I have this question bearing of Cain. Said Cain to the Lord:
“My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face I shall be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me.”
Must these words of Cain be construed as a confession of sin and a quest for grace and pardon?
Was the Lord’s answer a kind of indirect reply to the effect that what Cain sought —grace and pardon—he also found?
To discover the true meaning of Cain’s words and the Lord’s reply we must get Cain’s case before us in its entirety and this in connection with his brother Abel.
The two may have been twins. For the notice, “And Adam knew his wife; and she conceived”, is not repeated. The text here reads, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; . . . And she again bare his brother Abel.” The respective occupation of the brothers may denote that of the two, Cain was the stronger physically. It may also indicate how each was disposed toward God. Abel chose the less strenuous life of a keeper of sheep, while Cain as tiller of the soil preferred to wrestle with the curse of the ground.
In process of time it came to pass that the two appeared before the Lord each with his gift. Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, Abel of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. The Lord bad respect unto Abel’s offering, but unto Cain’s offering He had not respect. There was reason. Abel offered by faith but not so Cain. The latter offered in unbelief. We learn this from the Scriptures at Hebrews 11:4. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain . . .”
Abel’s faith must be taken to explain the kind of sacrifice he brought. He brought the sacrifice by blood. This offering signified prophetically Christ; it thus proclaimed that with God there is pardon of all iniquities for every sinner who by the mercy of God wills to be cleansed from jail his sins by the blood of Christ. This good will—this faith—was ABEL’s. He craved God’s pardon, thirsted after the righteousness of God that is manifest without the law. He believed that righteousness could be had only if with this blood he was covered. So as standing firmly in this faith and to give expression to it, he selected from his flock a firstling, shed its blood and covered himself with it by presenting it to the Lord.
And the Lord also replied by witnessing with his spirit in connection with his typical sacrifice that he was righteous. The Lord thus applied to his heart the truth—the word of God—imposed upon and proclaimed by his sacrifice.
On the other hand, to Cain’s sacrifice the Lord had no respect, the reason being that it was not the sacrifice by blood. Cain had no need of this sacrifice. For he was an unbelieving, profane and wicked man. The Scriptures at 1 John 3:12 state that Cain was of that wicked one and that his works were evil. Being that kind of a man he hated God and the righteous Abel, and despised the blood of the covenant—the blood of Christ. Of his unbelief and profanity the kind of offering he brought was indicative. He brought to the Lord the fruit of the ground. He said not in his heart that by himself he was a vile sinner before God. And therefore he had no need of God’s pardoning mercy and redeeming grace, of the sacrifice by blood to give expression to his faith in God through Christ; for that faith was not in him.
Yet Cain took notice of God. Being a godless man he was afraid of God. He knew about God. He knew about the original rectitude and innocence of his parents, and about their disobedience, fall, and expulsion from the garden. For his parents had instructed him, certainly. And yonder, east of the garden, was the flaming sword that turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life. That token of the severity of God was constantly before his eye. And he concluded that it might be expedient for him to ward off God’s wrath and ingratiate himself with God by honoring Him with some of the fruit of the ground, not of God’s but of Cain’s ground. So he brought his gift thinking to enrich God thereby and as insisting that God should also feel honored and smile upon him and agree to walk with him in his unrighteousness.
And therefore God had no respect unto his gift. God despised Cain and his sacrifice. And by his gift Cain, too, obtained witness in his heart but a witness to the effect that his sacrifice was an abomination in God’s sight and that he himself was wicked and damned if he repented not.
Cain’s anger burned against God. “He was wroth and his countenance fell.” The Lord rebuked him not in His love but in His wrath; for as the sequel reveals, Cain was reprobated. But he had to be without excuse. So the Lord commanded him to forsake his wickedness and repent. Said the Lord to him, “Why art thou wroth, And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee is his desire. But thou shalt rule over him,” that is, ‘Thy wrath, Cain, is wicked. For thou art angry with Me. But thou shouldest be angry with thyself and praise My wrath. For thou doest not well. Thou spurnest the blood of my sacrifice and thus despisest the riches of my goodness and hatest thy righteous brother. Lay aside thy wrath and repent.’
But Cain repented not. For the Lord hardened his heart. But God was beyond Cain’s reach. So he vented his spite upon Abel. For Abel was righteous and being righteous, had taken God’s side openly, of course. It means that he, too, was calling Cain to repentance. But this “was more than Cain could endure. The text states that “Cain talked with Abel, and, further that on a day when they were in the field together, Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.
So did Cain’s wrath seemingly triumph over the righteous Abel. And Cain was satisfied. But the Lord had seen all and now took Abel’s side. The manner of God’s approach leaves Cain still more without excuse. Instead of setting out with accusing him, the Lord put to Cain a question, “Where is Abel thy brother?” But instead of confessing his murder of a righteous man, Cain breathed defiance. This was his reply, “I know not. Am I my brother’s keeper?” But Cain could not trifle with God. “What has thou done?” said the Lord to him. “The voice thy brother’s blood crieth to me from ground.” We recognize this speech as figurative. It was the righteous Abel himself crying with the saints of all ages, “Hew long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth,” here the wicked, persecuting and reprobated Cain.
Abel’s prayer was heard. Said the Lord to Cain, “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; when thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond thou shall be in the earth.”
The working out of the curse as it was to operate in Cain’s life would be that the ground which he tilled would withhold from him its strength. Only through great toil would Cain henceforth be able to wrest from the soil the means for his support. And a fugitive and a vagabond he was to be in the earth. He would roam the earth without being able to come to rest. And the impulse by which he was to be activated would be fear–fear awakened and sustained by the voice of accusing conscience. He would flee from place to place in the imagining that every-one was bent on slaying him.
And so he said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.”
These words of Cain must not be construed as a confession of sin and a plea for pardon and grace. Cain’s soul continued to breathe hatred and rebellion, and in uttering this speech in the Lord’s ears he verily was adding insult to injury. What he meant to be telling God is that he would soon be killed and that therefore God’s sentence could not possibly go into execution. But the Lord would take care of that. “Whosoever shall kill Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Thus the sentence would go into execution by all means. Cain would die a natural death. If men would desire to kill Cain, the Lord, restrained them by putting a mark upon Cain and by laying the speech of that mark “kill thou not Cain, Beware” on men’s hearts, so that everyone would fear to do him injury.
Just what that mark was is not revealed.
Thus certainly the Lord’s answer was not a kind of indirect reply to the effect that what Cam sought he also found, namely pardon and grace. And this for the simple reason that Cain sought no pardon and grace but continued all the days of his life impenitent and defiant; for the Lord sovereignly hardened his heart.
Cain had understood God well. He was to be driven from the face of the earth as God had said. He was to roam the earth “like the chaff that the wind driveth away” (Ps,l:4). But this punishment did not overtake him as a fatalistic necessity. For Cain himself voluntarily went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod east of the garden, thus in the land of flight and unrest and ceaseless wanderings. Such is the meaning of the word “nod.” Hence, the notice that he dwelt in this land must not be taken to mean that in this region he found rest for his soul. He did not.
So did Cain choose to leave the presence of the Lord, namely that particular region near the gate of paradise where the Lord continued to dwell with His people now for Christ’s sake and to reveal Himself to them in the face of Christ as symbolized by the typical sacrifice by blood as the God of their salvation. This place and the people that dwelt there—God’s believing people—did Cain in his depravity of heart and mind now forsake to take up his abode in the land of Nod. So far was he from repenting of his sins and seeking God’s pardon. He continued all his life and in his wicked reprobated generations to breathe defiance against God. This is but so much more proof for the correctness of my answers.