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God cursed Cain to be an eternal wanderer, so he went to a (probably figure-of-speech) land of wandering, the land of Nod, this much I understand. But then he builds the first city, Enoch. How is it compatible with being an eternal wanderer?

UPD: The principal source on which I base the claim that he indeed was sentenced to be an eternal wanderer is Genesis 4:12.

Genesis 4:12 King James Version

When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

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3 Answers 3

Here's the problem. The translation you're using is not a very good translation. This is the verse you're referring to (in a translation that actually supports your argument):

In Genesis 4:12 (NIV), God tells Cain

When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.

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The phrase here, "then in moaning and trembling you will be upon the earth". That is what is often translated as "restless wanderer" or "fugitive and vagabond"

Why? Well, let's dig in:

stenochōria Strongs 2532 dire calamity, extreme affliction

kaiv Strongs 2532 and etc

tremō Strongs 5141 tremble, to fear, be afraid

eimi Strongs 1510 to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

epi Strongs 1909 upon, on, at etc

ho Strong 3588 this, that, these

Strongs 1093 arable land, ground, the earth as a whole, a country, region, etc

So, the idea is with "[dire calamity/extreme affliction] and [trembling/fear] you [will exist/be present] upon [the earth/the land/the region]".

That doesn't really say anywhere that he will wander or that he will never stop wandering. However, if you combine these two concepts: fear and affliction, it's understandable that the translators could interpret that as someone who would wander.

If I was full of fear and troubled with distress, I would probably wander as well.

However, having said this, I have no idea why they chose that translation. It seems to be a poor translation of this phrase.

Given a decent understanding of the curse, it should be easier to see that building a city and being fearful and in distress do not conflict.

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I still don't understand what the curse consisted of, but you made a good point. –  Alexei Averchenko Aug 31 '11 at 20:55
Yeah, it gets thick when you go Greek. Basically the curse was that his life will be filled with fear and affliction. Not so much "wandering". (Granted, that there is also a translation, but it's word-for-word, which also has its faults.) –  Richard Aug 31 '11 at 21:01
Why are you working from (I presume) the LXX rather than Hebrew? –  Peter Taylor Aug 31 '11 at 23:07
Good question! It's from the Apostolic Bible. It looks like it is the LXX! That could account for some of the differences. ;) –  Richard Aug 31 '11 at 23:24
Ahh, the newly inspired version! –  Matt Nov 28 '13 at 1:45

Nothing there says he was an "eternal" wanderer. It says he will be a "fugitive" and a "vagabond" - in other words, a criminal.

If you go on further you see that Cain was marked by God so no one would kill him (the appropriate punishment for murder, as seen later in the Law given to Israel through Moses). He subsequently left the "Presence" of God, and fled to the land of Nod to live there. No where does it say he would wander, and certainly not eternally.

Genesis 4:12->16, KJV.

12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13 And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
16 ¶And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

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Can you elaborate a bit? What would happen if someone caught Cain? Why did he found a city if he was afraid of it? –  Alexei Averchenko Aug 31 '11 at 16:32
@AlexeiAverchenko: I think it's obvious what would have happened. It's right there - someone would have killed him (execution) for killing his brother. He founded a city because he had descendants, what part of this contains "he was afraid of it?" –  RolandiXor Aug 31 '11 at 17:17
After he was given the mark, what was his punishment? He was essentially given immunity from execution, so what was his punishment? –  Alexei Averchenko Aug 31 '11 at 19:05
@AlexeiAverchenko God extended grace to him through giving him a mark, so that he did not receive the deserved execution. We do not know (because it is not said) whether Cain ever walked with God after that. However what is important here is that God gave him a second chance through sparing his life. –  RolandiXor Aug 31 '11 at 19:42
So he did not receive any punishment, right? –  Alexei Averchenko Aug 31 '11 at 19:44

@Alexi Averchenko v.14 "I will be hidden from your presence" v.16 "so Cain went out from the Lord's presence" That is the ultimate punishment. He apparently understood that he no longer had access to fellowship with God. What greater punishment could he receive? Whether he built a city or not is a mute point regarding Cain's punishment. Cain went on and had his own family and built at least one city (Gen 4:17) but all were godless. Incidentally, the account of Lamech, five generations from Cain, records that he was also a murderer (Gen 4:23). Any acquisition could never fill the absence of God. That's why he said "My punishment is more than I can bear" (Gen 4:13).

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