Cursed from the Ground

cursed from the ground (2)

14) Gen 4:11–14: People in the Ancient Near East and in the Roman Empire believed in a three-part universe.[1]

For example, Homer wrote, “Now therefore let earth be witness to this, and the broad heaven above, and the down-flowing water of the Styx.”[2]

The phrase, “the ground which had opened its mouth in order to take the blood of your brother from your hand” suggests that Abel entered Sheol, the abode of the dead (Isa 5:14; Hab 2:5).[3]

As with the serpent and the ground (Gen 3:14–19),[4] God cursed Cain. By being “cursed from the ground,” Cain would no longer benefit from its productivity.[5]

This implied banishment from places where he could cultivate the earth.[6]

Instead, Cain would be “one wavering back and forth…on the land,” a restless wanderer in his quest to find food. Far from experiencing the joys his parents had in Eden (Gen 2:7–25), Cain would spend his life hunting and gathering food to survive.[7]

Since Cain disavowed any responsibility for the welfare of his brother (Gen 4:8–9), the Lord deprived him of family relationships.[8]

No longer would he enjoy their community. Cain would lose his sense of belonging, in some ways, a fate worse than death.[9]

According to the Jewish philosopher Philo (ca. 20 BC–40 AD):

[Cain and Abel were] persons who have received a birth more excellent than that of any succeeding generation, in being sprung from the first wedded pair, from the first man and woman…

But, nevertheless the elder of them endured to slay the younger and, having committed the great and most accursed crime of fratricide, he first defiled the ground with human blood.

Now, what good did the nobility of his birth do to a man who had displayed this want of nobleness in his soul?

Which God, who surveys all human things and actions, detested when he saw it; and, casting it forth, affixed a punishment to it, not slaying him at once, so that he should arrive at an immediate insensibility to misfortunes, but suspending over him ten thousand deaths in his external senses, by…incessant griefs and fears, so as to inflict upon him…the most grievous calamities.[10]

Adam and Eve accepted their sentences without protest (Gen 3:16–24). Cain failed to repent. Instead, he responded with self-pity.[11]

Although, the Lord could have justly sentenced him to an immediate death,[12] Cain seemed concerned only with the effects of the harsh punishment imposed by God,[13] which he considered intolerable.[14]

He protested, “Behold, you have driven me this day from upon the faces of the ground, and from your face I will be hidden.”

Cain perceived that God was sending him even farther from the Lord’s presence than his parents had been when they were driven out of Eden (Gen 3:22–4:6).[15]

Cain’s complaint also reflects his fear of entering a wilderness devoid of the rule of law.[16]

He said, “I shall be one who wavers back and forth in the land, and anyone who finds me shall kill me.”

He fretted that he would receive the same treatment he delivered to Abel (Gen 4:8; Num 35:19).[17]

Where no government exists, blood feuds tend to occur.[18]

As many have observed, Cain’s lament indicates that other people besides his parents lived at that time.[19]

However, this portion of the text focuses upon his spiritual condition, rather on than human history. Therefore, Genesis cannot definitively answer speculation regarding whom he feared and where he would later find a wife (Gen 4:17).[20]

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a) Read Gen 4:11–14. How would Cain live as a result of his sin? What does this tell us about the value of human life? Why was Cain’s punishment too much for him to bear? How would you respond to that sentence?





Go to Banished from God’s Presence


[Related posts include Introduction to Genesis 1; The Lord Provides Food (Gen 1:29–30); A Well-Watered Garden (Gen 2:8–14); An Equal and Adequate Partner (Gen 2:21–23); Naked and Not Ashamed (Gen 2:25); God Curses the Serpent (Gen 3:14); The First Good News (Gen 3:15); An Anguishing Process (Gen 3:16); Thorns and Thistles (Gen 3:17–18); Driven Out (Gen 3:23–24); A Servant of the Ground and a Shepherd of a Flock (Gen 4:2‒5); Sin Lies Stretched Out (Gen 4:6‒7); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Misappropriated Blood (Gen 4:9‒10); Banished from God’s Presence (Gen 4:15‒16); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Brothers (Genesis 4:1‒16)]


[1]Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 2004), 128.

[2]Homer, The Odyssey (trans. A. T. Murray; LCL; Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press; Heinemann, 1919), 5.184–6,

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 107–8.

[4] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 98. There is no evidence that God cursed Adam or Eve.

[5] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 232.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 107.

[7] Walton, Genesis, 265.

[8]Walton, Genesis, 265.

[9] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 232.

[10]Philo, “On the Virtues,” in The Works of Philo, Vol. 3 (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; London: Bohn, 1855), 499,

[11] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 98.

[12] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 233.

[13] Schlimm, “From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Ethics of Anger in Genesis,” 342,

[14] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 108.

[15] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 108.

[16] Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 164.

[17] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 233.

[18] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 4:15.

[19] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 233.

[20] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 99.