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Its Desire Is Contrary To You, But You Must Rule Over It

Two armored men..
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Does the title of this post sound familiar? These are the immortal words of God to Cain, before he committed the Bible’s first murder. According to Genesis 4, brothers Abel and Cain each made an offering to God, the former a firstborn of his flock and the latter an offering of fruit from the ground. God accepted Abel’s offering, but he rejected Cain’s offering for reasons that the story does not address (for popular theories, see Cain And Abel). This rejection by God sent Cain into a rage, and prompted God’s address in verse 7. Here is the full story.

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 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 contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:1-7

Other translations of verse 7 say “Its desire is for you.” The idea is that sin was trying to dominate and control Cain, like it does with all of us. Sin, or rebellion against God’s order, is a malignant force that ultimately leads to disaster (Romans 6:23). Cain’s sin here consisted of his angry reaction to God’s decision not to accept his offering, and it may also have consisted of the heart with which he made the offering itself, a detail the text does not disclose.

Our first problem is that we do not always view sin as being contrary to us. We say “Sin is no big deal.” We say “Everyone does it.” We say “We’re the ones in control.” We say “I can stop whenever I want.” We say, “Look, he did it, and nothing bad happened.” We say, “Look, I did it, and nothing bad happened.”

We know the rest of the story. Cain rises up and kills his brother. Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him (v. 8).

Genesis 4:7 is a sober warning against the common human tendency to minimize the consequences of sin. The truth is sin isn’t some casual thing we can turn on and off. It is like a cancer that spreads until it consumes the entire organism. Like cancer, the effects of sin may go unnoticed a long time before the damage is obvious.

Sin is a slow death, but a sure one no less. It can’t be negotiated with. It will ruin our lives if we do not take control. The Bible, and the world, are full of examples of the destructive effects of sin. Maybe you can think of some from your own experience and observation. And, while its first victim is the individual, sin tends to leave damaged families, communities, and societies in its wake.

When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.

Proverbs 19:3

When things don’t go well for us, like Cain, we tend to blame God. Rather than make an honest assessment of our flaws, we become consumed with anger. Certainly, all suffering is not due to our sin. An entire book of the Bible–Job–was written to refute this misconception. However, much of the suffering in this world is due to sin, and that includes mine and yours.

God’s warning to Cain is actually very hopeful. If you do well, will you not be accepted? (v.7).Unlike people, God is not biased. He judges with impartiality, such that our choices are what determine the course of our lives, for better or worse.

Today, let’s dispense with the excuse-making, the finger-pointing, and the resentment. Instead, let’s take a long look in the mirror and identify ways we can be better and do better.

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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