Genesis 4:6–7 is a challenging Bible passage to make sense of: “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 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 rule over it.’”
To appreciate the significance of God telling Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door,” we must first consider the context of the larger story. Cain was angry because God had accepted his brother Abel’s offering and not his own (Genesis 4:3–5). Bible interpreters disagree about why God rejected Cain’s offering. Some say it was because Abel offered a blood sacrifice and Cain did not. Others believe Cain’s offering was rejected because, unlike Abel’s, it was not the best and the first of his crop.
The Bible doesn’t explicitly spell out the answer. Yet we can be sure that there was something about Cain’s attitude, motivation, or unwillingness to obey God’s instruction that contributed to his offering’s being rejected. We aren’t privy to the details, but both Cain and Abel understood what God expected of them. Cain knew he’d given an unacceptable sacrifice because God told him later, “You will be accepted if you do what is right” (Genesis 4:7, NLT).
Cain knew the right thing to do but didn’t do it. Even still, God graciously allowed him the opportunity to make things right and then warned him, “But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master” (Genesis 4:7, NLT).
This description of sin is striking. The Hebrew word translated as “crouching” in Genesis 4:7 can indicate lying down, as in resting, but also refers to lying in wait like a predator lurking for its prey. The same verb is associated with an ancient Semitic term for demons that were believed to guard entrances or doorways to buildings. Thus, the text characterizes sin as a demonic presence or a predatory animal waiting to pounce on Cain.
God questioned Cain—“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?”—for the same reason He quizzed Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:9, 11). The Lord wasn’t scolding them. Instead, He wanted them to admit their sin so that they would repent.
Then God lovingly presented Cain with a choice: He could surrender his anger, repent of his wrong attitude, and get his heart right with God, or he could let sin get the better of him. As we know, Cain failed to heed God’s gracious words of caution. He let the wickedness of anger crouching at his door spring on him, become his master, and rule over him, which led to an even greater crime. Cain went on to slay his own brother, committing the first murder in history.
Since the creation of humankind, God has let people know what He expects of them. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve how to follow His commands (Genesis 2:16–17) just as He made His will clear to Cain. Later He called the children of Israel to love and obey Him: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good” (Deuteronomy 10:12–13, NLT). Today God continues to speak to His children through His Word, calling them to obey His commands (John 14:15, 21, 23–24) and follow Christ’s example of humble obedience (John 14:31, Philippians 2:7–8).
Just as the Lord gave Cain the chance to repent and get right with Him, God extends His kind and gracious offer of forgiveness and cleansing to us (2 Corinthians 7:11; John 1:9). But if we ignore Him, the Lord puts us on notice that sin is crouching at our door. It is waiting for just the right moment to dominate us. First Peter 5:8–9 forewarns, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith” (NLT). If we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, just like the Lord urged Cain to do, we have the promise of victory over the devil: “He will flee from you” (James 4:7).
God’s warning to Cain that “sin is crouching at your door” ought to be a vivid reminder to us that sin is like a wild animal waiting for its next victim. If we aren’t careful to repent and obey the Lord, it will pounce on us and master us, too, leading to deeper sin and eventual destruction and death: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). In this, Cain is an example to us all.