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A Biblical Polemic for Capital Punishment

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, you have driven me this day from the face of the ground and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.   

Genesis 4:13-15


Cain was guilty as sin, and he knew it. Nevertheless, Cain cried out for mercy and received it. Our God is gracious. God put some kind of fear on Cain so that nobody would dare seek to avenge Able’ life. Many modern people would applaud God’s merciful declaration for the murderer, Cain. But in a short time, God would make a reverse policy decision.

Cain built a city and raised a family. The spirit of murder never left Cain’s family because his descendant, Lamech, boasted about the people he killed and leaned into the gracious policy that God implemented for his father, Cain:

“I have killed a man for wounding me and a boy for striking me,” declared Lamech, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”  Genesis 4:23-24

Lamech sought amnesty under God’s gracious declaration over his father, Cain, but he also went beyond that to weaponize the statement into

a threat toward anyone who might seek vengeance. We see this same thing happening today among criminals whom the media has helped claim victim status, now making demands on society despite their selfish, violent, and rebellious behavior. The criminals speak like the victims. The policy God implemented on Cain’s behalf was meant to end the cycle of death but murder increased under this policy because murderers were emboldened. Was God surprised by this policy failure? Of course not. The author of Genesis knows full-well the story of the Exodus and the giving of the Law, including the commandments

“You shall not murder,” and “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death.” Exodus 21:12.

This policy failure with Cain’s family is a polemic for the death penalty and the basis for God’s policy reversal in Genesis 9:5-6:

“Surely, I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whenever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  Genesis 9:5-6

Mercy only allowed man’s arrogance to reach extraordinary heights, even leading men to try to exalt themselves above God because “they got away with murder.” God’s wisdom in the Law is on display in the story of Cain and God’s policy reversal on murder.

There is no one-size-fits-all way of rendering judgment on crimes when the goal of our judgment is for the good of the guilty person as well as the good of society. But this one thing I do know: crimes that go unpunished embolden evil. We are currently living in an atmosphere the regularly emboldens evil and attempts to shut down all moral courage.

We need revival.

Now, more than ever, let us preach the Gospel.

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