8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Consider the magnitude of contempt for the LORD that is packed inside of Cain’s response. Cain has just assumed the right to destroy Abel, a being of the highest value to the LORD. Is not this the ultimate position of responsibility that one human can assume over another? And yet, Cain not only lies about Abel’s disposition, but also throws this defiant challenge back at the LORD, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What possible madness could possess a man to address the LORD God so? How could the LORD God allow a mortal to so address Him and not be made such an example that none would ever dare to do so again?
10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Listen deeply to the LORD’s words, “”What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Is there not the sense of a grieving parent in these anguished words? It is as if the LORD is looking past Cain’s contempt and into the abyss of sin that has just been opened wider and sunk deeper by Cain’s act.
13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the LORD said to him, “Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
So, we have our answer. In response to Cain’s acts of murder and contempt the LORD renders a punishment that has within it the provision of mercy. This is far short of a grisly example that would have echoed down the ages of man. To understand why this is so is to begin to understand what sets this LORD God apart from the multitude of gods who have competed, and still compete, for man’s allegiance.