An Eye for an Eye

Cain replied to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!’ 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.”—Genesis 4:13–15 (NLT)

The punishment fits the crime. This principle has guided legal and judicial systems since the beginning of time. We see everywhere from the American legal system to the ancient law of Moses¬—"eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:24 NIV).

In today’s verse, though, Cain believes that God, the Ultimate Judge, has handed down a punishment that did not fit the crime. He claimed that it was too great for him to bear. 

So, what is he specifically citing as unfair or unbearable? “You have banished me from the land.” Driven from society, from his home, his family, and his comfort zone to a place he is unfamiliar with; to become a wanderer, a drifter amongst the human race. And then comes the worst punishment . . . “You have banished me from the land and from your presence” (emphasis added). 

Did you know that the ancient Israelites believed that if someone was driven from the land where God was worshipped, he or she was no longer in the presence of God, but of other gods? But I believe the text implies something deeper . . . 

Obviously, we know that no one can be hidden from the sight of the Lord, from His omniscience and omnipresence. There’s no such thing as being hidden from an all-seeing, ever-present God; there is no escaping His presence, which is everywhere. What Cain was being banished from was the favor and good will of the Lord; He was losing the blessing and protection of the Lord. The key word here for Cain was protection, which he reinforces when he says, “Anyone who finds me will kill me.” So, not only was he seemingly unrepentant for killing his brother, he was also only concerned with his personal wellbeing. 

But the Lord wouldn’t allow it. “The Lord replied, ‘No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.’” Through special divine protection, the life of Cain was to be left unharmed. In this, I see the mercy of God, even to the first murderer—who despite believing his punishment was too harsh actually deserved death for taking the life of his brother. I believe God wanted Cain, who was clearly unrepentant, to experience the consequences of his sin and come to a place of brokenness and repentance. I pray that we as believers can learn from Cain and be mature enough to accept consequences when we fall short and embrace the Lord’s mercy and grace, and the lessons He wants us to learn in them!

DIG: Did the punishment fit the crime in Cain’s case? Why did God mark Cain and vow to keep Him alive?

DISCOVER: Consider a time when the Lord has allowed you to experience consequences. What did He show you? What did you learn from it?

DO: Thank the Lord for His judgment and His mercy. 

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.