What mark did God put on Cain (Genesis 4:15)?
The Bible does not tell us what the mark that God put on Cain actually was. The Hebrew word for "mark" means "sign" and occurs over 70 times in the Bible, but there are no specifics as to the nature of that mark. Some people think it was a scar or tattoo. Whatever it was, it was a sign that Cain was not to be killed. In centuries past, people believed that the "mark of Cain" was dark skin, and that argument was used by many to excuse discrimination, racism, and slavery. This is a twisted and thoroughly unbiblical interpretation of Genesis 4:11–16.
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The biblical passage in question is a conversation between God and Cain, after Cain murdered his brother, Abel. God told Cain, "And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (Genesis 4:11–12). The prospect of being alone and vulnerable frightened Cain, and he plead with God, saying, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me" (Genesis 4:13–14). God then decided to put a mark on Cain that would indicate he was protected by God: "Then the Lord said to him, 'Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.' And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him" (Genesis 4:15–16).
This being the case, it is strange that some people used the "mark of Cain" argument to justify oppressing and hurting people because of the color of their skin. According to Scripture, Cain's mark was a mark of God's protection, not a curse. The curse, or punishment on Cain, was his exile. The mark was a sign of God's mercy. Additionally, the mark God put on Cain was placed only on Cain. There is no reason to believe that Cain's descendants would have inherited the mark in the form of darker skin color. To use the mark of Cain as a justification for racist behavior is nonsensical in the context of the passage. This should be a warning to us, today, to read the Bible for ourselves rather than listening to what people tell us it may or may not say, particularly when that person has a political, social, or personal agenda to uphold.
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