1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 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.”
Adam and Eve move out of centre stage of the story, making way for their offspring. Cain, the eldest, works the soil, but Abel, his younger brother, keeps flocks – the farmer and the shepherd.
Why is Cain’s offering not acceptable? We’re not actually told. Perhaps the clues are in his angry reaction – was it something to do with his attitude? Was his offering not of the best quality (Abel gives fat portions from his firstborn, but there is no description of Cain giving the firstfruits – just ‘some fruits’)?
Or perhaps it is hinted at in verse 7 – had he done wrong? Was the offering empty when contrasted to his actions? Do his actions make a mockery of his sacrifice?
Sin here is personified – crouching at Cain’s door, the entrance to his house and life. There were Mesopotamian myths of demons that liked to crouch in doorways – is this drawing on cultural imagery, to aid an explanation of sin? The wild beast waiting at the door?
It’s a provocative image. Sin wants to have him, to possess him. It is lying in wait – that is, if he does not do what is right. By not doing what is right, Cain opens the door to sin and thus is not accepted.
Yahweh is pictured as speaking to Cain directly – still personally involved with these fractured image bearers. He intercedes with a warning, and tells Cain he must overcome it – must rule over sin, exercising authority over it.
But this warning goes unheeded…