T PIERCE BROWN
Most of us are probably familiar with Rom 6:12, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” We also are aware of the statement in I Jn 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” It should not be hard to see that each one of us may sin without having sin reign in our bodies. In my judgment, it is probable that God wanted his creatures to know from the beginning that although each of us may sin through some ignorance or weakness of the flesh, in His gracious love He wanted us to know that we can and should be able to overrule the sinful tendencies in our lives. He makes this abundantly clear to us in 1 Cor 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Though that is clear to us, I think it probable that He was trying to get Cain to see the same thing in Genesis 4:7 where we find, “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.”(KJV) “If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up? and if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door: and unto thee shall be its desire, but do thou rule over it.”(ASV) “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”(NIV) “You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it”(New Living Translation). “It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!”(The Living Bible).
It is interesting, though not particularly helpful, to read the various commentators and their varied opinions about the meaning of the verse. Vine says, “Cain is advised “to rule over” or “master” sin.” Matthew Henry says, “That he had no reason to be angry at his brother: ‘Unto thee shall be his desire, he shall continue his respect to thee as an elder brother, and thou, as the first-born, shalt rule over him as much as ever.’ God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering did not transfer the birth-right to him (which Cain was jealous of), nor put upon him that excellency of dignity and of power which is said to belong to it.” Adam Clarke basically agrees with this interesting guess, although it is significant that the text makes no reference to Abel whatever. Clarke says, “That is, Thou shalt ever have the right of primogeniture, and in all things shall thy brother be subject unto thee. These words are not spoken of sin, as many have understood them but of Abel’s submission to Cain as his superior, and the words are spoken to remove Cain’s envy.” Wycliffe interprets it that Cain becomes the master of sin in the sense that he becomes exceedingly sinful, as a “master carpenter” becomes more expert in his trade. He says, “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 <Eccl. 8:8>. On these grounds we prefer the reference to sin, and the interpretation founded on it.” He further says, “It was up to Cain to conquer sin in himself, to control rather than be controlled. The moment of destiny was upon him. It was not too late for him to choose the way of God.” Keil & Delitzsch say, “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. 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.”
In our judgment, the last interpretation of the passage more nearly explains the thought and the message that we find applicable to us than any of the other guesses, some of which seem a little far-fetched. To summarize the message in the simplest way we know how, it seems to me that God is telling Cain that sin is waiting at the door (that is, is ever lurking nearby to spring upon him and overcome him) but that he can choose to listen to the voice of God and, in spite of the fact that he had yielded to sin already, he will be able to have dominion over sin instead of letting sin have dominion over him. In spite of the fact that he had killed his brother, God still loved him and, contrary to the opinion of some did not put the identifying mark on him (Gen. 4:15) to punish him more than he had already stated, but to prevent someone from killing him before he had a chance to repent and allow the power of God to let him reign over sin. The idea that he is telling him that he should or would be a master sinner, or that he would have some sort of rule over Abel do not connect with anything else we find in the Bible from start to finish. There is nothing in the text that suggests that he was jealous of Abel because he thought that Abel would be able to take away his rights of primogeniture. He was jealous because God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected his. But the idea that he could rule over sin instead of letting sin rule over him fits with God’s gracious message from start to finish.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.