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?
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, מִן–הָאֲדָמָה
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?