The word “sign” is used over 150 times in the Bible. Not only is it a frequently used word, it is a very important word. Signs were an important part of ancient Middle Eastern culture, just as the scientific method has been an important part of modern Western culture. Genesis 4 tells us about Cain’s sign, illustrating how signs were used in Bible times and helping us understand why it is important to understand signs in order to understand the Bible. Let’s study this concept of signs, starting with Genesis 4:8.
Genesis 4:8 tells us that Cain murdered his brother. Read what happened next. What was Cain’s punishment?
Gen. 4:8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Gen. 4:9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Gen. 4:10 He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.
Gen. 4:11 “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
Gen. 4:12 “When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.”
Cain’s punishment was that farming would not be fruitful for him and he would wander about the earth. Now read about Cain’s response to this punishment? What was he concerned about?
Gen. 4:13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to bear!
Gen. 4:14 “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.”
Cain was afraid that he would be killed. Now read about God’s response to Cain’s fear? How did God protect Cain? Notice the word “sign“.
Gen. 4:15 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.
Gen. 4:16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
God promised that anyone killing Cain would be punished sevenfold. Then Yahweh created a sign to protect Cain. If Cain was in danger of being killed, he could point to the sign and the sign would provide visible, tangible proof to any potential killer that God would severely punish anyone who killed Cain. The reason for using a sign was the fact that it was visible and tangible and could be pointed to as proof of God’s protection.
I said earlier that signs are mentioned many times in the Bible. Look at the following verses and think about the concepts that are being communicated with visible signs.
Matt. 24:3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
John 20:30-31 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
1Cor. 14:22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
2Cor. 12:12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.
Signs were used many times throughout the Bible to teach and prove truth. The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 illustrates how signs were used in Bible times and teaches us that signs were an important concept in Biblical culture. Signs were used throughout the Bible to validate prophets and prove God’s existence and power. As you read the Bible on your own and come across references to signs, keep in mind that signs were important in Biblical culture and that signs were used to communicate significant and important truths.
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