The Lord’s words to Cain in Genesis 4:7 have been difficult to translate and interpret since the days of the ancient Jewish scholars who considered this verse one of the vague verses whose exact meaning was unknown, and so, left unestablished. Even today commentators struggle to make sense of this verse without changing the word order of the text, inserting words that may be implicit but are not in the text, altering the words or changing the words themselves.
What can be established are these things:
- The Lord is asking two rhetorical questions and making one statement.
- The Lord is questioning Cain to lead him into a confession of a sinful attitude.
- Cain’s response to this interaction with God has greater consequences than his initial sin of being angry with his brother.
- Cain’s sin originates inside of him as a reaction to a situation. Neither his brother Able nor the situation is causing the sin. The sin originates in Cain.
Cain is said to be very angry and his face downcast, because the Lord rejected Cain’s sacrifice, but accepted Able’s sacrifice:
“On Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” – Genesis 4:5
The Lord approaches Can to questions and advise him concerning his next move. The Lord uses the word “accepted,” or a Hebrew word that means “a lifting up” or “an exaltation.” This seems to be saying something to the effect of, “Will you not be ‘lifted up’ (‘exalted’) if you do what is right?” Because of his sinful state Cain’s “face was downcast” away from God, but the Lord seems to be saying that if Cain will do what is right his conscience will be clear and will be able to lift his face up toward God. The indication is that God would accept Cain if he did what was right.
The Lord then warns Cain that if he does not correct his sinful attitude things will get worse for him because actions follow attitude. The Lord says three things:
- “sin is crouching at your door”
- “it (sin) desires to have you”
- “you must rule over it (sin).”
The reference to sin “crouching” is from Hebrew word rabats (rabas, which is used to describe a restful position or an animal poised to attack (Gen. 29:2; Gen.49:9).
The Hebrew word teshuqah is translated as “desire” or “urge” to communicate the meaning of a strong drive or attraction (also used of the woman in Gen. 3:16).
The Lord describes sin as “crouching” or “resting” like an animal at the “door.” In context the “door” is the den of the crouching, resting animal. The Lord tells Cain that he has sin, but that sin can be contained in its den if he will think what is right, say what is right and do what is right. The sin nature of man can be controlled by man, but if man is going to give into sin then sin is ready and waiting like an animal by the door of its den to come out and control man.
The Lord is not saying Cain can be righteous by good works, because as long as we have a sin nature we cannot be righteous in ourselves. But, the Lord does expect each man to control and master that sin nature. If they fail they will be devoured by sin itself.