Sin Personified: Cain's Sin in Genesis 4:6-7

The story of “Cain and Abel” is one of the most famous stories in the whole Bible. Abel gave the first of his flocks in his sacrifice to God, while Cain did not give the first-fruits of his crop- he gave the leftovers. When God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, he becomes angry. Here, God uses one of the most interesting descriptions of sin in the Bible- sin is personified as “crouching at the door”.

 “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is [for] you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7

 But what does this really mean? Let’s take a look at what this means, what it doesn’t mean (you may be surprised) and how this applies to life today.

 Cain’s Sunken Face 

“Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” Gen 4:6 

 Verse 5(b) of Genesis 4 describes how Cain’s “had fallen”,
"For Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell” 

 God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but Cain’s he did not “consider” or “look at” (favorably in this context); perhaps one could say God did not even acknowledge Cain’s sacrifice. Therefore, Cain was angry and his “face fell”. Cain’s “face falling” refers to visibly negative facial expressions and possibly a tilted head- this is often called a “sunken face”. Cain was so upset, his face visibly changed expression.

God sees this and rhetorically asks Cain why he has such great anger. Knowing all things, God knew the heart of Cain was contemplating the temptations of his anger in his heart. So God offers him both reassurance and a warning.

Cain’s Restored Face 

The reassurance is,
“If you do well, will you not be accepted [lifted up]?”- Gen 4:7a 
 God tells Cain that he will be accepted, which in the Hebrew literally means “be lifted up”. This is referring to a reversal of Cain’s falling face. In other words, Cain’s emotions of anger will be removed and he will be restored back to happiness. If Cain chooses right, then he would be restored back to good feelings and relations with his family and his God. God is telling Cain “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better soon”, with the stipulation that he must do good in order to feel this way. This isn’t God denying him the restoration of his happiness, but simply is recognizing his emotional state. If and only if, Cain does well (chooses not to sin) will he receive the happy state he had prior to his fit of anger.

 Sin's Ambush

 Then God provides the flip side of the coin, the warning,
“ And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” Gen 4:7b
 Here, we see the personification of sin as something that “crouches at the door”. There’s several elements essential to know in order to properly understand this warning God gives to Cain through figurative language.
 Firstly, “sin crouching at the door” will only occur if Cain does “not do well”. In order for this to happen, Cain must either choose to do something wrong, or simply not to do something right. This will cause the complete opposite effect of a return to happiness, instead it will only plunge Cain further into despair.
 When the personified sin is “crouching at the door”, it is hiding beneath an entrance ready to pounce and out of sight. This image is possibly derivative of a Babylonian demon (the Hebrew rabisu is of the same root for the demon) that lies in wait at people’s doors to attack (NIV Study Bible, note on Gen 4:7). Note : At a recent conference I attended, this was brought into serious question (as it is in scholarly literature). When writing this post I was unable to corroborate this claim outside of NIV Study Bible.

The Fight Against Sin

Since sin crouching at the door is contingent upon Cain not doing well, that means this is not primarily a picture of temptation. Rather, it is a picture of the effects of sin. God further goes on in his warning to Cain and says,
 “It’s desire is [for] you, but you must rule over it” Gen 4:7c
 The word desire in this statement is used only two other times in the Bible (in Genesis 3:16 and Songs 7:10). Both times it is a reference to the (sexual) desire between husband and wife, indicating that the sin here has a deep and passionate longing to rule over Cain. Since Cain does wrong, he must deal with the consequences of the sin that longs for him so deeply, and he must “rule over” his sin.

 For Cain, when he gave in to his anger and murdered Abel, sin crouched at his door with a deep longing for him. Just like Cain, when we give in to sin, the effects can be long-lasting, lingering and a passionate assault (waiting to pounce where we cannot see it) on our lives. Cain had the choice to choose right living and thus avoid the consequences of sin. If we choose right and avoid sin, we can avoid the consequences and the progression of sin.
 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15


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