What does Genesis 4:15 mean?
ESV: Then 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.
NIV: But the LORD said to him, 'Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.' Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
NASB: So the Lord said to him, 'Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him seven times as much.' And the Lord placed a mark on Cain, so that no one finding him would kill him.
CSB: Then the Lord replied to him, "In that case, whoever kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over." And he placed a mark on Cain so that whoever found him would not kill him.
NLT: The Lord replied, 'No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.' Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him.
KJV: And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
In the previous verse, Cain expressed his fear over God's punishment. The murder of his brother would leave him vulnerable to being killed himself, likely in retribution. God, who is about to banish Cain from His presence, shows that He is still merciful—and determined to stop people from seeking revenge. So He promises Cain that He will take vengeance—times seven!—on anyone who kills Cain.
To seal the deal, and ward off all would-be attackers, God put a mark on Cain. We don't know what this mark looked like, or if it was even visual. All we know is that it communicated loudly and clearly to all who met Cain that God would take vengeance on anyone who killed the murderer of Abel.
Why would God do such a thing? Why not let Cain get what's coming to him? Later, God will build into the Law procedures both for bringing justice on wrongdoers and for helping murderers find sanctuary from those who would seek revenge. It seems God's purpose here is focused on preventing the never-ending cycle of revenge to which humans are prone. For now, God simply insists on being the one to take vengeance on injustice. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul will reveal that this is still a role God demands to play today (Romans 12:19).
This verse also strongly suggests that there were other people alive on earth other than Adam, Eve, and Cain. More than likely, this incident occurred many years after Cain and Abel's birth, perhaps many decades later. Though the Bible does not explicitly mention them, Adam and Eve probably had other children during this time. As mankind "multiplies" and the earth is filled, there are enough people for Cain to be concerned over.
Genesis 4:1–16 tells the beginning of human history in the wake of Adam's and Eve's sin and separation from God. This passage details the murder of Abel by his older brother Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel work the ground and tend sheep. They worship God, but Cain kills Abel in a fit of envy over God's rejection of Cain and his offering. The first human born on earth becomes the first murderer. God forces Cain to leave his family and wander the earth, but God also marks Cain with a promise of great vengeance on anyone who would kill him.
The consequences of sin become apparent in chapter 4: envy, arrogance, rebellion, murder, punishment, separation from family, and separation from God. Adam and Eve's firstborn son, Cain, jealously murders his brother Abel and loses everything. Adam and Eve lose them both. Cain's descendants amplify his sinfulness. Still, God provides help for Eve in childbirth and even provides protection for Cain in his wandering. Eve remains a woman of faith, even in her loss. And the sons of Seth, born after the murder of Abel, become a people who proclaim the name of the Lord.
The first three chapters of Genesis explain the creation and loss of paradise, as Adam and Eve are separated from God both physically and spiritually. Their relationship with Him does not end, however. Eve recognizes His help in bearing her son Cain and later Seth. Cain and Abel both worship God until Cain kills Abel. God provides protection for Cain, whose descendants become innovative, artful, arrogant, and violent. The descendants of Seth, however, begin to call on the Lord's name. This chapter bridges the story of Genesis from our ultimate origins to the story of Noah, introduced in the next chapter.
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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