A Mark on Cain

“The Lord said to him, ‘Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him” (Gen. 4:15).

- Genesis 4:13-16

In today’s passage, Cain’s response to the judgment the Lord pronounces upon Him reaches a climax when he flees from the presence of God (Gen. 4:16). Before looking at verses 13–16, however, we will first pause to reflect on the initial part of the curse in 4:11–12.

Moses tells us in verse 11 that God’s curse was pronounced directly on Cain. This is important because even though Adam and Eve suffered the effects of the fall, curses were not placed immediately upon their heads (3:16–19). The serpent, on the other hand, was directly cursed (“cursed are you,” v. 14). We must not miss what our author is telling us here. Because Cain is also himself cursed directly, he is to be regarded as of the serpent. The seed of the woman will crush the serpent, but not every human being is a candidate for this work. Some are of the devil; those who never trust in Jesus are, like Cain, the seed of the serpent (John 8:39–47; 1 John 3:12–15).

Later passages of Scripture testify repeatedly of God’s desire to forgive repentant sinners (Ex. 34:6–7; Hos. 6:1–3). Cain could have been forgiven had he turned from his iniquity. Yet he only complains of his sentence, despairing that any who saw him would kill him (Gen. 4:13–14). Cain never realizes, as Matthew Henry affirms, that “there is forgiveness with the God of pardons for the greatest sins and sinners; but those forfeit it who despair of it.”

God responds to Cain’s plea not with a harsh word concerning his arrogance but with a mark to keep him safe from harm (v. 15). Here we see a marvelous example of the Lord’s care for covenant breakers, a concern that only makes their ingratitude more condemnable (Rom. 1:18–23).

Cain, whose story began with promise, now tills a ground even more reticent to bear fruit (Gen. 4:12). Incredibly, he is not motivated to acknowledge God’s holiness; he would rather flee from the divine presence (v. 16). Such an attempt at life without the Lord is the first choice of all those in sin. At the same time, how many of us live as if we are not dependent upon God or His people? Let us never live as Cain did but instead be quick to rely on the Lord and His church.

Coram Deo

Do you believe that you are self-sufficient? Do you really think that you can live without God and the assistance He provides through His people? Though we try to be strong and handle everything ourselves, attempts at complete self-sufficiency are actually a display of weakness. If you need help overcoming a sin or managing your circumstances, quit trying to do it on your own. When your church asks you to help others, heed the call.

Passages for Further Study

Hag. 1–2
Luke 15:1–7
John 15:1–17
Rev. 3:14–22

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.