In verse 11 of Genesis 4, God moves to the punishment phase of his case against Cain. God begins by putting a curse on Cain. The verse says, “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” The Handbook for Translators says, “In Adam’s case the ground was cursed, although the effect of the curse was directed against Adam himself; however, in this case it is Cain who is cursed directly.”[1] When one considers the consequences of eating from the forbidden fruit, we can see that pain, sorrow, animosity, and death will be part of man’s lot in life, but God did not literally “curse” the man or his wife. Satan was the only one cursed at that time. According to Hughes, “This is the first instance in Scripture where a human is cursed. Cain now shared this tragic distinction with the serpent (the language is the same as in 3:14).”[2]

Although Cain does not confess to the murder of his brother, God finds him guilty and passes a sentence on him in the form of a curse. Often, the blood of an individual and an individual’s life is the same thing in the Bible. Life is in the blood. We read in Leviticus 17:13-14, “Anyone also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.” The ground receives the remains of the flesh. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” But that’s not the ultimate resolution of life. Wadsworth wrote, “Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul.” The “ground” that opened its mouth to receive Abel’s blood is sometimes referred to as “Sheol.” Isaiah 5:14 uses this language. It says, “Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down.”  Kennedy says, “…at death the nephesh, as the bearer of the personality, descends into Sheol, while the ruah, which was the quickening influence in the person, returns to God from whom it came.”[3] That seems to be the intended meaning of Ecclesiastes 12:7, which says, “…the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

Sherman looks at this from the New Testament perspective and writes, “I suggest that in a Christian reading, this story arrives at its true climax and resolution in the narrative of Christ’s death and resurrection. That later story, too, has to do with a firstborn, but a firstborn who brings life, not death (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15–20; Rev 1:5). In that story, too, there is a spilling of a shepherd’s blood, but it is a pouring out that brings healing, not condemnation.” So, the author of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:24) compares the blood of Abel with the blood of Jesus. He writes, “…and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Sherman explains what he means by all this, “In other words, one could not have predicted the full consequence of Cain’s story until the unexpected story of Christ brings it full circle to a divinely appointed resolution.”[4]

[1] Reyburn, William David, and Euan McG. Fry. 1998. A Handbook on Genesis. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Hughes, R. Kent. 2004. Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[3] Kennedy, H. A. A. 1904. St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things. New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son.

[4] Sherman, Robert. 2004. King, Priest, and Prophet: A Trinitarian Theology of Atonement. London; New York: T&T Clark International.