According to the Scripture record, Cain, judged of God for his awful crime, is banished, and wanders forth into the country eastward of the land of Eden, in which it thus appears that the primeval family had hitherto sojourned. There is something more in this than meets the ear. Was this banishment so great a punishment? Cain thought so, and he could well judge. The land of Eden was not the garden of Eden, and though probably a fertile spot, there were doubtless other spots on earth as fair as that. He was banished from that which had been till now his home; and we may admit, that this was a greater punishment to the first-born man, than it has been to any since. Of the world that lay beyond that central spot, he had no knowledge. There is but a small portion of the earth with the condition of which we are unacquainted. The experience of innumerable travellers by land and sea is in our hands, to tell us what we may expect in any region to which we may go. But none had brought to the family in the land of Eden, the good or evil report of the world beyond; and, as the unknown is generally terrible, Cain may have conceived the outer world to be little better than a desolate waste.
But there was something more than this that made Cain feel this punishment to be greater than he could bear. He knew what that was, and he himself states it—“From thy face I shall be hid.” It does not seem to us that this refers to the internal consciousness of God’s favor and protection, which he felt that he should no longer possess. Cain could not be so ignorant as not to know, that this did net depend upon place, for it was within himself. He might have lacked this as much in staying as in going; and yet he speaks of it as that of which his departure would deprive him. We can only understand that he refers to some sensible and local manifestation of God’s presence, by which that spot was glorified, and from which distance would remove him. Having reached thus far, we are at no loss to find this manifestation in the sword-like flame, between the cherubim that kept the way of the tree of life. This we know was at the east end of the garden of Eden, and the garden itself was in the eastern part of the land of Eden. If, therefore, the first family remained in presence of the splendor and of the cherubim, they were on the east side of Eden, and one going directly therefrom would proceed eastward. And a corroboration of this view is afforded by the fact, that Cain is described as proceeding eastward when he “went out from the presence of the Lord.”—Gen_4:16.
When it is borne in mind, that the Mosaical law was to a great extent a renewal of ancient patriarchal usages, which had in the course of time become corrupted or obscured, we derive a strong confirmation of this view, from the fact, that under that law the presence of God was manifested among his people in the supernatural radiance or Shechinah which rested over the arch, between the cherubim; and as, in the land of Eden, we in like manner find the radiance and the cherubim, it is quite natural and allowable to suppose, that these objects occupied relatively the same position in the one sacred dispensation as in the other. This was then, we may infer, the symbol of “the presence of the Lord” from which Cain went forth; and from it probably issued the Voice which then pronounced his doom, and which had before graciously reasoned with him. In this Presence worship was rendered, and sacrifices were offered; and from it the signs of the Divine complacency or displeasure were afforded. That Cain regretted the privation of any spiritual privileges in being cast forth from the Presence of the Lord, may be doubted. But having grown up before it, he had no idea of life apart from it, and he probably regarded it as essential to his safety and temporal well-being. His mind was gross; and it may be questioned that he could realize the idea of a spiritual presence apart from the symbol. This is indicated in his attempt to conceal his crime from God, when asked what had become of his brother; and it has more than once occurred to us, that this fact is explained and illustrated by the supposition, that the murder was perpetrated in some spot where intervening objects—rocks or trees—hid the radiance from his view; and to which, therefore, he ventured to imagine that the Divine cognizance, embodied in that radiance, could not extend.
What state of mind Cain carried with him into his banishment, is not recorded in the sacred narrative, and cannot with certainty be known. That he repented of the murder of his brother—that a horror-stricken conscience attended him all his life long, that—
“He found, where’er he roamed, uncheered, unblest,
No pause from suffering, and from toil no rest,”
is probable, and may indeed be regarded as part of the doom denounced upon him. But that he truly repented—that there was any vital change in that evil of heart, which led to his sin, and entailed this punishment—there is no evidence to show. Indeed, the evidence inclines the other way; for, if he had clearly seen, and thenceforth eschewed the evil which had slain his peace, he could not but have brought up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But instead of that we find his descendants busy for the world, its policies, and interests—strong in arts and arms—but also “inventors of evil things,” filling the earth with violence, and urging on that deepening stream of corruption which eventually drowned the world.
Yet let us not ascribe all the evil of the old world to the race of Cain, or cast any needless stigma upon the great fathers of useful arts who are named as of his race. It was not until the times just before the flood that the corruption was universal; and then it was not confined to the seed of Cain, but extended to all but one small family of the race of the righteous Seth, not to speak of the descendants, probably numerous, of the other sons and daughters which the Scripture assigns to Adam. We may hope that in the earlier ages, there were many, even in Cain’s race, who lived and died in the fear of God. The family of Cain was, however, the first that went forth from the Presence of the Lord—and was thereby withdrawn from the paternal influence and instruction, as well as from the accustomed means of worship and incitements to obedience. The ordinary experience of life enables us to see that corruption and crime would soonest arise among such a people, and might from them extend to the other races of mankind.
The traditions and opinions of the Jews respecting the further career of Cain, as entertained at and about the time of our Savior, are embodied in the statement furnished by Josephus, who alleges that Cain, so far from amending his life after his sentence, plunged into deeper evils, and went on from crime to crime—abandoning himself to his lusts, and to all kinds of outrage, without regard to common justice. The wicked became his companions, and he enriched himself by rapine and violence. By the invention of weights and measures, he corrupted the simplicity and plain-dealing of former times; and exchanged the innocency of the primitive generosity and openness, by new contrivances of human policy and suspicious craft. He was the first who invaded the common rights of mankind by bounds and enclosures; and the first who built a city, and fortified and peopled it. Although much of this is absurd, and seems based on that ancient superstition which identifies great knowledge with great wickedness, it indicates the current of ancient opinion respecting the after-career of Cain; and that opinion was probably correct enough in its substantial purport, however absurdly illustrated.