What is the mark of Cain?

Straight Talk

The Question

What is the mark of Cain? The bible states that God himself placed a mark on Cain.

– TW from Willard, Ohio

The Answer
Part 1: First a curse
Part 2: Next a blessing

First a curse (Part 1)

I’ll give you the straight out answer right up front: we don’t know exactly what the mark of Cain was any more than we know exactly what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. But we don’t need to know in order to gain enough information to learn some lessons for ourselves.

Let’s review what happened that culminated in the receiving of the infamous mark given personally by God. Cain was the first born of Adam and Eve and he was a farmer by trade. His younger brother Abel was a shepherd. “In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.” (Genesis 4:3-4, HCSB)

For some reason (this we don’t know either), God did not accept Cain’s offering but he did approve Abel’s. It’s not that God was being arbitrary or mean; rather the motives of Cain’s heart were no doubt not right in some way. God wanted Cain to be accepted because he said to him: “’If you do right, won’t you be accepted?’” (Verse 7)

Instead of repenting for his own sin and then offering a righteous sacrifice Cain was jealous of his brother and took his anger out by eliminating him—killing him out in a field. Keep in mind that Abel’s blood was spilled into the very place of Cain’s talent. His gift was perverted and Abel’s blood was like seed planted (bad seed) that cried out to God from the ground.

Now comes the curse. As his consequence God removed any joy or satisfaction or fulfillment from Cain’s work. “’If you work the land, it will never again give you its yield. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’” (Verse 12) What could be worse for someone who took his joy in farming and being connected to the earth? This was obviously a man who valued home but now he would have no home.

Next a blessing (Part 2)

Cain was undone. He cried out to God that the punishment was too great: he was being banished from his beloved soil and he was cut off from God’s presence. He believed that “whoever finds me will kill me.” (Verse 14) Was that really true? We don’t know (though God didn’t contradict it) but what we see next is the mercy and blessing of God.

The mark of Cain was not a curse to him; it was a protection. “’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.” (Verse 15) God protected anyone who might kill Cain from receiving a seven-fold consequence and he protected Cain from violent death.

The line of Cain does not remain on the earth today. His descendants died in the Great Flood and humankind continued through the line of Adam’s son Seth whose descendents produced Noah.

Is this just a nice story giving us interesting details about early man? No, because remember that ALL scripture is for our instruction. From this story of Cain we can better understand the nature of “…sin (which) is crouching at the door.” (Verse 7) The next time you fall, don’t play the blame game like Cain did. It is our human nature to deny our own wrongs and be jealous of those who haven’t succumbed as we have.

Next, remember the mercy of God who always provides a way of reconciliation. Even though Cain didn’t repent (he was only sorry it happened and sorry he got caught), God allowed him to live out his days and to have family and he gave him a second career–building the city of Enoch named after his firstborn son.

Finally, watch over your gifts and talents so they never become twisted or perverted, producing bad instead of good seed. Our greatest vulnerabilities for wrongdoing usually lie in our greatest strengths. Cain’s is a story of great tragedy. Yet that story has redemption for us if we learn from him how to avoid taking his tragic path.