Meredith G. Kline, “The Oracular Origin of the State” in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies: Essays in Honor of William Sanford LaSor, ed. by G.A. Tuttle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, pp. 132-141.

Because of an overall misreading of Gen 4:15 and a misleading fascination with the supposed “mark of Cain” in particular, the import of this verse as an inceptive divine disclosure concerning the institution of the state has escaped attention. It is set in a judicial context. Form-critical analysis has led to the observation that Genesis 4 exhibits a legal-court pattern closely paralleling the judgment pattern in Genesis 3.

[1] Within the judicial process, Gen 4:15 is a response of the judge to a complaint against his judgment. Direction in the quest for the meaning of the response may be expected from a study of the appeal (Gen 4: 13, 14).


Cain’s complaint-appeal is expressed in the quantitative terms common in negotiations of various kinds: [2] “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (4:13). The alternative interpretation of v 13 as an acknowledgment by Cain that his sin was beyond forgiveness is not favored by the active form of the infinitive or by Cain’s concern, as he continues his complaint (4:14), with the severity of the punishment — not with the enormity of his sin.

Banishment from the face of the ground (v 14a) and from the face of God (v 14b) — so Cain saw his punishment. In the second half of v 14 the significance of each aspect of the punishment mentioned in the first half of the verse is traced in turn, so that the verse as a whole assumes an A:B::A ‘:B’ form. To be driven from the death-defiled ground, forced to leave by its refusal to yield him its life, was to be doomed to an unsettled, wandering exile existence (v 14c). To be denied access to the face of God was to be abandoned to the mortal perils of a lawless world (v 14d). Cain laments that the ground will not respond to his labor and, far more intolerable, God will not respond to his cry.

It is this second (or B) element in Cain’s description of his fate to which God’s response (v 15) is addressed, and what needs to be perceived if we are to understand v 15 is the juridical nature of the situation referred to in v 14b and d. “I will be hidden from your face” (v 14b). The point of Cain’s complaint is that he will be denied God’s judicial oversight. The N-stem of the verb is not to be taken here as reflexive, but passive. [3] Cain does not bemoan the fact that he must henceforth ever be trying to conceal himself from God’s judicial scrutiny. Quite the contrary, it is the absence of such scrutiny that worries him — not, to be sure, the absence of scrutiny of his own actions but of the violence that threatens him.

The judicial connotation is regularly present when it is said that God hides his face. [4] The expression is common in the lament genre in the Psalms, which is a form of legal (covenantal) appeal. In Psalm 27, for example, where the writer describes himself as seeking God’s face (v.8) [5] and pleads with God not to hide his face (v 9a), the judicial significance of that plea becomes evident as the psalmist goes on to request that he not be abandoned to the hostility of false witnesses who are testifying against him (v 12). Constantly, where the image is found in the Psalter, the concern is for divine judicial intervention. How long will God hide his face? Let God hear the cry of the psalmist and see the evil done against him; let God speedily exercise judgment, delivering the afflicted and requiting his enemy (Pss 10: 11; 13:2; 22:25; 30:8; 44:25; 69: 18; 88: 15; 102:3; 143:7). Job asks why God hides his face as he pleads — in vain it seems — for a legal hearing for his mysterious case (Job 13:24; cf. 18ff.). In the covenant administration defined in Deuteronomy, the hiding of God’s face from Israel means his absence from their midst (Deut 31:17,18), not entering into judgment in their behalf to avenge their blood (Deut 32:20; cf. 35-36,41ff.). A similar usage is found in the prophets (Isa 8: 17; Mic 3:4).

The passive formulation, which is used in Gen 4: 14b (Cain will be hidden from God’s face), has the same judicial connotation as the active. [6] Thus, in Isa 40:27, Israel’s complaint that its way is hidden from God has as its parallel the thought that God disregards Israel’s plea for vindicating judgment. In Jer 16: 17, the fact that the offenders’ ways are not hidden from God’s face means that his eyes are upon their iniquity to recompense it (cf. Ps 10: 11). [7] See also Ps 38: 10; Job 3:23; and Isa 65:16.

In view of Gen 4: 16a (lit. “Cain went away from the face of Yahweh”), it may be that the similar terminology of Cain’s complaint intends to suggest that his hiddenness from God will be attributable to the distance that will be put between him in his exile east of Eden and the presence of God in the garden. Of course, that would be to misconstrue the significance of the Creator’s special theophanic identification with his garden-sanctuary. But one need not expect Cain to be orthodox. In fact, for Cain to suggest that his problem was a matter of geography is precisely the kind of obscurantism that is to be expected here. The theme of the obscuration of man’s ethical responsibility by metaphysical theories of existential predicament begins with the Satanic version of man’s probationary decision. Ignoring the issue of sovereign, divine command and human obedience, Satan reduced the matter to a question of metaphysical evolution towards godhood (Gen 3:5). Subsequently, Adam explained his hiding from God’s presence as due to his nakedness, a physical problem for which it had seemed reasonable to seek a geographical solution-behind the trees (Gen 3:8-10). [8] That is the theological tradition in which Cain stood. Moreover, avoidance of confession of blame and guilt would be consistent with Cain’s own previous behavior. But though Cain’s statement would thus involve the idea of physical separation from God, that idea would still figure only as the (false) rationale for the problem of judicial hiddenness which constitutes the essential point of the complaint: in his accursed exile from Eden he will be beyond the range of God’s judicial oversight.

Apparently, Cain once again feels aggrieved by the difference in God’s treatment of him and his brother. God’s rejection of Cain’s offering had prompted the jealous hatred that led to the murder of the favored Abel (Gen 4:4ff.). Now Cain sees another instance of discrimination in the fact that God hears and heeds the legal plea [9] of Abel’s blood calling for vengeance (Gen 4:10ff.), [10] whereas, as Cain supposes, his own cry for judicial assistance will not reach the ears of God over the distance put between them.

The consequences of the judicial dereliction Cain anticipates (Gen 4: 14b) will be, he laments, that everyone in the family of mankind, kinsmen all of his innocent victim, Abel, will be let loose in a mindless blood feud to take vengeance on him (v 14d): “Everyone who finds me will kill me.” [11] Hidden from God’s face, he will have no judge to appeal to. Society east of Eden will be devoid of God’s judicial ordering. Cain will be exposed to lawless men bent on vengeance. He will be ex lex on a God-forsaken earth.

What Cain dreaded as his fate was that unbearable forsakenness depicted as overtaking the one who speaks in the lament of Psalm 22. In his suffering he complains that he is abandoned to the malice of the encompassing wicked: “Everyone that sees me laughs me to scorn (v 8) . . . . My God, why have you forsaken me. . . . I cry . . . you do not hear” (vv 2,3; cf. Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). Thus he suffers until God heeds his cry and ceases to hide his face from him (v 25).


That Cain’s world was not now totally severed from God’s judicial interest, as he complained, was made at once evident by the fact that this complaint received a hearing and a response (Gen 4: 15). Agreeably, the content of the response was to the effect that there would be a divinely sanctioned law structure in man’s fallen exile-world. The response contains no direct reflection on the first element in this complaint; man was indeed to be an outcast, a creature driven across the face of the cursed earth. But the second element of the complaint is dealt with explicitly in the response. God does not mitigate his announced judgment, but he does clarify it, correcting Cain’s misconception. [12] God’s face will not be hidden; there will be an exercise of the divine imperium among men (v 15a; cf. v 14b). Hence, the situation will not be such that Cain will be a prey to anarchical terrorism (v 15b; cf. v 14d).

The introductory laken gives the response the formal character of a solemn affirmation. This word, usually mistranslated “therefore,” signalizes a vow, binding asseveration or oath. [13] It is often found introducing divine declarations, either by itself or with formulae of oracular pronouncement like “thus says Yahweh,” “utterance of Yahweh,” and the oath formula ”as I live.” [14] It is used in statements sealing agreements or providing guarantees of commitments (cf. Gen 30: 15; Exod 6:6; Num 25: 12; Judg 11 :8; 1 Sam 28;2; 2 Kgs 19:32; 22:20; Isa 7: 14; 61:7). Of particular interest for the interpretation of Gen 4:15 is the usage of laken in conjunction with ‘ot (Isa 7: 14; cf. Isa 37:30,33; 2 Kgs 19:29,32).

“If anyone kills Cain, he shall be avenged sevenfold.” This asseveration of Gen 4:15a is in the form of a law, the formulation being of an infrequent type in which the offense is expressed by a participle [15] and the penalty by a third-person imperfect (usually preceded by an infinitive absolute). [16] God’s response to Cain is then to be seen as the promulgation of a law-a law that envisaged the establishment of an entire law-order.

In the laws with participial protasis the subject of the verb in the penalty clause (usually mot yumat, “he shall be put to death”) is the offender denoted by the participle. But in the apodosis in Gen 4:15a a different verb (yuqqam) is used, and the reference made by Lamech to this divine pronouncement later in the same chapter (v 24) indicates that the object, not the subject, of the participial action is the subject in this penalty clause. However, even though the law says that Cain is to be avenged rather than that vengeance is to be taken on the one who kills him, the avenging of Cain is to be accomplished through the punishment of his slayer. Either way, therefore, this divine legal provision calls for the punishment of the murderer and thereby institutes a structure for the administration of justice — a structure that was to be more precisely defined by subsequent revelation. [17]

This judicial order is characterized by the prescription in Gen 4:15 as an administration of divine justice. For the adverbial sib’atayim ‘sevenfold,’ which serves instead of the infinitive absolute usually used in laws of this type to strengthen the verb in the penalty ‘clause, describes the stipulated vindication as divine in its ultimate authority. In support of that, it will suffice here to mention only some of the more pertinent data. The brief selection does, however, represent a variety of literary traditions and the passages individually are reflective of Gen 4:15 in various ways.

From the revelatory form of the divine work of creation (Gen 1:1-2:3) seven emerges as a sign of divine action in its perfection. This sabbath-seven sign in the heightened form of the Jubilee symbol is connected with divine vindication when the final Jubilee, the messianic misarum act, finds exposition as “the day of vindication (naqam) of our God” (Isa 61:2b). In Leviticus 26, the curse with which God threatens Israel for breach of his covenant, the covenant whose sign is the sabbath, is called a “vindication of the covenant” (v 25), and it consists in his punishing them sevenfold for their sin (v 24). [18] From the historical records of the monarchy comes the account of the sevenfold avenging of the Gibeonites for Saul’s blood-guilt with reference to them (2 Sam 21:1 ff.). That it is a matter of divine vindication is evident from several factors: the episode unfolds from a judicial response of the Lord to David, who has sought God’s face; the offense was a violation of an oath in God’s name; and the punishment takes place “before Yahweh.” Turning to the Psalms, the lament of Psalm 79 appeals to God to avenge the blood of his people and vindicate his name (vv 9,10) by returning the taunts of the enemy sevenfold into their bosom (v 12). The same motif appears in the New Testament apocalyptic tradition in the judicial appeal of the martyrs to the Lord to avenge their blood (Rev 6: 10). This appeal is set within the framework of the book with the seven seals, and, more significantly, the sevenfold judgment series of the seven trumpets and the seven vials of divine wrath are both presented as responses to these appeals of God’s people for vindication (Rev 8:3,4 and 15:7; cf. 5:8). [19] It is then a common conception throughout biblical literature that sevenfold vindication is divine vindication. [20]

Mendenhall, in his illuminating study of the root nqm, shows that in its biblical usage, as elsewhere, the taking of vengeance into one’s own hands in blood feud in a situation devoid of orderly legal procedure is not what is in view. “Instead of representing merely a primitive custom incompatible with any stable peaceful society, the root NQM has to do with the very foundations of political legitimacy and authority long before the time of Moses.” [21] The “vengeance of Yahweh” is an exercise of the legitimate divine sovereignty, or imperium, whether for defensive or punitive vindication. As for Genesis 4, Mendenhall feels the two occurrences of nqm there are probably survivals of an old usage in which it had associations with the blood feud, but he qualifies that with the observation that the custom is attributed in Genesis 4 to the intervention and authority of Yahweh. [22] And that, he suggests, strongly implies that God is to be understood as the logical subject of the action denoted there by nqm.

It would appear that the Genesis 4 usage of nqm is actually quite consistent with the normal usage as Mendenhall has analyzed it. In the case of Gen 4:15, what is authorized by Yahweh is not the custom of blood feud, but precisely the kind of political-judicial order whose legitimate acts of vindication are normally denoted by the root nqm, and, indeed, one that is ultimately an administration of God’s own imperium. Quite apart from the presence of the root nqm in this verse, we have seen that the divine response is a correction of Cain’s false assumption that he was being driven into a situation of lawless vengeance. The fact that nqm is used in the penalty clause of this divine prescription is, in the light of Mendenhall’s study, highly significant as a further confirmation that Gen 4:15 contemplates the establishment of an institutional structure for a legitimate judicial office in man’s fallen world.

Understood as a foundational revelation of the judicial order of the state, Gen 4:15 fits coherently into the thematic development of the early chapters of Genesis. The Lord’s earlier judicial pronouncements concerning fallen mankind (Gen 3:16ff.) revealed that history was to be informed by the principle of common grace-common curse, with the institution of the family continuing as a societal framework for man’s cultural occupation. The Gen 4:15 disclosure supplemented that with its intimation of the emergence of the authority-structure of the state as a further provision of the common grace of God. It is with precisely this theme of the city of man that the narrative continues in Gen 4:17ff., [23] and the second occurrence of nqm in Genesis 4 is in the declaration of one who stands in the dynastic succession of the city. Lamech’s boast (Gen 4:23, 24) cites the tradition about the divine avenging of Cain, but Lamech repudiates the divine authorization of his office. Absolutizing the judicial authority in himself, he regards himself incomparably more competent for vengeance than any deity who might have promised Cain sevenfold vengeance. The seventy-sevenfold vengeance Lamech threatens is not an escalation of the blood feud but an idolatrous perverting of the divine institution of the state. [24] When the city of man theme resumes in Gen 6:1ff., this ideology of divine kingship becomes explicit in the self-identification of the royal tyrants as sons of the gods. [25] The judgment of God overtook the world of Genesis 6, but immediately after the record of the deluge the narrative returns to the theme of the city of man. And in the postdiluvian covenant by which God renewed the earth-order of common grace, the stipulation concerning the state’s avenging function is presented in terms drawn from Genesis 4. The murder to be avenged is a Cain-like act of fratricide (Gen 9:5). The authorization of blood-vindication is formulated in the participial style of Gen 4: 15 (Gen 9:6), and this interrelationship furnishes additional support of the present thesis. [26]

God’s legally formulated response to Cain’s complaint (Gen 4:15a) gave solemn assurance that his face would not be hidden (cf. v 14b), for he would establish in his common grace the political order of the state as an authority ordained of God, a minister of God to execute his vengeance in this world. Cain was not provided with a divine guarantee that he would never be a murderer’s victim. Verse 15a assumes the possibility of Cain’s being killed and simply tells him that in that event there will be divine vindication. [27] Cain had not complained that he had no guarantee of absolute inviolability but that he would be exposed to absolute anarchy. The divine response announces that, on the contrary, controls will be instituted. Just as the curse addressed to Adam and Eve (Gen 3: 16ff.) — the curse with the implicit disclosure of common-grace provisions — had in view all men and women, so this supplementary disclosure of the common-grace order, though directed to Cain, had to do with all mankind. After all, why should Cain have been singled out for a unique individual protection from lawless violence? [28] Cain would participate in the benefit that would be afforded by the promised law-order, but that was just incidental to the common provision for all.

Gen 4: 15a answers to v 14b, and v 15b corresponds to v 14d. Thus, in Gen 4: 15b the language of Cain’s complaint in v 14d is repeated in order to negate its point: since the world would not be a lawless chaos, but judicially structured, it would not really be the case that anyone and everyone who came upon Cain would be bent on killing him.

The present interpretation differs from the usual views as to the general structure of Gen 4: 15. According to most interpreters the first part of the verse quotes God’s response and the second part relates an additional action. But on the view taken here, v 15b does not refer to some distinct divine act but is rather a recapitulation of God’s response. [29] Grammatically, this clause with waw-consecutive plus imperfect is of the narrative summation type where the waw may be translated “thus.” [30] The word ‘ot, on this view, refers to the divine response quoted in v 15a. We must return to the question of the meaning of ‘ot, but may first observe that the infinitive clause following ‘ot is not a negative final clause but a restatement of the substance of God’s response. A similar use of the infinitive after ‘ot to express the substance of the’ ‘sign” is found in Ezekiel 20: “[the sabbath] will be a sign between me and you, an acknowledgment that I, Yahweh, am your God” (v 20; cf. v 12). Gen 19:21 offers an interesting grammatical and situational parallel to Gen 4:15. Here too it is a matter of response to an appeal in the midst of judgment. Lot bargains with the Lord of the angels for a small concession (vv 19,20). The response assures him that his request is granted and the content of that grant (which is one with the content of the appeal [31] ) is expressed, as in Gen 4:15b, by lebilti and the infinitive: “I grant you this request that I should not overthrow the city.” Translating Gen 4:15b accordingly, it reads (freely): “Thus Yahweh gave Cain an ‘ot to the effect that everyone who came upon him would not be out to kill him.”

As for the word ‘ot, it is first to be noted that it may have a verbal rather than visual character. [32] It is used for prophecies delivered without any visual accompaniment then and there (cf. Isa 7: 14; 37:30; Deut 13:2). In the encounter of Isaiah with Ahaz the verbal ‘ot that God gives is in definite contrast to the visible kind of sign that Ahaz had refused. A prediction embodied in a name is designated an ‘ot. Isaiah and his children are “signs” (Isa 8: 18) by virtue of their prophetic names (cf. Isa 7:3; 8:3; 12:2); in effect, it is their names that constitute the sign. [33] In Exod 3:12, God gives as an ‘ot that he has sent Moses a verbal assurance that after the exodus Israel will serve God on this mountain where he was now speaking to Moses. A similar usage is found in Josh 2: 12. The ‘ot Rahab requests is usually identified as the scarlet cord (cf. vv 18,21), but it seems rather to be a reference to the oath that has just been mentioned. Rahab asks the spies to swear by Yahweh (v 12a) and specifies that their oath be one of fidelity (Qesed) to her father’s house (v 12b). Then, repeating her request, she asks that they give an ‘ot of truth or faithfulness (’emet) to her (v 12c), again specifying that they show mercy to her family (v 13). In complying, the spies unite the doubled request, committing themselves to deal with her in both Qesed and ’emet (v 14). Apparently, commentators have missed what seems to be the obvious identification of this ‘ot with the oath [34] precisely because they have been under the domination of the notion that an ‘ot must be something visible.

An ‘ot may then consist simply of words. We must, however, try to identify the special characteristics of statements that may be so designated. It would appear from the above examples that within the sphere of religious relationship at least, ‘ot is applicable to affirmations of intention, assurances of commitment, prophetic guarantees. Moreover, all these instances involve divine authentication of the trustworthiness of what is affirmed. The ‘ot-statement is directly spoken by God, inspired by God or sanctioned by his name. [35]

It is in the light of this usage that ‘ot is to be understood in Gen 4:15b. Verse 15a, the referent of ‘ot, is a direct divine revelation, a self-authenticating divine word, prophetically decretive, affirming God’s intention to institute a judicial order. Enhancing the ‘ot-character of this oracular pronouncement and affording it an oath quality [36] is the inclusion in it of the symbolic seven, sign of divine presence and sanction.

There is then no reference in Gen 4:15 to an unspecified wonder-sign that God performed for Cain’s personal assurance, with the reader left to speculate about what it might have been. And certainly the language does not suggest a “mark of Cain” imprinted on his body. Such interpretations assume that Cain was being given a special individual guarantee, but that, as we have seen, is not the point of the passage. It is rather concerned with a general world-order that would condition the life of all men. The meaning of the passage will therefore be brought out if we translate, not “And Yahweh gave a sign to Cain,” but “Thus Yahweh signified to Cain that. . . .”

The author’s concern with the subject of God’s judicial relation to men is attested once again in Genesis 4 when he turns from the Cainite succession to the line of Seth (vv 25,26). For he capsulates the nature of this community in their act of confessing (naming) Yahweh as covenant Lord to whom their judicial appeal was directed. There is, of course, a radical difference between the exercise of God’s imperium that is in view in Gen 4: 15, and his vindication of the blood of Abel and the martyr-seed of the woman restored in the line of Seth and continuing to the last judgment (cf. Rev 6: 10,11). To Cain, God signified that for mankind in general he would provide in his common grace an institutional agent to bear the sword of his wrath in the temporal course of world history (cf. Rom 13:4). For the people of his covenant, God’s judicial vindication is an act of his saving grace, a coming in personal immediacy as their eschatological, redemptive Avenger.


1. In a recent reexamination of the matter, W. M. Clark finds nine elements in this pattern, covering the entire episode from the initial imposition of divine obligation to the execution of judgment (“The Flood and the Structure of the Pre-patriarchal History,” ZAW 83 [1971]: 195-203). Narrative development, style and specific vocabulary all come under the influence of the judicial form.
2. Cf. expressions like “is it too small,” “it is enough,” “too much,” “how long,” “speedily.” This is a point of contact between Cain’s lament and Psalter laments. On this, see further, p. 133. 3. In other instances of the phrase with the verb in the N-stem (see below), the reflexive meaning is not suitable because of the impersonal nature of the subject of the action. If, with M. Dahood (Psalms I [AB 16; New York: Doubleday, 1965]: 64), we regard the verb as an infixed-t formation of sur (‘turn aside’), the reflexive meaning would be awkward even in Gen 4:14.
4. If Dahood’s parsing of the verb is correct (see n. 3), an adjustment in the translation is necessary, but this would not affect our discussion of the judicial force of the idiom.
5. The use of this idiom by the vassals of the Pharaoh (EA 165:5ff.) shows that it has been adopted from the secular judicial field to express the religious-covenantal relationship.
6. On Dahood’s parsing (see n. 3 above), the passive form would mean that something had been turned aside or removed from God’s presence or attention. In Gen 4: 14b, an excellent parallelism with the image of being driven away in v 14a then results.
7. Relevant here is the evidence, biblical and extra-biblical, for the use of this eye-terminology in connection with the royal office of surveillance and investigation.
8. This hiding in Genesis 3 is a case of the offenders hiding themselves from judicial exposure and punishment. The verb (N and HtD of “aba’) is not the one used in Gen 4: 14. But this close parallel to our Genesis 4 passage does lead us to expect that the hiding from the face of God in the latter will also have a judicial orientation.
9. Cf. Gen 18:20; Deut 22:24,27; 2 Kgs 8:3; Job 16:18.
10. See Ps 18:7 for an expansion of the idea of the “voice” coming before the divine judge.
11. In a discussion of this passage commendable for its perception of what some of the real issues are, R. Rushdoony (The Institutes of Biblical Law [Nutley, NJ: Craig, 1973]: 358ff.) presents an interpretation of Cain’s fear quite the reverse of that offered above. He suggests that Cain fears not the absence of a judicial authority structure but the existence of one, namely, the already existing law-order of the family. Then, according to Rushdoony, God acts to protect Cain from execution by the family because God’s design for the family’s role in law enforcement excludes the execution of the death penalty, that being reserved for the state when it should emerge.
12. W. M. Clark ([N I): 197) interprets Gen 4:15 as a mitigation of the sentence and sees it as corresponding in this respect to v 21 in the parallel Genesis 3 pattern.
13. Cf. F. C. Goldbaum, “Two Hebrew Qua.~i-Adverbs: 1:J? and 1:JK,” JNES 23 (1964): 132-34. Is it composed of emphatic lamed and ken, ‘yes,’ a compact ‘verily, verily’? “Agreed!” would be a suitable translation in many cases; it is an equivalent of’ amen.
14. See Ezek 5:11; 35:6,11; Zeph 2:9; cf. Jer 5:2 (where the laken is possibly to be taken as a quotation of the false swearers); I Kgs 22: 16, 19; Isa 5: 13, 14,24 (where laken is an alternate for’ im 1o’ ).
15. The reinforcing of the participle of the protasis by kol is found elsewhere in legal, decretive and imprecatory genre. See J. G. Williams, “Concerning One of the Apodictic Formulas,” VT 14 (1964): 486-88. Cf. Exod 22:18.
16. See Exod 21:15,17; 22:17,19; 31:14; Lev 24:16; cf. Lev 20:2,9-13,15,16,27. Alt’s classification of the participial formulation as apodictic does not commend itself. The participial protasis is simply a variation of the usual “if” clause in casuistic law. Cf. G. J. Wenham, “Legal Forms in the Book of the Covenant,” Tyndale Bulletin 22 (1971): 102; M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972): 239.
17. In Exod 21 :20, a law dealing with the killing of a slave, naqom yinnaqem appears in the penalty clause. G. E. Mendenhall, commenting on the ambiguity of the subject, whether master or slave, observes that neither one is the logical subject of the passive verb. “Rather, it is a command that the sovereign authority of Yahweh should be placed in action in order to punish/redress an action that is incompatible with the sovereignty of that same ultimate authority” (The Tenth Generation [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1973]: 91).
18. The sevenfold covenant curse appears in the extra-biblical treaties too. See, e.g., Sefire I.A.27ff. and II.A.6ff. (KAI 222, 223).
19. Judicial appeal, constituting, as it thus does, the setting for the major structural heptads of the book, emerges as a fundamental perspective in the Apocalypse. The book revolves around the appeal of the martyr-church for covenantal vindication-“Come, Lord Jesus”-and his response as Lord of the covenant and Judge of the nations, giving assurance of timely judicial intervention-“l come quickly.” Such is the closing summation in Rev 22:20.
20. Cf. also Gen 7:2,3; 21:28ff.; Lev 4:6,17; 8:11; lsa 30:26; Ps 12:7; Prov 6:31. The association of seven with oaths is to be noted in view of the combination of the seven motif and laken, itself an introduction to oaths, in Gen 4: 15.
21. Mendenhall (N 17): 75. 22. Mendenhall (N 17): 74, 88. 23. As. this narrative shows, the curse of exile was tempered by a measure of stability and community. And it was this city community that was invested with the judicial function referred to in God’s response to Cain. Gen 4:15 does then speak indirectly to Cain’s complaint about his exile-existence (Gen 4: 14a and c) but without having to correct his understanding of this aspect of his judgment.
24. Lamech’s conjoined claims of seventy-sevenfold vengeance and divine status are another indication of the significance of seven as a divine emblem in the sevenfold avenging of Gen 4:15. 25. Cf. my “Divine Kingship and Genesis 6:1-4,” WTJ 24 (1962): 187-204.
26. Clark ([N 1]: 196) sees in this stylistic comparison evidence of a possible “legal background” for Gen 4:15.
27. For posthumous vindication compare the case of the slain slave in Exod 21:20.
28. God’s judgment on Cain’s act of murder was, indeed, distinctive in its sentence of exile rather than the death penalty subsequently prescribed for that crime; but that is another matter.
29. B. Jacob (Das erste Buch der Tora-Genesis [Berlin: Schocken, 1934]: 146) adopts a similar view of the structure, but in other respects his exegesis differs widely from that given here. According to Jacob, Cain is told that he will be punished (not avenged) and yet he himself will not be killed because the punishment will descend only after a sevenfold delay. Jacob’s handling of the participial phrase in v 15a is particularly awkward; taking it as a broken quotation of v 14d, he detaches it from the following clause. .
30. Cf., e.g., Gen 21:32a and Josh 24:25.
31. In the responses to both Cain and Lot, their positive statements are recast in negative form.
32. The discussion of’ ot by K. H. Rengstorf (“(Jf1fA.EtOV ,” TDNT 7 [1971]: 209 ff., esp. 211f.)’does not do justice to the evidence for the nonvisual usage. The argument drawn from the association of ‘ot with ra’all is pressed too far, particularly in view of the range of meaning ot ra’all (cf., e.g., Isa 13: 1). 33. Note the contrast between the ‘ot function of Isaiah and his sons (Isa 8:18) and the hiding of Yahweh’s face from the house of Jacob (v 17).
34. In Isa 19:20 ‘or is a synonym of ‘ed, ‘witness,’ in a context of judicial appeal and response.
35. Foundational to the general semantic development of ‘ot is its formal function of pointing or identifying. It is used as a synonym for the identifying name (Isa 55: 13; Exod 13:9; cf. 3: 15) and as a designation of the name-bearing standard (Num 2:2; cf. Isa 19:19,20). Also, “signs” are given so that people might know God’s name, Yahweh. It was natural then that in theological usage’ ot should designate what identified or named God as author, whether the self-authenticating word spoken or inspired by God, or the event — supernatural happening or fulfillment of prediction — that pointed in attestation to the divine identity of such a word.
It is beyond the scope of this article to attempt a broad lexical survey of ‘ot, but it should be observed that the relation of ‘ot to Akkadian ittu (‘sign’) has been dismissed too lightly in the treatments of ‘ot in the theological dictionaries (cf. K. H. Rengstorf [N 32]: 209 and F. J. Helfmeyer, TDOT 1 [1974]: 167). The semantic range of the two is remarkably similar and this makes it difficult not to accept an etymological relationship (cf. especially the idat- base of ittu). The common duplication of ittu written ..(.ME~ GISKIM.ME~, “signs and wonders,” is an interesting parallel to the frequent biblical combination of’ otot and mopetfm. Of particular importance among’ the meanings of ittu are: ‘characteristic, nature (as in the divine name written dMan-nu-i-da-at-su-i- di, “Who-understands-his-nature”; cf. Judg 13:18), signal, password, inside (i.e., authentic) information, (due advance) notice (used with riksu ‘contract’), acknowledgment, proof, omen.’ The aspects of verbal, legal confirmation and oracular disclosure are especially significant for the meaning of ‘ot in Gen 4:15.
36. See n. 20 above.

Scanned and Edited by Robert A. Lotzer on July 04, 2006.