When Sin Crouches At the Door

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“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:7

We know the story of Cain & Abel. They were the sons of Adam & Eve. They both offered sacrifices to God. Cain gave an offering from “the fruit of the ground”, and Abel of the “fat portions”[1] from the “firstlings”[2] of his flock. (Genesis 4:3-4) All was good, right?

Well, no. God “regarded” Abel’s offering, but didn’t “regard” Cain’s offering, and that is when the problem started. Cain became angry[3], and his “countenance fell”. (Genesis 4:4-5) We know the rest of the story: Cain ends up killing Abel.

Lest we be tempted to think that we don’t need to pay attention to the details of this story because we aren’t like Cain – we would never kill anyone – consider these words of Jesus:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty ….” (Matthew 5:21-22)

Anyone who has ever been angry with another person, might do well to consider the details of the story of Cain and Abel.

We have all experienced the jealousy that wells up when someone else is given more favorable treatment than us. Jealousy is a base emotion. Even monkeys feel jealousy. When one monkey gets carrots while another monkey gets coveted grapes, the one monkey will refuse the carrots and get upset if he doesn’t get grapes too.

If we open the door to the flood of jealous emotion, that door is hard to shut again. If we don’t nip it in the bud, anger wells up and simmers. If we give in to it, that anger will kill relationships and take us captive with it.

Interestingly, we read that Cain became angry and his “countenance fell”. He became depressed that God did not regard his offering. Depression is inward, while anger is outward, but they often are two sides to the same coin. Anger is often a sign of depression, and depression often is a sign of anger repressed. In Cain’s case, the depression took the form of outward anger that led to him to bludgeon Abel to death.

The Hebrew word translated “anger” suggests anger with a moral indignation. The anger took on a moral tone. We often moralize our feelings and, doing so, convince ourselves that we have been wronged, even if we really haven’t been. If we stew in those feelings, feeding them and allowing them to grow within us, we can find ourselves justifying things we would not otherwise do.

It isn’t clear on the surface of the story what was going on between the two of them and between them and God, but digging a little bit opens the story up. Cain offered part of his harvest, but there was nothing special about what he offered. Abel, on the other hand, offered the choicest portions from the first born of his flock. God regarded Abel’s offering because he offered a better sacrifice. Abel put more effort, care and thought into his offering, and God appreciated that.

Cain worked up some moral indignation, but he wasn’t justified in thinking that way! Abel deserved God’s regard because he clearly gave more of a sacrifice than Cain did. Cain was blinded by the emotion of anger and fog of depression. He should have been considering his own relationship with God that caused God not to regard his offering, but he chose to be angry with Abel instead.

It’s important to note that God didn’t reject Cain. Though God didn’t regard Cain’s offering, God tried to point Cain in the right direction. He asked, “Why are you angry? And why is your countenance fallen?” (Genesis 4:6) He pointed Cain in the direction of looking inward and considering the fact that he had only offered a half-halfhearted sacrifice, while Abel went all out, offering the best portions of the best of his flock.

God even offered encouragement. He said, “If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up?” (Genesis 4:7) Cain should have held on to the hope God offered him. He should have considered the sacrifice he offered and vowed to do better so that God would regard his sacrifice in the future.

Giving it more thought, trying harder, learning from his mistakes and gaining some success would lift his spirits. There was hope for Cain.

But, God also gave him a warning: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you….” (Genesis 4:8)

Sin feeds off of our failings. Sin threatens to take us down. Satan lobbies God to condemn us[4], and he does it within our earshot. The shame and the guilt can drive us to God, or it can propel us away, thinking that God (or other people) are condemning us.[5]

We have a personal relationship with sin, as we do with God. We will either embrace and cling to sin or we will recoil from it and embrace God.

God warned Cain not to let sin control him, but to master it. (Genesis 4:7) To do that, he had to trust God and trust that He will reward his heartfelt, best efforts. Like Cain, we need to trust God and trust that He rewards those who give Him the best of our best, like Abel did.

But, we are tempted to look elsewhere for the “cause” of our failings. Instead of being repentant, and changing our attitudes and behavior, we dig in, become depressed, get angry and blame others. Sometimes we even blame God. We might even feel righteous, about it. We might even justify our indignation and get worked up about not getting what we think we deserve.

When we feel condemned, which we will (because Satan stands before God accusing us day and night), we can spiral further from God, blaming God and others for making us feel bad. This is what sin does when we entertain it and give in to it. Sin will master us.

Just as Jesus stands at the door and knocks, sin crouches at the door ,and sin often knocks even louder. When that happens, we need to turn toward God, not away from Him.

God is not the source of our failing or our bitterness. God is not the one who condemns us. Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but to save us from our sin. (John 3:17) When we are convicted and become conscious of our sin, we need to go to God in confidence, trusting that He is always faithful to forgive. (1 John 1:9) And, if we do well, by always going to God and trusting what He has said, our countenances will be lifted up.

We may often find ourselves in Cain’s position, having received no regard from God, but God isn’t the issue in those times. The answer in those times is to trust God and to draw near to Him. When we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. (John 4:8)


[1] Bekôr – first-born, the oldest.

[2] Ēleb – properly, fat; (figuratively) the choicest part, the most delectable and desirable.

[3] Ārâ – properly, to kindle, ignite a fire; (figuratively) “light someone’s fuse,” “set them off”; burst forth in anger, focusing on the moral “touch point” that sets off the anger (like kindling); what ignites red-hot indignation in a moral dispute.

[4] In Revelation 12:10, we read that Satan accuses believers before God day and night.

[5] See The Accuser of The Brethren from a message preached by Dr. J.B. Buffington when he pastored the Calvary Baptist Church in Lakeland, Florida.


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