We have here a further account of the proceedings against Cain.
I. Here is Cain’s complaint of the sentence passed upon him, as hard and severe. Some make him to speak the language of despair, and read it, My iniquity is greater than that it may be forgiven; and so what he says is a reproach and affront to the mercy of God, which those only shall have the benefit of that hope in it. There is forgiveness with the God of pardons for the greatest sins and sinners; but those forfeit it who despair of it. Just now Cain made nothing of his sin, but now he is in the other extreme: Satan drives his vassals from presumption to despair. We cannot think too ill of sin, provided we do not think it unpardonable. But Cain seems rather to speak the language of indignation: My punishment is greater than I can bear; and so what he says is a reproach and affront to the justice of God, and a complaint, not of the greatness of his sin, but of the extremity of his punishment, as if this were disproportionable to his merits. Instead of justifying God in the sentence, he condemns him, not accepting the punishment of his iniquity, but quarrelling with it. Note, Impenitent unhumbled hearts are therefore not reclaimed by God’s rebukes because they think themselves wronged by them; and it is an evidence of great hardness to be more concerned about our sufferings than about our sins. Pharaoh’s care was concerning this death only, not this sin (Exod. 10:17); so was Cain’s here. He is a living man, and yet complains of the punishment of his sin, Lam. 3:39. He thinks himself rigorously dealt with when really he is favourably treated; and he cries out of wrong when he has more reason to wonder that he is out of hell. Woe unto him that thus strives with his Maker, and enters into judgment with his Judge. Now, to justify this complaint, Cain descants upon the sentence. 1. He sees himself excluded by it from the favour of his God, and concludes that, being cursed, he is hidden from God’s face, which is indeed the true nature of God’s curse; damned sinners find it so, to whom it is said, Depart from me you cursed. Those are cursed indeed that are forever shut out from God’s love and care and from all hopes of his grace. 2. He sees himself expelled from all the comforts of this life, and concludes that, being a fugitive, he is, in effect, driven out this day from the face of the earth. As good have no place on earth as not have a settled place. Better rest in the grave than not rest at all. 3. He sees himself excommunicated by it, and cut off from the church, and forbidden to attend on public ordinances. His hands being full of blood, he must bring no more vain oblations, Isa. 1:13, 15. Perhaps this he means when he complains that he is driven out from the face of the earth; for being shut out of the church, which none had yet deserted, he was hidden from God’s face, being not admitted to come with the sons of God to present himself before the Lord. 4. He seen himself exposed by it to the hatred and ill-will of all mankind: It shall come to pass that every one that finds me shall slay me. Wherever he wanders, he goes in peril of his life, at least he thinks so; and, like a man in debt, thinks every one he meets a bailiff. There were none alive but his near relations; yet even of them he is justly afraid who had himself been so barbarous to his brother. Some read it, Whatsoever finds me shall slay me; not only, “Whosoever among men,” but, “Whatsoever among all the creatures.” Seeing himself thrown out of God’s protection, he sees the whole creation armed against him. Note, Unpardoned guilt fills men with continual terrors, Prov. 28:1; Job 15:20-21; Ps. 53:5. It is better to fear and not sin than to sin and then fear. Dr. Lightfoot thinks this word of Cain should be read as a wish: Now, therefore, let it be that any that find me may kill me. Being bitter in soul, he longs for death, but it comes not (Job 3:20-22), as those under spiritual torments do, Rev. 9:5-6.
II. Here is God’s confirmation of the sentence; for when he judges he will overcome, Gen. 4:15. Observe, 1. How Cain is protected in wrath by this declaration, notified, we may suppose, to all that little world which was then in being: Whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven-fold, because thereby the sentence he was under (that he should be a fugitive and a vagabond) would be defeated. Condemned prisoners are under the special protection of the law; those that are appointed sacrifices to public justice must not be sacrificed to private revenge. God having said in Cain’s case, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, it would have been a daring usurpation for any man to take the sword out of God’s hand, a contempt put upon an express declaration of God’s mind, and therefore avenged seven-fold. Note, God has wise and holy ends in protecting and prolonging the lives even of very wicked men. God deals with some according to that prayer, Slay them not, lest my people forget; scatter them by thy power, Ps. 59:11. Had Cain been slain immediately, he would have been forgotten (Eccl. 8:10); but now he lives a more fearful and lasting monument of God’s justice, hanged in chains, as it were. 2. How he is marked in wrath: The Lord set a mark upon Cain, to distinguish him from the rest of mankind and to notify that he was the man that murdered his brother, whom nobody must hurt, but every body must hoot at. God stigmatized him (as some malefactors are burnt in the cheek), and put upon him such a visible and indelible mark of infamy and disgrace as would make all wise people shun him, so that he could not be otherwise than a fugitive and a vagabond, and the off-scouring of all things.