What was going on with Cain? Why didn’t he respond like Abel? Why didn’t God accept his offering? What did God mean when He said, “sin lieth at the door”? And what is “the way of Cain” spoken of in the New Testament?
Based upon what is set forth later on in Hebrews 11 regarding Abel and Cain, (and it is interesting to note that much more is said regarding these two later on in God’s program with Israel than is initially related in Genesis 4), my understanding is this: As Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,… .” “By faith” is the key issue here, for as Romans 10:17, along with Hebrews 11, make clear, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Hence Abel responded positively to what he had heard God say. Yet the same verse by its wording makes it evident that Cain had also heard what God said. (In addition, based upon the rhetorical nature of the question God asked Cain at the beginning of Genesis 4:7, it is evident that God had already clearly made known to Cain what he was to do when he knew he didn’t do well, and that Cain himself knew this to be the case.) So on the basis of this, I am persuaded that God had told both Abel and Cain that if they “doest well” they would be accepted, but if not, then the issue was for them to bring the animal sacrifice.
They both, therefore, knew what it meant to “doest well” in God’s sight or not. And they both individually knew how God wanted them to respond when they knew that they did not “doest well.” Abel, knowing that he did not “doest well” by nature, believed what God said and brought the sacrifice that God had specified. Cain, however, did not believe what God had said.
Now I am persuaded that not only did Cain not believe that he was guilty in God’s sight, but he actually thought himself to be suitably righteous. Hence he not only did not bring the animal sacrifice, but he brought an offering of the work of his own hands as a tiller of the ground. Howbeit as Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him,…” Cain, therefore, clearly did not respond in faith at all to what God had said, and hence he did not please God at all. Cain’s blatant unbelief is why God had no respect unto his offering.
Now specifically regarding what God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, my understanding is that first of all God reproved Cain’s negative response of unbelief. This He did by His three rhetorical questions set forth in verse 6-7a. Again, Cain knew what God had said about being accepted and about the sacrifice to be brought and offered if he did not “doest well.” When God did not have respect unto Cain’s offering and he became “very wroth, and his countenance fell,” his wrath and fallen countenance were the result of his wounded pride, for he thought himself righteous.
Hence when God said unto Cain, “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:6-7a), I am persuaded that He that “searcheth the hearts and triest the reins,” and “declareth unto man what is his thought,” and that “leadest to repentance,” was making known unto Cain the thoughts that were in him and was leading him to repentance. And indeed what Cain needed to do was to repent of his erroneous thinking.
In connection with this God goes on to say unto him in the rest of verse 7, “and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” When God says to Cain that “sin lieth at the door,” He is talking about the fact that the sacrifice for sin that Cain could offer “lieth at the door” right there in front of Cain, so to speak. [Note: I am persuaded that this “door” was specifically the very “door” of the garden of Eden where the Cherubims were, along with the flaming sword that kept “the way of the tree of life.” This same basic set up also existed later on with the tabernacle, at the “door” of which the animals were brought. There the animal was identified as the bringer’s substitute, receiving the bringer’s sinful identification, and as such being made sin for him. It all took place at the “door.”]
Hence I am persuaded that the same situation existed at the “door” of the garden. And as such, with God leading Cain unto repentance and in saying to him that “sin lieth at the door,” He was telling him that the animal that would be the willing substitute-bearer of his sin, and made sin for him, was lying right there at the door where he was standing.
And the animal truly was willing. Hence God said to Cain, “And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” Cain, however, disdainfully hardened his heart to God’s words and refused to change his mind.
Yet Cain also did more than this. He also pursued a hate laden course of action that was both generated and fueled by his highly offended pride. In hate he lashed out at God’s counsel and mercy, bringing it to bear upon Abel as he murdered him. And with Cain, the Adversary established the first of three particular negative responses to the word of God, which when progressively followed result in the followers becoming completely Satan-like.
As such Cain became the founder, so to speak, of “the way of Cain,” which was later on followed by Israel’s vain religious leadership after they hardened their hearts to “the counsel of God against themselves” contained in “the gospel of the kingdom.” They too thought themselves righteous, rejected “the counsel of God against themselves,” and despised the mercy of God shown to them. In so doing, they pursued the same hate laden course of action generated and fueled by their highly offended pride. In hate they lashed out at the righteous remnant of Israel. And this “way” will yet be followed again by Israel’s apostate leadership when Israel’s program is resumed. It will be trodden again by the “ungodly men” ordained to the “condemnation” spoken about by Jude in his epistle.
– K.R. Blades