Who Punishes Cain?

Cain and Abel #10

Clearly, we cannot attribute human feelings, like anger or even love, to God. The Bible, written for people, uses the words of human emotions to describe God, knowing well that it is only for the sake of our limited human understanding. But under this limitation, was it out of anger that God confronted Cain in Genesis 4: 10 and 11? Does the text tell us who punishes Cain?

Does the Bible tell us if God punishes Cain? The first commandment. Table which shows the English translation of Genesis 4:10 and 11, next to the original Hebrew Bible textt: 10. "And He said, what have you done? The voice of your brother's bloods is screaming to me from the soil."
11. "And now, you are cursed from the soil which had opened her mouth to take your brother's bloods from your hands."


There are many subtle points in these two verses. For instance, is הָאֲדָמָה the soil or the ground – both are correct translation? Or whether the description of the soil taking the blood is metaphoric or describing a religious sacrifice Cain performed when killing his brother. Also whether the bloods are screaming to God or for God. But in this blog I wish to focus on two other points.

In what tone did God utter his words?

Most believe that God’s words were words of anger, admonishing Cain before handing him down his punishment. But this interpretation is told from a viewpoint of a vengeful God, God who does not forgive any wrongdoing, God who does not forgive any mistake.

But we already know that in a few verses God will protect Cain. We will see a forgiving God, a compassionate God.

So were his words uttered in anguish and pain, like a father discovering a horrible thing his son has done, and, broken heartedly, he screams: “What have you done?” Then the father continues, “Now you will be punished.” He says that not because he intends to punish the son (it is too late already. He should have done it years ago when teaching his son good from evil) but rather he is stating a painful fact: “I have done all I could for you. But now the justice system, the court, the police will catch up with you and punish you.” Is it a cry of pain that God utters: “What have you done?”

This brings us to the second question.

Who punishes Cain?

We are told over and again that God punishes Cain. But is that what the text tells us? Naturally, the continuation of the chapter raises this question even more acutely. But we already have a hint here:

וְעַתָּה, אָרוּר אָתָּה, מִןהָאֲדָמָה
And now, you are cursed from the soil

What does the word מִן (from) refer to here?  Normally, just like from in English, it refers to the source or the origin of a thing or an action. It tells us where something comes from. We can see it in numerous places in the Bible. For example, in Genesis 2:6 the land is the origin of the vapor:

וְאֵד יַעֲלֶה מִן הָאָרֶץ וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת כׇּל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה
And vapour will rise from the earth and watered the entire land

So can we read in our verse that the soil is the origin of the curse. In other words, does the soil, rather than God, curse Cain?

Naturally, this is only one interpretation. But this one, unlike many of the other interpretations, explains why God protects Cain so powerfully in a way that his future, as a builder of a city, will be much more successful than his life as a farmer. If God means to punish Cain, would he make Cain better off than before the punishment?

Once again, we are facing the question. Why is Cain not punished as a killer, but instead he is getting such an unusual, preferential treatment from God? What is his real role?

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1 year ago

Very interesting to see that God has forgiven Cain. In the story He behaves exactly like a gracious father who would never let his child down. After being shocked about the terrible act his son made, He was creating new hopeful ways and plans for him immediately. The soil punished… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Lea
1 year ago

Thank you Lea. We all tend to condemn first, few are willing to forgive. Real forgiveness is one of the hardest commandments to follow (and I know it is not one of the official 10) But this is what we need for spiritual growth. “Love your enemy” There is a… Read more »

1 year ago

This is an interesting thought. So why do we learn that it was God that punished him?

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Bill
1 year ago

I believe that we love stories of good and bad when the bad gets punished much more than stories of we are not sure who the bad and who the good are. But also, if you want to indoctrinate people to obey for fear of punishment then you need simple… Read more »

1 year ago

[…] we saw in verse 11, God’s words to Cain can be viewed either as those of a judge handing down his sentence, or as a […]