“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 contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7, ESV)
The world of the first couple of chapters of Genesis is quite different than the world in which we live today. We long for it and even experience faint echos of Eden in our existence. But the world of Genesis chapter 4 is one with which we’re all too familiar. The curse of sin as a result of the fall is bearing its rotten fruit: anger, bitterness, deception, and murder. We watch the story of Cain & Abel unfold in tragic darkness. Yet, God is not absent in his invitation of grace.
In the preceding verses, both Cain & Abel have given offerings unto the LORD, each according to his vocation. Yet, “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (vv. 4b-5) Now, we’re not told precisely why God did not accept Cain’s offering. Perhaps it wasn’t his best; unlike Abel’s offering of the firstborn & fat portions (vv. 3-4). Or, maybe he gave with a heart of ingratitude or bitterness. Regardless, the Judge who knows the hearts of all and always judges justly (1 Chron. 28:9) was not pleased with Cain’s offering.
Notice the fatherly disposition of our God in his questioning. He says, “Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” (v. 6)” God is teaching Cain to take notice of his passions. It’s as if he’s saying, “Do you know where your heart is right now? Let’s think about this clearly.” “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” In other words, “Why are you so angry? If you do well (meaning repent and give true sacrifices) I will accept you.” The Hebrew here is literally “will there not be a lifting up [of your face]”. God is reminding Cain of his grace. He’s saying, “I will turn your anger and downcast spirit into peace and joy if you would just do well. Come to me!”
But then he gives the warning of the consequences of unrepentance: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.” God is warning him that if he remains in this “small” sin, even greater sin awaits him. Anger now, but murder is crouching at the door...ready to pounce. Unlike God, who showed love and patience toward Cain, sin’s “desire is contrary to you.”’ Sin sits like a coiled cobra ready to strike at your heel (Gen. 3:15). All it wants to do is devour you (1 Pt. 5:8) and sift you like wheat (Lk. 22:31).
Finally, God reminds Cain of his duty as an image bearer of God: “but you must rule over it.” And in this one short command, we feel the crushing weight of the law. If you’re going to live in this fallen world of sin, you must rule over it. But there’s a huge problem… we can’t. We can’t master sin, because it has mastered us. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (Jn. 8:34)
So, in a way, God is presenting a reductio ad absurdum argument to Cain. He’s appealing to the absurdity of remaining in sin and not casting yourself upon His mercy. For there is only one who has both “done well” and “ruled over sin” and that is Jesus Christ, the greater Offspring of Eve. And it is only through him that we receive mercy and are set free from our bondage to sin and are enabled to rule over it in him. (Jn. 8:36)
So, today, do not allow “small sins” to linger. Do well and cast yourself upon the mercy of God and you will surely be accepted.