattoo mark, probably on his forehead (cf. Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 9:6), to show all men that Cain was under His protection, and thus to save his life. In all probability the mark was the ‘sign of Jahveh,’ the tav (Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 9:6)—which was once doubtless worn quite openly by His devotees, and only afterwards degenerated into a superstition.” (Gordon, Early Traditions of Genesis, p. 211.)

Verse 15. - The condemned fratricide's apprehensions were allayed by a special act of grace. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore (the LXX., Symm., Theodotion, Vulgate, Syriac, Dathius, translate Not so - οὐχ οὔτως, nequaquam, reading לאֹ כֵו instead of לָכֵן) whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. I.e. fully, sevenfold vengeance - complete vengeance (cf. Leviticus 26:28). In the case of Cain's murderer there was to be no such mitigation of the penalty as in the case of Cain himself; on the contrary, he would be visited more severely than Cain, as being guilty not alone of homicide, but of transgressing the Divine commandment which said that Cain was to live (Willet). As to why this special privilege was granted to Cain, it was not because "the early death of the pious Abel was in reality no punishment, but the highest boon (Kalisch), nor because banishment from God s presence was the greatest possible punishment, "having in itself the significance of a social human death" (Lange), nor because it was needful to spare life for the increase of posterity (Rosenmüller); but perhaps -

1. To show that "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

2. To prove the riches of the Divine clemency to sinful men.

3. To serve as a warning against the crime of murder. To this probably there is a reference in the concluding clause. And the Lord set a mark upon - gave a sign to (LXX.) - Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. Commentators are divided as to whether this was a visible sign to repress avengers (the Rabbis, Luther, Calvin, Piscator, &c.), or an inward assurance to Cain himself that he should not be destroyed (Aben Ezra, Dathe, Rosenmüller, Gesemus, Tuch, Kalisch, Delitzsch). In support of the former it is urged that an external badge would be more likely to repel assailants; while in favor of the latter it is pleaded that of seventy-six times in which oth occurs in the Old Testament, in seventy-five it is translated sign. If there was a visible mark upon the fugitive, it is impossible to say what it was; that it was a shaking (LXX.), or a continual fleeing from place to place (Lyra), or a horn in the head (Rabbis), a peculiar kind of dress (Clericus), are mere conceits. But, whatever it was, it was not a sign of Cain's forgiveness (Josephus), only a pledge of God's protection; Cf. the Divine prophetic sentence against the Jewish Cain (Psalm 59:11). Genesis 4:15Although Cain expressed not penitence, but fear of punishment, God displayed His long-suffering and gave him the promise, "Therefore (לכן not in the sense of כן לא, but because it was the case, and there was reason for his complaint) whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." קין כּל־הרג, is cas. absolut. as in Genesis 9:6; and הקּם avenged, i.e., resented, punished, as Exodus 21:20-21. The mark which God put upon Cain is not to be regarded as a mark upon his body, as the Rabbins and others supposed, but as a certain sign which protected him from vengeance, though of what kind it is impossible to determine. God granted him continuance of life, not because banishment from the place of God's presence was the greatest possible punishment, or because the preservation of the human race required at that time that the lives of individuals should be spared, - for God afterwards destroyed the whole human race, with the exception of one family, - but partly because the tares were to grow with the wheat, and sin develop itself to its utmost extent, partly also because from the very first God determined to take punishment into His own hands, and protect human life from the passion and wilfulness of human vengeance.
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