Barry Newman's Blog

July 24, 2011

Science and Genesis 4: 1 – 26 (part VI)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:24 pm

Cain’s cry for help and Yahweh’s response

And now Cain becomes aware of many matters.  He has received judgement and he is being punished.  He is being forced from literally, the “face” of the ground (adamah).  It is, as it were, that he cannot remain on it, in the same place, farming the ground.  He cannot any longer be attached to it.  But not only is the face of the ground denied to him.  The face of Yahweh is denied to him also.  “And from your face I shall be hidden.”  No longer can he expect Yahweh to look upon him with any good will or to look upon him at all.  This is the God whose personal name is known to him, the God who relates personally to people.  But now, not to Cain. And he will have no roots in this world.  He realises he can never settle down anywhere on the earth.  And is that because of what he believes when he finally says, “And whoever finds me will kill me”?  Why will they kill him? The suggestion above was that perhaps he would be seen to be an intruder in their territory.  As an alternative, the idea might be that Cain perceives that because he has killed, any others who find him might feel obliged to kill the killer, delivering as it were some form of justice.  (We might have a question about “Who are these who might find him?  So far, besides Cain, we only have the man, and Eve his wife.)  Is there some portent of what Lamech boasts of later in this chapter? We will leave discussing that question till later.  No wonder that he begins addressing Yahweh with the words, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”  So much flows from it. So great is his depression.  However, great also is the irony – he cuts short a life, but his own life is now unbearable, but he fears that his life shall be cut short!!

Yahweh’s response is two-fold.  There is a warning to anyone who might contemplate killing Cain and Cain is meant to receive some assurance that he will not be killed as easily as he imagines.  The vengeance that Yahweh promises any killer of Cain is not like Cain’s punishment. If we understand the Hebrew correctly, the punishment was the outworking of justice, while the vengeance is beyond that – suffering seven times as much as would be that person’s due. Is that the sense? While the “sevenfold” is probably not meant to be taken literally, the severity of the vengeance is great, and so described as “sevenfold”.  The message to anyone considering killing Cain is, “Be aware of the vengeance of Yahweh.”  So Cain is meant to have some reassurance from the God whose face, he fears, will never light on him again.  The second part of Yahweh’s response is meant to supplement the first.  How will people know to avoid killing Cain and that killing him would call in the vengeance of Yahweh?  I take it, that that is the purpose of the mark, the sign.  It isn’t just an odd marking.  It is something which gives information, it points to something beyond itself.  It is meant to preserve the life of Cain.

If the account had recorded that Yahweh brought Cain’s life to an end we could understand that.  Why didn’t he? Perhaps we are meant to see that while Cain might regard the life of his brother as of little account, Yahweh does not hold life with such disdain.  In fact that notion may lay behind both Yahweh himself not bringing Cain’s life to an end but also in Yahweh’s provisions meant to ensure against his life being taken by others!

So Cain goes out from the presence (literally “the face”) of Yahweh and lives in the land (erez) called Nod, east of Eden.  To be removed from Yahweh’s face is not only to no longer have Yahweh look upon him, it is as though Yahweh can no longer look upon him.  He has physically moved away from the very presence of God.  And to where has he gone?  Surely he shouldn’t be seen to be settling down anywhere!  He is to be a restless wanderer!  But in a sense that is what the text conveys.  The Hebrew for “Nod” has the idea of “wanderer” behind it.  And where is “Nod”?  If Canaan is the reference point for Eden (see the earlier blog series and the comment on Genesis 2: 8), Nod is even further east.  To an Israelite reader or listener, it is way beyond what may be conceived as the familiar, ordinary world. It has to be that only in the unfamiliar unordinary world that a restless wanderer would in fact be allowed to have roots.


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