What I find to be some of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture are those where the Lord reaches out even to those who are utterly opposed to Him. What a truly amazing demonstration of God’s Grace! I find it very comforting to know that God would reach out His hand in mercy to someone like Cain, because it reminds me how He reached out His hand in mercy to someone like me, even when I was utterly opposed to Him. And it reminds me that He will reach out His hand in mercy to anyone else who will take it, regardless of the sin that fills their heart.
Genesis 4:6-7 tells us how God approached Cain after Cain’s offering was rejected. We see a similar method throughout the Bible as God approaches even the vilest of sinners and offers them mercy. The very first thing that we should take note of is the fact that God is not angry with Cain. We are told that Cain is angry, but we can see that God is not. Next, we should also note that God does not stand aloof from Cain, waiting to see if he will do the right thing. Some people like to talk about man’s search for God, but man is not seeking God; God is the One Who seeks us (Luke 19:10). Cain was not left on his own to try to work through his rebellion and, perhaps, eventually do the right thing. God came to Him.
It Starts With A Simple Question
“Why art thou wroth?” God asks Cain. Why is it that you are angry? God knew very well the answer to this question. Socrates was not really the inventor of what we call the “Socratic method”- wherein we teach others by asking questions that cause them to ponder and ask their own questions, leading them to discover the answers for themselves- God used this method from the very beginning. He will ask us why we do or feel certain things when we have never even seriously considered the reasons why ourselves. Saul of Tarsus had made it his mission in life to destroy the early Church and wipe the name of Jesus Christ from the face of the Earth. When the Lord stopped him on the road to Damascus, He didn’t annihilate him, He approached with a simple question: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4) Why are you doing what you are doing?
If Thou Doest Well
God knew why Cain was angry and He knew what Cain was contemplating in his heart. Cain’s anger was manifesting itself toward his brother, Abel. Sadly, Cain’s anger and frustration wasn’t that he had failed to please God by doing what He had asked him to, he seemed more worried that his disobedience might cost him his position in his family. “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” The word for accepted is not translated as such anywhere else in the Old Testament. In other verses, it is rendered as “excellency”, or “dignity”, or it refers to a rising up of something; an “exaltation.” When Jacob is pronouncing his blessings on his sons before he dies, he uses the same term in relation to Reuben, his first-born (Gen. 49:3). Reuben is the “excellency of [his] dignity.”
Cain’s motive was not to be accepted by God, it was to be exalted over his brother, the second-born. His fear was not that God would disapprove of him, but that Abel would take his place in the family and usurp the birthrights of the first-born. Isn’t that so often the reason for sorrow over sinful behavior? It isn’t a concern over offending God’s holiness, but rather a grieving over the loss that it might cost the sinner. Cain’s concern seemed to be more with how other people might view him as a result of his disobedience, not how God would look upon him. Nevertheless, if Cain did what was right and what God expected of him, he needn’t fear the collapse of his position within his family.
The word order of verse 7 has caused many different interpretations concerning exactly what God is referring to, but I think that if we bear in mind the context thus far, we see that the God’s final statement in the verse refers to this brotherly relationship: “And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” The phrase is nearly identical to the one that God tells Eve in Gen. 3:16 (” and thy desire shall be to thy husband…:”). In both instances, God is establishing or upholding an authority structure within the natural family. If Cain submits himself to God, he need not worry about Abel submitting himself to Cain.
Since nowhere in the Bible is the promise given to any person that they shall “rule over sin“, it is inconceivable that God would be making such a promise to Cain. Jesus Christ is the only One Who rules over sin (Romans 7:25). No, God is merely assuring Cain that he will in no way lose his position of “dignity” and “excellency” within the family if he will but hearken to the voice of the Lord and obey Him.
Sin Lieth At The Door
Some have interpreted this passage with the idea of sin crouching at the door, ready to pounce on Cain. The word for “lieth”, however, seems more to refer to lying down; as in rest. Several times throughout the Old Testament it is used to to show sheep lying down, relaxed in safety (e.g., Psalm 23:2 use this term about how God is our Shepherd and makes us to lie down in green pastures). The idea is not that sin is crouching behind the bushes, waiting to make its move. No, the sin is there, “relaxed” and waiting at the threshold of the door for Cain to come walking through. If Cain does not determine to heed God’s call to him now, then when he goes out through the “door” from this place where God has met him, he is going to walk right into the sin waiting for him. The sin isn’t going to “pounce” on him from behind, he is going to head right into it.
The Choice Is Ours
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
God made His expectations clear to Cain. Now, it was up to Cain to decide if he would obey or not. His options were simple: obey God and choose life and blessing, or disobey God and choose death and cursing. What he could not do was get God to lower the standard, or change His mind, or let Cain come to God some other way. He would never be able to plead ignorance or accuse God of not giving him ample opportunity. God came to him now giving him the chance to repent and be reconciled. God came to him now as Savior. If he disregarded God at this point, the next time God would come as his Judge.
Obey what God has said, or disobey what God has said. We all face the same decision.
To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published September 12, 2009]
**All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) Bible
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]