Cain vs. Abel

Genesis 4:1-16

The Torah tells us that Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Abel is a shepherd, while Cain is a farmer. each brings an offering to God from the fruits of his labors, but while Abel’s first of his flock is accepted by God, Cain’s offering is rejected. Cain becomes incensed, and God tries to calm him. When they are alone in the field, however, Cain rises up and beats his brother to death.


God gently confronts Cain, asking him where his brother is. Cain famously responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to which God says He already knows the answer: “Thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” God curses Cain to wander the Earth, compounding the punishment his father already earned in the Garden of Eden. When Cain appeals to God that the burden is too great for him to bear, God assures him that in his wanderings, He will protect Cain from others.


The Israel Bible elaborates on the nature of Cain’s punishment, in line with the commentary of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. According to the German rabbi, the two Hebrew terms, na (fugitive) and nad (wanderer), connote two different types of disconnection: someone who is na can find no physical resting place on Earth, while someone who is nad is cut off from mankind. For Cain to have neither homeland nor society was no small matter. Likewise, the return of sovereign Jewish society to its Biblical homeland of Israel is a significant sign of God’s hand in the world.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think Cain does not earn the death penalty, later identified as the Biblical punishment for murder, for killing his brother?


Comments ( 16 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • God is a god of justice and mercy.He punishes Cain for his sin but forgives him by placing a mark on him for his protection renjit thomas

  • Like most of you have said, I see Yahweh's justice and mercy; justice in the sense that Cain was to wander on the earth, and mercy in the sense that Yahweh placed upon him a mark of protection and later allowed him to have a new family — the subsequent scriptures reveal that Cain married and had children.

  • I think that death penalty is a lighter punishment than no homeland and no trusted relations in the world.
    Moreover he was the first who saw someone dead and having to live on with the reminiscences of a dead (brother) must be frightening.
    May be he was also living with the thoughts of having killed the Messiach (promised to Chawa in gan Eden) must have driven him almost crazy.

    • Yes that is a very good point. Death would have been easier.

  • Cain saw his punishment as being more than he could bear. He lost his livelihood, his home and lived in fear and shame for the rest of his days – a marked man. In some ways, his existence could be considered a kind of “living death” as he was cut off from his family and sent out to roam the earth.
    We also know that he lived a very long life after this punishment and had many descendants. If he’d received the death penalty for killing his brother, it would have taken out a significant part of our Biblical history.
    While I’m sure that Hashem could have compensated for this, maybe Cain’s “marked life” served as a warning against murder long after his death as his story has been told throughout the ages. Sometimes, we are an example of what should be done, but there are also times when we become an example of “what not to do”…..
    Baruch Hashem.

    • As I was reading the comments I did think of the genealogy of. Cain. Your point about him being an example to others as he wandered really was greater punishment then death. There is not much to say after all of these great comments. Baruch HaShem.

  • G_ods grace and mercies endures forever. G_od hates the things we do wrong but still loves His creation.
    interesting..Cain heard the voice of G_d. So obviously there was communication. Cain still had to endure the consequences of his sin just as Adam and Eve had too. He made a choice and that was to kill his brother. That would not have been something that was just a spur of the moment thing. The idea of Killing Abel had already settled in his heart. He gave way to the serpents evil inclination. But G_d who is merciful showed him mercy…..and set him free. He was banished but still alive. Still alive to turn back to G_d. Instead Cain became a prime example of someone who deliberately and openly continued to rebell against G_d. On the other side of the coin. When Cain faught against Abel did he intentionally murder his brother? Later on in the bible it tells us that G_d set aside a safe place where those who kill unintentionally can flee too? Is it possible that Cain fits into that category and that set the pattern for “designated safe place” later on?.

    • The Cities of Refuge, described in Numbers 35, were established for those who killed unintentionally. They were meant for people who did not intend to murder, but because of carelessness or negligence ended up killing someone. Even if Cain’s murder of Abel was not planned in advance, the fact that he “rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Genesis 4:8) certainly makes it sound like the murder was intentional.

  • Even though Cain had committed a grievous sin, Gods mercies allowed a mark of protection for him which shows us that our Father’s Love is greater than our sin.

  • Mrs Peggy Ann

    God wanted to teach Cain to act on loves mercy with forgiveness instead of acting on hate to murder .

  • Sheila

    Thought that the penalty given by God over Cain as a restless wanderer was a death penalty in itself, as he could no longer live a settled life as a farmer who loved the land. Because of fear for his life as a fugitive, God in his mercy placed a mark of protection over him As man was created in God’s image, the Lord ‘s heart was grieved to see His own creation violating His very nature of love.

    • Prof. Cox

      Agreed. The subject in the sentence is the earth, anyway. She is the one who cursed Cain for his act. It is God who mediates her curse. God was, clearly, not finished with him yet.

  • Herman

    The Torah wasn’t given yet, though they lived according the rules of G’d. He was punished which was felt as death penalty: cut off from mankind without physical restingplace.

Post a Reply

Comments must adhere to our guidelines or they may be removed.

Skip to toolbar