Cain settles down and builds a city – is he defying God’s punishment?

Cain and Abel #14

In Gen 4:16-17 Cain’s trial is over. He is leaving God a free man, finds a place to settle, have a son and builds a city.  But what about God’s punishment? Wasn’t Cain destined to be a wanderer, a nomad forever? How can a wanderer settle and build a city?  Can he defy God?

Cain after his trial with God starts building a city. Table of the Hebrew text of Gen 4:16 and the English translation.

Discussion

Just like with Abraham’s (Genesis 18), this verse gives us a vivid image of a trial, standing in front of God, the ultimate judge. Only that in the case of Abraham, Abraham was the advocate. Cain on the other hand, was the accused – and he left the trial a free man.

Immediately after, this verse tells us that even Cain’s mild punishment to become a wanderer in the land (I call it mild as we seem to accuse him of first degree murder) did not come into force. He settles in the country of Nod. How did he avoid his punishment?

Unless we believe that God changes his mind, we must assume that what we consider to be God’s punishment is not as obvious as we think it is (well, if things were obvious in the Bible, there would be no reason to read it more than once). I see two possible interpretations that can explain this contradiction.

The first is that, as we discussed in a previous post, it could be the land, not God, that punishes Cain. And unlike God’s word, punishment by the land can be overturned.

But there is another way to interpret it

Look at the similarities between the name of the country נוֹד (Nod) and the word God uses for a wanderer נָע וָנָד,  (Na va-nad). The two come from the same Hebrew root, נ.ו.ד, (Nun, Vav, Daled) which means to move about or to wander. Is it possible that God does not tell Cain he would become a wander, a nomad, but instead sends him to live in the country of Nod?

As it is the only time this country is mentioned in the Bible, we do not know much about it. Maybe it is a place for nomads to settle, maybe it is a place that protects those without a country. Even the reference to East of Eden does not give us much more information. Does Eden refer to the Garden of Eden, or is it a place – never again mentioned in the Bible – called to commemorate the Garden of Eden? We do not know. All we know is that it was a place Cain could settle in and be protected, after he was sent away from his previous home.  

How did the life of Cain continue?

Cain was not satisfied with settling. He went on to build a city. We do not know anything about this Chanoch city (in English, Enoch), or even if it was the very first city in the world (in this case it would be a different name for the city of Jericho). But there is no doubt that he, with the mark of Cain as a protection, is becoming rich and influential, and as we will see in the next post, his descendants would become instrumental to the development of human society and culture.  

What does it tell us about Cain’s sin, his punishment, and his special relationships with God?

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8 months ago

[…] our previous post we discussed Genesis 4:17. We saw that Cain built a city and called it after his son, Chanoch […]