We have here a full account of the trial and condemnation of the first murderer. Civil courts of judicature not being yet erected for this purpose, as they were afterwards (Gen. 9:6), God himself sits Judge; for he is the God to whom vengeance belongs, and who will be sure to make inquisition for blood, especially the blood of saints. Observe,
I. The arraignment of Cain: The Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? Some think Cain was thus examined the next sabbath after the murder was committed, when the sons of God came, as usual, to present themselves before the Lord, in a religious assembly, and Abel was missing, whose place did not use to be empty; for the God of heaven takes notice who is present at and who is absent from public ordinances. Cain is asked, not only because there is just cause to suspect him, he having discovered a malice against Abel and having been last with him, but because God knew him to be guilty; yet he asks him, that he may draw from him a confession of his crime, for those who would be justified before God must accuse themselves, and the penitent will do so.
II. Cain’s plea: he pleads not guilty, and adds rebellion to his sin. For, 1. He endeavours to cover a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie: I know not. He knew well enough what had become of Abel, and yet had the impudence to deny it. Thus, in Cain, the devil was both a murderer and a liar from the beginning. See how sinners’ minds are blinded, and their hearts hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: those are strangely blind that think it possible to conceal their sins from a God that sees all, and those are strangely hard that think it desirable to conceal them from a God who pardons those only that confess. 2. He impudently charges his Judge with folly and injustice, in putting this question to him: Amos I my brother’s keeper? He should have humbled himself, and have said, Amos not I my brother’s murderer? But he flies in the face of God himself, as if he had asked him an impertinent question, to which he was no way obliged to give an answer: “Amos I my brother’s keeper? Surely he is old enough to take care of himself, nor did I ever take any charge of him.” Some think he reflects on God and his providence, as if he had said, “Art not thou his keeper? If he be missing, on thee be the blame, and not on me, who never undertook to keep him.” Note, A charitable concern for our brethren, as their keepers, is a great duty, which is strictly required of us, but is generally neglected by us. Those who are unconcerned in the affairs of their brethren, and take no care, when they have opportunity, to prevent their hurt in their bodies, goods, or good name, especially in their souls, do, in effect, speak Cain’s language. See Lev. 19:17; Phil. 2:4.
III. The conviction of Cain, Gen. 4:10. God gave no direct answer to his question, but rejected his plea as false and frivolous: “What hast thou done? Thou makest a light matter of it; but hast thou considered what an evil thing it is, how deep the stain, how heavy the burden, of this guilt is? Thou thinkest to conceal it, but it is to no purpose, the evidence against thee is clear and incontestable: The voice of thy brother’s blood cries.” He speaks as if the blood itself were both witness and prosecutor, because God’s own knowledge testified against him and God’s own justice demanded satisfaction. Observe here, 1. Murder is a crying sin, none more so. Blood calls for blood, the blood of the murdered for the blood of the murderer; it cries in the dying words of Zechariah (2 Chron. 24:22), The Lord look upon it and require it; or in those of the souls under the altar (Rev. 6:10), How long, Lord, holy, and true? The patient sufferers cried for pardon (Father, forgive them), but their blood cries for vengeance. Though they hold their peace, their blood has a loud and constant cry, to which the ear of the righteous God is always open. 2. The blood is said to cry from the ground, the earth, which is said to open her mouth to receive his brother’s blood from his hand, Gen. 4:11. The earth did, as it were, blush to see her own face stained with such blood, and therefore opened her mouth to hide that which she could not hinder. When the heaven revealed Cain’s iniquity, the earth also rose up against him (Job 20:27), and groaned on being thus made subject to vanity, Rom. 8:20, 22. Cain, it is likely, buried the blood and the body, to conceal his crime; but “murder will out.” He did not bury them so deep but the cry of them reached heaven. 3. In the original the word is plural, thy brother’s bloods, not only his blood, but the blood of all those that might have descended from him; or the blood of all the seed of the woman, who should, in like manner, seal the truth with their blood. Christ puts all on one score (Matt. 23:35); or because account was kept of every drop of blood shed. How well is it for us that the blood of Christ speaks better things than that of Abel! Heb. 12:24. Abel’s blood cried for vengeance, Christ’s blood cries for pardon.
IV. The sentence passed upon Cain: And now art thou cursed from the earth, Gen. 4:11. Observe here,
1. He is cursed, separated to all evil, laid under the wrath of God, as it is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, Rom. 1:18. Who knows the extent and weight of a divine curse, how far it reaches, how deep it pierces? God’s pronouncing a man cursed makes him so; for those whom he curses are cursed indeed. The curse for Adam’s disobedience terminated on the ground: Cursed is the ground for thy sake; but that for Cain’s rebellion fell immediately upon himself: Thou art cursed; for God had mercy in store for Adam, but none for Cain. We have all deserved this curse, and it is only in Christ that believers are saved from it and inherit the blessing, Gal. 3:10, 13.
2. He is cursed from the earth. Thence the cry came up to God, thence the curse came up to Cain. God could have taken vengeance by an immediate stroke from heaven, by the sword of an angel, or by a thunderbolt; but he chose to make the earth the avenger of blood, to continue him upon the earth, and not immediately to cut him off, and yet to make even this his curse. The earth is always near us, we cannot fly from it; so that, if this is made the executioner of divine wrath, our punishment is unavoidable: it is sin, that is, the punishment of sin, lying at the door. Cain found his punishment where he chose his portion and set his heart. Two things we expect from the earth, and by this curse both are denied to Cain and taken from him: sustenance and settlement. (1.) Sustenance out of the earth is here withheld from him. It is a curse upon him in his enjoyments, and particularly in his calling: When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee its strength. Note, Every creature is to us what God makes it, a comfort or a cross, a blessing or a curse. If the earth yield not her strength to us, we must therein acknowledge God’s righteousness; for we have not yielded our strength to him. The ground was cursed before to Adam, but it was now doubly cursed to Cain. That part of it which fell to his share, and of which he had the occupation, was made unfruitful and uncomfortable to him by the blood of Abel. Note, The wickedness of the wicked brings a curse upon all they do and all they have (Deut. 28:15-68), and this curse embitters all they have and disappoints them in all they do. (2.) Settlement on the earth is here denied him: A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. By this he was condemned, [1.] To perpetual disgrace and reproach among men. It should be ever looked upon as a scandalous thing to harbour him, converse with him, or show him any countenance. And justly was a man that had divested himself of all humanity abhorred and abandoned by all mankind, and made infamous. [2.] To perpetual disquietude and horror in his own mind. His own guilty conscience should haunt him wherever he went, and make him Magormissabib, a terror round about. What rest can those find, what settlement, that carry their own disturbance with them in their bosoms wherever they go? Those must needs be fugitives that are thus tossed. There is not a more restless fugitive upon earth than he that is continually pursued by his own guilt, nor a viler vagabond than he that is at the beck of his own lusts.
This was the sentence passed upon Cain; and even in this there was mercy mixed, inasmuch as he was not immediately cut off, but had space given him to repent; for God is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish.