CAN YOU EXPLAIN GENESIS 4:7?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Genesis 4:7 says, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” What are we to make of this verse? We will search the Scriptures!
CRITICISM, CONTROVERSY, AND CONFUSION
Dr. Scofield, in his eponymous study Bible, has the following footnote on “sin” in Genesis 4:7:
“Or, sin-offering. In Hebrew the same word is used for ‘sin,’ and ‘sin-offering,’ thus emphasizing in a remarkable way the complete identification of the believer’s sin with his sin-offering (cf. John 3. 14 with 2 Cor. 5. 21). Here both meanings are brought together. ‘Sin lieth at the door,’ but so also ‘a sin-offering croucheth at the [tent] door.’ It is ‘where sin abounded’ that ‘grace did much more abound’ (Rom. 5. 20). Abel’s offering implies a previous instruction (cf. Gen. 3. 21), for it was ‘by faith’ (Heb. 11. 4), and faith is taking God at His word; so that Cain’s unbloody offering was a refusal of the divine way. But Jehovah made a last appeal to Cain (Gen. 4. 7) even yet to bring the required offering.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
While Brother Scofield has furnished us with much sound instruction in the Scriptures in his notes quoted above, this author has one major disagreement. It is an objection to the dear brother’s alternate translation of Genesis 4:7, “a sin-offering croucheth at the [tent] door.” Let me explain.
Some believe that since Cain did not originally bring the required blood sacrifice as the LORD God commanded, God has now (as in Genesis 4:7) actually supplied the animal Cain should offer. Like Dr. Scofield, they assume the term “sin” is really a “sin-offering” and the “door” is actually “a tent door.” In fact, oddly enough, they may say something such as: “God knew Cain still refused to go through the ‘trouble’ of obtaining a blood sacrifice, so He put an animal at Cain’s tent door for Cain to take and offer.” They blast our King James Bible translators for not making it clear that God really gave Cain a sacrificial animal at the tent door in Genesis 4:7.
The aforementioned individuals thus read the verse as: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, [the sin offering stoops at thy tent door]. [If you want to take that animal and offer it, you can dominate him and he will submit to your will.]” Is this an acceptable interpretation? Friends, must we really resort to changing Scripture to gain understanding? Or, ironically, dear brethren, will we lose understanding in “correcting” the Bible? Here are some considerations, clarifications, and corrections to bear in mind.
CONSIDERATIONS, CLARIFICATIONS, AND CORRECTIONS
As Dr. Scofield pointed out, the Hebrew word chatta’ath indeed can, depending on the context, mean “sin” or “sin offering.” Of the 300 times that it appears in the Hebrew Bible, our King James translators rendered it—“sin” (182 times), “sin offering” (116 times), “punishment” (3 times), “purification for sin” (2 times), “purifying” (1 time), “sinful” (1 time), “sinner” (1 time). Our 1611 Authorized Version translators knew the Hebrew word and how to handle it. As we can see, they rendered it “sin offering” over 100 times, and “sin” nearly 200 times. To fault them at Genesis 4:7 is very unfair. Charging them with “clumsiness” by putting “sin” instead of “sin offering” in Genesis 4:7 is for we to be ignorant of truth. Those King James Bible translators were fully competent to handle the original languages, and we trust their—yea, the Holy Spirit’s—judgment. What can “sin” teach us if left alone in Genesis 4:7 (that “sin offering” inserted cannot)?
Re-reading Genesis 4:7 as it appears in the King James text: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
Firstly, God asks questions when dealing with people in Scripture, that they think and confess/admit to some truth. The LORD asks Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” The answer is YES. If Cain does by faith what God’s Word says, God will indeed receive Cain’s payment for sin.
Appealing to Hebrews chapter 11 for commentary: “ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it the elders obtained a good report.  Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.  By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh….  But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Read Genesis 4:7 in context: “ But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.  And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
Simply put, Cain had no valid reason for growing very angry. God had rejected his bloodless sacrifice, true, but God had already told him what to bring. Cain deliberately brought what he wanted. Sinful Cain had no justification for frowning, feeling mistreated and acting disappointed. Remember, like his brother Abel, he could have done what God commanded. Cain could have come to God, God’s way, and God would have accepted him as He had Abel. God asked Cain questions in verse 6 to generate deep thought. Those warnings could have led to faith and sacrifice if Cain responded positively to the reproof. This was faithful God dealing patiently with a most headstrong sinner!
“And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” As noted earlier, this is the problem part of the verse. Here, some will argue that the word “sin” is really highlighting the “sin offering” (a supposed sacrificial animal God has now supplied Cain). Allegedly, the animal sacrifice will submit to Cain, allowing him to kill and offer it. However, this is to read something into the Bible text that simply is not there. A sin offering is not under discussion; sin itself is the issue God is underscoring. Remember, we already grasped the thought-flow of the verse by looking at previous verses. Verse 7 is not going to suddenly talk about a sacrifice; it continues to highlight Cain’s unbelief and waywardness.
God reminds Cain that if he does not obey His Word, then sin (the attitude of unbelief and the action of not bringing the blood sacrifice) is present. Sin wants to control, dominate, Cain. However, the LORD God says Cain can overcome it. Cain can still do right if he so chooses. Notice the issue of free will (obscured if “sin” is changed to “sin offering”). He can walk by faith in God’s Word to him, and have victory over sin. Notice again how the LORD God is very patient with Cain, the stubborn works-religion man that he is. God is very generous in allowing ample time for Cain to get right even now. Cain willfully disregarded His Word, but He still gives Cain the opportunity to reform.
There are two ways Cain can go at this point. His first option is to let sin continue reigning over him, persist in his refusal to bring the blood sacrifice, and let sin ultimately destroy him. The second option is to conquer sin by faith, find and bring his own mandatory blood sacrifice, and thereby obtain fellowship and favor with God. What will Cain do? Verse 8 is the historical record: “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” The Apostle John remarks in 1 John chapter 3: “ For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.  Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one [Satan!], and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.  Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.”
To use Genesis 4:7 to say that God provided Cain with a blood sacrifice, and God laid that blood sacrifice at Cain’s tent door, is to miss the verse’s point entirely. It is preposterous for someone to argue that God gave a sacrifice to Cain when He knew Cain was not interested in bringing one anyway. Why would God help an unbeliever in disobeying His Word? If the unbeliever was not interested in bringing the blood sacrifice as instructed, would God then bring the animal for the person to catch and offer? Of course not! God would not provide the sacrifice if Cain refused it in the first place. Even after counsel from God, Cain declined to do what was right. There is no way God would do for Cain what He expected Cain to do! Cain had to find and bring the sacrifice, or God would not accept him.
Does this really matter? Why, yes it does! What we can learn from the King James Bible’s reading of Genesis 4:7 is simple. Sin is always lurking, ready to attack us, crouching just on the other side of the “door.” We can doubt God’s Word (open the door) and sin will devour us. Or, we can trust God’s Word (keep the door shut) and sin will not reign over us! Cain was unprepared, but it was deliberate unpreparedness. He was given two opportunities to make the right choice (and ultimately conquer sin). Cain failed both times because he was not walking by faith in either instance.
Dear brethren, we can make application in our lives even today, some 6,000 years after Cain and Abel. If we want to make decisions that honor and please the LORD God, we need to by faith follow His words to us. We need to especially heed His instructions to us Gentiles, the Pauline Bible Books of Romans through Philemon. Remember, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
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