And the LORD said to Cain, Why are you wroth? and why is your countenance fallen?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
If thou do well, shalt thou not be accepted? - To do well is to retrace his steps, to consider his ways, and find out wherein he has been wrong, and to amend his offering and his intention accordingly. He has not duly considered the relation in which he stands to God as a guilty sinner, whose life is forfeited, and to whom the hand of mercy is held out; and accordingly he has not felt this in offering, or given expression to it in the nature of his offering. Yet, the Lord does not immediately reject him, but with longsuffering patience directs his attention to this, that it may be amended. And on making such amendment, he holds out to him the clear and certain hope of acceptance still. But he does more than this. As Cain seems to have been of a particularly hard and unheedful disposition, he completes his expostulation, and deepens its awful solemnity, by stating the other alternative, both in its condition and consequence.
And if thou do not well, at the door is sin lying. - Sin past, in its unrequited and unacknowledged guilt; sin present, in its dark and stubborn passion and despair; but, above all, sin future, as the growing habit of a soul that persists in an evil temper, and therefore must add iniquity unto iniquity, is awaiting thee at the door, as a crouching slave the bidding of his master. As one lie borrows an endless train of others to keep up a vain appearance of consistency, so one sin if not repented of and forsaken involves the dire necessity of plunging deeper and deeper into the gulf of depravity and retribution. This dread warning to Cain, expressed in the mildest and plainest terms, is a standing lesson written for the learning of all mankind. Let him who is in the wrong retract at once, and return to God with humble acknowledgment of his own guilt, and unreserved submission to the mercy of his Maker; for to him who perseveres in sin there can be no hope or help. Another sentence is added to give intensity to the warning.
And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. - This sentence has all the pithiness and familiarity of a proverb. It has been employed before, to describe part of the tribulation the woman brought upon herself by disobedience, namely, the forced subjection of her will to that of her husband in the fallen state of humanity Genesis 3:16. It is accordingly expressive of the condition of a slave under the hard bondage and arbitrary caprice of a master and a tyrant. Cain is evidently the master. The question is, Who is the slave? To whom do the pronouns "his" and "him" refer? Manifestly, either to sin or to Habel. If to sin, then the meaning of the sentence is, the desire, the entire submission and service of sin will be yielded to thee, and thou wilt in fact make thyself master of it. Thy case will be no longer a heedless ignorance, and consequent dereliction of duty, but a willful overmastering of all that comes by sin, and an unavoidable going on from sin to sin, from inward to outward sin, or, in specific terms, from wrath to murder, and from disappointment to defiance, and so from unrighteousness to ungodliness. This is an awful picture of his fatal end, if he do not instantly retreat. But it is necessary to deal plainly with this dogged, vindictive spirit, if by any means he may be brought to a right mind.
If the pronouns are referred to Habel, the meaning will come to much the same thing. The desire, the forced compliance, of thy brother will be yielded unto thee, and thou wilt rule over him with a rigor and a violence that will terminate in his murder. In violating the image of God by shedding the blood of thy brother, thou wilt be defying thy Maker, and fiercely rushing on to thy own perdition. Thus, in either case, the dark doom of sin unforsaken and unremitted looms fearfully in the distance.
The general reference to sin, however, seems to be the milder and more soothing form of expostulation. The special reference to Habel might only exasperate. It appears, moreover, to be far-fetched, as there is no allusion to his brother in the previous part of the address. The boldness of the figure by which Cain is represented as making himself master of sin, when he with reckless hand grasps at all that comes by sin, is not unfamiliar to Scripture. Thus, the doer of wickedness is described as the master of it Ecclesiastes 8:8. On these grounds we prefer the reference to sin, and the interpretation founded on it.
There are two other expositions of this difficult sentence which deserve to be noticed. First. "And as to thy brother, unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him with all the right of the first born." But (1) the reference to his brother is remote; (2) the rights of primogeniture are perhaps not yet established; (3) the words do not express a right, but an exercise of might against right arising in a fallen state Genesis 3:16; (4) the Judge of all the earth is not accustomed to guarantee the prerogatives of birth to one who is in positive rebellion against him, but, on the other hand, he withdraws them from the unworthy to confer them on whom he will. For these reasons we conceive this exposition is to be rejected. Second. "And unto thee shall be sin's desire; but thou shalt overcome it." But (1) the parallelism between the two members of the sentence is here neglected; (2) a different meaning is assigned to the words here and in Genesis 3:16,, (3) the connection between the sentence thus explained and what goes before is not clear; (4) the lesson taught is not obvious; and (5) the assurance given is not fulfilled. On these grounds we cannot adopt this explanation.
The above address of the Lord to Cain, expressed here perhaps only in its substance, is fraught with the most powerful motives that can bear on the mind of man. It holds out acceptance to the wrong-doer, if he will come with a broken heart and a corresponding expression of repentance before God, in the full faith that he can and will secure the ends of justice so that he can have mercy on the penitent. At the same time it points out, with all clearness and faithfulness to a soul yet unpractised in the depths of iniquity, the insidious nature of sin, the proneness of a selfish heart to sin with a high hand, the tendency of one sinful temper, if persisted in, to engender a growing habit of aggravated crime which ends in the everlasting destruction of the soul. Nothing more than this can be done by argument or reason for the warning of a wrong-doer. From the mouth of the Almighty these words must have come with all the evidence and force they were capable of receiving.The Lord spoke unto Cain, that he might bring him to repentance, and the knowledge of his sin.
Why is thy countenance fallen? The cause of this dejectedness is not from me, but from thyself. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)6. And the Lord said, &c.] Whether Jehovah appeared in a visible form, or spoke to Cain in a dream or vision, is not recorded. The importance of the interrogation lies in the fact, that Jehovah mercifully intervenes to arrest the progress of evil thoughts, by simple words demanding self-examination.Verses 6, 7 - And the Lord (Jehovah) said unto Cain. Speaking either mediately by Adam (Luther), or more probably directly by his own voice from between the cherubim where the flaming sword, the visible symbol of the Divine presence, had been established (cf. Exodus 20:24). Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? The ensuing verse is a veritable crux interpretum, concerning which the greatest diversity of sentiment exists. Passing by the manifest mistranslation of the LXX., "If thou hast offered rightly, but hast not divided rightly, hast thou not sinned? Rest quiet; toward thee is his (or its) resort, and thou shalt rule over him (or it)," which Augustine, Ambrose, and Chrysostom followed, at the same time "wearying themselves with many interpretations, and being divided among themselves as to how Cain divided not rightly" (Wilier), the different opinions that have been entertained as to the meaning of its several clauses, their connection, and precise import when united, may be thus exhibited. If thou doest well. Either
(1) if thou wert innocent and sinless (Candlish, Jamieson), or
(2) if thou, like Abel, presentest a right offering in a right spirit (Vulgate, Luther, Calvin), or
(3) if thou retrace thy steps and amend thine offering and intention (Willet, Murphy). Shalt thou not be accepted? Literally, Is there not lifting up? (sedth, from nasa, to raise up). Either -
1. Of the countenance (Gesenius, Furst, Dathe, Rosenmüller, Knobel, Lange, Delitzsch).
2. Of the sacrifice, viz., by acceptance of it (Calvin); akin to which are the interpretations - Is there not a lifting up of the burden of guilt? Is there not forgiveness? (Luther); Is there not acceptance with God. (Speaker s Commentary); Is there not a bearing away of blessing? (Ainsworth). Vulgate, Shalt thou not receive (sc. the Divine favor). "Verum quamvis נָשָׂא עַון reccatum condonare significet, nusquam tamen שְׂאֵת veniam sonat" (Rosen.).
3. Of the person, i.e. by establishing Cain's pre-eminency as the elder brother, to which reference is clearly made in the concluding clause of the verse (Bush). And if thou doest not well, sin - chattath, from chard, to miss the mark like an archer, properly signifies a sin (Exodus 28:9; Isaiah 6:27; cf. Greek, ἄτη); also a sin offering (Leviticus 6:18, 23); also penalty (Zechariah 14:19), though this is doubtful. Hence it has been taken to mean in this place -
1. Sin (Dathe, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Wordsworth, Speaker's Commentary, Murphy).
2. The punishment of sin (Onkelos, Grotius, Cornelius a Lapide, Ainsworth), the guilt of sin, the sense of unpardoned transgression; "interius conscientiae judicium, quod hominem convictum sui peccati undique obsessum premit" (Calvin).
3. A sin offering (Lightfoot, Peele, Magee, Candlish, Exell) - lieth (literally, lying; robets, from rabats, to couch as a beast of prey; cf. Genesis 29:2; Genesis 49:9) at the door. Literally, at the opening = at the door of the conscience, expressive of the nearness and severity of the Divine retribution (Calvin); of the soul, indicating the close contiguity of the devouring monster sin to the evil-doer (Kalisch); of paradise (Bonar); of Abel's fold (Exell), suggesting the locality where a sacrificial victim might be obtained; of the house, conveying the ideas of publicity and certainty of detection for the transgressor whose sin, though lying asleep, was only sleeping at the door, i.e. "in a place where it will surely be disturbed; and, therefore, it is impossible but that it must be awoke and roused up, when as a furious beast it will lay hold on thee ' (Luther); i.e. "statim se prodet, peccatum tuum non magis,celari potest, quam id quod pro foribus jacet ' (Rosenmüller). And unto thee shall be his - i.e.
(1) Abel's (LXX. (?), Chrysostom, Ambrose, Grotius, Calvin, Ainsworth, Bush, Speaker's, Bonar, Exell); or
(2) sin's (Vulgate (?), Luther, Rosenmüller, Yon Bohlen, Kalisch, Keil, Delitzsch, Murphy); or
(3) the sin offering s (Faber, Candlish) - desire (vide Genesis 3:16), and thou shalt rule over him. I.e., according to the interpretation adopted of the preceding words -
(1) thou shalt maintain thy rights of primogeniture over Abel, who, as younger son, shall be obsequious and deferential towards thee; or,
(2) "the entire submission and service of sin will be yielded to thee, and thou shalt make thyself master of it," sc. by yielding to it and being hurried on to greater wickedness - a warning against the downward course of sin (Murphy); or, while sin lurks for thee like a beast of prey, and "the demon of allurement" thirsts for thee to gratify thy passion, thou shalt (or mayst) rule over it, sc. by giving up thy wrath and restraining thine evil propensities - a word of hopeful encouragement to draw the sinner back to holy paths (Keil); or, "peccatum tanquam muller impudica sistitur, quae hominem ad libidinem suam explendam tentet, cut igitur resistere debeat" (Rosenmüller); or,
(3) the sacrificial victim is not far to seek, it is already courting thine acceptance, and thou mayst at once avail thyself of it (Candlish). Of the various solutions of this "difiicillimus locus," all of which are plausible, and none of which are entirely destitute of support, that appears the most entitled to acceptance which, excluding any reference either to Abel or to a sin offering, regards the language as warning Cain against the dangers of yielding to sin. Genesis 3:21). Moreover, agriculture can never be entirely separated from the rearing of cattle; for a man not only requires food, but clothing, which is procured directly from the hides and wool of tame animals. In addition to this, sheep do not thrive without human protection and care, and therefore were probably associated with man from the very first. The different occupations of the brothers, therefore, are not to be regarded as a proof of the difference in their dispositions. This comes out first in the sacrifice, which they offered after a time to God, each one from the produce of his vocation. - "In process of time" (lit., at the end of days, i.e., after a considerable lapse of time: for this use of ימים cf. Genesis 40:4; Numbers 9:2) Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a gift (מנחה) to the Lord; and Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and indeed (vav in an explanatory sense, vid., Ges. 155, 1) of their fat," i.e., the fattest of the firstlings, and not merely the first good one that came to hand. חלבים are not the fat portions of the animals, as in the Levitical law of sacrifice. This is evident from the fact, that the sacrifice was not connected with a sacrificial meal, and animal food was not eaten at this time. That the usage of the Mosaic law cannot determine the meaning of this passage, is evident from the word minchah, which is applied in Leviticus to bloodless sacrifices only, whereas it is used here in connection with Abel's sacrifice. "And Jehovah looked upon Abel and his gift; and upon Cain and his gift He did not look." The look of Jehovah was in any case a visible sign of satisfaction. It is a common and ancient opinion that fire consumed Abel's sacrifice, and thus showed that it was graciously accepted. Theodotion explains the words by καὶ ἐνεπύρισεν ὁ Θεός. But whilst this explanation has the analogy of Leviticus 9:24 and Judges 6:21 in its favour, it does not suit the words, "upon Abel and his gift." The reason for the different reception of the two offerings was the state of mind towards God with which they were brought, and which manifested itself in the selection of the gifts. Not, indeed, in the fact that Abel brought a bleeding sacrifice and Cain a bloodless one; for this difference arose from the difference in their callings, and each necessarily took his gift from the produce of his own occupation. It was rather in the fact that Abel offered the fattest firstlings of his flock, the best that he could bring; whilst Cain only brought a portion of the fruit of the ground, but not the first-fruits. By this choice Abel brought πλείονα θυσίαν παρὰ Κάΐν, and manifested that disposition which is designated faith (πίστις) in Hebrews 11:4. The nature of this disposition, however, can only be determined from the meaning of the offering itself.
The sacrifices offered by Adam's sons, and that not in consequence of a divine command, but from the free impulse of their nature as determined by God, were the first sacrifices of the human race. The origin of sacrifice, therefore, is neither to be traced to a positive command, nor to be regarded as a human invention. To form an accurate conception of the idea which lies at the foundation of all sacrificial worship, we must bear in mind that the first sacrifices were offered after the fall, and therefore presupposed the spiritual separation of man from God, and were designed to satisfy the need of the heart for fellowship with God. This need existed in the case of Cain, as well as in that of Abel; otherwise he would have offered no sacrifice at all, since there was no command to render it compulsory. Yet it was not the wish for forgiveness of sin which led Adam's sons to offer sacrifice; for there is no mention of expiation, and the notion that Abel, by slaughtering the animal, confessed that he deserved death on account of sin, is transferred to this passage from the expiatory sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The offerings were expressive of gratitude to God, to whom they owed all that they had; and were associated also with the desire to secure the divine favour and blessing, so that they are to be regarded not merely as thank-offerings, but as supplicatory sacrifices, and as propitiatory also, in the wider sense of the word. In this the two offerings are alike. The reason why they were not equally acceptable to God is not to be sought, as Hoffmann thinks, in the fact that Cain merely offered thanks "for the preservation of this present life," whereas Abel offered thanks "for the forgiveness of sins," or "for the sin-forgiving clothing received by man from the hand of God." To take the nourishment of the body literally and the clothing symbolically in this manner, is an arbitrary procedure, by which the Scriptures might be made to mean anything we chose. The reason is to be found rather in the fact, that Abel's thanks came from the depth of his heart, whilst Cain merely offered his to keep on good terms with God-a difference that was manifested in the choice of the gifts, which each one brought from the produce of his occupation. This choice shows clearly "that it was the pious feeling, through which the worshiper put his heart as it were into the gift, which made the offering acceptable to God" (Oehler); that the essence of the sacrifice was not the presentation of a gift to God, but that the offering was intended to shadow forth the dedication of the heart to God. At the same time, the desire of the worshipper, by the dedication of the best of his possessions to secure afresh the favour of God, contained the germ of that substitutionary meaning of sacrifice, which was afterwards expanded in connection with the deepening and heightening of the feeling of sin into a desire for forgiveness, and led to the development of the idea of expiatory sacrifice. - On account of the preference shown to Abel, "it burned Cain sore (the subject, 'wrath,' is wanting, as it frequently is in the case of חרה, cf. Genesis 18:30, Genesis 18:32; Genesis 31:36, etc.), and his countenance fell" (an indication of his discontent and anger: cf. Jeremiah 3:12; Job 29:24). God warned him of giving way to this, and directed his attention to the cause and consequences of his wrath.
"Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen?" The answer to this is given in the further question, "Is there not, if thou art good, a lifting up" (sc., of the countenance)? It is evident from the context, and the antithesis of falling and lifting up (נפל and נשׂא), that פּנים must be supplied after שׂאת. By this God gave him to understand that his look was indicative of evil thoughts and intentions; for the lifting up of the countenance, i.e., a free, open look, is the mark of a good conscience (Job 11:15). "But if thou art not good, sin lieth before the door, and its desire is to thee (directed towards thee); but thou shouldst rule over it." The fem. חטּאת is construed as a masculine, because, with evident allusion to the serpent, sin is personified as a wild beast, lurking at the door of the human heart, and eagerly desiring to devour his soul (1 Peter 5:8). היטיב, to make good, signifies here not good action, the performance of good in work and deed, but making the disposition good, i.e., directing the heart to what is good. Cain is to rule over the sin which is greedily desiring him, by giving up his wrath, not indeed that sin may cease to lurk for him, but that the lurking evil foe may obtain no entrance into his heart. There is no need to regard the sentence as interrogative, "Wilt thou, indeed, be able to rule over it?" (Ewald), nor to deny the allusion in בּו to the lurking sin, as Delitzsch does. The words do not command the suppression of an inward temptation, but resistance to the power of evil as pressing from without, by hearkening to the word which God addressed to Cain in person, and addresses to us through the Scriptures. There is nothing said here about God appearing visibly; but this does not warrant us in interpreting either this or the following conversation as a simple process that took place in the heart and conscience of Cain. It is evident from Genesis 4:14 and Genesis 4:16 that God did not withdraw His personal presence and visible intercourse from men, as soon as He had expelled them from the garden of Eden. "God talks to Cain as to a wilful child, and draws out of him what is sleeping in his heart, and lurking like a wild beast before his door. And what He did to Cain He does to every one who will but observe his own heart, and listen to the voice of God" (Herder). But Cain paid no need to the divine warning.
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