Cain and Abel: Part 5 of 6 (series: Lessons of Genesis)
by John Lowe
7If 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.
If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?
In order for Cain to do well he must look at his past to take into account his behavior and opinions, and figure out where he went wrong, and to make corrections to his offering and his intentions accordingly. He has not given the proper consideration to the relation in which he stands to God as a guilty sinner, whose life is forfeited, and to whom God’s hand of mercy is still extended; and consequently he does not feel this way, or given expression to it in the nature of his offering. Cain's failing was that he did not bringing a sin-offering when his brother brought one, and his neglect and contempt caused his offering to be rejected. However, God now graciously informs him that, though he had done wrong, his case was not yet desperate, since a proper victim for a sin-offering was lying at the door of his sheepfold. How many sinners perish, not because there is not a Savior able and willing to save them, but because they will not use that which is within their power! How true is that word of our Lord, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life!” Yet, the Lord does not immediately reject him, but with longsuffering patience directs his attention to these things just mentioned, so that they may be amended. And if he will make these amendments, he makes it clear to him that both he and his offering may still be accepted. But he does even more than this. Since Cain seems to have possessed a particularly hard and indifferent disposition, he completes his warning, and deepens its awful repercussions, by stating the other alternative, both in its form and consequence.
The gist of this sentence may be stated this way: “if in general you do good works in a right way and manner, according to the will of God, and directed to his glory, from right principles, and with the right purposes in mind”: or "if you do your works well, because it is not merely doing a good work, but doing the good work well, which is acceptable to God.” If applied with respect to sacrifice it may read this way: “if you do your offering well, or rightly, and offer not only what is materially good and proper to be offered, but do it in a right way, in obedience to the divine will, out of love for God, and with true devotion to Him, having faith in the promised seed, and with a view to His sacrifice for atonement and acceptance; then thine offering would be well pleasing and acceptable.” Does God reject any man who serves him in simplicity and godly sincerity?
God sets before Cain both life and a blessing: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?”
1. "If you had done well, like your brother did, you would have been accepted, as He was." God is no respecter of persons, hates nothing that he has made, denies no one His goodwill except those who have forfeited it, and He is an enemy to no one but those who through sin have made Him their enemy: so if we come short of being accepted by him the fault is entirely our own; if we had done our duty, we would not have missed out on His mercy. This will justify God in the destruction of sinners; there is not a damned sinner in hell, who, if he had done well, as he could have done, he would now be a glorious saint in heaven.
2. "If you will do well now, if you repent of your sin, reform your heart and life, and bring your sacrifice in a better manner, if you not only do that which is good but do it well, you shall yet be accepted, your sin shall be pardoned, your peace and honor restored, and all shall be well." Here we see the effect of a Mediator’s intercession between God and man; we do not stand upon the footing of the first covenant, which left no room for repentance, but God has come to new terms with us. Though we have offended Him, if we repent and return, we shall find mercy. See how early the gospel was preached, and the benefit of it offered here even to one of the chief of sinners.
and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.
This dreadful warning to Cain, expressed in the mildest and plainest terms, is a standing lesson written for the benefit of all mankind. Let him who is in the wrong repent at once, and return to God with humble acknowledgment of his own guilt, and unreserved submission to the mercy of his Maker; because anyone who persists in sin can have no hope or help. Another sentence is added to intensify the warning—“If you do not do well, sin lies at the door.” God warned Cain about the destructive power of sin. Cain can resist sin and receive blessings, or he can give in to sin and be devoured.
If you do not do good works, or offer an offering as it should be offered, sin lies at the door of your conscience; and as soon as that door is opened, sin will enter in and spoil everything there, as it did afterwards—“And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13)—or the punishment of sin itself is what is meant, which lies at the door, and will soon be carried out. Some render the word which has been translated “sin” as “a sin offering;” and then the sense becomes, that though he had sinned by offering the wrong sacrifice, nevertheless there was a propitiatory sacrifice for sin provided, which was at hand, and would soon be offered—“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5.21)—so that he had no need to be dejected, or his countenance to fall; because, if he looked to that sacrifice by faith, he would find pardon and acceptance; but the former sense has found more acceptance.
The relevance of the divine rebuke of Cain was this, "Why are you angry, as if treated unjustly? Can wrath and indignation against your righteous brother save you from the displeasure under which you have fallen? If you had done right (that is, were innocent and sinless) a thank offering would have been accepted as a token of your dependence as a creature. But since you have not done right (that is, being a sinner), a sin offering is necessary, which if brought would have met with acceptance." This would imply that previous instructions had been given regarding the manner of worship; Abel offered through faith—“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” (Heb 11:4).
In the previous clause, God sets before Cain both life and a blessing, but here He sets before him death and a curse: But, since you did not do well, that is, "Seeing that you did not do well, did not offer in faith and in a right manner, sin lies at the door," that is, "sin was imputed to you, and you were frowned upon and rejected as a sinner. Such a terrible charge would not have been laid at your door, if you had not brought it upon yourself, by not doing well." Or, as it is commonly stated, "If now you will not do well, if you persist in this rage against your brother, and, instead of humbling yourself before God, harden yourself against Him, sin lies at the door," that is,
1. Further sin. "Now that anger is in your heart, murder is at the door." Sin flows down-hill, and men go from bad to worse. Those who do not sacrifice well, but are careless and inconsistent in their devotion to God, expose themselves to the worst temptations; and perhaps the most scandalous sin lies at the door. Those who do not keep God’s ordinances are in danger of committing all kinds of abominations—“Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 18:30).
2. The punishment of sin. Sin and punishment are so similar that the same word in Hebrew signifies both. If sin be harbored in the house, the curse waits at the door. It lies as if asleep, but it lies at the door where it will soon awake, and then it will appear that the damnation slumbered not. “But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Sin may be at the door, but Christ, the great sin-offering, is said to stand at the door—“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). And those that will not go to the door and give the sin-offering entrance deserve to perish in their sins. All this considered, Cain had no reason to be angry at God, but only at himself