“YHWH said to Kayin: Where is Hevel your brother? He said: I do not know. Am I the watcher of my brother?
Now he said: What have you done! A sound—your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!
And now, damned be you from the ground, which opened up its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
When you wish to work the ground it will not henceforth give its strength to you; wavering and wandering must you be on earth!”
(Genesis 4:9–12 SB)
A person killing someone else has blood on his hands. When blood comes on the soil it becomes not covered by the earth. The ground does not become cursed, but the curse comes over the person who did the act of killing. The soil had already been cursed when A·dham sinned, but now, on account of Kayin, the curse was ramped up. Even what the soil produced for A·dham it would no longer produce, but less.
“As often as you work the ground, it will not yield its crops to you again. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.””
(Genesis 4:12 TLV)
Since the curse is directed at “you” (in the singular), it would seem to mean Kayin personally.
The Scriptures tells us that Kayin would be cursed “from the ground” (OJPS) — it would no longer yield its strength to him, and he would become a ceaseless wanderer over it.
“No matter how hard or skillfully you work — plowing, hoeing, sowing just as you should — it will no longer yield its strength to you. You will sow much and reap little.”
This is the kind of curse meant to
“turn your blessings into curses” (Mal. 2:2).
Nahmanides asks us to:
Notice that the curse was directed specifically at Cain’s own profession, he being “a tiller of the soil” (v. 2), exactly what was now cursed. Which opened its mouth. You killed your brother and covered up his blood in the ground. Now I decree that “the earth shall disclose its bloodshed and shall no longer conceal its slain” (Isa. 26:21). For you will be punished through it and everything you might cover up in it—whatever you sow or plant. — In fact, this is always the punishment for spilling blood on earth: “for blood pollutes the land” (Num. 35:33). Polluting the land results in cursing its produce: “if one came to a heap of twenty measures, it would yield only ten; and if one came to a wine vat to skim off fifty measures, the press would yield only twenty” (Hag. 2:16).
God’s punishment for Hevel’s murderer meant that Kayin could no longer remain at large. He no longer had permission to dwell in one single spot, and was to
become a ceaseless wanderer on earth. (Genesis 4:12)
Ibn Ezra writes
A ceaseless wanderer. Some take this to mean “a wailing wanderer,” as that word is used in “They met together to go and wail with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). But see how this word is used in “I would flee far off” (Ps. 55:8). In my opinion “a fugitive and a wanderer” of OJPS gives the sense correctly, for the two words here are really matched synonyms.
Wherever Kayin would go, he would not be able to escape the punishment. Going to a different place the soil will still not yield its full strength to him. Even hard agricultural labour would not produce products like fruits and grain for him as it used to do.
Because the soil would not yield properly; farmers move from place to place looking for a location with a good yield (Bekhor Shor).
God did not put him to death, as is supposed to be done to deliberate killers, in order not to leave the world uninhabited. Cain had not yet fathered children, nor would Adam do so for 130 years. But the Holy One did decree one of the punishments meted out to killers against him: that of exile. (“Ceaseless wanderer” is repetition for the sake of emphasis.) And of course it is not impossible that the killing was inadvertent. Cain might well not have known that what he did was sufficient to cause death. So exile, the punishment for one who kills inadvertently, was quite appropriate.
From then onwards permanent exile became the punishment for murder.
“Kayin said to YHWH: My iniquity is too great to be borne!”
(Genesis 4:13 SB)
Although murder is a capital offense in biblical law (e.g., Exod. 21:12), the Elohim yields to Kayin’s plea and protects him from the fate he inflicted on Hevel.
Ibn Ezra remarks
All the commentators agree that he is really confessing and saying, “My sin is too great to be forgiven!” The Hebrew words of our verse are used this way in “forgiving iniquity” (Exod. 34:7). But the translations are correct. There are numerous Hebrew words that mean both an action and the reward or punishment one gets from that action. Our word is used that way also in “the punishment of the Amorites is not yet complete” (15:16); “you won’t get into trouble over this” (1 Sam. 28:10). What Cain says in the very next verse conclusively demonstrates that this is the correct interpretation.
“Here, you drive me away today from the face of the ground, and from your face I must conceal myself, I must be wavering and wandering on earth— now it will be: whoever comes upon me will kill me!”
(Genesis 4:14 SB)
Kayin is aware he has done something unforgivable wrong. His feeling of guilt makes that he thinks he must avoid God’s presence. Therefore he says he will be hidden from the Elohim His face (compare OJPS), just as Jehovah has hidden His face from him. Kayin now has a lot of fear, that Hashem might remove His protection from him in His anger and leaving him at the mercy of all the carnivorous animals and of people not trusting him and wanting to kill him, so that he shall not be able to find a place of rest.
Kayin is afraid he can no longer stand before his God to pray or bring offerings. It is as if he is ashamed and humiliated, for he bears the disgrace of his youth and actions taken by his jealousy. He is aware that anyone who would meet him could kill him, though, in the great mercy of the Almighty, he was not condemned to death. Kayin is, therefore, admitting his great guilt and accepting his punishment, but begging to be protected from a punishment greater than he was given.
“As a wanderer, I cannot build a house with walls to protect me, so even wild animals may kill me, for Your protection has departed from me.”
He admits that man is not so superior that he can escape danger by his own power; he must be protected from on high.
- Cain’s Rejected Offering
- Why was Cain’s offering rejected?
- Cain his killing, marrying and death
- Conclusion from Genesis 1-4
- Human Desire Personified