Otto Normalverbraucher [God, I love these internet names!] notes that I did not actually explain, a year ago, the real meaning of the familiar expression, "the mark of Cain." [By the way, ein normalverbraucher is an "average consumer." Roughly speaking, Joe Sixpack or The Man on the Street. Nice.] So, here goes.
The expression is today used universally to mean a mark put on one by God to reveal one's wickedness or sinfulness. An evil person is said to bear The Mark of Cain. But in fact, the original and correct meaning is entirely different. So, settle down for a little Bible story.
Our text for today's sermon is Genesis, Chapter 4. Briefly, Adam knew Eve, and she bore him a son, Cain. And he knew her again, and she bore him a second son, Abel. Abel was a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil. And Cain brought grain from the field to the Lord as an offering, and Abel brought a lamb from his flock as his offering. And the Lord was pleased with Abel's offering, and was not as pleased with Cain's offering. This angered Cain, who rose up and slew his brother, Abel. When the Lord asked Cain where his brother Abel was, Cain lied, saying "I know not. Am I my brother's keeper?"
The Lord was angry with Cain, and cursed him. Cain cried out that his punishment was more than he could bear. Cain said he would be a fugitive and a vagabond, and everyone he met would slay him. "And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. AND THE LORD SET A MARK UPON CAIN, LEST ANY FINDING HIM SHOULD KILL HIM." [Genesis, 4:13 My emphases.]
So in fact the Mark of Cain is intended by God as a protection, a warning off of anyone who might be inclined to kill the vagabond and fugitive Cain.
The story of course raises a number of questions, such as, Who is there in the world who might kill Cain, since at this point only Adam and Eve and Cain are alive. We might also wonder whom Cain found to marry when he went to the Land of Nod on the East of Eden and founded the city of Enoch, called after his son of the same name. But that subject has already been well explored in the great old movie, Inherit the Wind, with Ralph Bellamy and Spencer Tracy.
By the way, the effort by Southern preachers to justify slavery usually references the story of Noah and his three sons, one of whom, Ham, sees Noah in his tent drunk and naked, and is cursed by Noah for this breach of filial piety, saying that Ham's descendants shall henceforth serve the descendants of his brothers Shem and Japheth. Ham, the preachers implausibly claim, was Black, and the forebear of all Africans, who were thus condemned by Noah to be slaves. But some apologists for slavery trace the cursed condition of Black people all the way back to Cain, who is said [without any Biblical justification] to have been turned black by God's curse.
So keep it in mind. If you come across someone bearing the Mark of Cain, hands off. God has dibs.