by A.E. Knoch

This curious figure of speech seems to have been originated by the mistranslation in the Authorized Version. Usually the mind is able to form a literal picture which is like the thought presented by the figure. But I have never been able to see the parallel here. A mat often lies at my door, but sin is not at all like a doormat. The thought which is usually extracted from this phrase is something like this: If thou doest not well, sin is the cause of [your evil deeds or] your non-acceptance. This would imply that Abel was accepted for his well-doing, which is most misleading, for his sacrifice was accepted, not he himself, apart from it. The figure extracted from these words leads to a deplorable misunderstanding, and it is greatly to be regretted that it should mislead a reader of the Bible just as he is about to enter the door of divine revelation.

A concordant rendering falls right in line with the vital revelation of the passage. It reads: "At the opening a sin [offering] is reclining." True, there is no extra word for offering in the Hebrew, but this is the case in hundreds of other places. It is the well-known figure of association. A thing is called by the name of the most pertinent part. A ship may be called a sail or a steamer when we refer to its movement, a bottom when we speak of its cargo. So a sin offering is usually called a sin in numerous places in Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers, and is so translated in our revered Authorized Version (Ex.29:14, etc., Lev.4:3, etc., Num.6:11, etc.) Jehovah is not blaming Cain for his misconduct in general, but for his failure to shelter himself under a sacrificial offering, such as his brother had brought.


I have often puzzled over the meaning of the next sentence: "unto thee shall be his desire." The only antecedent for "his" seems to be sin. Shall sin's desire be unto Cain? But why waste time over an insoluble mistranslation? A restored Hebrew text and a concordant version present no difficulty. It reads: "for you is its restoration." The Hebrew really reads thshubthu. The stem shuq denotes RUN-ABOUT. But the Septuagint reads apostrophe FROM-TURN. The nearest Hebrew stem which has a meaning similar to this is shub RETURN. The Hebrew q is much like the b, and may easily be mistaken for it in handwritten manuscripts. It was the sin offering, which reclined at the door, to which the "his" referred. For Cain was its restoration, but he refused to accept it, and was not restored to fellowship with Jehovah.


In the languages of inspiration, the third person singular of the verb may be either it, him, or her. Cain could hardly rule over Adam, or over Eve. Neither had he the right to rule over his brother, Abel. And he certainly could not rule over sin! But Adam and his race were told to sway over the lower animals (Gen.1:28). There is no doubt that Cain could do as he wished with a sheep of the flock, which was so tame that it reclined at the opening of the tent. So he had no excuse whatever. God had provided a sin offering for him, just as He provided His Son to be a sin offering for our sakes, that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him (2 Cor.4:21).

Much further truth along this line is furnished by Abraham and his sons. But this may be the subject of a separate article.

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