While it has been misconstrued that this is a historical event concerning the third person on the planet who murders his brother, the fourth person, there is no logic or scientific reasoning to accept this interpretation. If Cain was the third person on the planet, then why would he and God be concerned about someone else finding him and killing him, enough to put a special mark on him? Wasn't there only Adam and Eve on the planet outside of Cain, and later perhaps some other siblings of Cain? Wouldn't they recognize their brother if so?
And what is this "land" that he was in that he could grow crops, versus the "land" of "Nod" that he suddenly could not grow crops in? Noting that this is thousands of years ago (Biblical scholars say if we follow the supposed timetable of these translations, we are talking 5,000 years ago) then there were plenty of regions around the world that had arable land that could easily be cultivated.
Oh, but we are to imagine this single third human is walking alone on the planet, just wandering around?
These are all ridiculous and practically impossible scenarios. They are also scientifically unsound, because archaeological evidence has determined that humans have been populating the earth for hundreds of thousands of years and their relative ancestors, for millions of years. So unless we are to believe that all the bones found that indicate ancient ancestors were all fabricated by hundreds of different researchers, or that carbon dating systems are radically incorrect, these verses regarding Cain simply did not happen as sectarian interpreters would have us believe.
This doesn't mean the events did not happen, however.
The reality is that these events are describing what happened historically to each of us, but using symbolism. The book of Genesis is not one book written by one person. Genesis is a combination of ancient scrolls that were recordings of oral teachings that had been passed down for thousands of years. It was the sectarian organizations that hired professional translators and interpreters, and combined these scrolls into a book of Genesis in an attempt to maintain a doctrine indicating that some sectarian members were the "chosen" people, and later, that such sects were the only bonafide religions.
We must remember that in ancient times, religion was utilized by many kings and emperors to maintain and control their empires. While some ancient kings were devoted to God and fair to their people, others simply manipulated religion to maintain their power and control over the people. Some of the most shrewd were the Roman emperors, most of whom maintained little or no devotion to God. This includes Constantine, who ordered the organization of the Roman Catholic church by gathering together accepted teachers throughout Europe and the Middle East, and threatened them with conviction unless they cooperated with him to organize into one religion, which was then utilized by the Roman empire for over a thousand years to control Europe and much of the Middle East.
During this time, the Bible was created by bringing together many scrolls from different sources and translated to Latin by professional scribes intent on establishing the domination of Christianity over any other world religion.
This brought forth a particular interpretation of the various scrolls, which then took hold in the form of an established doctrine, named the "Nicene Creed." This, along with the forced acceptance of this doctrine - as any other interpretation would be met with immediate capital punishment - resulted in the global acceptance of one single interpretation of these texts throughout the region. Eventually, as European missionary fanatics supported by vast armies forcibly converted millions around the world, the Nicene doctrine spread around the world.
After thousands of years of the dominance (and later, peer-pressure) of this single interpretation, one might more fairly characterize the acceptance of this doctrine as brainwashing.
Rather, the event being portrayed in these verses, heavy in symbolism, describes our continued fall away from our relationship with God. Let's closely review the Hebrew in the text:
First, Cain is supposedly saying that his "punishment is more than I can bear." This implies the curse meted out by God in the previous verse, damning Cain to no longer being able to produce crops, and becoming a "restless wanderer" (Gen. 4:12)
In this verse (Gen. 4:13), עון (`avon) is being translated to "punishment," but the Hebrew word actually means "perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt or punishment of iniquity" according to lexicon. It also clarifies that the word describes: "guilt of iniquity, guilt (as great), guilt (of condition)."
This means that while the translators are presuming that Cain is complaining that the punishment meted out by God was too severe, Cain is actually stating that the guilt of his depraved action (having murdered Abel) is too great for him to bear.
Next, Cain is describing how God will be "driving" him "from the land and I will be hidden from your presence." This seems to indicate that Cain is being physically removed from a certain part of the countryside, where he will no longer be in God's presence. This assumes that there is some piece of land somewhere where Cain was living where God was personally present, and after Cain was kicked out of this place, he was no longer in God's presence.
This translation makes no sense, as it contradicts the many Biblical teachings and events that consistently maintain that God is always present and can always see us. So how could Cain become hidden from God's presence?
The Hebrew reveals a completely different meaning to the text:
The Hebrew סתר (cathar), now translated to "I will be hidden", also means "to hide oneself" according to the lexicon.
The Hebrew פנים (paniym) can mean "presence," but more prominently means "face." Cain is saying, according to the text, that he will be hidden from God's face.
Here "face" is being used symbolically, as it has historically. In the same way, "to lose face" doesn't mean we literally lose our face. Nor does it mean that suddenly no one can see our face. "To lose face" means we lose credibility. In other words, "face" is used symbolically.
In the same way - and we also find this usage common among older writings - to be hidden from another's face indicates losing a personal relationship with that person. In other words, Cain had lost his personal relationship with God. What happens then?
The Hebrew נוע (nuwa`) is being translated to "restless." It also means "to quiver, totter, wander, move waver and tremble" according to the lexicon. It also means to "be unstable."
The Hebrew word נוד (nuwd) is being translated to "wanderer." This is an effective translation, just as נוע is effectively translated to "restless." But the usage is not literal. In the same way, while we might call a person who is aimlessly walking the streets as "wandering," we might also tell a child who is sitting in a classroom seat daydreaming that they are "wandering."
In other words, "wandering" doesn't always mean to physically walk around aimlessly. In most uses - as is the case here - it refers to someone who is going from one thing to another without purpose or mission.
This describes our current status in the physical world. We can see this all around us, as we see so many of us wandering from desire to desire, thinking that 'the next thing' will fulfill us. We go from eating to money to sex to becoming a star or business success to status to a big car to a big house to a family and a white picket fence; and still we have no fulfillment. We keep trying one scheme after another. When we accomplish one thing, we still find ourselves empty. So we move onto another scheme. Whether we accomplish it or not, we ultimately find no happiness there.
Why? Why are even the most successful and wealthy people still not satisfied with their wealth and fame? Why are even the grandmothers and grandfathers of the biggest families not satisfied with their big family?
Because we are not physical. We are spiritual in nature. We might compare this to if we were driving our car, and suddenly felt hungry, and decide that if we fill up the gas tank of our car, our hunger would be gone. But it doesn't work. Filling up our gas tank with gas fills the gas tank but doesn't fill up our stomach. In the same way, getting all these physical goodies does not fulfill our spiritual emptiness. We are wandering around this physical world trying to fulfill our spiritual emptiness with physical things.
So how did we get here and why are we wandering around restlessly? These verses explain what happened. Cain was making offerings to God - had a personal relationship - but became self-centered, and envious of Abel. He then killed Abel in his envy, leaving him to a life of "restless wandering." The next verses tell us:
The Hebrew word גרש (garash) is translated to "driven out," but can also mean to be "expelled" or "cast out" according to the lexicon.
The Hebrew אדמה ('adamah) is translated to "of the ground" also means "territory," "land" or "country."
פנים (paniym) is again translated to "presence" but directly translates to "from the face."
And the Hebrew סתר (cathar) is translated to "hidden." And thus, again, Cain is "hidden from God's face," which symbolically means to lose one's relationship with God.
So this verse is not talking about Cain being tossed out of a plot of land somewhere on the planet. It is talking about Cain losing his relationship with God, and being tossed out of the spiritual realm into the physical world. The symbolism of not being able to produce crops and losing contact with that land means losing the benefits of being in the spiritual realm exchanging a loving relationship with the Supreme Being.
When one has a loving relationship with God, they are naturally productive. There are many fruits that come from this relationship, because when a person loves God, they want to do what is pleasing to the One they love. This means doing God's will, or serving God. This naturally produces lots of great results, which can be compared symbolically to producing crops from land.
The land symbolizes the basis of our relationship, and what we do to please God. Once we become selfishly motivated, and envious of others, we lose that loving relationship with God. We are "cast out" of the service we rendered for Him, and we are forced to "restlessly wander," looking for our own satisfaction.
So what does the last verse mean, regarding Cain's mark, and God taking vengeance upon anyone harming Cain?
The Hebrew word נקם (naqam) "vengence" is adequate, but in this context it implies protection, just as a stronger person might say to their friend, "if they touch you, I'll take care of them."
And the Hebrew word אות ('owth), now translated to a "mark," also can translate to "sign" or "signal," which can include "a distinguishing mark" a "banner" "omen" or "warning." It can also mean "token."
The Hebrew מָצָא (matsa') can mean "to find" but also can mean "to meet" or "encounter."
Symbolically, this is presenting that God is telling Cain - symbolizing each of us who have become "restless wanderers" - that He will still protect us where ever we go. The "mark" is not a physical mark on Cain. The "mark" is better described as a "warning," "sign" or "signal" - a constant reminder - that God will ultimately protect Cain (us) where ever he (each of us) decides to wander.
These verses conclude with Cain (us) leaving his (our) relationship with God, and then settling within the physical world, away from our relationship with God:
The Hebrew phrase translated to "out from the presence" but literally meaning "away from his face" or away from his relationship with God.
The Hebrew word ישב (yashab) meaning "and settled."
The Hebrew word ארץ ('erets) is translated to "in the land," but can mean "territory" or "country." It is describing the physical world, "away" from God.
The Hebrew word נוד (Nowd) is translated to "of Nod" as though "Nod" was a physical country or location on the earth. Actually, the word literally means "wandering," indicating that Cain (us) effected his wandering.
The Hebrew word קדמה (qidmah) is translated to "east," but can also be translated to "in front of" "over against," "front" according to the lexicon.
This is followed by עדן (`Eden) or "Eden."
How does Cain's wandering relate to Eden? The symbolic "Adam and Eve" were "cast out" of Eden in Chapter three of Genesis. As we described from Genesis 3:24, this phrase (קדמה עדן) relates to being cast out of the spiritual realm.
This story of Cain illustrates how we became envious and as a result, moved away from our loving relationship with the Supreme Being and become engrossed in the physical world. As we became increasingly engrossed in our physical identities, being full of self-centeredness and envy, and seeking satisfaction within the physical world, we have completely lost touch with our spiritual nature, and our loving relationship with God.
This is why the teachings of Moses, Jesus and every other ancient Biblical teacher maintained a consistent instruction in order to reclaim that relationship:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-40/Deut 6:5)