The ground had opened its mouth to receive the blood of Abel from the hand of his brother Cain. God cursed Cain. In Genesis 4:12, God told him, “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” The literal reading of God’s curse on Cain, which began in verse 11, says that Cain is cursed, “From the ground.” The curse “from the ground” could mean several different things. Some suggest that it might mean that the ground will not produce crops for Cain anymore, which would amount to something like, “You are placed under a curse and can no longer farm the soil.” Others suggest that God is telling Cain that he is “more” cursed than the ground, which was cursed after his father’s sin. Connecting it with verse 12, it seems best to understand this as cursing Cain’s production when he farms. The ground from which he produced his living before was the ground that received his brother’s blood, and now, because of his sin, the ground will not readily yield its crops to him. This seems to be why he is also cursed to be a “fugitive and wanderer on the earth.” Cain and his family appear to be the first Nomads on the earth. He becomes a people who live chiefly by hunting and fishing and harvesting wild food. Thus, he must follow the game and move from field to field to find food.

Walton sees this likewise. He writes, “In the garden, there was the lush provision of food; outside the garden (where Adam and Eve were sent) there was arable land with cultivation being possible; Cain is driven to a place that has no hope of agriculture so that one must survive by hunting and gathering. Thus, food provision again takes a central place as the blessing becomes more and more difficult to attain. Likewise, since Cain denies responsibility for the family, he is deprived of the family (the other component of the blessing).”[1] Wiersbe says, “Cain had defiled the ground with his brother’s blood, and now the ground wouldn’t work for him. If Adam toiled and struggled day after day, he would get a harvest (Vv. 17–19); but there would never be fruit from his labors for Cain. So, he couldn’t continue as a farmer. All he could do was wander from place to place and eke out a living.”[2]

The curse of becoming a fugitive contains more negative implications. He is not only wandering from place to place; he is running and hiding from something. Some think that God should have been harder on Cain for his sin. Matthew Henry compares the movement of Satan on the earth as described in the book of Job with Cain’s curse. Job says that Satan told God that he had been “moving to and fro throughout the earth.” Henry says, “Perhaps it is spoken fretfully, and with discontent. He had been walking to and fro and could find no rest but was as much a fugitive and a vagabond as Cain in the land of Nod. (3.)”[3] God did not exact the death penalty on Cain. He will give man the right to protect the innocent with the death penalty for murderers after the flood, but he did not exact that penalty on Cain. Shakespeare Said, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” Anna Desai blogged, “It is a moral statement. If one is brave, one maintains one’s dignity, fights injustice and even dies for a cause, once and for all having lived a virtuous life. For cowards, they are unable to face difficult situations for themselves and their families; they are prepared to lose dignity. which is comparable to death every time they shamefully run away from a problem.”[4] Cain would run!

[1] Walton, John H. 2001. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Wiersbe, Warren W. 1998. Be Basic. “Be” Commentary Series. Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.

[3] Henry, Matthew. 1994. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson.